Mesmerizing Kuchipudi
- Priyanka Nirupam, Delhi

November 8, 2011

A workshop on ‘Early medieval temples and performing arts’ was organized by Dr. R Mahalakshmi and her students, centre of historical studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, on November 4, 2011. The workshop dealt with the study of various classical dances and music that were very much a part of early medieval temples and also influenced by Bhakti Movement. Renowned and recognized artists were invited for the performance. The auditorium was occupied by a number of art loving intellectuals and students.

Dance is divine and perhaps there is no living creature on this earth who does not respond to it. Kuchipudi is one of the major classical dances of India that hails from Andhra. It uses Vaishnava themes and derives its grammar from Natya Sastra composed by Bharata apart from other ancient texts. Kuchipudi was one of the classical dance forms staged on the occasion by Abhinaya Nagajothy, daughter and one of the leading disciples of gurus P Nagajothy and Seetha Nagajothy. The two gurus have followed the footsteps of Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam.

The first part of her performance comprised of javali -Smarasundaranguni. Here she depicted Swadhinapatika, one of the 8 sringara nayikas or heroines whose beloved is always captivated and devoted to her. He shows complete subjection to her will. Abhinaya made it interesting with her expressions showing incidences with the beloved in a day to day life. When she asks for a nose ring or a hair decorative he immediately buys the most beautiful jewels available. When she loses in a game of dice, he rearranges the pawns to make her the winner. The quick change from nayaka to nayika several times kept us mesmerized yet clear. The fall of the dice from her hands could be felt as if real. She captured the bhava of the Indian female in a peculiar mood. Set to Paras ragam and adi talam, this composition of Dharmapuri Subburayar was choreographed by Guru Seetha Nagajothy. The music matched Abhinaya’s vibrancy on stage. She acknowledged her musical credits from Chennai.

The second part of her performance was Tarangam, Bala Gopala - a set of poems by Yati Narayana Teertha. The plate repertoire of Kuchipudi is a unique piece in the classical dances of India. The dancer used a brass plate not just as a stage prop but as a modem to reach closer to god. According to Abhinaya, “The plate elevates the person from the worldly pleasures and pains and opens her to a new level of bhakti towards the Paramatma. And balancing a chembu (a pot) filled with water shows the control over all the naadis or the main organs through which energy flows. This emphasizes completely on nritta or pure dance technique particular to Kuchipudi.” Abhinaya showed various episodes of Krishna as a naughty child who ate mud; he stole not only butter but also the hearts of gopikas. When mother Yasoda ties him with heavy ropes, the young god releases himself. The poet compares Lord Krishna’s walk to the elegant walk of an elephant gracefully danced by Abhinaya. The audience was thrilled to watch her execute various feet movements unique to Kuchipudi like Shakatavadana where she clasped the big toe of one foot with the toes of the other foot making an inter lock and moving forward. Another movement with crossed feet moving forward while shifting the body weight from one foot to other was enthralling. We missed a heart beat when she balanced the chembu on her head and crossed her legs from the knee below on the plate and moved like a wave from the back of the stage to the front. Her brilliance as a dancer was perceptible when on the plate with the chembu, she balanced on one leg with the other leg held by hand. This piece was set in Ragamalika and adi talam. It’s a traditional number choreographed by Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam.

Watching the performance, young aspirants were inspired to learn the art. On the whole, the workshop proved to be meaningful and added charm to the evening.

Priyanka Nirupam is a student at Centre of Historical studies, JNU, New Delhi.