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Kuchipudi - Formation of a global association is the way forward
- Sudha Sridhar

March 14, 2017

It is indeed sad to come across the news item that the State Government of Andhra Pradesh on Women's Day 2017 has nominated a novice as Youth Ambassador for 'Classical Kuchipudi art form with fusion' without any sort of consensus, in a right manner to a deserving person befitting the onerous responsibility of being a role model of the classical art form to the world at large with State grants and orders.

This has understandably irked a large section of the Kuchipudi fraternity stirring quite a few to take refuge to social media protesting with emotions running high, painting the pictures of Kuchipudi seer Siddhendra Yogi, doyens Vempati Chinna Satyam and Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma blindfolded. Further some artists, organisers, art lovers are imploring the social media users to post their protest by way of status message seeking for the revocation of the orders and so on. We are more emotional than most countries and the art world thrives on emotions so to say and the reactions were on expected lines.

However, this is not a black day for Kuchipudi art form as much as it is a black day for the present day stake holders of Kuchipudi, who have failed in taking adequate timely action together when noticing proceedings going awry. Instead all that was shown was indifference looking away from the main problem and thus the stakeholders should wear black or more preferably close their eyes and repent looking deep into their hearts to answer the seer, the legends if and when we have to meet them in heaven.

This is not the first time that Kuchipudi classical art form has been misrepresented and misunderstood for one has seen umpteen number of articles, references in movies in derogatory way the female personification role portrayed in Kuchipudi Yakshaganam to the extent of misquoting and distorting one such specialist Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma's views and linking to performance of stree vesham being one of the social problems leading to AIDs by a reputed journalist in a national level daily.

Personally for a decade, I have been running from pillar to post, from legends to novices, seniors to juniors, gurus to disciples, artists to art lovers, from organisers to connoisseurs for a simple act of coming together to form an ASSOCIATION KUCHIPUDI KUTUMBAM which would be the single legal body and show of strength and unity to protect and propagate the art form in the right form, direction and above all with RIGHT ETHICS, which is a show of gratitude to our Guru Parampara and also right signal to the outside world that for anything and everything concerned with the art form the final apostle will be the Association stationed at Kuchipudi, the primary seat of the art form with local chapters spread worldwide. But, while almost all of them agree unanimously the need for it, the implementation problem started when most of them wanted to be a leader and others to follow defeating the very purpose of having a united association. A single authentic voice for the art form is still a dream and only the intervention or descent of the Kuchipudi seer Siddhendra Yogi is required to make it a reality perhaps.

Any reasonable analysis of the present predicament the art forms finds itself in would show that degradation is not over a period of months or years but it is a culminating snowballing effect of events and situations from a very long time so to say...
- When religion and royalty got replaced with Government and politics.

- From genuinely interested art lovers / patrons/ Guru parmpara TO Government taking over culture, leading to the inevitable cycle of action based on ignorance, undue influence, favouritism and discrimination, sycophancy coming to the forefront and deserving artists and art left to suffer.

- When primary importance for art got replaced with undue importance for artists / page 3 environment and self designed wah-wah groups.

- When sacredness of Guru Parampara got replaced with disciples literally kicking the existing guru at their own whims and fancies and either moving on or learning from multitude of gurus and never mention anywhere from whom they learnt, it is very much akin to not giving credit of very existence to our parents and claim to be born directly like celestial Apsaras.

- From giving humble credit to peer group and others TO taking undue credit, including gurus snatching painstakingly wholeheartedly finished product an artist from other gurus for their personal gains.

- From bowing only to the gurus to take their blessings TO falling at the feet of one and all pandering mostly to program / funds oriented organisers/politicians/people in power, who mattered for getting opportunities, award, rewards, foreign assignments, etc.

- From strict adherence to traditions TO designing their own style (dance, costumes, etc) and calling it Kuchipudi,

- From being lifelong ardent learner and maintain purity of the dance form TO diluting the art form as per personal convenience and in the name of improvisation.

- From inviting the right artists to showcase the art form at any given point of time TO give opportunity based only on commercial consideration, middle men assistance, etc even during the present age of direct digital era it is seen that the assistance, scholarships, programs, etc sponsored by State and corporates through recommendation with less transparency.

- From extending adequate support to deserving artists and their innocent sacrificing families TO making differential payments based on other than art criteria which is very much rampant and virtual disaster of the culture scene leaving the deserving artists high and dry for they seldom get guidance / aptitude to acquire other than art related qualities to make it big in the present time.

- From awarding and rewarding based on talent, promise to fulfilment TO awarding and rewarding based on commercial intent, ulterior motives, biased recommendations, political influence, favours, etc.

- From organising festivals during the religious / auspicious occasions to benefit the artists as well as bring out the divine stories for the benefit of general public TO organising festivals without offering decent remuneration and in some cases the artists have to spend to perform, by which the artists and art become poor while the organisers gain at their cost both name and fame. It neither benefits the artist (no cultural audit to ensure justice) nor there are thronging crowds and the need of the general public is never in the minds of all concerned. The grand reason put forth by the organisers is that a platform is provided for the artists to perform.

- From social status as an artist of repute who were taken care of by the social fabric TO severe socio economic problems faced by the present day genuine artists.

- From availability of the art form, choreographies, etc in a transparent form exchanged with artists giving due credit so that the aesthetic quotient of the art goes up TO restrictions to promote hierarchies or in the name of Intellectual Property Rights.

- From learning from the most revered gurus / competent teachers and staying with gratitude to them TO the accomplished disciples moving to gurus / organisers who have the access to State Grants, Corporate Sponsorships leading to a situation wherein the artist is chiselled by one and handed over to more popular Gurudom / supply system akin to supply of material for a commercial unit.

- From learning under the feet of the guru in Gurukul TO acquiring diplomas / degrees / doctorates from Universities even without attending classes / sessions as prescribed.

- Above all from upholding right ethics in every step / adavu of the dance TO compromising on all ethics and treading upon the dead bodies of fellow artists / peer group to achieve the personal goals.
While we have been turning a blind eye to all of the above and some more not mentioned for want of maintaining decorum and etiquette, we have lost the right to complain, so to say.

The government's role is to plan, implement, engage specialists and appropriate personnel and patronise the art form, for basically they are employees of public and not art connoisseurs or possess knowledge of art. Direction has to come from a legal body and the government should facilitate, follow and implement. Do we want solutions taking the art form to the desired direction or just voicing through social media, self designed groups as and when problems arise instead of taking basic solid concrete steps to move forward and hand over the art form in a better way to the future generations.

Kuchipudi has survived wonderfully with the efforts of the Bhagavathas of Kuchipudi for centuries and no doubt it will continue to do so, but with the opening of the art form to the general public and more importantly to the distaff side, Kuchipudi art form finds itself in unnecessary entanglement and each one of the stakeholders have to look inside and see genuinely whether they are cause of the problem or aiding the working of the solutions. The small group of Bhagavathas stood firm and took the art form to great heights, while we are now large in numbers supported with resources spread worldwide but yet not in a position to show our gratitude and contribute adequately to the art form, so there is a definite need to get together as one single group.

The elite, academicians, professors, educated, genuinely interested, responsible persons know that one of the primary solutions is formation of an Association with ART as first and foremost objective wherein for the sake of art even we should not spare our own self and we need to accept / apologise, change or leave way for others. May be this act of the government is a wakeup call at the right time for the present day stakeholders of Kuchipudi or is it the legends from above who have sent this bolt from the blue for us to unite and act correctly. Lord Nataraja gives us lot of opportunities to correct ourselves in the normal way but sadly humans only respond to calamities and disasters and this is one such for starters. For our past experience points to the fact that many more are in store if right actions are not initiated with immediate effect by all the united force of the stakeholders. While we do see some positive sincere efforts taken by some of the stakeholders individually and sporadically, only an Association would bring the desired results since the combined efforts of all the stakeholders would increase both the intensity and focus to solve the problems like how when the rays of the sun are brought through a lens, it can burn something which otherwise the rays of the sun fails to do so.

Recently, I interviewed an eminent personality from silver screen who promoted Kuchipudi art form and the first thing he mentioned was the root cause of all the problems is we lack unity and on top of it we fight with differences among us all the time giving room for things to happen only to our art form while relatively such things are not seen often in other classical art forms. Still all is not lost, various classical art forms have bounced back like a phoenix and the situation is not that alarming or irretrievable though but if the incompetence, silence, division, egos and above all the docile attitude continues then in a very short time 'Evil Ring' will become a part of Kuchipudi and it may only be a start.

Kuchipudi fraternity, the answer lies in each of our hearts and the direction and lead will always come from the pure hearts for it is proved innumerable times in the history of mankind that PURITY WEAVES DESTINY.

Sudha Sridhar, a double graduate in Law & Dance is a cultural activist working on advocacy efforts to preserve, promote and propagate art forms and for the cultural rights and welfare measures for artists. Currently her main focus is on Kuchipudi heritage village and promotion of all the three streams of South Indian Yakshagana - Karnataka Yakshagana, Kuchipudi Yakshaganam and Melattur Bhagavathamela.

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