KUCHIPUDI is the Dance Drama Tradition of Andhra Pradesh

  • Introduction to Kuchipudi, the classical dance style of Andhra Pradesh. Article also covers the origin, evolution and technique of this dance form over time.  

Kuchipudi, the classical dance style of Andhra Pradesh, is accepted as a solo dance style that has evolved from the dance drama tradition of Bhagavata Mela Natakam. Stories of Hindu tradition, particularly Vishnu Sampradaya (Vishnu worship), are interpreted through the medium of stylized and rhythmic movements, typical “hasta mudras” (hand gestures), and expressional dancing. Kuchipudi pays equal emphasis to elegance and vibrant movements. It is performed by both men and women.


Also read Significance of and About Hasta-mudras

Yamini Reddy performing at Elephanta Festival 2011. 

Evolution and history

The word Kuchipudi comes from the village Kuchelapuram in Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh. The Sanskrit word Kusilava-puram refers to the village of actors, travelling bards or dancers. The authoritative text on dance and dramaturgy Natya Sastra, written by Bharata Muni, with 6,000 verses in 36 chapters, evolved during 500 BCE to 500 CE. It mentions the graceful movements known as Kaisiki Vritti. The 1st millennium Sanskrit text by Bruna Nettle credits its origin to the second century. However, a pre-second century text calls one raga (musical melody), as Andhri (Andhra), related to Gandhari Arshabi. Thereby, Kuchipudi evolved from the 2nd century itself.


Also read What is a Raga

Yamini R. Shivas bhavabhinaya means expressions.

The ancient dance form of Kuchipudi finds its place in the 10th century copper inscriptions and in the 15th century texts like Machupalli Kaifat. They refer to Kuchipudi dance. According to Manohar Varadpande, Kuchipudi emerged during the late 13th century and the reign of Ganga rulers of Kalinga. The dancers also enjoyed royal patronage during the reign of King Krishnadevaraya of the Vijayanagara Empire.


R C Mazumdar wrote in the foreword of Vol 6 of the History and Culture of Indian People that the rise of Independent States (1300 to 1526) meant more courts and thereby the centres of patronage.”

Argalam Karana – Yamini Reddy. 

In 1678, the last Shia Muslim Sultan of Golkonda, Abul Hasan Qutub Shah, gifted the Kuchipudi village o the dancers, as he was quite impressed with their brilliant performance. However, Aurangzeb was completely against arts and artists. The British too, did not approve of classical dancers and performing arts suffered a setback.

Haasayam or Laughter/ridicule-Yamini R. 

Pioneer mentors and technique

The foremost pioneer mentors were Vedantam Lakshiminarayana Sastri (1886- 1956), Vempatti Venkataramayya Sastri and Chinta Venaktaramayya Sastri.


Prior to the Bhagavata Nataka tradition, dancers interpreted stories related to Shaivism that were known as Brahmana Melas. According to the tradition Nattuva Melas related to the invocatory Puja dance, Kalika dance in the Kalyana mandapa, Natya Mela pertained to ritual dances, Kalika dance for intellectuals and Bhagavatam for commoners in order to reach out to a larger section of people, as classical dance was not understood by the common man.

Raudram or anger-Yamini R. 

Teertha Narayana Yati, who wrote the Krishna Leela Tarangini, was a sanyasin (sage) of Advaita Vedanta. He and his disciple Siddhendra Yogi founded the systematised version of Kuchipudi dance in the 17th century and wrote Bhama Kalapam (story of Satyabhama), He promoted Kuchipudi, encouraged and motivated Brahmin boys to take up Kuchipudi dancing. Why not women?  Then it was felt that if females danced, the purity of dance would be destroyed. This indeed was a major step, pertaining to the development of Kuchipudi dance.


Vempatti Chinna Satyam further refurbished the dance style and placed it on the international map. The technique is similar to Bharata Natyam but unlike Bharata natyam Kuchipudi dancers are quite light-footed and the speed changes in split seconds. The spring like movements, like a bouncing ball, make the presentation quite different and with a folkish touch.


Kuchipudi is quite complex and the rhythmic patterns of footwork and movements change rapidly and abruptly. Hence, unless the dancer has a fine command of rhythm (tala), he or she will not be able to perform precisely which is the hallmark of Kuchipudi dancing.

Latavrscika Karana-Yamini Reddy. 

Unlike Bharata Natyam that follows different geometrical patterns with sharp and vibrant movements, Kuchipudi differs with the style of presentation which is light-footed and many times the dancer is moving on her toes and stamps on the feet after completing a particular sequence of movement and not otherwise. The dancer dances, after the completion of a particular verse or sahitya, as equal emphasis is paid to expressional dancing, as the story-telling aspect of dance is consistent, along with varied simultaneous movements of the hands and legs.


Thus, fine training is essential which starts at a tender age, as it is not easy to maintain the harmony and synchronization of dance with music and the exposition of various gestures, gesticulations and abhinaya in particular. It takes several years of consistent practice or riyaaz to reach a certain level of proficiency or mastery over the art form.

Raja and Radha Reddy performing the Raasa-Vilaas of Lord Krishna. 

Performance and music

Bhama Kalapam (story of royal lady Satyabhama), written by Siddhendra Yogi, is considered the mainstay of the Kuchipudi repertoire. Besides Golla Kalapam, written by Ramiah Sastri, is an ethical satire between Gopis and Brahmins. Kritis of Tyagaraja and Padams of Kstreyya etc, are also part of the performance. Music is in Carnatic style although sometimes Hindustani ragas are also used


American Esther Sharman, renamed as Ragini Devi, whose daughter Indrani Bajpai or Indrani Rehman and Yamini Krishnamurthi are among the foremost exponents. Leading exponents are Raja, Radha and Kaushalya Reddy (my mentors), Swapna Sundari, Shoba Naidu, Vyjayanti Kashi, Jayarama Rao and Vanashree Rao, Padmaja Reddy, Vempatti Srimoyi, Bala Tripurasundari, Deepika Reddy, Narasimha Chari, Anuradha J, Vanaja Lal, Alekhya Punjala and young dancers like Yamini and Bhavana Reddy, Parateeksha Kashi, Avijit Das, Amarnath Ghosh etc.

Raja, Radha, Yamini, Bhavana Reddy performing the Tarangam, dancing on the rim of brass plate. When the dancer dances on the rim of brass plate all earthly connections are broken & prayers reach Ishwara directly.

Traditionally, a Kuchipudi performance commences with invocations to the trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara, a shloka in praise of Ganesha and the goddess. The dancer seeks blessings and divine intervention for the success of the performance, without any hindrance whatsoever. The Jatiswaram marks the fine combination of music, melody and rhythm, interwoven with stylized and intricate rhythmic patterns. Hence, the dance needs to be completely prepared for. Other items of the repertoire includes, the padam sabdam varnam, bhajan, finally the Thillana and the Tarangam which is considered the highlight of the performance, as the dancer dances on the rim of the brass plate, executing complex and rhythmic patterns with precision

Amarnath Ghosh.

Performances are normally solo but lot of dance dramas are presented like Rukmini Kalyanam, Sreenivasa Kalyanam, Dashavataram, Ramayana or stories pertaining to Lord Shiva, Ganesha and Shakti.


It is believed that if you have to please Lord Krishna, you have to appear in the “female aharya” at least once in your lifetime. During the early 19th century females were barred from performing Kuchipudi as it was believed that if females perform, the chastity of the dance form will be destroyed. Hence Siddhendra Yogi pledged and induced Brahmins to take to Kuchipudi dancing. Times have changed now. 

Vempatti Srimayi.

One of the mainstays of the Kuchipudi repertoire is enaction of the story of Satyabhama in Bhama Kalapam. The interesting story that unfolds is, Krishna wanted to teach Satybhama a lesson as she was proud and arrogant and considered herself to the most beautiful woman in the world. In the encounter with Satyabhama Krishna asks her, who is more beautiful “You or me”, Krishna knew the answer, as expected Satyabhama considered herself to be more beautiful than Krishna. Also, Krishna argued with her and abruptly drifted away, so that she would realise her folly of being ahankaari (egoistic). Later Satyabhama realised her mistake and repented.

Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant.

Lastly, I narrate an interesting incident in the life of the renowned Kuchipudi exponent, Dr Yamini Krishnamurti. While dancing to the popular number Swami Ra Ra (My Lord, please come), she was addressing the audience with her beautiful netra abhinaya. A Sardarji from the audience felt that he was being called to the stage so he went up to meet her. Yamini retorted, “I am calling My Swami. My Lord. You Are not My Swami.”

Avijit Das.


Guru Vijay Shanker is a professional Kuchipudi, Kathakali exponent, dance teacher, choreographer, actor and arts critic for over four decades, contributing for national and international publications. He is particularly credited for his lecture-demonstrations on Indian classical dancing which is a fine combination of both education and entertainment.


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