Kuchipudi is a fascinating Indian dance form that combines the intricate movements of classical dance with the narrative theatrical elements of drama. The result is a unique dance form that is easy to understand narrative in style, with fast rhythms, vivid expressions, and intricate graceful movements.

Kuchipudi originated as a dance drama form in a small village of the same name, near the Krishna river in Andhra Pradesh and was performed by travelling groups. The themes were religious and the dancers enjoyed the patronage of rulers but were also exposed to feudal exploitation. In the 14th century Siddhendra Yogi revived the dance style and formalized it by incorporating the principles of dance as mentioned in the Natya Shastra, the bedrock of all Indian classical dance styles. But he limited the practice of performing Kuchipudi to men. .

Legend has it, Siddhendra Yogi, was miraculously saved when his boat capsized in the Krishna River. He attributed this miracle to Lord Krishna. He composed a dance drama called Parijathapaharanam in Krishna's praise (in Praise of Lord Krishna), and got together a group of young Brahmin men from the village to perform it. This is possibly the oldest known Kuchipudi dance drama. So beautiful was this dance, and so readily understandable, that it became extremely popular. It became a custom in the village to choreograph and perform Kuchipudi dance dramas on major religious occasions.

The dance form spread further during the Bhakti movement between 11th and the 13th century, when dance dramas set to devotional themes were performed by a cast of all men in open-air theaters, with the men playing both the male and female roles. The dramas were usually opened by the narrator, or soothradhari accompanied by (music and ) the rhythms of the drums and cymbals. As the audience watched with rapt attention, the characters would introduce themselves, with the lead roles entering the stage behind a curtain. Dramatic elements were used heavily throughout the performance, with the characters speaking out dialogues to the audience during key moments. Dramatic sequences, like performing intricate footwork while standing on the rim of a brass plate with a pot of water balanced on the head, were highlights that never failed to awe the audience.

This art form was so beautiful that even the Muslim kings patronized it despite its Hindu origins, and held Kuchipudi performances in their courts. But with rise of British Empire, Kuchipudi lost its patronage. In the early part of the 20th century, Kuchipudi was kept alive and further stylized and formalized to include solo dancing by the zeal of dancers such as Vempati Venkatanarayana, Tadepalli Perayya Sastry, Chinta Venkataramayya and Vedantam Lakshminarayan Sastry. They developed a solo form of the dance adapted to the changing times. Women were introduced back into performing. The music for Kuchipudi is Classical Karnatic using instruments such as the mridangam, violin, veena, and flute as accompaniments. Late Vedantam Jagannadha Sharma, Sri Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma, Late Vempati Peda Satyam, Late PasumartiKrishnamurthi, Late Sri Acharyulu, Dr. Vemptai Chinna Satyam, Dr. K. Uma Rama Rao and other prominent teachers revitalized the Kuchipudi dance style in the second half of the twentieth century. Indrani Reheman and Yamini Krishnamurthy were the early performers. The next wave of dancers included, Radha-Raja Reddy, Chandrakala, Swapna Sundari, and Shobha Naidu, who in turn have trained hundreds of dancers. In the Bay Area, the Kuchipudi dance is alive with dancers such as Mythili Kumar, Jyothi Lakkaraju, and Shyamala Karra. A few Kuchipudi Rangapujas in the recent years hold the promise of continuing this rich tradition in the Bay Area. Today, the solo repertoire of Kuchipudi is more prevalent than the dance-drama form. With many dancers being trained in this style, new themes are being introduced. The future of Kuchipudi rests on its ability to appeal to large audiences by adapting to the new and fast changing world we live in, without changing the basic essence of the Kuchipudi style.
-authored by Vrinda Bhandarkar, disciple of Jyothi Lakkaraju