Redefining the Andhranatyam dance form
  • Andhranatyam is an art possessing the inherent richness of languages, power, playfulness and prowess of elements that speak with the viewers.

    Considered a folk dance form, Andhranatyam is waiting to be conferred the ‘classical’ form status.

The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh brought a sharp curve in the destiny of Andhranatyam. Shaped for generations by several great performers, thinkers and vagyakaars who have explored the deep treasures of navarasas and lasya laden in the dance form, it has been cradled in Telugu culture, free of definitions, boundaries and emotional demarcations. Andhranatyam came under a warmer spotlight after the bifurcation.

After this historic event, artistes practising Andhranatyam felt it was time to push away the curtain from core matters surrounding its practice, performance, viewing, study and research. Andhranatyam is currently considered a folk dance form.

Ownership brings with it a sense of responsibility. For artistes practising Andhranatyam, the responsibility to make this dance form reach higher global avenues and to help the tradition embrace more and more learners guided by scholarship, grew, in weight and emotion. The dais - wide open, for the need, cause and pitch to get Andhranatyam, the deserved status of a classical dance form. While Sangeet Natak Akademi recognises the dance form (has instituted awards to Andhranatyam), the art has not been given the 'classical’ status. In 2017, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu (then a Union minister) had approached and urged the Centre to "examine possibility of recognising Andhra Natyam as a distinct art form and assign it an identification code".

Andhranatyam, rising steadily on the wheel of evolution in performance, practice and thought, for centuries, is still waiting to be uplifted in perception, practice and performance, as a "classical" dance form, of Andhra Pradesh, against the backdrop of Kuchipudi, which has been firm and flourishing as a classical dance form.

Andhranatyam is an art possessing the inherent richness of languages - Sanskrit and Telugu, and power, playfulness and prowess of elements that speak with the viewers as fluently as they converse with the deepest philosophies, human emotions and expressions that lead to the mould of classicism. It is a dance form that walks through the three worlds - one, of devotion within the sacred spaces of temples, the other, of measured candidness within a court, and yet another, of the vastness of narration in an open space that connects the artistes with the evolving audiences. Here, the stories are told and retold, to the 'masses’.

Here, in Bhamakalapam, Satyabhama walks in, in her immense love for Krishna, in her beauty and bhavas, her stinging anger, the length of a weapon - her flowered plait, her gait, her sweet guilt, her pricking gaze, her momentary display of indifference, her final recoil into pride, and devotion. Here, Satyabhama's canvas of emotions wraps Krishna bhaktas and viewers in the oneness of self and dual, and merges with her form and femininity.

Efforts to revive and celebrate Andhranatyam continue. Recently, Andhranatyam exponent Padma Mohan celebrated 95th birth anniversary of guru Nataraja Ramakrishna, at Potti Sriramulu Telugu University auditorium, Hyderabad.  More than 40 direct disciples of guru Nataraja Ramakrishna from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana attended the concert and took an oath to preserve and promote the dance form. The concert, according to the artiste, gave a "new impetus to the dance yagna".

On this occasion, Padma Mohan performed with a group of well-known and upcoming artists, to a live orchestra, presenting excerpts choreographed to new compositions. According to Padma Mohan, Andhranatyam was named, like other Indian classical dance forms, in 20th century, and finds its roots in Telugu nattuvamela artistes.

Continuing the legacy of guru Nataraja Ramakrishna, his disciples, scholars, performing artistes and institutions like Swaranartana and Andhranatyam Perini Artistes Association, individuals and institutions in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and abroad, take Andhranatyam to a wider audience. Preservation of a dance form is an eternal process. Andhranatyam artistes and gurus would feel more encouraged, energised and equipped to propagate the dance form in India and around the globe, with a strong and decisive approach towards disseminating knowledge on its classicism, visual vocabulary, grammar, musicality and sahitya, once it gets the special status.

Padma Mohan talks to Swarajya on how recognition for Andhranatyam as a classical dance form would help artistes, gurus and young learners explore it in new light.

Is there an influence or essence of other classical performing arts in Andhranatyam?

Technically, there is no influence of Kuchipudi at all. While speaking about Bharatnatyam, many artistes migrated from Telugu region to perform in king’s courts and to dance in temples. One may find some influence of the South Indian temple dance traditions in Andhranatyam, but the regional styles vary.

A dance troupe performs A dance troupe performs

Which traditional hubs and venues are associated with Andhranatyam?

The art form has evidences from the Buddhist aramas, for example, Nagarjunakonda and Amaravati, the sculptures and literary sources (Hala’s Gadha sapthasathi, etc). Andhranatyam prevailed even before Buddhist times. It is performed inside the temple, kalyana mandapas of temple premises and outside the temple by dedicated female artistes.

Where was it performed?

In the temples as daily, monthly and yearly rituals. At king’s courts, in public festivals, when the scholars assembled and in literary debates.

What prepared the ground for sahitya in Andhranatyam?

Many vaggeyakaras wrote their works in Telugu. Even kings wrote Yakshaganas and keerthanas in Telugu. Certainly, Andhranatyam has rich Sanskrit usage in Agama nartanam, and Sanskrit and Telugu in Asthana nartanam and Prabandha nartanam.

Which texts inspire and propel episodes and expressions in Andhranatyam?

In Andhranatyam, texts like Abhinayadarpana, Bharatarnavam, Nrittaratnavali, are followed for nritta and nritya techniques. Bharata rasa prakaranam, Rasa manjari and Rasarnava sudhakaram are followed for abhinaya and to perform Kshetrayya padams, javalis, Jayadeva’s ashtapadis. It is said that Jayadeva’s wife Padmavati belongs to the Telangana region.

Aesthetic values that guide its practice and performance:

The Marga tradition is exclusively followed in Agama nartanam with ritual values. The desi traditions in Navajanardhanam and Gollakalapam have many aesthetic values along with historical, social, economic values necessary to present and educate the common man.

Why does Andhranatyam need recognition as a classical dance form?

It is distinct from other southern ekapatra kelikas and the repertoire is a unique blend of temple, court and prabandha traditions.

Which music traditions, forms, compositions and musical instruments are associated with Andhranatyam?

Carnatic music with desi variations. Importance is given to ragabhava to present abhinaya. Compositions in Telugu and Sanskrit of various vaggeyakaras from ancient times are used. Mridangam, violin, flute, veena, ghatam are used in present day.

Which artistes, in your view, have contributed to the performance and visual language of Andhranatyam and its evolution?

Nayudupeta Rajamma, Pendyela Satyabhama, Bobbili Jeevaratnamma, Annabattula Buli Venkataratnamma, Saride Manikyamma, Jampa Mutyam, Chinta Chinaganiraju, Gudigunta Nagamanemma and other temple and court dancers along with Padmasree Dr Nataraja Ramakrishna - pioneer in teaching, propagating, preparing academical syllabus, as well as repertoire.

Tell us about your personal journey in Andhranatyam and its practice.

My personal journey in Andhranatyam has been rewarding. The initial years, from 1980 to 1990, were years of intense training and performance, programmes and participation in competitions all over India under the guidance of guru Nataraja Ramakrsina and guru Kalakrishna, Ahyatma Ramayana and Saride Manikyamma. The decade was like a ballet with multiple acts. Strong foundations for the dance were laid by my gurus for a long career but everybody, including myself, was not sure as to whether I can continue the dance after marriage.

I got married to Nalini Mohan Denduluri, an IFS officer with love for arts and culture and he encouraged me to continue the dance.  In 2009, I started my second innings. We started the Denduluri Foundation for the promotion of arts, culture, science and education for underprivileged and deserving students. I started practice and performances in front of our guru Nataraja Ramakrishna. I organised "Navajanardhanam and Nava satyabhamalu" as per Guruji's wish, four times, in 2011 and 2012 - a  feat not performed in 40 years. In 2009, Navatha, direct disciple of Guruji and I came in touch. She was away from dance for more than 20 years after her marriage. Fortunately, her husband K V Rao, an industrialist, also an art lover, encouraged Navata to go back to dance again.

Navata and I started Swaranartana, a dedicated dance academy for Andhra Natyam in 2014, and as a first project, we performed and produced the dance documentary in Andhranatyam. It was released by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu.

We are, on one hand, documenting literature and music associated with Andhranatyam and on the other hand, performing and recording audios and videos of different items, for the benefit of dance enthusiasts, students and general public to know and promote this art. Guru Kalakrishna is helping us in our efforts to promote and preserve the art form.

We are trying to get recognition for this beautiful and ancient lasya tradition of dance for about three years and are hopeful that Government of India will issue the final orders, declaring Andhranatyam a classical art, soon. It will help thousands of dance students and gurus get recognition and scholarships to pursue this art form as a profession and to do research.

How do you define ‘recognition’ in the context of Andhranatyam?

The same definition which has been followed for other major Indian classical dances like Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathak, Mohiniattam, etc, applies for Andhranatyam, too.

What does ‘recognition’ for Andhranatyam as a classical dance form mean to you?

Artistes performing Andhranatyam would acquire jobs, scholarships, fellowships, performance opportunities in national and international platforms. The recognition will help the art and artistes.

What difficulties have artistes pursuing and performing Andhranatyam faced?

There have been very less opportunities, scholarships, fellowships compared to other art forms. For scholarships and fellowships, awards have a separate quota and code for other classical forms in computers. There is no quota and code number in official records, computers and websites to apply for opportunities in this art form for younger generation who have passed post-graduation, diploma, certificate course levels waiting to pursue research work.

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