Traditional temple dances of Andhra were revived in a festive performance last week

It was a gala day for the dance styles of Andhra Natyam and Perini and their creator, octogenarian Padma Shri Nataraja Ramakrishna, who craves their revival. History says that these forms of temple and court dances once flourished on Andhra soil, with Perini dance flourishing during the Kakatiya rule, and were now simply vanishing because of lack of patronage of the state government.

Ramakrishna renamed these dances ‘Andhra Natyam' and Perini. These dances were again put to view at Ravindra Bharati on Sundayto a packed house. Kinnera Art Theatres arranged this programme also to celebrate Ramakrishna's 86th birthday.

Opening rituals

There were a record 86 artistes taking part in this programme, all of whom were nurtured by Nataraja Ramakrishna and his prime disciple Kalakrishna. It began with the temple dances Kumbha Harati, Vinayaka Kautvam, Pushpanjali and Vishnu Kaivaram. There was vast difference in the style of presentation and in costume work as compared to present day traditional dances. The Kumbharati is a prayer to the temple god with a round vessel in hand and a lamp over it. Sixty young children holding these pots and dancing as if they were presenting before the deity in the sanctum sanctorum was a sight to watch, all stepping to perfect rhythm. The Vinaya Kautvam and Pushpanjali too were part of these opening rituals of a temple dance, following Agama Sastra (principles to be followed in a temple).

The Vishnu Kaivaram looked different from what we have been watching in the sequences of the Rasaleela dance of Radha and Krishna. This was a sabdam. It was followed by Adhyatma Ramayana kirtana, the forgotten text narrating the whole of Ramayana, which was once a household chant, with mothers singing them as a ritual even while attending to their chores. However, this part was condensed up to Parasurama Garva Bhangam, where Rama downs the ego of Parasurama. It was well presented by the dance group.

The last piece was the Dasavatara theme, presented by the students of the Kapileswara Puram Harikatha Pathasala. The text and its presentation were altogether different. The way the girls lined up to present each avatar of Vishnu was a treat to watch, changing into different characters. This was written and choreographed by one of the ancient dancers of the area. It also presented the Navajanardanam practiced at a temple in Pithapuram, also revived by Nataraja Ramakrshna after taking the Talapatra Grandhas (palm leaves) from Pendela Satya Bhama, the temple dancer there. The Pravesa Daruvu of Satyabhama's entry was presented.

At the end Perini came into the picture with five young boys presenting them with typical make-up on.