Nayika, a seminar on contribution of women to Kuchipudi, brought to the fore stories of women who have enriched the art form with their passion and commitment.

The seminar on the contribution of women to Kuchipudi, organised by Shambhavi School of Dance, brought in speakers like the legendary danseuse Dr. Yamini Krishnamurthi, Kottapalli Padma, Suvarna Latha, Anuradha Janolgodda, Usha R.K. and Vyjayanthi Kashi -- each representing a different generation and speaking about their journey through dance.

Yamini Krishnamurthi, fit for the reigning doyen of Kuchipudi, said: “The concept of divinity of a woman is not about being a consort of this god or that god but she is a goddess in her own right. Never underestimate the power of a woman – she is mentally strong, meticulous, emotional and thinks from her heart. She is a combination of beauty and brains. In the 16 century, Kuchipudi was performed by Brahmins, the Bhagavatars as dance dramas. They presented items like “Bhamakalapam” and “Gollakalapam”. Though based on religious scripture, the form was secular in spirit. But they were unable to capture the audience. It was three decades ago that women were brought. Today, they dominate Kuchipuidi. This is a great transformation, which needs to be applauded. My mother-tongue being Telugu it was easy for me to understand the nuances of the form and its compositions. My sister’s singing and my father’s illuminating explanations, gave my dance recital a universal appeal. The art became popular in India and abroad and also gained the label of being a classical dance. It created history,” she explained.

Suvarna Latha, a trained Bharatanatya and Kuchipudi dancer, spoke only Telugu, but with a passion that moved the audience. She stepped aside from the microphone, tucked her sari and did an impromptu performance showing the difference between how men exaggerated their moves to look feminine, which “bordered on vulgarity.” Immediately, she contrasted it with the natural way the woman sways her hips or the grace that she depicts. It had us in splits. Latha also added that “parents should encourage their children to learn the arts. It is sad that today a teacher only learns four items, practices three, remember two and teaches one!”

Kothapalli Padma, belongs to a family of Tenali, started dancing at the age of five. She learnt from Vempatti Chinna Satyam. She too used dance to communicate.

“A woman sacrifices a lot for the family even though she desires to be a performer. Though my husband encouraged me to perform, my son hated it. In spite of all these hardships, I believe every dancer has kept the art going in her own way with her own contribution.”

Usha RK, an art consultant said: “It was Vedantam Narayana Sastry, who travelled across south India teaching students outside the Kuchipudi village. He taught the Yakshagana style of Kuchipudi. Vempati Pedda Satyam and Vempatti Chinna Satyam were his disciples. He was the first person to teach a temple dancer this form and that’s how the contribution of women started. He has also taught legends like Bala Saraswati, Tara Chowdhury and others abhinaya. His daughter, Shanti Shastry, was also his student. Later it was Vempatti Chinna Satyam, Narayana Shastry, Nataraja Ramakrishna and C.R. Acharya who took the dance forward. Vempattigaru started teaching women in the cinema. Actors such as Vyjayantimala Bali, Lalitha, Padmini and Rajasulochana learnt from him. Even the costume was created between 1940-49 to make the figure look good on screen. Vempattigaru later brought out another version of the same costume for the stage.” Having traced this bit of history in an exhaustive way, she however said that the complete responsibility for rendering the art to the public goes to numerous female dancers who sprung up like Urvashis to flood the dance world. The credit to make Kuchipudi a household name goes to Manju Bhargavi, who with one film, “Shankarabharanam,” catapulted the form to new heights. In Karnataka it was P.N.S. Murthy, who made his daughter Veena a dancer. She learnt the aggressive male style from Sunanda - the only teacher in those days. Vyjayanthi Kashi and Usha Datar are the other who popularised it here. The latter’s contribution to the form is also important even though her presentation had more leanings toward the folk style, she observed.

Anuradha Janolgodda presented a short film that had dance clippings of Indrani, Lanka Annapurna, and Yamini, which gave us a glimpse of the past.

Speaking about Lanka Annapurna, Vyjayanthi Kashi said: “She was a dancer who could sing and dance. She was beautiful and so popular that her jealous fiancé pushed her off the railway bridge when a train passed by. She lost both her legs and was the first dancer to dance with prostrate legs and not Sudha Chandran. It’s sad that history does not acknowledge this. This is just one of the stories that we hear. Yet, we women want to dance. This commitment has to be acknowledged by all.”