A story of Andhra Natyam, It's Antiquity, History & Revival
There are two ancient dance traditions in India, Natya Mela, performed by men, and Nattuva Mela, which women perform. Andhranatyam belongs to the Nattuva Mela tradition. Andhranatyam, the ancient classical dance form of the Telugu regions (Telangana, Rayalaseema, and Andhra), has been in vogue for the past 2000 years. It may sound new to people, but it is as old as the temples constructed. It was performed in the Buddhist Aramas, temples, and royal courts by the Telugu regions’ cultured and dedicated female artists. Andhranatyam is formerly known with different names like Aradhana, Kacheri, Darbar, Kelika, Chinna Melam, Mejuvani, and Dasi Ata, etc.,
Unlike other female dances like Bharatanatyam, temple, and court dances, Andhranatyam had become inert at one point in time. It was later revived in 1970 and is being propagated for the last 50 years at national and international platforms, particularly in the Telugu-speaking regions.
Andhranatyam at a Glance
A documentary on our repertoire, antiquity & constitution of Andhranatyam
Antiquity of Andhranatyam
The Mukhalingeswara Temple, located in the Srikakulam district, is known for dance worship during the Akhanda Deeparadhana ritual by Deva Ganikas as per the temple inscriptions 8th century AD.
In the Saka year 1057, an inscription mentioned the donation to Sthanapathi. The dancers were Manasani, Yerllasani, Brahmasani, Bollasani, Vidiyasani, and others. The Devanartakis (temple dancers) of Andhra Pradesh claim to be descendants of Urvashi, born as an "amsa" or a part of Maha Vishnu. Therefore, they have the privilege to perform a ritual dance in the temples. Those who participate in katcheri and kalapas belong to the lineage of Rambha and Menaka. The temple dancers themselves disclosed this.
In Telugu literature, from the 10th century to the 19th century, various Padyakavyas (poetry), Gadyakavyas (prose) have descriptions of the styles of dances performed courts of the kings by the Rajanarthakis.
In the 12th century, literary works like Basavapuranam, Panditharadhya Charithra, Thikkana's Telugu translation of Srimad Mahabharata, and others had narratives about dances, but also the technique of the dance item which the dancers are portraying. Some poets even mentioned the dance treatises, technical expressions, etc. The dancer’s entrance, Kutupa Vinyasam, Melaprapthi, was illustrated in a picturesque style by the Telugu poets.
Reference to literary works
Some of the literary works which mentioned about dance are:
1. Srimadaandhra Mahabharatam - 1022 AD - 1063 AD - Nannaya
2. Kumara Sambhavam - 1150 AD - Nannecholudu
3. Srimadaandhra Mahabharatam - 1250 AD - Thikkana
4. Nirvachanottara Ramayana - 1250 AD - Thikkana
5. Nrisimha Puranam - 1322 AD - 1349 AD - Errapragada
6. Kashikhandamu - 1440 AD - Srinadha Kavi
7. Kreedabhiramam - 1423 AD - 1445 AD - Srinadha Kavi
8. Vyjayanthi Vilasam - 1581 AD - 1611 AD - Sarangu Thammaya
9. Sringara Naishadam - 1415 AD - Srinadha Kavi
10. Hamsavimshathi - 1770 AD - 1775 AD - Ayyalaraju Narayanamathyudu
11. Charuchadrodayam - 1615 AD - 1675 AD - Chennamaraju
12. Parijathapaharanam - 1509 AD - 1532 AD - Nandi Thimmaya
More than 60 kavya can be taken into account.
Temples in the Telugu regions are architectural marvels on their own. The sculptures in these temples speak volumes about the temple dance tradition and performing arts of the Telugu regions supporting the very fact that a very distinct art form exists which needs to be patronized.
Before Hinduism, Andhra Pradesh state served as a significant center of Jainism and Buddhism. The symbolic relics and ancient sites are strewn across the state and serve as evidence of these religious sects. In the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh, Sculptures of Amaravati have been widely recognized and associated with prominence by Buddhist followers. Dancing was prevalent during this era, and the sculptures confirm the same. The Satavahana Empire, which lasted for over 450 years from 230 BCE to 220 BC, built the great city of Amaravati, which is renowned for its dancing sculptures. Later Andhra region was ruled by some prominent dynasties like Andhra Ikshavakus, Brihatpalayanas, Anandagotrikas, Salankayanas, Pallavas, Vishnukundinas, and Eastern Chalukyas, who were all great patrons of art and culture.
The Kakatiyan era in the 11th century brought Shaivism to prominence. Jayappa Senani, who was the chief commander of elephant force in the army of Kakatiya during the reign of King Ganapati Deva, a scholar in arts himself, penned Nritta Ratnavali, a dance epic, Geeta Ratnavali on music and Vadya Ratnavali on musical instruments, where he mentioned about the music and dance in desi styles. Performing arts of Telugu regions enthralled even the Islamic rulers who took great interest in preserving the regional art forms.
During the reign of such a distinguished set of rulers in the Telugu region, performing arts gained a significant position. Most of the temples had dedicated performing artists referred to with utmost respect as Deva Ganikas and enjoyed a special status in society.
According to research on temple inscriptions by the famous historian B. N. Sastry, there are many Sila Sasahanams (inscriptional pillars) that mentioned Deva Ganikas and Raja Narthakis or the court dancers with much reverence. The research work on Sila Sasanams or the descriptive plaques at several temples in Andhra Pradesh does mention the temple dancers. Dance in that era is considered very sacred and was performed by specialists dedicated to the temples as "Deva Narthakis" or the temple dancers. Other terms that are used to refer to the temple dancers are Sanulu, Ganikalu, and Devadasis.
Gudisani played a significant role in the temple rituals. The inscriptions of 1535 AD, 1545 AD, and others reveal that the dancers Chikkayasani, Govindasani, Bejji Hanumasani, and Lingasani dedicated their lives to the temple rituals. We can find many inscriptions from the 5th and 6th centuries, mentioning the Deva Ganikas, Gudisanis. They contributed in the form of donations for the maintenance of the temple (Akhanda deepam) and the village community’s welfare.
Temples and Aramas
The following are the notable temples where the dance was part of rituals.
1. Mukhalingam - Siva temple
2. Srikurmam - Vishnu temple
3. Arasavilli - Surya temple
4. Simhachalam - Narasimha temple
5. Muramalla - Vireswara temple
6. Palivela - Koppeswara
7. Visweswara Agraharam - Visweswara
8. Ryali - Jaganmohinikesava
9. Korukonda - Narasimhaswami
10. Achanta - Achateswara
11. Antharvedi - Narasimha
12. Draksharamam - Bhimeswara
13. Samarlakota - Kumara Rameswara Swami
14. Palakollu - Kshirarameswara Swami
15. Gunipudi Bhimavaram - Someswara
16. Dwaraka Tirumala - Srivenkateswara
17. Bapatla - Bhavanarayana
18. Ponnuru - Bhavanarayana
19. Chebrolu - Bhavanarayana
20. Singarayakonda - Narasimha
21. Ballipadu - Madanagopalaswami
22. Pithapuram - Kunthimadhava
23. Nellore - Ranganadha
24. Tirupati - Srivenkateswara
25. Srikalahasti - Sri Kalahastiswara Swamy
26. Amaravati - Amaralingeswara
27. Srisailam - Mallikarjuna Swami
28. Alampuram - Jogulamba, Navabrahma
29. Cheyyuru - Sundareswara
30. Pillalamarri - Nameswara
31. Pillalamari - Erakeswara
32. Nagulapadu - Trikuta
33. Orugallu - Rudreswara
34. Palampeta - Ramappa
35. Kotagulla - Ghanapeswara
36. Panagallu - Chchayasomeswara
37. Panagallu - Pachchala Someswara
38. Pillalamarri - Someswara
39. Nagulapadu - Veerabhadra Swami
40. Nagulapadu - Haitheswara Trikuta
41. Kothapalli - Trikuta
42. Nagunuru - Trikuta
43. Bejjanki - Lakshmi Narasimha
44. Nandikandi - Ramalingeswara
45. Kalthe dancers are portrayinggameswara
47. Koosumanchi - Ganapeswara
48. Dichpalli - Rama
49. Jainadh - LaTheAdancer’s entrance Sri Venkateswaraswamy
Pancha aramas in Andhra Pradesh:
1. Bhimeswara - Draksharama
2. Kumararama - Samarlakota
3. Somarama - Gunupudi
4. Kshirarama - Palakollu
5. Amararama - Amaravati
The sculpturesque evidence of temple dance: Near Srisailam in the Ahobilam temple, the sculpture of a dancer offering Pushpanjali is exquisitely carved. The rich ornamentation of the dancer with Vaishnava Namam can be observed in this sculpture.
Dancers & Patrons
Deva Ganikas and temples
One of the famous Deva Ganikas entwined with Andhra Pradesh state history, and the religious place is Manikyamba, Draksharamam temple in the East Godavari district. Manikyamba served as the Deva Ganika in the Bhimeswaram temple, who danced a temple ritual. The locals believe that she is the reincarnation of that temple goddess Devi Manikyamba, who was born to serve the main deity, Shiva. This temple dates back to the mid-800 AD.
Sri Koormam Temple of Srikakulam district housed a Deva Ganika named Venkata Ratnamma, who shared her dancing ritual details with Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna during his research on temple dance traditions of Andhra Pradesh. The temple inscription dates back to 1281 AD.
Kunti Madhava Swami Temple in Pithapuram is famous for dance worship by Deva Ganikas for over 300 years. Macharla in Guntur district is home to Chennakesava and Veera Bhadra temples in the 12th century AD. During the rule of Brahma Nayudu, who belonged to the Hari-Hara religion, the legend goes by stating that the devotees' wishes will be fulfilled after bathing in Chandravanka River, offering prayers at Chennakesava Temple, and watching the Chandram dance ritual of the temple performed by a famous Deva Ganika named Chandramukhi.
Some of the famous Rajanarthakis or court dancers who served the Andhra region’s rulers were Machal Devi during the Kakatiyan period, Lakuma Devi in Kondaveeti, Reddys Samsthaanam, Kuppaayi, Tirumallama, and Muthu Chandra Rekha from the Vijayanagara era, to name a few.
Some of the famous court and temple dancers of the 20th century are Nayudupeta Rajamma, Cheyyooru Sarada, Madhurantakam Andaallu, Thiruttani Ranganayaki, Kaluvai Nagamani, Macherla Radha, Poola Mahalakshmi, Jeediguntla Nagamani, Chedalavada Samrajyam, Chataparru Balatripura Sundari, Marempalli Vaidehi, Induvadana, Koormam Bade Venkata Ratnam, Annabathula Reddy Shastri, Annabathula Buli Venkata Ratnamma, Chinta Veera Bhadram, Chinta Chinigani Raju, Koone Chitti Raju, Saride Manikyamma, Jeeva Rathnamma and several others who promoted and propagated lasya dance traditions of Andhra Pradesh.
There are many references with dates and historical evidence of Deva Ganikas and Rajanarthakis in Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna’s published works, who is instrumental in bringing these Telugu regions’ dance traditions h some of its performers.
Dance in a temple was an auspicious offering to the presiding deity. For this reason, only a Gudisani (temple dancer) who had dedicated her life to the temple’s service had to lead a pious life as mentioned in the scriptures.
Formerly they used to spend their devout life with complete devotion and dedication to god as Tapaswinis. Later on, the social, political, and economic dominant artists seminar their lifestyle and tempted them to have a hereditary right to perform temple duties to enjoy the land, the temple. So the temple dancers used to adopt their relative's children and dedicate them to the temple service. This situation gradually changed. Instead of assuming others' children, they wanted to have Nattuva Mela’s revival leads and chiefs of the villages or towns exploited this situation for their selfish needs. This caused the gradual degradation of the social status of Gudisanis, who were previously having much regard in the hearts of the people. This situation created a separate class of dancing girls.
The impact of the degradation of Gudisani influenced dance art. This resulted in the fall of dance art, particularly in the temple. So dance art was driven out of the temple. The dance art in the temple and dedication of dancing girls was abolished at the beginning of the 20th century. The influence of the Devadasi Act made the dancers give up dance and seek other professions. Even then, they were identified as Kalavanthulu. The impact of the Devadasi Act is reflected in two ways. In one way, it gave a new life to those communities of dancers who were looked down upon; in another way, the art of dance lost its grandeur, greatness, and prestige. The elite of the society and art lovers like C. Sambamurthy, E. Krishna Iyer, and Rukmini Devi Arundale took revolutionary steps to promote the dance art Tamilnadu. They revived and developed the 'Sadir,' the Devadasi dance tradition of Tamilnadu, by giving a new name, 'Bharatanatyam.' They strived hard to make the people understand the richness of the dance art in India and its spirituality, aesthetics, and science.
Like E. Krishna Iyer, Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna has strived hard to promote Telugu regions’ dance traditions for the last four decades. This urge of his promoting dance in the Telugu regions influenced some of the lasya dance artists. Induvada of Marampalli, who participated in the Kuchipudi Seminar to prove 'Kuchipudi' dance as a classical one at the National level in 1958, requested Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna to promote their lasya style of dancing, which is distinct from Kuchipudi. So, Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna convened a seminar of lasya dance artists in 1970 at Rajahmundry on Andhra Pradesh Sangeet Nataka Academy.