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Andhranatyam - Golden Jubilee Celebrations

By Satwika Penna

Why celebrate “Golden Jubilee” for a dance tradition which is as ancient as the origin of the temples and the temple rituals? What is the purpose behind this? And how is it possible to draw together artists around the world during the pandemic?

These were the questions put forward to us by many of the dancers, dance enthusiasts, critics, and others. Answering the “WHY, WHAT, AND HOW” through this write-up -

Andhranatyam is an ancient traditional temple dance form of the Telugu region. It is a style that became inert at one point in time and was revived with the efforts of Guru Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishna Garu along with other renowned temple dancers and courtesans, Andhranatyam reinstituted into the mainstream.

August 23rd’ 1970 was the day, the term “Andhranatyam” suggested by Annabattula Buli Venkataratnamma was unanimously accepted by everyone who was present at one of the major conferences held at Rajahmundry with the participation of almost 31 devadasis, presided over by Nataraja Ramakrishna Garu. From 1970 to date, the incredible evolution of Andhranatyam obviously entails a celebration of the dance and the dancers alike.

The original idea behind the Golden Jubilee Celebrations was perceived in January 2020 by Dr. Suvarchala Suresh, and it was planned on a large scale, a Mega event with the performances, seminars, and lecture demonstrations by the Shishya, Prasishyas of Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna Garu. Things turned out bitter after March, with everything locked up. That is when the world turned towards online platforms for most of the activities.

The Golden Jubilee Celebrations was initiated with a pre-event in June 2020, when we at Sree Lasya Academy – Dr. Suvarchala Suresh, and I came up with a concept to organize online performances. Prior to the performance series, we wanted to include all the senior disciples in this event to share their journey in Andhranatyam and their learning experience under Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna. We started off by collecting pre-recorded videos of the senior disciples of Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna who were trained by him in the 1960s, 70’s and ’80s from all over the world. I gathered comprehensive information, videos, and audios from Andhranatyam artists around the world. I uploaded around 50 – 60 videos of the artists for a week on Andhranatyam- Perini Natyam Facebook page. All of the lovely videos created a happy nostalgia for each and every Andhranatyam and Perini artiste. And these were fixated mainly on the process of evolution that happened in Andhranatyam as the dancers themselves spoke about the richness of the dance they practiced for many years.

I also brought together a few of the young and promising dancers of Andhranatyam as well as Perini for a live treat of performances. “A Dancing Ode to Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna” - was a three-day dancing tribute to the legendary Guru on his 9th Vardhanthi. The event was live on 5th, 6th, and 7th June 2020 on Andhranatyam - Perini Natyam Facebook page with Agamanartanam performances on the first day, Asthananartanam on the second day, Prabandhanartanam on the third day, and Perini presentations on all three days. (Still available on the page for viewing). With the amazing support and viewership that we had for this event, we went ahead with an apt strategy for organizing the Golden Jubilee Celebrations.

Dates of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations – 23rd, 24th & 25th August 2020.

5 performances were planned for each day for the three-day celebrations. The schedule included one group performance on each day and the remaining slots for solos. Disciples of Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna Garu from all over the world were very keen to perform for the event. The choreographies of Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna Garu, Saride Manikyamma Garu, Annabattula Buli Venkataratnamma Garu were planned accordingly also keeping in mind the arrangement of Agama, Asthana, and Prabandha techniques. As part of showing the evolution of Andhranatyam, three choreography works of Guru Kalakrishna garu were also presented on each day.

I gathered the pre-recorded performances from them and streamed all the videos on the Facebook page.

On day 1 – 23rd August, Guru Kala Krishna Garu and Uma Maheswari garu began the event with the lighting of the lamp. It was such a vibrant opening with the dynamic duo’s presence on day 1 and their words of blessing for us which created an inspirational drive for hosting a successful celebration.

Performances on day 1:

· Disciples of Perini Srinivas Garu presented Kumbhaharathi, Pushpanjali, Alarimpu, and Kautam as part of the Agamanartanam,

· Sanjay Vadapalli’s presentation as part of Asthananartanam - a rare Adhyatma Ramayana keerthana – Sree Rama Jananam (Andamuga ee katha),

· Prabandhanartanam (Navajanardana Parijatham) was presented by Haritha Kanagala (Pravesha daruvu), Suneetha Ammula (Siggayenoyamma).

· Gollakalapam – an excerpt of Gollabhama pravesha daruvu was presented by Satwika Penna (re-choreographed work of Guru Kalakrishna garu bringing out the essence of the age old technique in the Devadasi tradition)

Performances on day 2:

An Audio-Visual on Andhranatyam, Saride Manikyamma Garu, Annabattula Buli Venkataratnamma Garu were presented.

· Anandanartana Ganapathi – a choreography of Guru Kalakrishna Garu was presented by Muvva as part of Agamanartanam,

· Asthananartanam:

1. Vagdevi Arts Academy – Perini Pavan and family presented Tripurasamhara sabdam

2. Dr. Sudha Kalvagunta presented Adhyatma Ramayana Keerthana (Sri Rama Viswaroopa sandarshanam)

3. Sravanthi Rakesh – Adhyatma Ramayana Keerthana (Sita Swayamvara),

4. Archana Upamaka presented Apudu Manasu Javali

· Prabandhanartanam – Navajanardana Parijatham was presented by Sumana (Kalahakaaranam)

Performances on day 3:

· Radhanika School of dance - disciples of Nisha Maguluru presented Vishnu kaivaram (Sandhya samayamu) as part of Agamanartanam,

· Mounika presented a choreography work of Guru Kalakrishna garu (Neelakanta Mahadeva – in praise of Lord Shiva)

· Sunila Gollapudi presented Adhyatma Ramayana Keerthana (Parashurama Garvabhangam) as part of Asthananartanam

· Prabandhanartanam – Navajanardana Parijatham was presented by Chinmayi Arukala (Manmadha aagamana daruvu), Neeharika Cherukumilli (Chandamama daruvu and Dandamokati

All the performances were quite brilliant, and it is the technique of Andhranatyam that stands out and tops it all. The true essence of Andhranatyam was brought to the forefront like never before. This event marked its importance and was inspirative in many ways to people who stopped dancing for a while, as they have actually stepped forward to dancing their heart out on later occasions.

Also, a talk on the Devadasis was organized on 25th August’ 2020. The talk was presented by Dr. Manohari Garu, historian, and writer. Her presentation titled “Udhaattha daiva, samaaja seva pratinidhulu – Narthakeemanulu” – involved the inscriptional evidence of the dancers in temples, their services to the community, and temples, their heritage, the traditional values they had, their devotion towards the culture.

I also managed a hashtag #50yearsofandhranatyam on Instagram with a collaborative giveaway with my friend and artist Nihaarika Alahari, to create an engaging audience for Andhranatyam and the event which was to be held. It was a baby step from my side for propagating Andhranatyam.

I have done all this with so much respect, love, vision towards Andhranatyam, the dance that I practice, and with the constant support from both my Gurus Kalakrishna Garu and Dr. Suvarchala Suresh Garu.

Andhranatyam truly and duly brings out the culture of our motherland and with respect to its vast repertoire, it is completely distinct and striking with regard to any other Indian dances. And the Golden Jubilee Celebrations are still being continued virtually with various interesting and innovative concepts which is really an amazing collaborative effort by of all us in the Andhranatyam – Perini dancer community. And I am extremely elated to be a part of all these celebrations as a fellow dancer and dance enthusiast.

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