This basic introduction to Indian classical dance and Kuchipudi was written by Prnay Chopra and may be quoted with appropriate citations.


In a culture as artistic, spiritual, and philosophical as ancient India, dance was used to explain complex metaphysical truths from the Sanskrit scriptures to the common man in their vernacular. Being part of temple ritual, dance held a very protected and esteemed place in ancient Indian culture. Today, there are eight forms of classical dance from various regions of India - all based on their vernacular and communal interpretation of a scriptural text known as the Natya Shastra, written around 400 BC.


Classical dance in India, known as natyam, was not brought into existence for mere entertainment, but to provide spiritual upliftment and social welfare. The story is dictated in the opening chapter of the Natya Shastra: In the time of the Vedas, people began to forget the scripture and fell prey to materialistic pleasures, desire, and greed. The gods approached Brahma with the notion that although the Vedas are infallible scriptures, for the humans who are intrinsically tied to the physicality of their nature, there is a need for knowledge that is both audible and visible, and can belong to all classes of society, not just those who can read Sanskrit and understand the scriptures. Brahma went into meditation and created  a fifth Veda which outlined a form of movement known as natyam, in order to give guidance to the people. To facilitate this creation, he took a part from each of the four Vedas: the recitation from the Rig Veda, the melody from the Sama Veda, the ritual practice from the Yajur Veda, and the emotionality from the Atharva Veda - hence, the Natya Shastra was born.


In the early days, the precursor to Kuchipudi was the various dance and theater traditions that existed throughout the villages of Andhra Pradesh, used to tell stories and entertain the villagers while troops of dancers traveled through the countryside. Around the 13th century, a Brahmin priest named Siddhendra Yogi came across the dance and refined it. He took the folk theater aspect of the dance and systematized it as a way to tell spiritual and mythological stories from Hindu culture to the common villagers. By incorporating the use of Telugu, instead of Sanskrit which only Brahmins knew, he used the dance to explain complex metaphysical truths from the scriptures to the common man in their vernacular. Since this dance form was elevated by his mission, it was taught to young Brahmin men as a religious rite and Kuchipudi was born.


After India gained indepedence, the guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, among other legendary pioneers such as Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry, recognized the intrinsic beauty of the dance and wanted it to resume its rightful place in society as a spiritual act of devotion. Vempati Chinna Satyam was a dancer from one of 15 original Brahmin families in the Kuchipudi village in Andhra Pradesh. These families can trace their dance practice all the way back to the first people that trained with Siddhendra Yogi in the 13th century. He had the dream of bringing the art form from his village all over India, so he walked 500 kilometers from the village to Chennai to present it to the art world. He systematized and refined Kuchipudi to go further back to its roots in the Natya Shastra. He brought new elements directly from the Natya Shastra that were missing from other forms of dance and elevated it into an art form that was given classical status.

Kuchipudi is known for its quicksilver, free-flowing movements with extensive use of the torso, as well as its very realistic and grounded approach to abhinaya, carrying the legacy of its dance-drama tradition. The Vempati style is marked by a high level of athleticism and precision.