The classical dance takes its name from the village Kuchelapuri (a small village about 65 kms from Vijaywada) now known as kuchipudi in Andhra Pradesh where it originated as a form of dance drama with religious themes. . It is known for its graceful movements and its strong narrative / dramatic character. The performers should act and speak as well. Originally these dance dramas were performed only by men, but in recent years women too have taken to it.
According to tradition, Kuchipudi dance was originally performed by men of the Brahmin community. These Brahmin families were known popularly as Bhagavathulu of Kuchipudi. There is a legend concerning the origins of Kuchipudi. It is said that there was once an orphan of Srikakulam who was raised by the village. These kind people had him married at childhood as was the custom of the time. However, for his training he went to Udipi for Vedic studies. During his study he acquired the name Sidhendra Yogi.
After a time he returned to Srikakulam. However, the village elders ordered him to go to his wife's house to assume his family responsibilities. On the journey he came upon a river. As he was swimming across the river he suddenly realised that he could swim no further. He then prayed to God to give him the strength to make it across. He did make it, and upon reaching the shore he vowed to become a sanyasi (renunciate) and devote his life to religious affairs.
He then settled in the village of Kuchelapuram and started teaching. Here, he instructed Brahmin boys in devotional dance dramas based upon religious themes. These religious plays were presented as offerings to God in the tradition of the Natya Shastra.
Kuchipudi flourished as a dramatic form of dance for hundreds of years. It was held in high esteem by the rules of the Deccan. For instance Tana Shah in 1678 granted the lands around Kuchipudi to the Brahmins who performed the dance.
At times the dancers could even wield political and social power. One example was a play-cum-social commentary performed in 1502. It seems that a group of artists performed before Immadi Narasa Nayaka. In this play, they indicated that the people were being unfairly treated by a local raja. The dancers succeeded in freeing the people form the abusive practices of the raja, but the artists at one point even required the protection of the army.
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS USED TO ACCOMPANY KUCHIPUDI