At Kuchipudi, a village that saw the birth of one of the nine classical dance forms of the country, the lanes that once reverberated with the sound of anklet bells and bustled with youngsters lie silent now.
In the earlier days, Kuchipudi used to be performed by all-male troupes, not because there was any rule prohibiting women from embracing the dance form, but due to lack of transport facilities that made it difficult for them to travel.
In those days, youngsters, mostly men, from far and near, used to throng the village for learning the art form. It is said that in early 20th century, every house in the village had a male performer.
Today, there is a decline both in the male and female performers.
“From 500 traditional families that were engaged in learning, performing and teaching the art earlier, the number has dwindled to seven.”Pasumarthy Rattayya SarmaKuchipudi exponent
“From 500 traditional families that were engaged in learning, performing and teaching the art earlier, the number has dwindled to seven,” says noted Kuchipudi exponent Pasumarthy Rattayya Sarma.
“The reasons are more than one,” says the 82-year-old Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner.
“When I was 10, we used to participate in more than 120 programmes a year across the country. In those days, any function, or a celebratory moment wasn’t complete without our participation. We used to perform at the Vijayawada railway station every time a dignitary arrived,” he reminisces.
Now, there are not more than 10 programmes in a year across the country. The temple managements, which once used to plan rituals and functions based on our schedules, have stopped inviting the performers, Mr. Rattayya Sarma rues.
Effect of cinema
The importance of the art form has also suffered a huge dent after cinema gained popularity. “Not many are ready to organise plays anymore,” he says.
With the patronage and opportunities dwindling, men have begun looking for other sources of income.
“This trend can be arrested by creating art and culture teacher posts in schools and by providing ‘cultural quota’ in government jobs,” says another exponent, a Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar awardee, on the condition of anonymity.
“Nowadays, performers are paid depending upon the distance they travel to reach the venue. If a person from Kuchipudi has to perform at an event in Vijayawada, he or she is paid ₹3,000 or ₹3,500,” he says.
In addition to decreased opportunities, there are not many scholarships for youth pursuing the course.
The Centre for Cultural Resources and Training offers scholarship to 650 students aged between 10 and 14 across the country. But since the notification is released online these days, many youngsters from rural areas miss the deadline, he adds.
“Rising cost of living, and make-up and costume charges, and decreasing number of programmes have forced us to choose alternatives,” the awardee, who also works as a contractor, says.
Bhagavatula Sarma, a Kuchipudi dance master, whose Sri Nruthya Arts Academy in Vijayawada draws many interested youth, says that only a few students continue to learn the art form for long. Most of them quit in a year or two.
The scenario is no different at Sri Nithyanjali Academy of Music and Dance in Tirupati, or at the Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam Online Dance Classes in Visakhapatnam.
“It is no more looked at as an art. It has become a skill that many intend to add to their talent list. Besides, today’s youth are more focused on professional courses. Many don’t have time after school to pursue other interests,” Mr. Sarma laments.