Ardhanareeswaram Venkat in Guinness Book
Ardhanareeswaram Venkat in Guinness Book. Dr Mudapaka Venkateswara Rao is called ‘Ardhanareeswaram’ Venkat for his profound efforts to revive the rare ...
A prodigy’s tryst to keep a dance form alive
Dr Mudapaka Venkateswara Rao is called ‘Ardhanareeswaram’ Venkat for his profound efforts to revive the rare and almost extinct Kuchipudi dance item by performing it over 4000 times on various stages across the world. For this feat, he has gained an entry into ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ for having given the ‘maximum number of performances of a single act’. The record was declared early this year and he will officially get the certification in the last week of this month
Kuchipudi Guru and founder of Nritya Darpana, the eminent dancer Dr Mudapaka Venkateswara Rao, popularly known as Dr ‘Ardhanareeswaram’ Venkat’s contribution to revive the rare act of Kuchipudi, has given him name and fame and an honorary title attributed to his name. “Ardhanareeswaram’ is not the usual dance piece and it is only due to its unique and strange features that people often tend not to take it up. The dance movements needed for this item include a clear masculine touch with an unusual feminine look, accompanied by distinctive geometrical precision. Not everyone’s cup of tea,” shares Venkat, who has revived it from the verge of extinction, making him one of the most pioneering Gurus and performers of contemporary times in the Kuchipudi tradition. He was given the title ‘Ardhanareeswaram’ for being the last of the kind to practise the item.
This particular dance form spreads the message of male and female complementarities to society. Dr Venkat had not only specialised in this particular skill but went ahead with a missionary zeal to cut a record of over 4000 performances on stage, winning accolades from beyond the borders. He bagged certifications in Guinness Book of World Records, Global World Record, Limca Book of Records, two in India Book of Records, Wonder Book Record and Telugu Book of Records for this dance, catapulting it to top the world map in performing arts.
“The ‘Ardhanareeswaram' concept in Hindu pantheon is a unique understanding of the male-female principle in nature. Like most Puranic lores, it was a hot favourite at one point of time in the world of performing arts. A rather challenging feat to present on stage in the format of classical dance, the ‘Ardhanareeswaram' nrityam was performed by many a proponent of Kuchipudi. Essentially performed by men donning a semi male-female costume and make-up with a gossamer scarf pinned into the hair in the front, parting the face into two halves, this singularly distinctive art piece was popularly referred to as ‘Pagati vesham',” he shares.
While performing the ‘Ardhanareeswaram', the footwork is intricate with a delicacy and grace that has to be imbibed by the dancer himself. And here Venkat excels. When it comes to the masculine Shiva, his abhinaya is exceptionally firm with the right hand alone gesticulating the required mudras. The footwork though not rigorous, is nevertheless strong and near perfect. The daunting task in this particular dance is that one hand has to alternately hold the scarf dividing the face in order to enact the facial expressions of each role separately. Hence, the dancer has to balance his gait and show his full potential with one side at a time.
Talking about the intricacy and technicality of the dance, “Unlike the typical Kuchipudi, where facial expression can be gallantly shown, here the limitation is the fact that, one just has half of his face to show the emotions of one character. Here, the dance form is exceedingly mathematical. The dancer has to divide the stage into four parts of precisely 45 degrees each. And it gets even harder while performing, as the angles are not marked on the stage but is made extempore with a precision using one’s nose.”
The iconic dance form was about to become extinct by the time Dr Venkat decided to revive it 15 years ago; not only for artistic reasons but also for a social cause of spreading the message of complimentary roles of male and female for the healthy functioning of the society.
Mudapaka Venkateswara Rao, born in Vizianagaram to a 13-member family of a government servant, was trained by various gurus such as ‘Bharatakalaprapoorna’ Korada Narasimha Rao, Nataraja Ramakrishna, Swapnasundari, Uma Rama Rao and others, right from age of 12. “My mother insisted me to learn art as she wanted one of her sons to be an artiste,” he shares.
Apart from Ardhanareeswaram, Dr Venkat has also learnt rare and challenging items of Kuchipudi like Simhanandini, Mayura Kouthwam, Laksmi Avirbhavam and Nritya Bharati, which have got to do with drawing pictures of Mother India, Indian Map, lion, peacock, lotus, bull and lamb with dancing.
His PhD thesis on the comparative study of ‘Folk and Classical Traditions’ with focus on rare aspect of Telugu theatrical performances called ‘Pagati Veshalu’(day time guises) has become a landmark in the study of Indian performing arts. Through his probing research he brought out certain items of Kuchipudi dance tradition such as ‘Chodigani Kalapam’, which were about to disappear and scripts of which were also on the verge of getting lost.
He has contributed immensely to bringing contemporary relevance to Kuchipudi tradition by enacting and choreographing various novel items such as the story of Vivekananada, a reformational lyric of early 20th century by Gurajada Apparao and the story of Jesus Christ.
As part of his preservation and dissemination mission, he also brought out several publications and CDs that help the upcoming classical dance enthusiasts to take the tradition forward. His dance institute Nritya Darpana has been striving to nurture the skills of next generation dancers.
Other recognitions include
- Recipient of ‘Siddhensdrayogi Award’ by Govt of Andhra Pradesh
- Honoured with ‘Simhatalatam’ (lion-headed golden bracelet, an age-old symbol of a high honour)
- Recipient of ‘Kanakabhishekam’ (A gold-flower shower, an age old ritual of honour for artiste’s superior talent
- Recipient of ‘Kanaka Pushpa Paadabhishekam’
- Recipient of ‘Golden Award’ presented by Telugu Sangam, Malaysia
- Recognised as ‘Best Classical Dance-2002’ by Rasamayi Organisation, Dubai
- Is a globally prominent artiste with presentations across various cities and countries – US, UK, Taipei(Taiwan), Hongkong, Bangkok, Dubai, Sharjah, Malaysia, Singapore, Srilanka and Mauritius
- Recognised as ‘National Grade Artist’ by Doordarshan.
- Central Government, New Delhi, AP State Archives Dept. and Karnataka State have recorded three documentaries of the Ardhanareeswaram, presented by him
- Recognised as an outstanding artiste by ICCR, Government of India and top ranked panel artists of Cultural Affairs (Govt. of AP) and Song and Drama Division (Govt. of India)
- Recipient of senior scholarship from Dept. of Culture, HRD
- Authored of four publications under the banner of Darpana Publications
- Crowned with prestigious title ‘Ardhanareeswaram’ which has become the Surname of Dr. Venkat
- Choreographed about 46 dance ballets in various traditions - from Yakshaganas to contemporary forms