Guru Smt. Vijaya Prasad, a luminary in the world of classical dance, has spent the past five decades gracefully mastering the art of Kuchipudi. Born in the coastal city of Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, just 28 km from the birthplace of Kuchipudi dance, she was nurtured in a household teeming with creativity and artistry. Guru Vijaya Prasad's parents, particularly her mother, were ardent enthusiasts of classical dance and music, serving as esteemed patrons of Kuchipudi. They would regularly invite maestros from Kuchipudi village to perform at their temple during grand festivals.
Initiated into this divine dance form at the tender age of three by none other than the legendary Kuchipudi Natya Acharya, Shri Vedantam Lakshmi Narayana Sastry, Guru Vijaya Prasad's journey of profound devotion and dedication to Kuchipudi began. Further enriching her skills, she received guidance from Guru Shri Yelleswrapu, Guru Shri Nageswra Sarma, and Guru Shri Acharya Gautam. Her entrancing stage performances commenced at the age of eight, a journey that would span over 500 performances across India. Alongside her cousin, Mrs. Maruti Kesav, they formed a formidable duo known across Andhra Pradesh as the ANDHRA SISTERS.
Guru Vijaya Prasad, while steeped in the classical traditions of Kuchipudi, adorned her performances with a distinctive, elegant, and melodious style. Her repertoire encompassed traditional Kuchipudi dance items such as Tarangam and Tillana. Her portrayals of Lord Krishna in "Gopi-Krishna" and Shiva in "Shiva Parvati" dance ballets left audiences spellbound, often concluding with resounding standing ovations.
Throughout her illustrious career, Guru Vijaya Prasad received numerous accolades, honors, and citations, marking her as a true icon in the world of classical dance. Some of her most notable recognitions include:
Pioneering Kuchipudi in Maharashtra
In the 1970s, Guru Vijaya Prasad decided to make Mumbai her home. At that time, Kuchipudi was virtually unknown in Maharashtra, with Bharat Natyam and Kathak reigning supreme in the realm of classical dance. As a dedicated exponent of Kuchipudi, she was determined to change this. In 1981, Guru Vijaya Prasad founded the Kuchipudi Dance Academy with the mission of popularizing Kuchipudi in Maharashtra. It became the first and only registered dance academy in the state dedicated to teaching Kuchipudi.
Initially, many parents approached Guru Vijaya Prasad, seeking Bharat Natyam instruction for their children due to their unfamiliarity with Kuchipudi. Undaunted, she embarked on a mission to educate parents and locals about Kuchipudi. She organized workshops showcasing the distinctions between the two dance forms, with her disciples presenting the rich history of Kuchipudi and demonstrating its graceful and fluid movements.
The Kuchipudi Dance Academy soon started celebrating an annual gathering on December 25th to display the talents of her disciples and promote Kuchipudi within the local community. Her disciples' performances at local temples and religious functions garnered attention, and they began winning local and All India Dance Competitions, bringing renown to the Academy. Eventually, students sought out Guru Vijaya Prasad specifically to learn Kuchipudi, marking a significant milestone in her quest to popularize the art form.
However, this journey was not without its challenges. Guru Vijaya Prasad faced hurdles such as the lack of funds for live orchestra events and suitable rehearsal spaces. Her unwavering dedication and resilience kept her moving forward.
Guru Vijaya Prasad's commitment to Kuchipudi extended beyond her own performances and teaching. She played a crucial role in correcting misconceptions and promoting Kuchipudi across Maharashtra.
Correcting the Maharashtra Board of Education
In a 7th grade English textbook published by the Maharashtra Board of Education, it was erroneously stated that Kuchipudi originated from Tanjavore, Tamil Nadu. This grave misrepresentation deeply troubled Guru Vijaya Prasad, who had dedicated her life to living and teaching this art form. Determined to rectify this error, she penned numerous letters to the Maharashtra Department of Education, providing insights into Kuchipudi, its history, and pointing out their mistake. Her efforts bore fruit as the Education Ministry acknowledged their error and corrected it in subsequent publications.
Campaigning to Include Kuchipudi in Swara Sadhana All India Dance Competitions
When Guru Vijaya Prasad sought to enroll her disciples in the Swara Sadhana Samiti's All India Dance Competitions in Mumbai, she discovered that there was no category for Kuchipudi, an alarming omission. She corresponded with and met the Samiti President to advocate for the inclusion of Kuchipudi in the event. Thanks to her relentless efforts, Kuchipudi dance competitions were added to the annual event. Her students' performances garnered praise from both audiences and judges, who had seldom witnessed Kuchipudi performances before. They eagerly sought information about the art form from Guru Vijaya Prasad, leading to its inclusion in various dance competitions across Mumbai.
Guru Vijaya Prasad Publishes Books on Kuchipudi in Marathi
To spread awareness about Kuchipudi among the local populace, Guru Vijaya Prasad authored small booklets in Marathi, such as "Kuchipudi Natya Visheshta" and "Kuchipudi Natya Prachinata." She also penned a book titled "Kuchipudi Natya Sanghraha" in both English and Marathi, elucidating the fundamentals of Kuchipudi dance.
First ever Kuchipudi Dance Ballet Based on Marathi Abhangas
Majority of Kuchipudi Dance Academy students are Maharashtrians and yet they were performing flawlessly to the traditional Telugu songs. Guru Vijaya Prasad thought that if her disciples could express subtle bhavas so beautifully without understanding the language, how much they (and their parents) would enjoy if the songs were in their native Marathi.
Guru Vijaya Prasad was inspired by the Bhakti movement and after learning to speak and read Marathi, she started reading original Marathi texts on great saints such as Sant Tukaram, Sant Dyaneshwar, etc. She choreographed a new Kuchipudi dance ballet titled "Abhanga Nrutya Raveli" - which incorporated the popular Marathi devotional songs (abhangas). This never before attempted adaptation of abhangas into a classical dance form was very successful and widely appreciated and covered by Marathi news papers like Loksatta.
First Kuchipudi Television Series in Marathi
In the early 1990s, Mumbai Doordarshan approached Guru Vijaya Prasad to produce a six-part television series on Kuchipudi in Marathi. The series delved into Kuchipudi's fundamentals, featuring demonstrations and performances by her dedicated disciples. Named "Nrutyangan," this series marked a significant milestone in bringing Kuchipudi to a wider Marathi-speaking audience. You can watch the series here.
Guru Smt. Vijaya Prasad's unwavering dedication, relentless advocacy, and pioneering spirit have left an indelible mark on the world of Kuchipudi in Maharashtra. Her tireless efforts have not only corrected misconceptions but also kindled a deep appreciation for this enchanting art form among Maharashtrians. Her legacy as a trailblazer and ambassador of Kuchipudi continues to inspire generations of dancers and enthusiasts alike, ensuring that this sublime art form thrives and flourishes in Maharashtra.