Nartanam Seminar on Jayasenapati's Nritta Ratnavali
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat
October 24, 2017
The scholarly quarterly Nartanam along with co-host Kakatiya Heritage Trust, organized the first Nartanam Conclave from October 5 - 8, 2017 at Hyderabad with a seminar in the morning and performances in the evening. An interesting feature of the conclave was the seminar focussing on Nritta Ratnavali, an important treatise on dance and music of the Kakatiya times. The Kakatiya Heritage Trust has recently published a translation of Nritta Ratnavali in English.
In his inaugural address, BV Papa Rao, advisor to govt of Telangana, mentioned that proceedings are on for the Ramappa Temple near Warangal to be nominated for status as a world heritage site and a dossier on the temple in coordination with Dr.Choodamani Nandagopal is being prepared for UNESCO. His inspiring speech was full of support for the conclave with pertinent observations. He concluded with, "Please stop your differences, come together and discuss your differences instead of avoiding it" to thunderous applause!
The latest special issue of Nartanam features Canada based scholar Dr.Mandakranta Bose (Fellow, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Professor Emerita, University of British Columbia) on the cover and the lady was present in person to receive/release it! She lauded chief editor Madhavi Puranam for being the force behind Nartanam and emphasised that studying dance is not like studying Vedas or texts. Evolution is necessary but one must allow them with some caution, like in Odissi.
In his welcome address, Dr.Pappu Venugopal Rao (dance and music scholar, script writer) declared that Nritta Ratnavali written in 1253 by Jayappa (or Jayasenapati) is ranked higher than Abhinaya Darpana by Nandikesvara. He quoted a sloka, "May the Shiva who is touching Parvati on the pretext of teaching her dance, bless us!" He gave a brief outline of the Kakatiya dynasty. Jayappa was the chief of the elephant corps in the court of Kakatiya king Ganapati Deva. He authored the Nritta Ratnavali. Dr.Rao said many inscriptions reveal Kakatiyas supporting devadasis and artistes. An inscription speaks of 10 devadasis and 14 musicians who performed in the Ramappa temple. Telugu and Sanskrit literature flourished during Kakatiya rule. Dr.Rao added that one of the greatest things in his life was translating the Nritta Ratnavali. And he "disagreed with late scholar Dr. V Raghavan that Nritta Ratnavali and Ramappa Temple have very little to do with each other." He concluded with a quote from Jayappa that says, "Shiva has no form. Because he was fond of dance, he has taken a form."
Mamidi Harikrishna (Director, Dept of language & culture, Govt of Telangana) announced that dance forms like Perini mentioned in Nritta Ratnavali is being revived and introduced in dance institutions in a move to rejuvenate and revive Telangana art forms. A brief 3 minute film highlighted the art forms of Telangana.
The first to present a paper was Dr.Bharat Gupt (theatre theorist, sitar and surbahar player, musicologist, retd professor of English) who commenced with a mangalacharan from Abhinavagupta and spoke of bringing shastra and prayog together. He said no such thing as Sanskrit drama had existed, and people spoke in Prakrit. "When growing up we were not taught to pay importance to texts, to study it and make meaning out of it. A performance should be done with manasa, vacha and karmana without which there is no fruit. Out of this comes natya. Shastras are not eternal. They have to be written again and again. Brahma gave Natya Veda that is alive today because of the performers and not because of the scholars and pundits. Natya Veda is a living, practicing Veda that has come down to us through the ages. Veda is knowledge, it never dies." Dr.Gupt also declared that Hindustani music is in doldrums for the past 200 years because it has lost its text, but music in the south because of its insistence on compositional structure is continuing because it is preserving the padh which has given the structure. Dr.Gupt said "a puritanical approach to art is something that misleads. Art is to be used with great seriousness for all kinds of purpose meeting with needs of the social system." The topic given to Dr.Gupt was 'An overview of dance as dealt in the sastras from Natya Sastra to Nritta Ratnavali.' He hardly touched upon the subject prefering to ask the audience to read the paper he has submitted to Nartanam!
As the chair for this session, Dr.Pappu Venugopal Rao agreed to disagree with Dr.Gupt on some points. While he agreed on the point about puritanism, he averred "Carnatic music is not flourishing as it should because there is very little manodharma. The strength lies in manodharma, not in composition. Manodharma and creativity are what makes an artist. Pada is the last priority, swara and tala come after that!" Dr.Rao said there are umpteen books on rasa because of Bharata's Natya Sastra. Dr. Mandakranta Bose disagreed with many statements of Dr.Gupt saying only in India, strangely Sanskrit is looked down upon. As a matter of fact there is an international Sanskrit conference being planned of over 500 delegates which is to take place in Europe. There was an animated exchange of agreements and disagreements in this session.
The chair for this session was Dr.Mandakranta Bose who elaborated on how to look for manuscripts. She gave useful tips since she herself has scouted for manuscripts from Kashmir to Kerala. She wondered aloud on why Jayappa wrote Nritta Ratnavali and not Nritya Ratnavali. That's because evolution is going on, so new scholars and writers should be aware of this, she said. Dr. Pappu Venugopal Rao mentioned the invaluable contributions of Manavalli Ramakrishna Kavi, (https://sriramv.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/the-life-and-works-of-manavalli-ramakrishna-kavi/) who was known for collecting manuscripts, editing the Abhinava Bharati and compiling the Bharatakosa.
Day two took off with an intro by the chair, Dr.Choodamani Nandagopal, that lasted a good 20 minutes followed by 'Nritta Ratnavali: An overview' by Dr.Yashoda Thakore, Kuchipudi and Vilasini Natyam exponent. She spoke briefly on the Kakatiyas and Ganapati Deva, how Jayappa wrote Geeta, Vadya and Nritta Ratnavali but only the last one survives. "Jayappa is like a caring teacher. He gives clear instructions, like the charis should be in perfect samapada. There is no plagiarism in his work. He always acknowedged his sources and his patron Ganapati Deva in every chapter. He codified the regional forms of dance in desi style. Jayappa was the commander-in-chief of the elephant army, but he has presented the desi forms in all of its splendour on par with Natya Sastra. Jayappa talks of lasyangas. He has given 46 of them. He specifies age 6 or 7 as ideal to start dance training and even specifies the child's costume as pyjamas up to the knees so the position of the legs can be seen!" According to Nritta Ratnavali, she said Perini is a comic and vigorous form of dance; the intent is to evoke hasya. (This bit of information caused a lot of surprise, since Perini presented now is a macho dance by the males!). Jayappa talks of nartaki and nartaka lakshanams as well as of musicians. In dance culture, the body is the vehicle. In the 7th and 8th chapter, Jayappa talks of how the lady is to perform. This and many more finer details were neatly presented by Dr.Thakore in an enlightening talk.
Having learnt dance, Dr.Choodamani Nandagopal commended Dr.Thakore on the good account of the scholarship of Jayasenapati, who listed 29 nritta hastas. "Standing in samapada gives abundant creativity. Tradition flows from 7th (Pampa) to 13th century (Jayappa). It is harder to reconstruct desi karanas than marga. Many dancers are unaware that they are doing desi karanas and give wrong interpretations. Dancers should go through Jayasenapati's Nritta Ratnavali to learn many things on how to present a performance." Dr.Nandagopal concluded by pointing out that the Hoysaleswara Temple at Halebid in Karnataka has sculptures of Perini above the dance space inside as well as some outside and is the best example of Perini that predates Perini in Andhra Pradesh.
The next speaker Dr.Pappu Venugopal Rao made a good suggestion that one day of the seminar could have been utilised to visit the Ramappa Temple. He said Ganapati Deva ruled for almost 60 years. "The earlier tradition did not give scope to speak about yourself or your patron. Jayappa's work can be viewed from many angles like anthropological, literary and so on. His work is a turning point. Between the time of Bharata and Jayappa, there was an evolotion in writing of a treatise. Jayappa mentions the name of every person he quotes - Kohala, Kirtidara, Thandu, Abhinavagupta, Somesvara's Manasollasa (12th c), Sarangadeva to name a few. Desi means regional, not folk. The Nritta Ratnavali is exclusively desi dance tradition and Dr. V Raghavan's work on it has been hailed by many as an invaluable contribution." Dr. Rao has collaborated with Dr.Yashoda Thakore on bringing out the English translation of Nritta Ratnavali published by Kakatiya Heritage Trust, and he confessed how tough it had been, with the Telugu translation on one hand and Dr.Raghavan's monumental work on the other. "Look at Nritta Ratnavali not only from the point of dance. Jayappa talks of feelings of gratitude to his patron. Even reward to the artiste is mentioned. Verses 8 to 11 deals with why nritta. 'Shiva who has no form, takes a form because he wants to do nritta.' Jayappa talks respectfully of Bharata. He says if Bharata were to be born again and read the Nritta Ratnavali, he would be so happy that Jayappa has understood the Natya Sastra and laud him as Srimaan Jayasenapati! This is in chapter two." Dr.Rao said 'shastriya nritya' is pan Indian and "a better word than the term 'classical dance' that is itself a blunder. The dance vocabulary comes from Bharata. From his basic foundation, other things were developed and the grammar expanded."
The chair Dr.Mandakranta Bose summed up that lasyangas changed course from Bharata to later writers and this itself is worthy of a thesis! Given his background, it was strange that Dr.Rao, who repeated many points made earlier by Yashoda Thakore, hardly did justice to his topic 'Aesthetics of Jayasenapati,' prefering to inform the audience that they could read his paper submitted to Nartanam!
The last speaker of the morning was Guru Kalakrishna who was given a 90 minute slot to give demo and speak on 'Perini: Its history, evolution, reconstruction by late Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna.' Kalakrishna is himself not a Perini dancer, but he conducts lec-dems on Perini, conducts recitals and has trained many. He said, "Perini is mentioned in Nritta Ratnavali. Telangana govt is trying to now make a syllabus out of it. Its origins are obscure but it seems to have been first performed around 3rd century. Bharatarnava, Sangita Ratnakara and Nritta Ratnavali give details of make-up, costumes, entry and exit, orchestra instruments, what tala, what jathi it had to start or end with." Between 1960 - 68, his Guru Nataraja Ramakrishna reconstructed Perini. The impetus was a remark at the 1958 Natya Kala Conference by Chandrashekariah that many forms like Perini had been lost and needed to be revived and reconstructed. It was the first time Nataraja Ramakrishna had heard of it. He visited the Ramappa Temple many times and took inspiration from the sculptures. He did research on many texts and with his knowledge of different dance forms, he reconstructed only the male Perini. With this brief intro, Kalakrishna got his student Perini Santosh to show the newly adapted aharya of a Perini dancer, and demonstrate passages from various Perini items like melaprapti, pushpanjali and damaruka yati vinyasam, that are based on sound and vibrations. Accompanied by a live orchestra conducted by Guru Kalakrishna, Santosh stunned the audience with his mastery over the fast foot and hand movements that requires a lot of stamina and balance, not to mention a healthy physique. Since Perini is totally nritta oriented, Kalakrishna said the stamina, vigour and fast footwork demanded of a Perini dancer had led to many men quitting Perini dance.
Kalakrishna's well trained female students wearing the reconstructed costume and aharya gave brief demonstrations of various items of Perini lasya suitable for the female body, like melaprapti for ladies and Nandiswara kauthuvam. Though Dr.Nataraja Ramakrishna reconstructed only the male Perini form, this is a new developement and has found its way into the university syllabus, though a lot more needs to be done to standardise it. Kalakrishna said that after the formation of Telangana state, dancers are teaching Andhra Natyam and doing Perini in their spare time. He admitted that the Ramappa Temple does not have too many sculpture pertaining to Perini. The whole session was very interesting with just enough pertinent information and dance demonstration and was much appreciated by the audience. The chair for this session, Dr.Pappu Venugopal Rao, however demanded to know what on earth was new in this dance, in a rather agressive tone to Kalakrishna, also demanding short answers to all his questions, which the master did with ease and poise, not losing his cool. The debate that followed was a bit of anti-climax to a lovely morning.
The third morning commenced with a lucid lecture by Shatavadani Dr. R Ganesh on 'Somesvara's Manasollasa in comparison with Nritta Ratnavali.' He said, Somesvara (1126-1239 CE), a notable king of the Western Chalukyas, wrote Manasollasa and his son Jagadegamalla Pratapachakravarti wrote the Sangita Choodamani, a worthy son of a worthy father. "Jayappa clearly states how he is indebted to Somesvara. Political barriers were thin and cultural commonality reigned supreme. Varahamihira's Brhat Samhita, Somesvara's Manasollasa and Shivatatva Ratnakaram by Basava Bhupala were 3 great encyclopediac works.
Manasollasa deals with one hundred titles that include a wide and interesting variety of topics which deal with innumerable sciences, arts, crafts, sports and other amusements that are desirable to make an ideal king of knowledge and taste. Somesvara divides every main heading into 20 sub headings. Manasollasa, while dealing with the last section of twenty topics on entertainment, vinoda-vimshati, gives a lot of details with regards to the art of dancing spanning around 456 verses. Here, for the first time many things connected with the desi aspect of dance that are not even mentioned in the Natya Sastra are explained. But all this is done without mentioning the word desi. It did not care for such classifications. Marga is a quest and desi is expansion. Marga is a path and desi is space. Marga deals with class and desi with mass. Marga is elitist and desi is of the oppressed. Class and mass are never opposed to each other. The demarcation is absurd. There is no divide. No author before him has dealt with desi forms of natya and he has never distinguished it as particularly marga or desi. However, many of these features are present both in Sangita Ratnakara and Nritta Ratnavali, the two immediate major works in this field that followed Manasollasa.
Jayappa acknowledges Somesvara expressly in two places. Dr.V Raghavan has written a comparative analysis of Manasollasa and Nritta Ratnavali but in many places they don't match. Somesvara mentions 6 lip movements, and 5 toe movements. Jayappa mentions 4 lip movements and 2 toe movements, not gender specific but attitude specific as purusha sthanaka and sthree sthanaka. Both works show how meticulously the authors have read their predecessors's work and brought in novelty in their work. Terminology is important. You can write and read dance!"
In a brief interesting interlude, Prof. M Panduranga Rao, a trustee of Kakatiya Heritage Trust, spoke of the wonders of the Ramappa Temple near Warangal built in 1213 using a technique that makes the bricks float! This helped lighten the weight of the superstructure and withstand natural calamities like earthquakes. With two glasses of water, he demonstrated how an ordinary brick sinks in water and the Ramappa Temple brick floats!
A large part of the morning was devoted to a panel discussion involving many luminaries from different walks of society, who spoke on 'The Government, the Artist, the Scholar and the Architect: Bridging the pillars.' It was ably moderated by Dr.Suresh Goel (former Director General, ICCR) who posed questions individually to the panel members to elicit the best responses. He said, "Culture is important to me as a diplomat to promote our nation to other societies, where we stand and what we are. Culture is a bridge between countries. Everyone does festivals but there is a great deal of difference between what the govt does and what an individual does. Earlier there was royal patronage that is now replaced by govt support. That is not enough."
His question was, how important is govt patronage to art? Scholar Dr.Sunil Kothari responded that because of our govt resources, India was beautifully represented in Festival of India in Moscow. He said embassies do not have any expert who knows the art or artistes. The largest impressario for arts is the govt. Dr.Kiran Seth (Founder of Spic Macay) opined that "it is difficult to get corporates to promote things that are not popular. They do good things but they want to see results immediately. In the intangible domain, their contribution is minimal. All sensitivity emanates from the abstract. Dhrupad and Koodiyattam have still not come under the purview of the corporates. ICCR under Dr.Goel has done good work in supporting art and artistes in presenting them in India and abroad. We require more such beaurocrats. Arun Bharat Ram (Executive Chairman of SRF Ltd) had a vision to support us from the beginning. We need more such visionaries."
Writer KK Gopalakrishnan confessed that when they used to go for sponsorships, a dirty trick they played was to mention a cinema star's name that immediately got them the sponsorship! "We need regular performances with demos. When I was director of Koodiyattam Kendra, 70% went to the artiste and 30% to other things. Till then, it was the other way round." Dr. Goel felt expectations from govt are so different from what they do. "We need interest of a sustained system to promote our art in a sustained manner. The other support is corporate support but they need to see what they can get out of it or they won't do it!"
Speaking for corporates, Dr.Varaprasad Reddy (Founder Chairman of Shanta Biotech) wished to strike the first note of dissent. "It's not right that every corporate is after what they can get out of something. They have the CSR (corporate social responsibility). Out of the profits, they are supposed to use 2% for social causes without any expectation. In Hyderabad, cultural organizations invite 6 speakers for a dance program, where they scratch each others' backs and the performance takes a back seat. In Tamilnadu, a music or dance program is just what it is. It is the responsibility of the govt to support the arts. In a big city like Hyderabad, we have only one big auditorium, Ravindra Bharati. We need more auditoriums, more infrastructure so more platforms are available. Scholars and artistes should work together, corporates should come in to add their support. The govt should have a culture mela. It needs a minister/beaurocrat who knows and understands the arts. Corporates should not expect returns from the 2% they spend. They made it from society and they must give it back to society. Everyone has a role to play."
Another person representing corporates, Anuradha Prasad (Member, Board of Governors, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories) said her father had passion for arts and culture. Dancers would just walk in with a letter requesting sponsorship and expect immediate results. "It is not about just writing a cheque. One must also work on getting people to attend shows!" Burra Venkatesham (Principal Secretary, youth advancement, tourism and culture) declared that corporates, govt and citizens have a combined responsibility to preserve our cultural heritage and showcase our culture. "Talents have to be supported. This is a must. This is what gives us our identity. But we don't know if the person who is applying is genuine or not. That's why the govt ends up supporting known people. A fund can be created."
The next question posed by Dr.Goel was about what culture means to the society and how do people see it? In response, Dr.Pappu Venugopal Rao questioned why there was no transparency of the selection process. "I also represent the Music Academy in Chennai. We don't take a penny from the govt and we survive on corporate support. Beaurocrats have their own agenda so it is better not to go to the govt. Generally, those who live in the capital get support. Why can't there be a system in place to judge the best talent? Make a data base. Scholars and artistes are the lifeline of society. Those who want to support culture should do so without strings attached. Books need to be printed. Artistes have to be paid. They have the passion to perform, hence they do so at their personal cost. It is a vicious circle."
The next question by Dr.Goel about what impact interaction between arts and society have on each other was answered eloquently by firebrand Kuchipudi dancer and scholar Katyayini Ganti. "There's a need to dance and watch dance to widen my knowledge. If the head of State is looking for returns, then it's a sad thing. The govt demands 2 ˝ minutes of authentic Kuchipudi, 15 days to come up with a creative work, huge stages with massive groups and record breaking gatherings. Unless the govt understands what is art, we have to put up with manipulating art as only these will be in the records. This is not like beer guzzling, it's more like wine tasting." Katyayini was now in full flow and she criticised the lengthy govt procedures as a great impediment. "Only artistes who have patience for this and less of art will go through this." She pointed out that booking govt auditoriums came with risk as booking could be cancelled for a last minute govt function. "We need friendly auditoriums and small conveniences like wooden floors - look at the dirty toilets and broken chairs! We should educate people to appreciate art. Most programs are boring, so artistes also have to do their part," she concluded to thunderous applause!
Goel felt most who support arts are not lovers of art and they need advice. Next to express her views on "Why art?" was critic Leela Venkataraman. She said art represents the more sensitive aspect of a human being which is why even kings who fought wars for conquest also used their energies to build temples and grand monuments and leave beind great specimens of beauty which dot the museums today and which people enjoy looking at. Art shows the more refined side of a human being and unless this side too is developed in a person, just concentrating on building the more aggressive competitive side, would make a person more like an animal. She quoted Bade Gulam Ali Khan who said, put a tanpura in every house and teach the child music. One in search of sur will never go astray. When you attend a music concert, at a point you are in a space which is not available to you in mundane daily life. Leela Venkataraman concluded, "Artistes are always lobbying for awards, it is being decadent. Giving one wrong award devalues it. Humane aspect expresses itself in culture. Help younger people come up, help the art form to flourish. We have to be sensitive human beings. Let us not add to the insenitivity around us and let us be inclusive of artistes."
Theatre personality Mohammed Ali Baig joined theater to pay tribute to his father to revive theatre in Hyderabad. He said a sense of discontent has set in. Education and professional courses seem to be the first preference and the performing arts are viewed as luxury. He requested parents to not consider performing arts as extra curricular activity. When serving art, you need to be selfless.
So what is it that people want? Though the govt has offered many junior and senior fellowships, writer/critic Kedar Mishra wondered how many scholars have been produced? He said media has been neglected in many ways with hundreds of festivals uncreatively assessed and undocumented. "Today, you have to be invited by the organiser, not the media house to sponsor their trip. How do you take art to the masses without writeups? Who is leading our cultural institutions? There should be a certain policy that educated people should head cultural institutions, like Sahitya Academy is headed by a writer. We don't have a dozen writers to write in the SNA journal? What is happening today? If you have good reach, good clout, then you can make it. For art to survive, people should make it their own."
Dr.Anuradha Jonnalagadda questioned the slotting of classical dance programs at 11.30pm on the national DD channel. "That shows the govt attitude to our arts. In Telugu land, it is only cinema, no classical dance. Classical dancers are struggling today. They are their own sponsors and PR agent. We are passionate about our dance, that's why we are here. Getting platforms for money is a new development in the last two decades. Earlier talent was found through competitions. Now artistes have to apply for everything, including Padma awards!"
For critic Manjari Sinha, art promotes our goodness. We should understand the divinity of our arts, internalize it and convey to the audience. Dr.Mandakranta Bose observed that the changing tastes in India reflected in the status of Indian art abroad. There are more takers for Bollywood dance than for classical dance or music programs. At the end of the very illuminating panel session, Dr.Suresh Goel summed up the proceedings with a couple of points. There's a strong need to inculcate art and culture in the curriculum from playschool level. And there's a need of white paper of cultural policy on a national level.
The final day featured the presentation of papers by Dr.Mandakranta Bose and Dr.Vidya Shimladka. Dr.Bose's paper was titled 'Nritta Ratnavali: Jayasenapati and his approach to the aesthetics of presentation.' She gave a brief history of Jayappa's background and then compared some prominent works. "Bhoja said nritta is padarthabhinaya and abhinaya is vakyarthabhinaya. In Bharata's view, nritta conveys no meaning, so it rouses no rasa. Nritta is only beautification and not to convey meaning. In Bharata's work, dance was not given separate status as an art of its own, but was treated as a periphery to the entire art form of theatre. There are two types of success indicated by audience response. Vocal appreciation, or total silence but mesmerized savouring of the dance. But between the 10th and 15th c, dance scholars changed their stance - that there could be a connection between nritta and rasa." She said nritya describes dance designed to convey meaning with pure dance movements and abhinaya. "The first author to signify nritya was Dhananjaya in his Dasarupaka (10th c). Bharata's guidelines remained for all his successors but new forms came to the forefront (in regional forms) along with techniques and new terms. New forms were identified with desi - not to elite section of society but to that of common folk, dominant centres of culture. The main path was termed Marga. Somasekara was the first to report on desi."
Dr. Bose commended Jayappa for playing an important role. He included a vast variety of new forms and techniques in his Nritta Ratnavali. From 13th century, 'nritya' appeared in all dance texts. While Sarangadeva's commentary is too abbreviated, Jayappa went on to make it more comprehensive, clarifying the major points of dance and artistic description. Nritta Ratnavali covers all areas of the art of dance - technique, composition, aesthetics and so on. She said Dr.V. Raghavan's commentary is useful to understand Nritta Ratnavali which describes types and techniques of entirely new types of dance beyond Bharata. "Since Sarangadeva was Jayappa's contemporary, he must have had access to Sarangadeva's work. Sarangadeva was too concise and devotes only the 7th chapter to dance, briefly, as his impact is on music. Jayappa concentrates entirely on dance. The wealth of detail is astonishing - entire sequence of desi nritya, how to do the entire form of dance…For some he is indebted to earlier texts but others are entirely new. Bharata disassociates dance from meaning. Jayappa however shows nritya conveys rasa and meaning. Since Bharata's time, dance styles have expanded and also convey meaning (as in nritya) and they exist outside the cultural realm of Bharata. But Bharata was aware of dances outside his treatise. These were handled by his disciple Kohala.Unfortunately, Kohala's works are lost but whatever is recovered give the styles and technicalities of new forms."
Continuing details on Bharata's contribution, Dr.Bose said, "Bharata described qualities of a performance, how excellence could be achieved, types of responses etc. Bharata uses 'tandava' as synonym for nritta. Lasya could be performed by a man or woman acording to Bharata. There is no gender leveling in Bharata's work. After Vishnudarmottara Purana said lasya is a dance for women, it has remained so. Abhinavagupta's commentary on Natya Sastra encouraged new manuals on dance. For Jayappa, nritya included angikabhinaya but no vachikabhinaya to evoke rasa. Parshvadeva uses the word 'natya' for nritya. Nritya is not part of Bharata's vocabulary. Saushtava and pramana are needed to achieve excellence in performing arts according to Jayappa. He leaves a great deal to the dancer's discretion in technical skill. He gives a fuller description of songs and also how to make it more appealing. He focusses on way of presentation to make it more appealing and the aesthetic purpose of presentation." A recommended source of reading was Dr.K.M. Verma's book to learn the differences between natya, nritta and nritya. Dr.Bose's paper with many fine details was an eye opener and brought out the importance of Nritta Ratnavali as the greatest source of dance of that period.
'The sculptural representation of the desi tradition with a special focus on Nritta Ratnavali' was an apt topic for Dr.Vidya Shimladka since a substantive part of her PhD research was based on Nritta Ratnavali. In her paper, she focused on three inter-related elements - Shastra with special focus on Nritta Ratnavali; Correlating sculptures; Influence of shastras on today's dance forms. "The connecting thread here is the desi tradition, as it plays an important role in the evolution and development of classical dance in India. Marga is the dance tradition that follows the tenets of the Natya Sastra and Desi is the regional dance tradition which was codified by medieval period treatises." Vidya spoke chiefly about the desi tradition described by the mediavel period texts (12th to 18th c) like Manasollasa (12th c) of Somesvara, Sangita Ratnakara (early 13th c) of Sarangadeva which was the first to clearly define marga and desi, Nritta Ratnavali of Jayasenapati, Sangita Samayasara (13th c) of Parsvadeva that is an important manual for Odissi dancers, Nrityadhyaya (14th c) of Asokamalla and Nartana Nirnaya (16th c) of Pundarika Vittala etc. "The contribution of Nritta Ratnavali to our understanding of the desi tradition is immense. It is a monumental text that has compiled and codified the techniques of the desi tradition in a systematic manner. Etymologically 'desi' is derived from the word 'desya' which means of a particular region. In the perspective of dance, desi means 'the dance that is in practice in a particular region'. Originality is one of the several unique features of this text." Vidya examined the movement elements of the desi tradition such as desi sthanaka, cari and karanas and the dance sequences of the desi tradition such as Perini, Gaundali and Dandarasaka as described by Nritta Ratnavali. "Starting from Sangita Ratnakara of 13th century to Siva Tatvaratnakara of 18th century, all the authoritative texts on desi give ample information on Perini and Gaundali traditions. The research methodology involves three dimensional approach involving the Mula, (Shastra, the text), Anvaya (its application) and Prayoga (practical application). It also encompasses the text and sculpture guided reconstruction of the fundamental elements of the desi tradition."
"It is highly possible that Jayappa was influenced by the sculptures of Ramappa Temple and other Kakatiya temples while composing Nritta Ratnavali. Somesvara used to go to various temples and participate in various religious festivals. The dance sculptures and dance-like sculptures of Ramappa Temple in Palampet, the Thousand Pillar temple in Warangal, the Svayambhu Shiva temple and other archaeological remains of Warangal Fort reflect the diversity of dance traditions that were patronised by the Kakatiya rulers. The presence of beautiful navaranga in all these monuments indicate 'Alaya nritya' was given importance in these temples and the presence of significant number of dance sculptures representing the desi tradition clearly indicate that this tradition was widely practiced during Kakatiya period. There is a marked inter relatedness between the techniques described in Nritta Ratnavali and the movements and postures frozen in dance sculptures of the above mentioned temples. The sculptures of Ramappa Temple and other Kakatiya monuments stand as testimony to the evolution of Indian dance during medieval period."
Vidya focused on the sculptures of three monuments belonging to Kakatiya period. "Built in 1163 AD, Rudreshwara Temple's dancing Shiva, intricate carvings on the door frames, vibrant male and female dancing figures, wide range of musical instruments displayed in the sculptures reveal the rich music and dance culture that prevailed during the Kakatiya era. The remains of Svayambhu temple (1161AD) at Warangal fort with its beautiful pillars with bands of dancers and mythical figures in dancing modes, niches consisting of group dancing portrayed as a composite sculptures indicate that the temple was a repository of dance images. Ramappa Temple was built by Recharla Rudra, a commander of Kakatiya ruler Ganapathi Deva in 1213. The temple has a staggering variety of exquisite dance images on the pillars of the mantapa, the ceilings of the navaranga, perforated wall screens, the door frames of the antarala. Outer wall of the kaksasana is decorated with images of dancers and musicians in various attitudes. Movement elements and dance sequences drawn from both the marga and desi tradition are represented on the pillars and top-beams of the mukha mantapa. A close examination of the dance images in these three sites shows that a staggering variety bear a close resemblance with the desi tradition of dance which was prevalent during the medieval period. Desi tradition was not folk, it was very refined."
Vidya gave an overview of what the different chapters of Nritta Ratnavali deal with in terms of dance technique. "The text also explains features of the orchestra, characteristics of the main singer. The last chapter (eighth) deals with the audience, qualities of the main dancer and components of music and musical instruments. Jayappa has devoted first four chapters for describing the marga tradition and the next four chapters for the desi tradition. The key contribution of Jayappa is that he recognized dance as a separate, complete art form by uplifting its status from subsidiary to drama; he gave lengthy list of the dance forms that was prevalent during his time; he identified nritya as an independent art form."
Indian sculptures are often the frozen versions or representations of the gestures and poses of dance (caris and karanas), an attempt by sculptors to give us a manual in stone. Vidya projected images of many dance sculptures, demonstrating some of the movements. "Periṇi was mainly performed by male dancers who smeared their body with bhasma or holy ash. But in a later period, by about 17th century, probably both male and female dancers practiced Periṇi. Jayappa elaborately discusses various aspects of this dance form in three sub divisions. Temple sculptures hold a mirror to various aspects of dance, music, drama and allied arts. It is significant that the temples surveyed bear the testimony for the use of desi sthanakas, caris and karanas as described in Nritta Ratnavali. Sculptural and textual evidences give us proof for how extensively desi dance tradition was spread throughout this region," concluded Vidya in a well thought out lec-dem full of pertinent information that held the audience attention throughout.
Dr. Bose, the chair for this session, noted that those who perform, those who do research and those who write, need to come together and learn from each other. "Let us not debate on desi or marga. It is evolution. It is embedded in our existence," she said to applause. In giving a variety of topics yet focused on Nritta Ratnavali, allowing for a good length of talk by few speakers so justice could be done to a paper, followed by a brief interesting Q & A, the morning sessions gave a lot of food for thought. The speakers maintained their time and including govt and corporate voices added to the diversity of thoughts shared. Congratulations to Madhavi Puranam, Vikas Nagrare and team for a successful first edition. The art aficionados are already eagerly awaiting the second edition of the Nartanam Conclave!
Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of www.narthaki.com