This Saturday, The Kakatiya Heritage Trust brings to Delhi glimpses of the rich culture propagated by the mediaeval dynasty of the Deccan

The Natya Shastra, attributed to legendary author Bharata inspired a large number of commentaries through the centuries. Not all the manuscripts survived but references in other works give scholars an idea of their existence. Even so, the seminal influence of the compendium on the theatre arts is discernible — not only from the number of extant texts in a range of languages of the subcontinent but also from the number of performing arts whose roots can be discerned in its directives and principles that cover every subject from types of auditorium to dance movements, acting styles to sartorial preferences in different regions. This Saturday, noted Sanskrit scholar Pappu Venugopala Rao and dancer-scholar Yashoda Thakore unveil their English translation of “Nrtta Ratnavali”, a 13th Century work written by Jaaya Senapati, a general in the army of the Kakatiya king, Ganapati Deva.

“The book is written in Sanskrit poetry,” says Yashoda, a Vilasini Natyam and Kuchipudi exponent. “It is totally connected with angika abhinaya (expression using the body). It talks of movement both of the margi and desi varieties.”

The term margi (literally ‘of the way’ or ‘path’) refers to those arts that adhere to codified rules, while desi is understood as the many regional variations. “Nrtta Ratnavali” contains four chapters that describe movements adhering to the margi style as found in the Natya Shastra, and four chapters delineating the desi tradition prevalent during the Kakatiya reign. These movements can still be discerned in the regional dances of the area, she notes.

At the book launch, Yashoda and her students will present a programme titled “Jaaya Vilaasam”, entirely choreographed by her. Yashoda — a disciple of Guru Swapnasundari who unearthed and reconstructed Vilasini Natyam, the dance tradition of the Telugu devadasis, and presented it to the public at large — says she has incorporated into the dance some movements which she reconstructed from studying the “Nrtta Ratnavali”. “The foundation is the footwork of Vilasini,” she explains. “A few movements have been reconstructed.” How easy was it to work out the movements from the text? “I could work it out because of my prior dance training and because of the little exposure I had to the traditional dancers.”

As a dancer, Yashoda feels, “There’s a different beauty when you dance to the descriptions of Jaaya.” She points out how he links abstract dance (nritta) to other concepts and conditions: “What is the state of mind of the dancer, what are the qualities of a teacher, the patron…” The author refers to two other works not found, “Geeta Ratnavali and “Vadya Ratnavali” which the translators feel preceded the work on nritta. “It is a pity because if we had them, maybe a lot more would be known about native Telugu music and instrumentation,” she remarks. Besides his patron, King Ganapati Deva, the author gives credit throughout to Bharata for his inspiration. “He says if Bharatmuni is born again, he’ll say, this Jaaya has understood me completely!”

“Beyond the Abhinaya Darpanam”

Eminent scholar Pappu Venugopala Rao adds that though Jaayasena’s work focuses on the body and movement, he goes beyond. “For example, he talks of qualities of the dancer, of the musician, groups of musicians, groups of dancers — which are very relevant for dancers. All these are not mentioned in the Natya Shastra.”

While virtually every chapter of the Natya Shastra has led to an entire book, this one, though not attempting to reproduce its range, is by its qualitative additions, “beyond Abhinaya Darpana and just a little bit less than Natya Shastra,” says Rao. “If this book had been published before the Abhinaya Darpana, people would have used it more.”

Monuments and more

The Kakatiya Heritage Trust focuses on the major monuments and cultural legacy of the Kakatiyas, who ruled over much of the southern peninsula between the 11th and 14th centuries CE. These include the Ramappa temple, the Warangal Fort and the Thousand Pillared Temple. The KHT, which is presenting the book release and Jaaya Vilaasam, is co-founded by B.V. Papa Rao and Pandu Ranga Rao. “We are both also INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) members,” says Papa Rao. While Pandu Ranga Rao is a geologist greatly interested in Kakatiya structural engineering, Papa Rao has experience as head of the cultural department of the Provisional Government of Kosovo after the war when numerous damaged monuments were restored and some declared World Heritage Sites. “So he is the technical person and I had the policy experience,” says Papa, enumerating KHT’s plans which include an international seminar on chain tank irrigation and a coffee table book on Kakatiya heritage. The trust also reaches out to school and college students. Recently 100 students from Kakatiya University took part in workshops. “From them we hope to get future volunteers, INTACH members…. The idea is to evoke a lot of enthusiasm. Ultimately the people have to protect and preserve the monuments.”

(The programme takes place at Ambedkar Auditorium, A.P. Bhavan, 1, Ashoka Road, 6.30 p.m., March 23.)