The seminar on Sharngdeva’s 13th Century text Sangeeta Ratnakara was a praiseworthy affair

Living in Devagiri or Daulatabad, in the reign of Yadava ruler Singhana (1200-1247) an enthusiastic patron of literature, science and the arts, musicologist Sharangdeva composed his monumental work “Sangeeta-Ratnakara” — whose historicity is established, unlike other works like “Natya Sastra” or “Matanga’s Brihatdesi”. Aurangabad’s Mahagami Gurukul’s annual Sharangdev Samaroh, apart from its ‘son-of-the- soil’ nostalgic touch, has over four consecutive years, acquired an enviable academic-cum-performance canvas, documenting aspects of Sharangdeva still existing in dance and music manifestations.

The morning sessions at the wonderfully appointed large hall, with an attentive audience, started with a lec/dem by Mohiniattam expert Deepti Omcherry Bhalla about discovering the relevance of Sangeeta Ratnakara’s systematised desi references after interacting with regional Kerala temple traditions like Pani — working with percussion experts like Vadyakar Shankara Marar, with Vasudevan Piullai in Patayani and exchanges with Maddalam Shankara Warriyar, apart from exposure to the lively Arjuna Nrittam. Avahitta, an important Mohiniattam posture, the restrained lokadharmi (the dance belongs to the Kaisiki vritti group), the lasyanga (without chest or hip movement) and the inner dancer’s involvement (chittavrityartika lokadharmi) are as mentioned by Sharangdeva. Prime place given to vadya (percussion) in Sangeeta Ratnakara is followed in all temple traditions of Kerala. Sharangdeva’s system of varying Shadja and Panchama sans grihaswara is part of Sopanam music. Apart from margi talas, Sangeeta Ratnakara’s desi or regional tala patterns are part of Mohiniattam. Deepti herself has adapted to Mohiniattam’s movement idiom, compositions from desi percussion repertoire of timila, edekka, Arjuna Nrittam chhanda.

Manipuri guru Lokendrajit Singh mentioned gurus specially studying Sangeeta Ratnakara for enriching their pung raga talas. The ‘nishabda kriyas’ of Manipuri talas and the light footed grace of even the tandav manifestations rendered by male Nata Sankirtan dancers was demonstrated with supreme grace in ‘chalis’ like Sarpa Gati, Hamsa Gati and Gaja Gati. Talas Tanchep and Menkup, the latter for Radha abhisar, demonstrated abstract dance becoming the mode for conveying mood. With so many unarticulated tala kriyas, pinpointing the ‘sam’ becomes tricky. Alongside the staunch Nata Sankirtan classicism were bits of Chau tala in Hori, and some dhol rhythms.

Gopal Chadra Panda, trained under legends of Odissi and Hindustani music, expressed his plaint of ‘authentic’ Odissi music, so close to Sangeeta Ratnakara (which influenced legendary musicologists like Krishnadas Badajena), being diluted by the new influences, blurring intrinsic identity. Ragas Dhanasrevika, Madhukiri suited to karuna rasa, Korahara, Natanarayanathepoorna were rendered — reminiscent of the old Odissi. The traditional Raas lyric “Etavele koku mukha dekhale”, demonstrated the typical graces like ‘kurula gamaka’, ‘andolika’ and ‘ullasita’.

Dr. Karuna Vijayendra dance scholar based in Karnataka, gave highly informative glimpses of the painstaking research into Sangeeta Ratnakara’s Gaundali desi dance, sculpturally represented on temple friezes. With senior scholars like Shatavadhani Ganesh, the specific desi karanas’ links in Sangeeta Ratnakara were discovered, reinforced by temple wall inscriptions. Visuals supplemented the talk, of temple friezes from Balligave Kedareswara, Mallikarjuna, Belur Chennakeshavaiyya and from Hoysala art. The decoding process, with no earlier documentation available, was arduous. Particularly interesting were Sharngadeva’s uptluti karana examples, along with several Perini dance sculptures. Till Nayak rule brought in the adavu system into the regional dance of the South, the strong influence of Sharangdeva karanas persisted in sculptural representations.

Referring to Vilasini Natyam in particular, and when pertinent, to Kuchipudi also, and demonstrating padabhedas, torso, hip joint movements, tala systems, specific ragas and talas applying to worship of various deities, Swapnasundari’s all encompassing lecture demonstration was based on one premise of looking at ancient texts, without the existing State boundary consciousness. The entire region called Deccan included areas coming under ‘Dakshina Patha’ applicable to regions of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and areas of the Maharashtra region. Sharangdeva and Jayappa Senapati, one a minister in the Yadava kingdom and the other commander-in-chief of the Kakatiya army, lived during the same period and arguments of which text influenced which are irrelevant — while fully admitting cross-regional influences with similarity found in several references, in Sangita Ratnakara and Nritta Ratnavali which focused more on art practices in Telugu speaking areas. Amazing clarity of vision marked the lec/dem.

Dr. Suneera Kasliwal Vyas, substantiated by visuals, referred to instruments mentioned in the Sangeeta Ratnaka — many still used in varying manifestations or in the original avatars in desi traditions.

That sampradayas with oral transmissions followed the Sangeeta Ratnakara, (without gurus knowing anything about the text), revealed the strength of the guru/shishya parampara in preserving core identities, while underlining the prayog /sastra inter-relationship. Pandit Nirmalya Dey’s talk on Dhrupad, closest to Sangeeta Ratnakara, proved this, as also Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan’s session on Kathakali which given its close connection to Hasta Lakshana Deepika, has several aspects connecting closely with what Sharangdeva’s Natanadhyaya mentions.