Dancer and dance historian Swarnamalya Ganesh writes:

“Song and dance were the principle pre-occupations of the society for which he was the leader,” says N. Venkataramaiyyah in his preface to the work, ‘Raghunathabhyudayamu.’ An ‘Abhyudayamu’ is technically the description of a day in the life of the King through dvipada (couplet poems), songs and dialogue. These Abhyudayams were performed as dance and music discourses everyday in the courts.

The Nayaks, who were feudatory kings under the Vijayanagara emperors, used this literary form to actively steer a course of identity for themselves. In many of their epithets and inscriptions, they address themselves as ‘chaturtha gotra putra-s.’

Pasupuleti Rangajamma in her work, ‘Mannarudasa Vilasamu,’ addresses Vijayaraghava Nayaka as ‘Mannaru gotra’ indicating his allegiance to Lord Mannarudasa or Rajagopala, perhaps tracing their lineage to Gollavaru (the neat herd). This raise of the non-ruling class saw many new cultural and social operations that set newer norms and core values for society and the performing arts.

In my work, while studying the music and dance of the Nayaks, I understood that the study of ancestral memory along racial lines is a significant debate in critical race theory. The study of dance in this political racial shift is intertwined with the understanding of their memories, class struggles, issues of identity and authority.

The Nayaks may have made unabashed proclamations of their class, but displayed great ebullience in identifying with the already existent norms of lifestyle and behaviour that befit ‘royal blood.’ The ‘Tanjavuri Andhra Rajula Caritramu’, the Achyuthabhyudayamu written by Raghunatha Nayaka, ‘Raghunathabhyudayamu’ written by Vijayaraghava Nayaka and several such works not only documented the life, conquests and contributions of the Nayak kings but also reflected their lifestyle which resembled that of the Vijayanagara emperors, as described in the Rayavacakams.

The Nayaks were exuberant patrons of music, dance, literature and temples. It is interesting to note that they were active participants too in many of these creations by being composers, poets, musicians and experts themselves. They were often also the ‘subjects’, in the sense that from being a mere objective patron the King became the very subject (nayaka) of poetry, padas and kavyas that were embodied as dances and musical repertoires in their courts.

The phenomenon, where the subject watched his own story narrated, sung, told and danced every day, like the Abhyudayams even while he was the active participant in the very creation of such literature, is in many ways a deliberate attempt to create a sui generis cultural identity. This aspect was perhaps the most significant feature of this historical period.

Therefore a journey through their music, dance and repertoires as part of ‘FROM THE ATTIC’ is an attempt to reflect upon the context in which the immediate cultural memory of Bharatanatyam and classical music of today rests.”

swarnamalya@gmail.com