Tag Archives: High Culture

Personalities: K. Viswanath


In honour of the recent announcement for the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, our Post today is on its 2016 recipient.

While it is true that we Telugus often feel short-shrifted on the national award front, it’s also important to recognise when the central committees actually get it right. Continuing our ongoing Series on Andhra Personalities is that stalwart of Telugu Cinema, Sri K.Viswanath.


Born in 1930, Kasinathuni Viswanath hails from Peddapulivarru, in Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh. His parents were Subramanyam and Saraswathamma. His father was a manager in Vahini pictures at Vijayawada (where he would study). Viswanath would later graduate from Andhra Christian College, Guntur and then follow in the family footsteps in film.

What is often not known, is that long before he was a director and writer, he was a technician. In fact, he got his start in the Sound Department on the set of his first movie: Thodi Kodallu. Nevertheless, it was a humble start to what would go on to be a prolific career, as even a short glance at his filmography would show. With 36 films to his name as director (and around 50 in other roles), his movies represent real cultured cinema.

There are no vulgar, double entendre dialogues in his films, which are pleasant, steeped in the local ethos, and with music, dance and traditional art forms. [5]

In a poetic twist, he is said to have been noted for his talent by none other than Nageswara Rao gaaru, and the rest was history. K.Viswanath made his directorial debut in 1965’s Atma-Gouravam, featuring ANR. While he established himself in the 60s and 70s (especially with Siri Siri Muvva), it was in the subsequent decades that the screen-poet of Peddapulivarru made his maximum impact. Starting from 1980’s Sankarabharanam to 1983’s Sagara Sangamam to 1986’s Swati Muthyam to 1987’s Swayam Krushi, this was the decade in which he seemingly dominated.

In the 1990s, he would also make appearance as a mainstream actor, rounding out his cinematic abilities. Subha Sankalpam featured his acting debut, reputedly at the behest of none other than Kamal Haasan, who said the role needed a venerable person before whom he could bow.

Maximum cast in his movies were Jayaprada, Chiranjeevi, and Kamal Haasan. Other actors were Bhanupriya, Venkatesh, Radhika, Vijayasanthi, and Srikanth.

He was also fluent in Tamil and did a number of movies in that language, such as Salangai Oil and Sippikul Muthu. He also made a few Hindi movies such as Eeswar and Kaamchor, although they did not rise to the same level he achieved in Telugu.

At a time when Indic and especially Telugu language and culture is on the defensive, K.Viswanath represents the importance of steeping mass culture in classical culture. After an era plagued by back-bencher blockbusters and item-dance driven nuisance flicks, the cultural quagmire of modern India requires guiding lights to return it to the glory of Maya Bazaar and Missamma. Viswanath garu demonstrates one such deepam.

A presenter of classical and traditional art, music and dance, K Viswanath has been a guiding force in the Indian film industry. As a director he has made fifty films since 1965 known for their strong content, endearing narrative, honest handling and cultural authenticity. His films on a wide range of social and human issues had great appeal to the masses. [4]

We live in an age where stars are celebrated simply for being stars and people are famous for simply being famous. With such social afflictions, is it any wonder that kitsch has captured the market while art is ailing?

Indeed, even the names of his films had an artistic or even poetic quality to them. Whether it is Aapadbandhavudu or Sruthilayalu or Siri Siri Muvva or Swaraabhishekam, his mellifluous movie titles stand in stark contrast to the crass anglicised appellations that have since dominated the industry in descending decades.


For the arts to revive and prosper, not only kalaanidhis but veritable kalaatapasvis and tapasvinis are required. The 2016 Dadasaheb Phalke Award winner is one such.

An ardent art lover, he made a series of films based on varied themes of art, music and dance. His films empathised with courage and frailty, aspirations and convictions, perseverance and distractions, social demands and individual struggle and at the core, believed in the goodness of the human spirit. [4]

Above all, in a vulgar age which fails to understand what real culture is, this cultural exemplar give us scenes rebuking the poseurs and providing the true meaning for samskruthi and natya.

In an industry that has come to be known for its stars dominating the movie marquees, he stood for stories weaving together the talent into an integral celluloid whole.


From Siri Siri Muvva to Sirivennala, there is an endless list of quality contributions to Andhra and indeed Indic Cinema by Kasinathuni Viswanath. But if one film stands out, it is Sankarabharanam.

From the electrifying vocals of S.P. to the iconising of Saastriya Sangeeta to the story itself, Sankarabharanam was a modern masterpiece. Of course, who could forget the contributions of composer K.V. Mahadevan. Nevertheless, it was K.Viswanath who brought them all together in one musical magnum opus. Indeed, many even assert that the movie was responsible for increasing interest in Carnatic Music among a generation of South Indians.

It is not for nothing he has been nicknamed Kalaa Tapasvi.

 Renowned filmmaker and actor Kasinadhuni Viswanath, best known for his award-winning movies in Telugu, Tamil and Hindi, has won the Dadasaheb Phalke award for the year 2016 for his outstanding contribution to the film industry. [1]

To receive the Phalke Award is a laudable and sought out distinction for any filmmaker or artiste. To date, 6 Telugus have received it, with  B. Narasimha Reddi, B. Nagi Reddi Paidi Jairaj, L.V.Prasad, Akkineni Nageswara Rao in 1990 and D.Rama Naidu in 2009  being the previous awardees.

But despite working with mass stars like Megastar Chiranjeevi and Kamal Haasan, K.Viswanath garu is a screen legend in his own right. Celebrated and known North and South of the Vindhyas, this Andhra ratna already has a long list of awards and achievements.

  • Honorary Doctorate from Potti Sriramulu Telugu University
  • Ragupathy Venkaiah Award for Lifetime Contribution to Cinema from AP
  • Recognised with 20 Nandi Awards from the State of Andhra Pradesh
  • Received 5 National Awards and 10 Filmfare Awards
  • Won the National award for Swati Mutyam. This was India’s Official entry for the 1987 Oscars Foreign Films Category.
  • Awarded the Padma Sri in 1992 for contributions to cinema



Viswanath garu leaves behind an outstanding body of work that would be feted in any era. If ‘Simplicity truly is the Ultimate Sophistication‘, he embodied this in films.

The stories that Shri K Viswanath told through his films were seemingly simple. They provided an uncomplicated, direct and pleasant cinematic experience to the audience. At the same time, they lend themselves to a nuanced and layered interpretation leading many to watch them again and again and come back and discover a new hitherto unseen aspect or a have deeper understanding and realization. [4]

Movies like Saptapadi show precisely the type of introspection any society requires and the balance needed between duty and human dignity. He exemplifies the type of attitude spiritual and artistic elites require: rather than distant reservation and condescending mockery, an empathetic championing of the masses and an upliftment of their plight is what is needed.

Prathi cinema ki oka sandesam undedhi. There would be a social message in virtually all his films, proving the true potential of Indian Cinema. It is not in item dance or idiot fan followings or foreign flesh shows, but in movies that marry culture with sentiment in contemporary context. This is what represents not only state but national cinema as well.

Named for the Maharashtrian Director-Producer Dadasaheb Phalke—the famous filmmaker of what’s considered India’s first Movie (Raja Harishchandra)—this National Award is coveted across Bharat’s various cinematic industries.

The award is conferred by the Government of India for outstanding contribution to the growth and development of Indian cinema. The award consists of a Swarn Kamal (Golden Lotus), a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh and a shawl. The award shall be conferred by the President of India at a function on May 3 at Vigyan Bhawan. [4]

While at 87 years old, the doyen of the pre-digital cinema era may have been made to wait all too long, it is, as they say, better late than never.

Telugu Cinema has come a long way since the cultural morass of the mid-2000s. Indeed, from Maya Bazaar (now in its 60th year) to Magadheera (and now Baahubali), it has had quite a trip ‘There and Back Again’. If there is filmmaker who embodies the triumph of Art over Kitsch and High Culture for the Masses, it is K.Viswanath garu.

From all of us at ACP, Congratulations, andi! It is a recognition long overdue.


  1. http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/k-viswanath-wins-dadasaheb-phalke-award-for-2016/article18200164.ece
  2. http://movies.ndtv.com/regional/veteran-filmmaker-and-actor-kasinathuni-viswanath-conferred-dadasaheb-phalke-award-1685466
  3. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0899649/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
  4. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/kasinadhuni-vishwanath-dadasaheb-phalke-award/1/936966.html
  5. http://www.deccanchronicle.com/entertainment/tollywood/250417/legendary-kalathapasvi-viswanath-gets-dadasaheb-phalke-award-for-2016.html
  6. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/true-artists-dont-need-fame/article7455680.ece
  7. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/phalke-award-for-viswanath/article18202634.ece

Carnatic Classical Instruments: Veena



From very early times Andhras had a special aptitude for music. They did much in times of yore to develop that art (gaanakalaa) and contributed a special raga called Andhree after their own name to the series of musical notes. This fact is known from a treatise on Music named Brhaddesi written by Matanga muni. The author states in his work that in the opinion of Saardula Maatava-pancama has six raagainis of which Andhri was one. [4, 418]

To date, Andhra Cultural Portal has focused primarily on the many brilliant Andhra Composers and singers. Specific names include Annamaya, Thyagaraja, Narayana Theertha, and of course, the recently deceased Dr. Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna (who will be sorely missed).

Nevertheless, another critical aspect of the Carnatic tradition is its instruments. Indeed, instrumentals are, today, more important than ever in reaching out to “modern/post-modern” youth who are alienated from their roots. Carnatic music may seem regimented and orthodox, but as Balamurali garu proved, it can certainly keep up with the times. Indeed, the greatness of it is that while not all who are trained in other traditions can do what Carnatic virtuosos can, even the average Carnatic performer can do what other traditions can. As such, understanding the role instrumentation plays is key.

Seven chapters (28-34) of the Natya Sastra deal with music. Bharata muni discusses both aatoodya (instrumental) and gaana (vocal) music. [2, 106] While the voice is the most personal of musical instruments, Classical Indic music hosts a panoply of percussion, strings, and woodwinds alike.

The Musical instrument (Aattodya or Vaadya) [2,110] in Carnatic music is of four kinds: Thatha vaadyam, Sushira vaadyam, Avanatta vaadyam, and Ghana vaadyam. “They are respectively called stringed instruments, thulai (hole) instruments, leather instruments and metal instruments.”[1, 97]

Thatha (stringed) instruments are generally made out of wooden pieces or chips and joined together with strings made of copper and similar materials. They are played by nail or other such devices. Instruments such as the Veena fall into this category. The Veena in particular can be played with three different techniques: tattva, anugatha, and oogha. “In tattva, the instrument is played mainly to denote the rhythm, the time-measure etc. of a particular song. In anugata, the instrument is played to follow the tempo of the song. In oogha, the instrument is played to embellish the song with no particular significance attached to it.” [2, ]


Sushira (thulai)instruments wind instruments and typically are made either out of wood or bamboo planks. They have holes, are blown from the mouth, and manipulated with the fingers. Instruments such as the flute (murali or vamsee) fall into this category. “Depending on the number of quartertones, the notes of this instrument are of three varieties—dvika or two, trike or three and catushka or four. The same are respectively known as ardhamukta or half open, kampamaana or pulsating, and vyakta mukta or fully open.”[2,110-111]

Avanatta (leather) instruments refers to percussion. “These are made out of wood and tied with leather. They can be played by the hand or small sticks.” [1, 97] These drums are usually hollow instruments with leather coverings on one or both sides.Silt and wheat/barley flour are used to fill in order to ensure consonance with the main note.

Ghana (metal) instruments are generally made out of bronze. These are commonly called cymbals and referred to as thaala (within the tradition). This is because they are used to measure time in a musical session.

The division for instruments are as follows:

Sruthi instruments: Tambura (Thatha)-Otthu (Sushira), Sruti box (Sushira)

Sangeetha Instruments: Veena (Thatha), Gottu (Thatha), Flute (Sushira), Nadaswaram (Sushira), Jalatarangam (“Water is poured in porcelain cups and then played by stick”). [1, 97]

Laya Instruments: Mridangam (Avanatta), Thavul (Avanatta), Keethu (Thatha), Moorsing (Ghana), Kanjira (Avanatta), Ghatam (Mud pot), Jalar (Gana-Bronze)” [1,97]

There are of course other instruments in use today, such as the violin and the harmonium. While their inclusion shows the versatility of Carnatic,  these are not traditional, and thus, are not considered for the purposes of this collection of articles.

We begin this Series with an instrument that has long been denied its due. Indeed, Classical Indic Taste has been pushed aside for parvenus. No more. It is time to restore the traditional place of one of Indian Music’s most magnificent contributions: The Veena.


Meenakshi Madurai Temple

The Veena is verily the classical of all classical Indian instruments.  It is one of three main vaadyaas first mentioned in Vedic literature, notably the Rig and Sama Vedas. The origin of all musical instruments is told by Bharata muni himself:

Sage svaati went to a lake to fetch water on a holiday when it rained heavily. The torrents of rain fast as wind, falling on the lotus leaves in the waters of the lake, excited the birds which produced inexplicable sweet sounds. Svaati was astonished at the rich melodious sounds made by the falling water drops and the low, the medium and the high notes produced by the birds. He went back to his hermitage and pondered over the possibility of producing musical instruments incorporating these sounds. He sough the assistance of viSvakarma, the celestial architect, and constructed various drums including mridanga, paNava and dardura.”[2, 111]

Maharishi Svaati then created the various instruments and crafted them with strings, wood, and iron. Percussion instruments in particular are mentioned. The famed divine drum dundubhi, along with others such as the tripushkara (mridanga, paNava and dardura) which are major instruments,  as well as the jhallari and paTahi (minor instruments) are mentioned.[2, 112]


One who plays the veena is known as a vainika/vainikaa. There have been many a talented Vainika in Purana and Charitra. The Veena, of course is most identified with two deities in the Hindu pantheon. The first and foremost, is the Goddess of Knowledge, Sarasvati Devi. Invoked throughout auspicious educational occasions, she is in many ways, the patron deity of music itself. It is not for nothing the most famous Veena is her namesake. After all, she is called Veena Pustaka Dharini.

Next of course is Mahadev himself. Lord Shiva is famed as a dancer and a destroyer and a wielder of the damaroo. Nevertheless, he is credited with the creation and mastery of another instrument, which fittingly bears his majestic name.

Narada muni-He is always seen with his veena, known as Mahathi, praising Lord Vishnu with his keerthanas.

Maharishi Agasthya-The great Saptarishi was an exponent of the veena and famously had a competition with Ravana (whose flag featured the veena). [9]

These of course, are sacred figures from our Puranas. But human history proper itself lists many talented veena players. Sculptures throughout India mark the centrality of the Veena, whose traditional role, ostensibly, has been usurped by the violin.

Siddhartha Gautama-“The Buddha reinforced his teachings with music from his Veena known as Parivadhini. It had twenty-one strings made of gold (Swarna Sutra).” [8]

Perhaps most celebrated of all, is the famed Emperor Samudra Gupta. He whose shadows cast their sway from Valhika to Varanasi and Kashmir to Kanyakumari was undoubtedly a most masculine of royals. And yet, he conquered Bharatavarsha with vaana (bow) in one hand and veena (lute) in the other.


Maharajadiraja Samudra Gupta with veena & vaana

Moving on into the medieval period, we find many accomplished performers and even rulers.

Purandara Dasa-The Pitamaha of Carnatic music was also a vainika in his own right. His successors in turn would follow in his footsteps as vainika-gayakas.

Raghavendra Swami-The patron Saint of Mantralayam was divinely inspired by Veena music, and used it in his own compositions.

Thyagaraja-Saint Tyagaraja brings out with all lyrical beauty and brilliance about the importance of this divine instrument in his song Mokshamu Galada!

vINA vAdana loludau Sivamano
vidha merugaru, thyAgarAja vinutha
 Is salvation obtainable to those who are not able to perceive the mind of Shiva who derives indescribable pleasure from listening to the divine music of Vina!” [3, 2]

Syama Sastri


Muthuswamy Deeksithaar

Veena Kupayya-A student of Thyagaraja. He composed many krithis featuring the veena.

Culture and Competence (in manhood or otherwise) go hand-in-hand and are not antipodal. The days of the popinjay oversophisticates and the rustic barbarian must be set aside.

It is possible to be both strategically serious and sophisticated in song and the other arts. The great King Bhoja was a sishya of Sarada and Skanda alike. We need not be alienated from our roots and artistic endeavours in order to tackle the modern world.

Indeed, there is a veena for every occasion. Here are some of its many types.


Govinda Dikshitar of the Tanjavur court first constructed a veena with 24 fixed frets, 12 for each octave. This was a key factor in the development of the system of 72 melakarta ragas.” [6] He is considered the originator of the Sarasvathi Veena in its current form. Nevertheless, the Veena obviously has a far greater antiquity (and variety). There were at one point as many as 25 different kinds of veenas. Kanakaveena or brahma veena may very well be the origin of them all.  In fact, Palkurki Somanatha, famed Telugu Poet of the Kakatiya era,  in his poem Panditharaadhya Charitramu gives us 41 [6]:











Here is a listing of the ones that are prevalent in the present time.


Rudra veena-Undoubtedly the most august and masculine of all the Indian lutes, the Rudra Veena commands respect even today.  Legend has it that Lord Shiva was inspired to construct it when he caught glimpse of Parvathi Devi taking rest. Struck by her beauty, the Rudra Veena was the result of the saundharya of this most Divine of muses.



Sarasvathi veena-The Sarasvathi veena is the most iconic of all the varieties. The very mention of the word Veena brings to mind this image. While the current form is traced to The Thanjavur Nayak court, it is in fact more ancient. Its measurements and structure are considered the standard.

Brahma Veena-The Veena of Lord Brahma, which helps facilitate his creation of the universe.


Vichitra Veena-Commonly used in the Hindustani style of music. A veena of seven strings (played with the fingernails). Does not have any frets.

Ghoshavathee Veena-Thought to be the predecessor to the comparatively recent Vichitra Veena.

Vipanchee-A  Veena of nine strings. Has 6 karanas (roopa, pratikrita, pratibheed, roopa sesha, oogha and pratisushka). It is played with a plectrum.

Tritantri Veena-It is often said that the Sitar is merely a renamed and re-tuned Tritantri. It is called so for the 3 strings that it has.

Saradiya Veena-This instrument is now called a Sarod, and has carved its own name in the Hindustani music world.


Mohana Veena-Considered to alternately be a modification of the Sarod and guitar. As such has two variations.


Yaal (Yazh)-Commonly used in Tamizh Nadu and considered an ancestor of the Veena.

Mahathi Veena-the Veena of choice of Narada Muni.

bobbiliveenaBobbili Veena-Today seen more as a toy than an august instrument of music, the Bobbili veena has nonetheless carved out its own name in the world of crafts. In fact, it historically had a golden age under the Rajas of Bobbili, and the instrument was a serious one for musical performances in the small kingdom. It was frequently given as a gift, and as most of the pre-modern varieties, was often gilded.


Although there are numerous variations of the veena, the structure is generally the same. Number of strings aside, the Veena typically has a head (called a kuppam), 24 frets, with 4 strings (representing Chaturveda and also Purushartha), and 3 on the side (called thaala strings). The latter are said to represent Iccha Shakti, Jnana Shakti, and Kriya Shakti. [3,4]

The 24 frets represent 12 swarasthanas in two octaves (24). Just like the 24 frets of the Veena, human back bone has 24 divisions. According to the human anatomy, the back bone has 7 cervicles (7 strings), 12 thorasic (representing the 12 swara sthanas) and 5 lumbar vertebrae (representing the 5 notes R, G, M, D,N –S and P are not included as they are prakrithi swaras or natural notes). The 24 frets get their importance by the nada produced from them. [3,4]
“Veena is of two kinds – Deiveeka Veena and Maanushi Veena (Man made Veena).
The human body created by God is the ‘deiveeka veena’.
The veena made out of wood by human beings is called as the ‘maanushi veena’.
Both these Veena are made and intended to produce the divine Nada or Music.”[3. 3]
Plucking of the strings is called meetu. There are  16 varieties of this.
Due to this divine nature, the Veena is said to facilitate vocal training as well. Singing along with veena is a form of Naada yoga (Yoga of Sound). If that is the case, manufacture of the veena is another type of yoga as well.

The best veenas are made from a single block of wood, typically jackwood. These are the instruments that stand the test of time and become veritable heirlooms in eminent families, as in the Royal Family of Mysuru. They may very depending on region and taste.


The veena is most often constructed in 3 parts. Though made from a single piece of jackfruit wood (called panasa), it consists of a head, a neck, and a resonator. A stabiliser (thumba) is made from hollow pumpkin. The wood itself is lacquered after carving and construction.

The fret board is hollow, and generally includes 24 brass frets. These are set on black honey wax and wooden tracks. A soft black coal powder is used to give it colour.


The strings themselves are usually brass.

The Thanjavur variety is typically 4 feet in length. Due to lack of patronage, there are less than 100 artisans in that craft today. In Bobbili it is around 30 families. These artisans, and the pandits preserving the traditional knowedge, require patronage, once given by feudal nayaks. The established business families of this era have a responsibility to fill this void.



Veena is the Divine Instrument. Verily, it represents the concept of Moksha through music.

From Lord Shiva and the Rudra Veena to APJ Abdul Kalam and the Sarasvathi Veena, this instrument has captured the imagination of ancient and modern India alike.

Veena is our national instrument. It is a treasure. [5]

Famous Players

A viiNaa player must be untiring and must be an expert in handling the citraa tupe of viiNaa. A flute player must be physically strong, steady and must have long breath” [2,115] And yet, despite these demands, Veena players (and vamsee players for that matter) have run the gamut. Some are of course established expert performers in Carnatic Classical or Hindustani. And others are perhaps better known in other areas (such as our own Yamini Purnatilaka garu), and yet, are accomplished artistes in this most divine of instruments, nonetheless.


Emani Sankara Sastry

Chitti Babu

Yamini Krishnamurti

Sundaram Balachander


Asad Ali Khan

Doraiswamy Iyengar

Brahm Sarup Singh

TN Seshagopalan

Jayanti Kumaresh

Punya Srinivas


The future of the veena is at a crossroads. Rootlessness among metro youth and adults alike have reduced interest in traditional heritage as it is. The violin’s usurpation of the veena’s traditional place as primary vocal accompaniment has exacerbated matters.

While there are veena virtuosos even today, it will require collaborative efforts with an eye on modern dynamics to restore this cultural treasure to its rightful place. It will require some effort from current connoisseurs and some adjustment from traditionalists. Not only should instrumentals be promoted but even fusion efforts given due credit.


To be fair, there have been general attempts outside of fusion to promote the veena. But these have been isolated. To restore Rudra’s vaadya to its proper place will require not only comprehensive and cooperative efforts across a state or many states, but also some tough decisions about current musical accompaniment.

More movies like this Chiranjeevi garu

The violin is a beautiful instrument, and credit to the European classical tradition for evolving it. Yet, it is possible to appreciate the foreign while preserving our own. Perhaps the best service stalwarts of Carnatic can do today is to encourage the reintroduction of the veena as the mainstay in katcheris, and even in less formal performances. The Rudra veena and the Sarasvathi veena (in its most popular measurement) may indeed be difficult to transport (as part of a troupe) for our peregrinatious performers of the post-modern period. Nevertheless, a suitable veena should be decided upon and encouraged to take the place of violin.

Violin invariably will continue in the forseeable future, and one does not wish to discourage those talented Carnatic performers who have devoted their lives to this delightful instrument. They should continue to perform with patronage & certainly  demand for “fusion” only continues to expand. But tradition is tradition. While the artistic spirit of musical experimentation should be encouraged, the integral core must be preserved.

Incipient steps must be taken to restore our National Instrument to its rightful place. Sarasvathi herself would expect nothing less for her namesake.

Saa Me Vasatu Jivhagre Veena Pusthaka Dharini
 -May Goddess Saraswathi, holding the Veena and the Vedas, always reside in my tongue. [3,8]


  1. Iyer, A.S. Panchapakesa.Karnataka Sangeeta Sastra: Theory of Carnatic Music.
  2. Appa Rao, P.S.R & P. Sri Rama Sastry. A Monography on Bharata’s Natya Sastra. Hyderabad: Natyakala Press. 1967.P.110-112
  3. Mahesh, Anuradha. Shanmukhapriya School of Music. 2016 https://www.scribd.com/document/305207642/Veena-the-Divine-Instrument
  4. Somasekhara
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/chennai-margazhi-season/nirmala-rajasekars-mission-is-to-keep-the-veena-flag-flying-across-the-globe/article6735447.ece?widget-art=four-rel
  6. http://www.theveena.com/veena/
  7. http://www.forbesindia.com/article/recliner/the-last-notes-of-the-thanjavur-veena/32670/1
  8. http://www.jayanthikumaresh.com/about-the-veena/
  9. http://www.gklokam.com/2015/10/important-instrument-player-exams.html
  10. Divekar, Hindraj. Rudra Veena: An Ancient String Musical Instrument. New Delhi: DPH. 2001
  11. Dutta, Madhurima.Let’s Know Music and Musical Instruments of India. New Delhi: IBS books. 2008
  12. http://www.firstpost.com/living/thanjavur-veena-to-be-first-indian-instrument-to-get-made-in-thanjavur-tag-545793.html
  13. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/visakhapatnam/Melody-of-Bobbili-Veena-dying-out/articleshow/47451422.cms
  14. http://gaatha.com/bobbili-veena/

Personalities: Savithri


From Mahanari Savitri over at ICP, we go to Mahanati Savithri here at ACP.  After a long hiatus from phillims, we return to the Cinema star who started it all.

A legendary woman in her own right who needs no introduction to the Telugu people, our next Personality in our Continuing Series is the original doyenne of Telugu Cinema. She stood astride the southern film industries like a female colossus, and remains to this day, our most universally beloved actress. It may be hard to imagine a time before Sridevi in the cinema of the South, but the original Missamma was the Amma to all actresses since.


Known by many names and given many titles, Savithri  Kommareddy was born Nissankararao, Savithri in the Andhra region of the erstwhile Madras Presidency, in 1936. Her natal place was Chiravurru, Guntur District. She lost her father, Guravayya, at the tender age of 6 months, causing her mother, Subhadramma, to take her and her elder sister Maruti to live with their aunt. She thenceforth grew up in Vijayawada.

Early on, she demonstrated a talent for dance, and her uncle enrolled her in classical dance and music classes.She was instructed by Guru Sishtla, Purnayya Sastry. After only a year, she excelled under his guidance, and he recognised and praised her talent.

It took less than a year under his tutelage for Savithri to become a skilled dancer.  Almost all the dances she learned involved the stories from the Puranas. [6]

At age 11, she joined a theatre troupe (Arunodaya Natya Mandali) and performed all across the coastal region. After this, her family decided to take her to Chennai (then Madras), to try to make her a star. It was said that Savithri’s favourite actor was Akkineni, Nageswara Rao, and she tried to catch glimpses of him. Although initially cast alongside him for the film Samsaaram (1950), the role later went to Lakshmi Kanthamma. As fate would have it, Savithri would later star as his love interest in the all-time classic Maya Bazaar.

Nevertheless, Savithri proceeded with her career and was cast as a vamp in the movie Roopvati, and then danced in the movie Paathaala Bhairavi. It was 1952, however, that proved to be a banner year for her. She consecutively featured in Sankranthi, Palleturi Pilla (her first as the lead heroine), and Devadasu. She also was cast in a Hindi movie Bahut Din Hue and a Tamizh film Manampol Mangalyam. Originally Bhanumati was cast in Missamma, but due to differences with the producer, she left, and Savithri was cast in the title role. It would prove to be a career-defining, and indeed, industry defining part for her.

Savithri was also making an impact in Kollywood. Beyond the Tamizh version of Missamma, she was also seen in Kanyasulkam and many other movies. It was on the set of Missiamma, however, that the closeness between her and Gemini Ganesan was noticed. The entire South would eventually be blindsided when it found out Savithri secretly married Ganesan in 1952 itself. That year was a banner one in more ways than one. Interestingly, there is an anecdote wherein GG came across a star-struck Savithri. He is said to have recommended her in 1948, when she visited Gemini Studios with her mother. Ganesan apparently wrote on her picture that she was promising, if given an opportunity.

If 1952 was a banner year, 1956  was a roller coaster. She starred in numerous films (‘Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu’, ‘Mangalya Balam’, ‘Bhale Ammayilu’, ‘Thodi Kodallu’, ‘Gundamma Katha’)and received many awards. But she and the already much-married, many-fathering Gemini Ganesan finally went public about their marriage. She would give birth to a daughter that year as well. She would later have their son.

1957 represented the highwater mark, with the industry-defining Maya Bazaar. It was a movie that was Epic in every sense of the word, and would truly cement Savithri’s star on the proverbial walk of fame. From girlish glee, to feminine cleverness, to moonstruck loveliness, Savithri shone in this role like the chandamama in the song Lahiri Lahiri.

After 1963’s Narthanasala, Savithri went on to other roles. She was still making films throughout the 70s (especially in Tamizh), but began producing and directing as well. One of her movies took 5 years to produce, and is attributed to causing later monetary issues.

Despite her glistening career, fame, and fortune, Savithri died at the young age of 46. The long-suffering woman of Gundamma Katha had decided she had suffered Gemini Ganesan’s affairs long enough and walked out of the marriage. A generous person by her nature, she was defrauded by the many sycophants and parasites who had set up court around her. These same folk would abandon her later in life when she was in financial troubles.

Her biographical accounts make reference to how she drowned her sorrows in drink. Whether it was a disease or not that claimed her life at the young age of 46, it was clear that she really died of a broken heart in 1981. She had married the wrong man, trusted the wrong people, and lived out the remainder of her life in Bangalorean loneliness.

With a life-story fit for a screenplay tragedy, Savithri nevertheless set the benchmark for all actresses since. Despite her comparatively shorter life, what she achieved in cinema has yet to be exceeded, nor is likely to be. She was the first true female super-star, but more importantly, she was a truly theatre-trained talent who brought her myriad talents to the screen. As she was in her childhood drama troupe so she was in peak of life, the crowd-puller and centre of attention.

But a life such as hers should be celebrated rather than mourned. What were her achievements in reel life and real life?


From Maya Bazaar, to Missamma, to Gundamma Katha and beyond, the impact of Savithri on the silver screen in Andhra Golden age of cinema is hard to minimise. She was the original grande dame of Telugu Cinema.

She brought a subtlety, a delicacy, and lovability, and a gravitas which is rare to detect in actors of any era (let alone this one). She remains the benchmark against which all serious actresses weigh their performances. Sridevi remains the quintessential complete actress, but Savithri is the naati who brought true Nataka in its highest form, to mass cinema.

Despite the celebrated greatness of Maya Bazaar, Savithri will forever be remembered for her title role as Missamma.

Savitri was a multi-faceted genius. She was not only an actress, but also a director, producer and writer [5]

Missamma was the role that defined her career, and in many ways, her life.  She was the cultured girl in a post-Independence India, who still managed to be modern…on her own terms. She managed to demonstrate that empowerment means more than slick youtube videos or prurient and shrill protests. Rather, true empowerment was strong will, and living a meaningful life.

From starring roles at an early age to gender-empowering parts at the height of stardom, Savithri was a pioneer in Telugu Cinema. This Guntur girl managed to achieve fame in a number of industries beyond her native Andhra, and was cast in Tamizh, Hindi, Malayalam, and Kannada cinema as well. She had completed her conquest of the South and had made forays in the North.

Credited with 253 films. At one point she was making a film a month!

Savithri made such an impression on the minds of film-makers, that this actress who dominated the 50s and 60s was still appearing in films (posthumously) in the mid-80s!

She received numerous awards over the course of her illustrious career. From Filmfare to Rashtrapati to Nandi, she was no stranger to the coveted accolades of her profession.

But as is the case with so many of the luminaries of Andhra, from Balamurali Krishna to Vempati Chinna Satyam to P.Suseela, “Had she been born in other States, she would have earned much more name than what she had gained“. [5]

Rather than doing nothing and blaming people for the state of their culture, perhaps its time this state’s  public take responsibility and start investing in institutions that promote culture and promote cultural icons like Savithri who became veritable institutions.


Nata Siromani, Kalaimamani and Nadigayar Thilakam, Mahanati Savitri has to her credit several Filmfare awards, Rashtrapati award for ‘Chivaraku Migiledi’ and a permanent place in the hearts of people.

Savithri was the original lady screen legend of the Telugu Film Industry. She cast a wide shadow over the South, and appropriately, was the natural choice to even play her Missamma role in Tamizh. gundammakatha

Gundamma Katha was another film that was a milestone. Irrespective of the original quiet nature of her character, Savithri is practically enjoying this scene below, and the crass cat-fight that ensues. Indeed, we see how her character, Lakshmi, has become an assertive (rather than a passive or aggressive) woman, who remains cultured, but capable of defending herself and others.

Almost as interesting as the variegated roles she played on screen, was Savithri’s life off-screen. She has been the subject of many books: ‘Mahanati Savitri Venditera Samragni by Pallavi, ‘A Legendary Actress Mahanati Savitri’ by VR Murthy and  ‘Savitri Jeevita Charitra’ by GVG. The latest is ‘Venditera Vishadaraagaalu’ by Pasupuleti, Ramarao.

Pop culture has itself been no stranger to celebrating the life and legacy of Mahanati Savithri. In fact, there has been recent news that a silver screen biopic is slated for production, starring Nithya Menon.

There is even a Mahanati Savitri Sahitya, Samskrutika Kalapeetham Sankshema Sangham that celebrates her life and commemorates her occasions. Her daughter is seen here, paying tribute to her mother’s life.

She is like sandalwood that spreads fragrance all around; she is like a piece of camphor that fearlessly glows in the darkness of night – said Jnanpith Awardee, eminent writer Ravuri Bharadwaj.[2]

She had the grace of the all-enduring Indian woman, but with the cool and quietly burning Shakti of a Rani, that could burn hot when required. Perhaps no role better embodied her range than Gundamma Katha, where she did precisely that. The Bharatiya Naari, like Savithri, is not someone to be take for granted!

Truly, with the career and contribution of Mahanati Savithri, nidra leychindi mahilaa lokam.


  1. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0767800/
  2. http://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/2013-12-22/Drama-in-real-life-80115
  3. http://www.cinejosh.com/news/3/36972/differences-between-savitri-and-sridevi.html
  4. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Vijayawada/mahanati-savitri-remembered/article8033877.ece
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/glowing-tributes-paid-to-legendary-actor-savitri/article6730098.ece
  6. http://www.savithri.info

Personalities: Sobha Naidu


Completing our tour of Dance over the past few weeks is a modern artiste who has been described as “Elegance personified”. A Natyacharyaa in her own right, she is a doyenne of dance and a treasure of the Andhras.

The topic of our next installment in the Continuing Series on Andhra Personalities is none other than the masterful and beautiful danseuse, Srimati Sobha Naidu.



Sobha Naidu gaaru’s story begins in the sleepy town of Anakapalli, Andhra Pradesh (in Visakhapatnam district). She was born into a culturally conservative yet professionally progressive family. Her engineer father, Venkanna Naidu, wished for her to become a medical doctor. [2] However, young Sobha was destined for dance, and passionately sought it out. Her mother, Sarojini Devi, sensed her talent, and despite familial objections, obtained lessons for her under dance instructor P.L. Reddy, at Rajamahendravaram.

Her talent only blossomed from there, and she eventually studied Kuchipudi under the legendary exponent and maestro, Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam gaaru.

Kuchipudi is a cultural heritage of Andhra Pradesh. Being a Telugu girl, it is but natural that I get a feeling that I should propagate this art in my own way. [2]

For twelve years she studied this classical dance under the rigourous standards and guidance of its greatest and most progressive reviver. It was, after all, Vempati gaaru who fully implemented Vedantam Lakshminarayana gaaru’s policy of opening up this dance to women, after 500 years of being under the purview of men.

Along with completing her Kuchipudi studies in Chennai, Sobha Naidu also earned a degree from Queen Mary’s College. Despite marrying and having the obligations of traditional family life, her husband was understanding of her talent and dedication [6], and she has since travelled the world, training over 2,000 students. In fact, the greatest concentration of her most devoted students can be found in the United States and Russia.

As a Natyakarini, she is perhaps best known for her performance as Satyabhama, but she has come to define the element of Strong women in general. Other than Sri Krishna Parijatham and her second most famous ballet called Bhamakalapam, again as Satyabhama, she performed as aspects of the Devi in the Navarasa Natabhamini, in the 2011 Nrityotsav. [4]


Celebrated for her agility, her fluidity of movement, and her exceptional grace, [2] Sobha Naidu is considered the Atiloka Acharyaa of Abhinaya.

Having learned from the illustrious Sri Vempati Chinna Satyam, the famous Natyacharya of Kuchipudi, Sobha gaaru has become a Natyacharyaa (extended aa for female teacher)  herself. She climbed to such heights as a Narthaki, that the great Bharatanatyam guru, Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, offered to teach her the style free of cost. She respectfully refused, noting that despite her admiration of Bharatanatyam, her whole life would need to be dedicated to properly master Kuchipudi. Although she has performed for decades, she remains active to this day, her most recent performance being in 2015.

  • Credited with 80 solo numbers and 15 ballets as choreographer [3]
  • Has performed all over India and around the world
  • Honoured with the Kala Saraswathi-Andhra Ratna Award by the AP Kalavedika
  • Recipient of the title of “Nritya Choodamani” by  Krishna Gana Sabha of Chennai
  • Award from the Central Sangeeta Nataka Kala Academy in 1991
  • Received “Nrityavihar” given by Sri Sringara Samsad of Bombay
  • Granted the Hamsa Award and N.T.Rama Rao Award by the State Government of Andhra Pradesh
  • Honoured by Telugu University with “Telugu Puraskara” Award
  • Established the now 30 year old Kuchipudi Art Academy of Hyderabad
  • She has trained more than 1500 students from India and abroad
  • Awarded the Padma Sri in 2001 by the Government of India

She has been acknowledged as an outstanding dancer with a great gift for nritta, natya and abhinaya; a brilliant choreographer and a highly successful teacher. [3]


“Dance is the Hidden Language of the Soul”

The Legacy of Smt. Sobha Naidu is one that defines the era since Yamini Krishnamurti, whom she admires. While the latter was an exponent of both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi, Sobhi Naidu focused on the Andhra dance alone, purely for its Abhinaya. She has become as associated with it as Jaya Senapati was with Nrtta. Much like the elegant and stylish Satyabhama (warrior queen and wife of Sri Krishna), Sobha gaaru has come to define elegance in the world of dance.

Satyabhama&KrishnaIn fact, she famously was captivated by this strong and fashionable character from the Mahabharata, and longed to play her. She achieved this dream in Vempati gaaru’s Sri Krishna Parijatham, and became synonymous with Satyabhama and Kuchipudi, developing into the doyenne of dance we know today.

 Sobha Naidu as Satyabhama in Sri Krishna Parijatam

According to her, states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala lead the way in giving patronage to dancers and other artistes. While Andhra Pradesh does give some support, she believes it must do much more in order to revive the traditional and High Arts. The obligation is double for the people and business elites, who of late, seem more enraptured by bollywood and hollywood culture, than their own.

Indeed, she has bemoaned the fact that although there are audiences for classical dance, performers and patrons alike continue to gravitate towards pop culture films. She hopes that those with wealth will take on the obligation of preserving our common culture so that it can be passed on to youth. She herself has noted that whatever the current obsession with serials and other drivel, it is inevitable that people will tire of it and return to our illustrious Samskruthi. But it must be there when they are back!

Wise words from Srimati Sobha Naidu gaaru:

People should realise that by being westernised, they are respecting the neighbour’s mother and neglecting their own mother.

As long as electronic media influences the new generation, classical arts will always struggle for survival.

We have such a great heritage and culture that the whole world respects it. We are not able to make out the value of our own culture.  [3]

Therein lies a lesson for our “New Generation” Girls and Guys. It is your culture which gives you respect, not no-class song and dance sequences from kitschy phillims. Even if you do not learn Kuchipudi, learn a lesson from this great danseuse:

Wedded and dedicated to her art, she has rejected lucrative offers from the film industry with a feeling that art should be developed with its Pristine purity .


  1. http://sobhanaidu.org/
  2. http://www.deccanherald.com/content/245521/dancer-difference.html
  3. http://www.hyderabadbest.com/discoverhyd/personalities/dance/Shobhanaidu.asp
  4. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/buoyant-bhama/article3813796.ece
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/nine-aspects-of-the-goddess/article2533952.ece
  6. Kuchipudi Dancer Shobha Naidu Exclusive Interview.HMTV.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs1J-XTMhdk

Literature: Nrtta Ratnavali


Last month, we discussed the eminent dance maestro and warrior-general Jaya Senapati. As a companion article, this month, we present an overview of his celebrated treatise  Nrtta Ratnavali.



Readers can review our in-depth article on notable Andhra Personality Jaya Senapati here.  For those who have already read the post, here is a quick recap.

Jaya Senapati, also known as Jayappa Nayudu, was the chief of the Elephant Corps in the army of Kakatiya King Ganapati Deva. Though he was one of around 70 Nayaks, military commandeers and feudal barons, Jayasena had an artistic side (as many of the elite did in those days).

A true aesthete, he was a sahrdaya par excellence. The embodiment of balance that our modern elite should aspire toward, he was neither a brute ruffian nor a pretentious fop, but possessed the qualities of manliness and refinement in equal balance. A General and a Dance maestro of great repute, his life demonstrates how a life of culture and a regimen of vigour on the dance floor also inspires vigour on the battlefield.

He was trained under Gundamatya in the art of Dance, that is Nrtya. Nevertheless, Jayasena had a predilection for Nrtta, that is pure rhythmic dance, and so, titled his treatise on the topic Nrtta Ratnavali. This is unsurprising as the work itself has a large section dedicated Perini Thandava, the vigourous male aspect of dance.


Click here to buy the book today!!!

For those reading the Nrtta Ratnavali, whether in Sanskrit or English, one is immediately struck by how poetic this veritable work of Dance actually is. While it is certainly the standard to compose great treatises in Sanskrit poetic verse (sloka), to find a serious work of scholarship aspire to Kalidasan heights is indeed rare. Despite being a non-brahmin from the Dakshinapatha, this man of the deep South quite obviously appreciated the subtleties and splendour of Sanskrit and its literature.

Indeed, he held Bharatamuni in great reverence, and specifically notes that his “text is the result of repeated study of Bharata’s literary work, tedious delving into the depths of many commentaries, debating with well-disposed people adhering to the tradition of seeking from a guru, Lord Siva’s grace and unravelling of the secrets in the Sastras.” [1, 6]

This great treatise of Dance and treasure of all true Telugus, has come down to us today due to the efforts of traditional scholars. Whether you are a dancer of Perini or an admirer of Kuchipudi or simply a collector of books, here is one “must have” to any respectable collection of Andhra literary works.

Divided into 8 Chapters, it is a splendid manual on the aspect of Nrtta, an integral part of Nrtya (that is dance). It can be conceived of being in two parts. The first four chapters form part one and centre around the classical marga dance of Bharata muni. The remaining four focus on desi.

Chapter One consists of 74 verses with the traditional introduction and benediction. It moves on to provide an explanation of terminology.

Chapter Two is made up of 437 verses, and deals with various movements of the limbs.

Chapter Three deals with caaris and mandalas. He places emphasis on physical exercise. This chapter has 198 verses.

Chapter Four has 377 verses and deals with karanas and their variants. [1, xvii]

Chapter Five is the first of the Desi chapters. It has 109 verses and deals with various postures.

Chapter Six focuses on foot positions and related concepts. It has 187 verses.

Chapter Seven has 239 verses and provides an overview of the teaching methodology of dance and various desinrtyas such as perini. The author provides detailed discussion of musical accompaniment, ranging from individual vocalists to orchestras.

The final chapter has 84 verses and focuses on the audience, dancers, and musical components. [1, xviii]

The work is dedicated to Jaya Senapati’s patron, Kakatiya Ganapati Deva, whom he eulogises in every chapter’s ending sloka as “the superior King of Kings“.



Chapter One

The Nrtta Ratnavali commences with lovely slokas explaining the symbolism in dance. Sloka 2 in Chapter 1 reads as follows:

vaame bhaavaabhinayasusama alankrtaam laasya bhangee-

mardhe nyasminnudita damarum bibhratas taandavam ca|

svasvaksetravya vahrtakaraa loka dattaavadhaanaah

sambhoh kaantaa kalitavapuso drstayah paantu yusmaan|| sl.2, c.1

“May the glances of Siva, who shares his body with his consort, and exectures the laasya style, brilliant with bhaava (emotion) and abhinaya (expression) embedded on the left side of the body and the taandava style to the accompaniment of the damaru on the right side of the body, while glancing with concentration at the appropriate (hand) gestures he uses, protect you.” [1,2]

This shows the principle of Ardhanareeshwara, or the concept of the Supreme Being (and individual souls) being part male and part female. Parvati represents Shakti, the female left half, which is personified by lasya dance. Shiva represents Purusha, the male right half, which is personified by thandava. Jayasena then moves on to standard salutation to Lord Ganesha, the destroyer of obstacles, and learned in his own right.

spandanaarthatayaa dhaatornateh saatvikapooritam|

rasaasrayam catad jneyam vaakyaartha abhinaya atmakam||  sl. 26, c.1

The verbal root ‘Nata’ means pulsation-when the innermost feelings of the being are awakened and moved towards awareness.[1, 11]

This sloka is important to call out as it shows the fundamentally spiritual nature of the arts in the Indic tradition. Dance is not merely expression, but a path towards higher consciousness and awareness. This is underscored by the lasya and tandava symbolism above.

Thus, to truly be involved and a master of dance, one must be steeped not only in the “secular” but also in the sacred. This is seen not only in Natya, but in other aspects of dance. Jayappa states “when the preposition ‘abhi’ is added to the verbal root ‘nyi’and ends with ‘ac’, ‘Abhinaya’ is formed. Since the purpose is to bring forth and express, it is called abhinaya.”  He goes on to write in sloka 28: “Abhinaya is the act of feeling and expressing the various meanings with clarity through the parts of the body, major and minor limbs”[1, 28]

Interestingly enough, for those interested in biological classification, Jayasena goes into various schema for classifying animals into biped, quadrupeds, and limbless. Nevertheless, he moves on with key definitions for the core aspect of his work:

Geeta-vaadyaadi-militam layamaatra-samaasrayam|

Angaviksepanam nrttam bhaved-abhinayojjitam|| sl.53, c.1

Nrtta is the movement of the limbs of the body, based solely on the rhythm (laya), accompanied by the song, instruments, etc and devoid of abhinaya[1, 18]

Laasya-taandava-bhedena dvayametadvidhaa punah|

Sukumaaram tayoradyam bhavedaparamuddhatam ||

Thes two (nrtya and nrtta) are of two kinds each, Laasya and Taandava. Of them, the former, Laasya is delicate and the latter one, taandava, is the vigorous.

The mutual feeling between man and woman is Laasa. That which is meant for laasa or which suits it is Laasya. Laasya comprises those delicate movements of the body which arouse a pleasant, erotic desire. Since Siva initiated Parvati to this, it may be performed only by women.[1, 19]

Lasya has ten parts: Geyapadam, Sthitapaathyam, Aaseenam, Puspagandhikaa, Pracchedaka, Trimoodhaakhyam, Saindhavaakhyam, Dvimoodhakam, Uttamottamakam, Uktapratyuktam. sloka 59 [1,20]

Chapter Two

Chapter two discusses the nature of the angas, meaning “limbs”.

Sanaatyayorathaangaani vaksyante nrtyarttayoh|

Siro hastaavurah paarsve kateepaadauca satkramaat|| c.2, sl.1

The Angaas or major limbs of natya, nrtta and nrtya will now be mentioned. They are head, hands, chest, sides, waist and feet-six in that order.

Greevaadohkuuksiprsthoru-janghah pratyanakaani sat|

Vilocanabhroo naaso sthakapolacubukaani sat|

Upaangaanyatha vai tesaam bhedaanvaksye salaksanaan|| c.2, sl.2

The neck, shoulders, stomach, spine, thighs, shanks-the six of these are pratyangaas. Eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, cheeks, chin-the six of these are upaangaas. I shall now detail the different ways to use each of these and their qualities. [1, 27]

Per Bharata, Jayasena lists 13 different ways to move the head. [1, 28]

He notably bases the qualities of glances that is, drsti as being based on the rasa listed by Bharatamuni. These are further informed by glances based on the Sthayi bhaavas, the lead feelings or leitmotifs.

Unfortunately, soon after the above points, the manuscripts in possession have missing portions, in the chapter. Nevertheless, they are not so substantial as to grievously injure the text. Only 87 slokas are inserted, and within chapter 2 itself, we return to Jayana’s text starting from Osthalaksanam (movements of the lip).

Descriptions in the chapter include the various emotional states among husband and wife and the body movements and facial expressions associated with them.

Bharata or Jayasena, what is truly astounding is the sophistication and the specificity of all the eye movements described, right down to the pupil and eyelid [1, 52]. There is even description of various eyebrow movements that would put Stephen Colbert and his emoticon to shame.

Jaw, teeth, and cheek movements (Kapolalakshanam) are descriped, specifically in the manner of Bharatamuni. Even colours of the face (mukharaagah) are determined based on moods (svaabhaavika, prasanna, rechita, and syaama). [1, 71]

Particularly notable are the hand gestures described.

Catura-makaraaji prollasat-padma-kosam

Bhramara-lalita leelam hamsa-paksaabhiraamam|

Pravicalad-alapadmam karkata-dyairupetam

Jaladhikalami-vedam broomahe hastalaskma|| C.2.75

The gestures of hands are as vast as the ocean. The waters of the ocean house the wily crocodiles, lotuses on the surface and bees moving gracefully. The waters are beautified by the wings of the swans and by the dancing petals of the lotus. It is also home for animals like crab, etc.

The hand gestures are the like of Catura, Makara, Padmakosa, Bhramara, Lalita, Hasapaksaa, Alapadma, Karkata, etc. I shal now describe such hand gestures.[1, 71]

These are then expounded upon based on single hand gestures, double-hand, and nrtta hastha, totaling 64, in the manner of Bharata. [1, 74] The purpose and verisimilitude of them are also described in great detail and precision. Vivid war-imagery is also utilised (i.e. “pulling an arrow”, “wrestlers striking their shoulders and things in combat”) as well as animal movements (“move from side to side to trace the curvilenar path of the fish”).[1,84]

But Jayappa Nayaka does not merely recite Bharata like a parrot; there is originality and variation in his definitions too, as in the movement called parrot’s beak (Sukatunda), where Bharata uses a different hand. Differences are also seen with that famed Kashmiri commentator. Jayasena writes that “Aacarya Abhinava Gupta describes Nisadha hasta differently” in sloka 182 of chapter 2. [1,100]

Indeed, Jaya Senapati specifically asserts “the infinite nature of hand gestures”.[1,103] writing:

Abhineyam jagatsarvam anato bhinayao pyayam|

Ya eva yujyate hasto ttesaamapy-anantataa||sl.194, c.2

The whole universe can be expressed. The ways to express are endless. The appropriate hasta must be used and there are many hastas that befit a particular context. Hence even the hastas are infinite.

Most importantly he says something that our gyaanis should take into account in all fields of learning:

Desa-kaala-prayogaarthaavedee netraa-dicestitaih|

Anukookaih prayunjeeta sthaayi-sancaaree-soocakaih|| sl.197, c.2

The intelligent must use these, taking into consideration place, time, plan and purpose. The sthaayi (static) and sancaaree (transitory) emotions must be supported with the fitting movements of the eye.

He then moves on to various arm movements baahu prakaranam, thigh movements, and other limbs, with particular attention to the feet movements (pada-laksanam). [1,115]

Chapter Three

Chapter three deals with the Caari Laksanam. [1,141] While chapter two treated individual movements, chapter three gives an overview of combination movements from the waist to the feet. These are called caris (pronounced: chaarees).

Paadasyaikkasya yascaarah sa caareeti nigadyate|

Karana paadayoscaarah, khandastu karanaistribhih|| sl.6, ch. 3

The movement of one leg is caaree and of both legs karana. Three karanas, when executed as a unit is khanda. [1,152]

Four khandas, in turn, make one mandala.[1,153] These are useful definitions for dancers today, whether of Andhranatyam or Bharatanatyam. Caris according to Bharata are defined as thirty two in number. Jayasena, however, states the varieties are endless.[1,169]

Interestingly, Jayappa defines various postures for men and women. For purusasthaanaani (male), there are six sthanas: Vaisnavam, Samapaadam, Vaisaakham, Mandalam, Aaleedham, Pratyaleedham. P.170

He then refers to nyayah, or axioms for various purposes. These are Bhaarata, Saatvata, Vaarsaganya, Kasika. Four in number, they give rules for the usage of weapons. It is interesting how some fighting is described as dancing. Here we see dancing described in the manner of fighting. This is why “Integral Unity ” is so important. By understanding the system, rather than deconstructing to oblivion, we understand not only nomenclature but purpose, in fields as different as martial arts and classical dance. Here is an example:

Kooryaadudvestanama bhooyo mastakam parivestayet |

Lalite vestane dvaabhyaam yatraasau bhaaratah smrtah|| sl.90, ch.3

The shield is held in the left hand to ward of rival’s weapons and the weapon (sword or any other) is held on the right. These hands are stretched repeatedly. Then the hand with the weapon is raised in a sweeping action and turned from one side to the other and turned around the head. Thereafter the wrist is moved in the cheek area and around the head once again. The movements of both hands must be graceful. This is Bhaarata.[1,175]

In sloka 95, of chapter 3, Jayana goes on two write that “Weapons are of two kinds. Those wielded by one hand and those by both hands. The sword and lance are of the former kind. The bow, spear etc. are of latter kind. The names of pravicaaraa are superior and extraordinary and hence apt.”[1,177]

Clearly a General’s diktat to fighters as well as dancers! It is no wonder this is the work of a warrior. We see here, Jayasenapati is one and the same as the Kakatiya Elephant commander. This is the value of culture, both on the battlefield, and off!

Of course, he naturally describes the postures of the more beautiful of the two genders, the female, under Streenaam Sthaanaani. He begins with standing postures, naming three for women: Aayatam, Avahitthaa and Asvakraantam. [1, 183]

For those attempting to digest dance, it should be noted that in sloka 131, the presiding deity is listed as Sarasvati. The integrity of the tradition, therefore, must be preserved, despite the efforts of the previous government.

Of additional note is the distinction within the category of mandalas. There are ten earthly mandalas and ten aerial mandalas. [1,194]

Chapter Four

Chapter four describes Karanas. These are movements of both legs forming the basis for dance.

The groups of Karanas are listed as follows; Valitoru (encirclement), Aaksipta (embrace), Kraanta (anklet movement), Harinapluta (jump), Bhujangaancita (radiation), Parsvakraanta (sideward moving feet), Apaviddha, Vrsabhakreeda (both entertain) and Urdhvajaanu (raising of knees). He provides a colourful reference to interactions between Siva and Parvati in the first sloka to explicate the types of karana.

A long list is then provided in succeeding slokas, discussing various combinations of sthaanakas, nrtta hastas and carees as the root of the various karanas. [1, 208]

These karanas are then further developed into Angahaaras. [1,267]

A combination of two, three, or four karanas is generally called an Angahaara. Since this rule is sometimes relaxed, Bharata used the prefix ‘vaa’ to indicate approximation. Two karanas together as a unit was named Maatrka, three as Kalaapa, four as Khanda and five as Sanghaataka by some scholars. So these karanas can be made into sets of six, seven, eight, and even nine to form angahaaras.”[1,268]

The various aspects of angahaaras are then described. The simple fact that mere changing of the sequence of karanas can give us infinite angahaaras in Jayasena’s own view show how in depth the study is.

Chapter Five

The fifth chapter is particularly engaging as it is focused on Desi Prasamsa, that is, an encomium to Provincial Dance.

The praise Jayasena lavishes upon Desi is seen in the second sloka of this chapter. That he compares it to a skilled and well-educated courtesan only goes to show how highly viewed both desi and courtesans were in the tradition:


Rnaa-naadesaruceen vidagdha purushaa naavarjayantee gunaih|

Bhoopaalairupa lalita bahikalaih praudheva vaaraanganaa

Desee samprati danti sainyapatinaa saandraadaram varnyate||

With utmost reverence does Ganasenapati now elucidate Desi which is like the experienced courtesan who is adorned with appropriate language, costume and ornaments, who is an embodiment of qualities to which one’s heart is sold out; whom well-travelled, discerning men find attractive and is patronized by those kings knowledgeable in various arts.[1, 303]

He then proceeds to explain the importance of Desi dance. Too often we privilege high culture and city life without appreciating the provincial, regional, and even tribal. That is the beauty of the Indic tradition, which values all of them. Due to the sheer variety available via Desi, the elite is naturally captivated by it.

Bhavanti dharaneepaalaah praayenaabhinaya(va) priyaah|

Atastatpreetyate dyaapi yadyadutpaadyate navam|| s.3, ch.5

Kings are usually please by novelty. The dance formulated to please them belongs to that particular region (desa). Hence the term Desi.[1,304]

Nrttam tatah smrtam desee tattad desa anusaaratah|

Bhootam saastramukhaat jneyam bhavisyan naavagadyate|| s.4, ch.5

The practice that was, must be studied through text. The practice that would be is beyond comprehension. It is therefore necessary to understand the provincial abstract dance of the present day. [1,304]

After praising Ganapati deva, who was the ruler of Andhra desa, Jayasena lays out the desi sthaanakaani. That is, the twenty three provincial stances of Desi dance.

He lists and describes all twenty three, giving the specific nature of the postures in an illustrative fashion. He then moves on to describe ancitam and alagam and their varieties. One is a leap up and the other is a fall to the ground. There is even alagaancitam, which combines the two. He rounds out chapter 5 with a description of bhramaris, which are leg movements or leg circles.

Chapter Six

Chapter 6 focuses on foot positions.

Jayappa begins with a citation of Rishi Matanga, who mentions 16 foot positions that add beauty to desi dance. These are: Sarika, Svastika, Ullaala, Sphurika, Ardhapura, Puraati, Vestana, Udvesta, Khutta, Ardhaskalita, Praavrta, Prsthatotksepa, Lataaksepa, Nikuttaka, Sammassvalita, and Utksepa. Jayasena then explains these in detail. Moving on, per the Nrtta Ratnavali, there are twenty eight foot movements, described in detail.

Matanga’s own work is listed as the Brihaddesi, wherein desi nrtta is also described. Jayasena in fact gives a quotation in sloka 57 of chapter 6:

Matanga, while describing deseenrtta in his Brhadddesi said at the end of the discussion on paatas that ‘in this way, more paatas can be formulated according to individual, intellectual prowess.’ ” It is therefore interesting to see just how far reaching this parampara of dance was, and how literate one had to be to in the associated literature in order to become a master. Classical Indic dance was clearly highly sophisticated and already very well-developed by the medieval period, and only the highly-motivated with suspect agendas would argue otherwise.

Some interesting definitions are then provided:

The body parts are held in such a way that they add beauty to one another in their place while in sausthavam. They are placed such that the audience is enamoured. This is Rekhaa” sl.124, ch.6, [1, 370].

If the feet, hands, waist and things move in beautiful coordination in slow an dmedium templos, mostly in the horizontal direction, in sama (equilibrium), it is called Caalih.” sl.126, ch.6 [1,370]

When Caali is performed in fast tempo, mostly facing forward, it is called Calaavalih”p. sl.127, ch.6 [1,371]

The seamless imeense joy caused by the beauty that emanates from a sumptuous combination of abstract dance and instruments is Lali. To move the upaangas, etc delicately and pleasantly, in rhythm is Lali as said by others.”p. 371, sl.129, ch.6

Interestingly, even martial arts are incorporated again here,and are exhorted to be done so elegantly. This is called Amsagati.[1,381]

Descriptions too are also very poetically done. Jayasena clearly not only knows how to dance a dance, but paint a beautiful picture for the reader whom he is instructing:

Having danced appropriately for the combination of song and instruments or for instruments alone, the experienced dancer either winds up with representational dance (nrtya) or freezes momentarily like in a painting with neatly held limbs. Dancers name this Candanam” sl.170, ch.6. [1,382]

Gatis are rhythmic patterns of various tempos: slow, medium, and fast. These patterns or progressions are called gatis.

Chapter Seven

The Seventh Chapter discusses the system of training for dance.

Of relevance to neophyte students of dance, he advises the following as ideal days to begin instruction:

All the lunar days, save the idle ones of the days of the week, Wendesday, Thursday and Friday; of the stars, Hastah Satabhisa, Pusya, Anooraadha, Uttara, Uttaraasaada, Uttaraabhaadra, Dhanisthaa, Revatee, Jyesthaa Are most recommended to begin dance.” sl1, ch.7 [1,391]

It then moves on to discuss the ideal age (6 or 7) and the specific dress recommended. Contrary to the statues of Hindu iconography, which typically feature unbodiced bodies in idealised form, Jayasena clearly describes upper and lower garments for girls, and for maturing young women, bodices for breasts. [1,393] Other aspects of training are then discussed, such as initiation into various slokas and the details of the tradition’s lineage. Aspects of instrumentation are discusses before the author moves on to Perini.

Qualities of Perinee…A Peranee is one who is capable of taking the audience/spectator to the heights of aesthetic pleasure, one of attractive personality, reputation and commendable pedigree, sentient, connoisseur, adept at rhytm and nuances of music, master of the various limbs of the tune, well-versed in the science of astronomy, devoid of aberrations in the body, an expert at languages, of good body line, knowledgeable in instrumental music, efficient, eloquent, conversant with singing songs from the classical texts, acquainted with both laasya and taandava, executes karanas involving leaps, wheeling movements and circles with ease and can converse in different ways.”[1, 400-401]

There are five parts to Prerana: Nrttam, Kaivaaram, Ghargharam, Vikatam and Geetam.  Jayappa explains them in detail. [ 1, 402]

The arrangement in Perini is also discussed in depth. Undoubtedly, Nataraja Ramakrishna gaaru is likely to have relied greatly on this section in revitalising Perini Siva Thandava. The arrangement of the general provincial system (Desi Paddhati) is also discussed, including musical accompaniment.  Various nrttas (dances) are discusses such as the dance of clowns Bhaandika nrttam, and even Caarana nrttam (which is the dance of saurashtrian performers). These nomadic musicians go from place to place singing ballads in the dohaaka metre. [1,427] Kollata nrtta (recognisable today as kollattam) mentioned in sloka 150 of chapter 7.

He concludes with descriptions of various qualities, respectively for the female dancer (narthaki), male dancer (narthaka), and even the stage (nrttamandapa) and sabhapati (the president of the gathering). These are all very vivid and specific. Clearly performance standards were very refined back in those days.

When describing various characteristics and qualifications for musicians, specific terminology is also provided:

Mukhari (instrumentalist). Orchestra (vaadyabrnda). Mukhyagayaka (main singer). [1,437] Many more such can be found in the chapter.

Chapter Eight

Chapter 8 discusses the king and the festive occasion

He gives the following exhortation to the King, and presumably, other elite patrons of the arts.

Whether of his region or otherwise, the king who is desirous of fame must wholeheartedly praise those rich in different arts, the reverential scholars and the poets of other regions who bring fame. He must honour and please them by granting gold, jewelry and garments as per their wish.”p. sl83, ch.8, p.478

That Nrtta Ratnaavalee which is replete with parts of nrtta like sooceemukha, gati, gunaa and sikhara (the garland of Nrtta Rantaavalee which is knit along the needle and string and suits the hair knot) has been written by the Chief of Elephant Forces, Jaayasenaapati.” sl.84, ch.8. [1,478]

One can see just how evolved dance was in this period, before the destruction of heritage that took place with the fall of Warangal. One can only wonder, how many more texts beyond the Geeta Ratnavali were lost with the sack of Maha Andhranagari, by the barbarian Turks.

Mandapam of the Once Magnificent Svayambhunatha Temple

Therefore, Sri Nataraja Ramakrishna is an inspiration here in reviving our traditional dances, not only though patronage, but also through scholarship and study of traditional texts such as the Nrtta Ratnavali. That is the best way to appreciate the legacy of Jaya Senapati & the Kakatiyas and honour our Andhra ancestors. Indeed, chapter 8 has one such concluding thought.

Jaya Senapati notes here that there is a decorum and expectation for the Gathering or Audience itself. Therefore, the audience too is expected to be cultured and refined so as to be capable of fully appreciating the performance and culture of the dancer. Truly a lesson for the Telugu of Today.


  1. Pappu, Venugopala Rao. Nrtta Ratnavali of Jaya Senapati. Kakatiya Heritage Trust. 2013.