Tag Archives: Sanskrit

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.

Personalities: Jaya Senapati


From the realm of Sangeeta (music), we move on to the world of Nrtya (Dance). The next installment of our Series on Andhra Personalities is on the great Jaya Senapati, master of warfare and…dance.



Jayana, Jayasena, Jayappa Nayudu, he is known by many names, but above all, Jaya Senapati. A general, a feudal baron, of royal background, he was a narthaka, nayaka, and Natyacharya par excellence.

Despite his exploits both on and off the battlefield, he was humble by nature, and paid due reverence or made reference to the great masters who came before him: first and foremost, Bharatamuni, but also Matanga, Kohala, Tamburu, Somesvara, and Abhinavagupta. Indeed, due to his contributions to Andhra culture and Indic civilization, he now takes his place alongside them.

Jayana belongs to the Ayyana dynasty. His ancestors hail from Velanadu area, Kroyyuru.” [1,x] His family is said to have been subordinate rulers of the Telugu Cholas, who reigned in Velanadu from their capital, Chandavolu.

Jayappa’s grandfather, Narayana Nayaka, is credited with constructing a municipality on an island on the Krishna Delta, very near the coast. His father Pinnachoda Nayaka was ruling the island when Kakatiya Ganapati Deva conquered it, but reinstated the family.


As a token of good relations, Ganapati Deva married both of Narayana Nayaka’s daughters Naramaamba and Peramaamba.

Queen Naramaamba

So close was the bond between the families, that the Kakatiya King himself took Jayana under his care as a small boy and had him educated. He appointed the latter as Nayaka of Taamarapuri, per a 1213 CE inscription.

Preksya prajnaamatisayavateem svaamibhaktim ca harsaad

Aakaumaaraad ganapatinrpo jaayanam yam samarcya |

Gundaamaatye sakalasumanas sevyamaane jayantam

Vaacaam patyau haririva kalaaslaaghaneeyam vyanaiseet ||

He in whom Ganapatibhoopaala noted great talent and loyalty (towards patron) and entrusted him to the care of the much sought after Gundamaatya, just as Indra entrusted Jayanta to Brhaspati and had the meritorious art taught. [1,x]

Jayana therefore learned the arts from Gundamatya. The Royal Narthakis of the time learned from brahmana acharyas, hence the Nattuva mela was known as Brahmana mela. [2, 67] Jayasena later refers to himself as gajasaadhanika and senapati (that is elephant corps commander and general). He subsequently served under Maharani Rudhrama Devi as well.

Rudhrama Devi on elephant-back

He is said to have accompanied the rulers of the dynasty on their many campaigns, and played an important role in their success against neighbouring rival kingdoms.

That is what makes his background so interesting. Despite being a high level field commander, nayaka, and general, Jaya Senapati was also Jayacharya, learned authority on the art of dance and song. If the great God Siva is the literal “Lord of the Dance”, then as a nayaka, Jaya Senapati was “[l]ord of the Dance”, small L. That a feudal lord or baron was a maestro of dance and a scholar of sangeeta in his own right, only goes to show the level of culture not only in the Kakatiya Rajya or the Ancient Andhra desa, but Indic Civilization itself.

An inscription refers to young Jayana as “very gentle, humble, polite, confident, graceful and valorous”[1, xi]. It is no wonder he was a warrior dancer in the Perini Thandava tradition. In one account, he is said to have dismounted from his elephant and danced the Thandava to boost the morale of his troops. One can only imagine his performance as being something akin to this.

Nrtta (Pure Rhythmic Dance) in Action

Per Jayasena’s own record, he composed the Nrtta Ratnavali as follows:

Kalau yaate tu varsesu bhoota baana agni saagaraih|

Mitesvaanandasamjne bde jagadaananda daayini||

Sasvat kuvalayollaasiyasah praaleyarocisi|

Prataapatapana praudhi taapitaaraati maanase ||

Now, in Bharatavarsa, the period of vaivasvata manvantara, Kaliyuga, after 4355 years during this period, in the year Aananda which gives joy to the world. [1,xiii]

This corresponds to 1253 C.E. [1,xiii] Interestingly, the Ramappa temple, constructed in 1213 CE by Recherla Rudradeva, Army Chief and minister of Ganapati Deva, is said by some scholars to have inspired General Jayasena. The sculptures are absolutely beautiful, and can be found today in the modern state of Telangana, just outside of Warangal.



Despite the passage of time, and the destruction of the Kakatiya Empire, many of Jaya Senapati’s numerous accomplishments have come down to us.

He authored the Geeta Ratnavali, the lesser known counterpart and predecessor to his famous Nrtta Ratnavali.

He codified the various Andhra Desi dance traditions all while stating and preserving the strictures of Margi. Contrary to foreign and foreign-sponsored revisionists, this demonstrates the integral unity of the tradition. [5] 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]

He described the various dances of the Devadasis who performed on the Natya Mandapa of various temples. Jayasena, in fact, consecrated 300 of them to the Chebrole temple in Divi taluk. [2,67] He composed dances for not only Devadasis but also Raja-narthakis, that is, the dancers of the Royal Court. They enacted yakshaganas, a dramatic style of dance that portrayed episodes from Puranas, but with all characters performed by a single dancer.

Nevertheless, his magnum opus and most famous accomplishment remains the text that will forever be associated with him. The Nrtta Ratnavali is held in high esteem, mentioned along side neighboring Seuna Kingdom’s  Sangeeta-Ratnakara by Sarngadeva, and behind only the Natya Sastra itself.

Composed in Sanskrit verse, this artistic and literary gem of Andhra is chock full of wisdom, along with dance technique and principle. Jayana held nrtta (pure rhythmic dance) above all. For this reason he does not expound upon the other aspects of nrtya and natya in much detail, and so aptly titled the work Nrtta Ratnavali.

He describes not only Lasya, that is the delicate dance of the Lady, but also Thandava, the vigorous dance of the male. In fact, Perini is described in great detail. One can only imagine the depth of study Sri Nataraja Ramakrishna must have engaged in to revive this tradition via Jayasena’s text. Not only does it delve into the intricacies of footwork, rhythm, and musical accompaniment, but also describes the regional tradition of dance, instruments, and orchestral accompaniment. Clearly this was the work of a master of both theory and practice. It is a balance of the musical and the spiritual.

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.

Click here to buy the book today!!!



The legacy of General Jayasena is one that has stood the test of time and against the test of rubble and decay. Though the Kakatiya Samraajya and its greatest king, Ganapati Deva, are long gone, the legacy of not only his patron, but the man himself remains intact. Jaya Senapati’s contributions to dance trenchantly demonstrate the integral unity of the Indic tradition. Unlike Bharata muni, Jayasena was neither a brahmin nor a man of the north, yet still composed his work in veneration of Bharata, was directly influenced by his theories, and communicated his composition in sanskrit verse.

And yet, the Nrtta-Ratnavali is an eminent work of Andhra literature in the truest sense of our tradition. Jayappa careful wove the Desi (local folk tradition) with the Marga (the spiritual great tradition). As Sri Nataraja Ramakrishna would show 700 years later, the true Telugu is very much also a true Indian, and local and regional can and must be given patronage alongside the national and civilizational.

Historically the Aandhra region has always been endowed with various ancient traditional dances not always based on the treatises…Jayana gets the credit for codifying and presenting the regional forms of Aandhra dance in this treatise.”1, p. xxi


We findJayana’s integrity, sincerity and commitment to this subject, respect or the earlier writers, loyalty to patron and confidence in himself as significant qualities. [1, xxi]

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.

Jai Jaya Senapati! Jai Andhra Pradesh/Telangana! Jai Telugu Talli! Jai Bharat Mata!



  1. Pappu, Venugopala Rao. Nrtta Ratnavali of Jaya Senapati. Kakatiya Heritage Trust. 2013.
  2. Devi, Ragini. Dance Dialects of India. Delhi: MLBD.2002.p.76

Personalities: Mallinatha


One of the greatest All-India Andhra Litterateurs is from the new state of Telangana. A man whose name is so synonymous with scholarship and literary criticism he has become a veritable figure of speech, Mallinatha  is one of our Greatest Telugu Personalities.


Mallinatha’s Birthplace: In need of sponsorship

Born in the village of Kolacelama, near Pattancheruvu in Medak District, Mallinatha Suri came from an illustrious family of Pandits. His grandfather was honoured with a kanaka abisheka by none other than the famous Kakatiya King Prataparudra. While specific dates have been difficult to certify, he is generally thought to have lived between 1350 and 1450 C.E.

He himself had a son named Kapardin or Kumarasvamin, who had a son named Mallinatha as well. Another son was named Peddi Bhatta. Kumarasvamin wrote a commentary on the Prataparudriya called the Ratnapana. Narayana Pandita, who wrote a well-known commentary on the Campu Ramayana, was the ninth in Mallinatha’s lineage. [2]

Mallinatha himself adorned the Court of the Vijayanagara Emperor Deva Raya II, who deputed him in 1430 to resolve a dispute in the Vaisya community between them and the Vyaparins of Kanchi. This work, which explicates the genealogy of the community, uses both Telugu and Sanskrit prose. [2,91].His son Kumarasvamin later was a fixture in the court of Devaraya II’s son, Mallikarjuna.

Despite being born into an illustrious family dedicated to the Yajur Veda, young Mallinatha is reputed to have not been a good student. In fact, local legend states that his educational inclination did not develop until he did seva to an itinerant sadhu, who initiated him. Mallinatha then traveled with him to Varanasi, eventually becoming the scholar we know him to have been today.

One of the most prolific writers in Classical Indic Literature, Mallinatha Suri was an accomplished commentator and original writer as well. While the celebrated Sanskrit Poet, Mahakavi Kalidasa is known to us primary through Mallinatha’s commentaries, he also inspired our Telugu Personality’s own creative works, most famously, his magnum opus: Raghu veera carita,

The Raghu veera carita is a work in 17 cantos (sargas) and organized into groups of verses called kulakas. The ninth canto is composed in a manner similar to Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa, thereby honouring it. In a manner befitting the master of metaphor himself, Mallinatha deploys upama and rupaka to a great extent.

Kalidasa has often attributed human feelings to the natural phenomenon. He has developed deep into the nature and the human nature and has discovered emotional connections with them. Mallinatha has described nature in human terms in this epic. [2, 103]

The dominant rasa is naturally veera (the heroic), though there are a number of subsidiary one’s like bibatsa. Appropriately for a man of the south, as Acarya Dandin would extol,”Mallinatha’s diction and imagery never dege[n]erate into pomp. Like Kalidasa, he has used compounds which are neither too long nor heavy, following the Vaidarbhi style…simple and direct.“. [2,103] What’s more, per the Kavyadarsa, Mallinatha demonstrated the importance and result of mastery of grammar (vyakarana).


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In the world of Saastriya (Classical) literature, Mallinatha’s achievement needs no introduction. The breadth and depth of his study and commentary is a matter of wonder even today:

  • He was the only Telugu poet to write commentaries (Teekas) on all 5 Mahakavyas [1]
  • A Teekakaara (commentator of literature) extraordinaire, Mallinatha Suri is the earliest of nine total in our tradition. [2]
  • He was a great scholar of the various Astika philosophical schools (Darsanas)
  • A polymath, he as a master of Sastra, and learned in Vyakarana, Mimamsa and Nyaya
  • Wrote a commentary on the logic treatise Taarkikaraka, where he refuted rival schools and reasserted Aksapada Gautama’s position in the school of Nyaya.
  • He even added to the list of logical fallacies per Nyaya darsana.
  • A commentator on political science, frequently cited Kamandaka’s Nitisara
  • His commentary Tarala had a section on Alankara (Rhetoric and Poetics).
  • Mallinatha’s arbitration decision was immortalized in his Vaisyavamsa Sudhakara
  • While an Upadhyaya was one who could teach Sastras to students, and a Mahopadhyaya  could write books on Sastras, Mahamahopadhyaya was the highest
  • He received the title ‘Mahamahopadhyaya’ from Singhabhupala of Rachakonda.
  • Composed a number of Subhasitas (maxims) to provide insight and wisdom
  • Translated numerous Sanskrit Kavyas in to Telugu [1]


Mallinatha’s mastery over the Sanskrit language and literature is undisputed. With innumerable quotation[s] he has enriched his commentaries with them–His commentaries exude a fresh fragrance of many Sanskrit flowers [2,117]

From critiquing Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa to writing his own Raghu Veera Carita, Mallinatha’s legacy is almost beyond hyperbole. It is not for nothing he is called the Vyakhyana Chakravarti. Indeed, it is said that in Maharashtra and some other parts of India, an incisive critic is called a Mallinatha and his criticism is referred to as Mallinathi!

Famous throughout India, this scholar of Sanskrit and Telugu left an indelible stamp on not only how we viewed our own Classical Indic Literature, but on Indic Literature itself. Indeed, he was living proof that the best critics need not be failed creatives. He was a literary success in his own right, and an eminent commentator on Bharatiya Sahitya. Here are a list of his compositions and commentaries:

Creative Works

  • Raghuveeracarita-an epic in 17 cantos adapting the Ramayana
  • Vaisya vamsa Sudhakara-provides an historical background on the community
  • Udaarakavya
  • Bhakti rahasya
  • Nakshatra Paataadhyoya


Classical Poetry

  • Sanjivani-a commentary on the Kumarasambhava
  • Raghuvamsa-a commentary on the same
  • Meghaduta –a commentary on the same
  • Ghantapatha-a commentary on the Kiratarjuniya
  • Sarvankasa-a commentary on the Sisupalavadha
  • Jivaatu-a commentary on the Naisadhiyacarita
  • Sarvapatheena-a commentary on Bhatti Kavya

Sastra Works

  • Tarala-a commentary on Vidyadhara’s Ekavali (a work on Alankara-sastra)
  • Niskantaka-a commentary on Varadaraja’s Taarkikaraksaaatika (a work on logic)

Philosophical Works

  • Siddhanjana-a commentary on Tantra Vartika
  • Parimala-a commentary on Svaramanojna Manjari

*[2, 17]

Mallinatha has a knack of judging the situations in a particular context and expressing his views in short, pithy, significant sentences. [2, 114]

Despite the peerless accomplishment of this literary gem of ancient Andhra, his birthplace in modern Telangana is in need of support and maintenance. The Kolachala Mallinatha Suri Sahithi Peetham is in a dilapidated condition, especially after the local Veda Patasala relocated. While belated efforts were made before bifurcation to properly honour him with a memorial and tank bund road statue , his home town remains in disrepair.

All true lovers of Telugu culture, whether from Telangana, Rayalaseema, or Kosta, value the legacy of this Upadhyaya of Upadhyayas, and must see to it that his legacy in the Telugu rashtras and Bharatavarsha is once again restored.


  1. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/article3163121.ece
  2. Lalye, P.G. Makers of Indian Literature: Mallinatha. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. 2009


Classical Indic Literature II: Poetics

Kalpa Sutra Manuscript-Auspicious Dreams of Jina's Mother (wikipedia)

Continuing our Series on Classical Indic Literature is Part II: Poetics. Long time readers may recall our previous post on Literary Theory. This piece will very briefly recap some of the related concepts before quickly moving on to expand upon our discussion of our traditional art of poesy.

ACP’s coverage of Andhra literature begins at its origin point, in Classical (sastra-based) Indic Literary Theory and Poetics. Andhra’s all India auteurs like Mallinatha and Princess Gangadevi were properly schooled and cultivated in the great tradition, in order to permit their own future works.  In fact, the rajkumari of Vijayanagara herself mentions the main figure of today’s discussion as an highly accomplished poet, and noted authority on poetics.

Poetics (A reintroduction)

Literary theory in general and Poetics in particular were highly developed and sophisticated in ancient India. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a peer culture or civilization in this regard. This is apparent not only in the cultivation of the world famous Ancient Indic Nava Rasa theory, but also in the explication and categorization of works of fiction and drama, romance and comedy, poetry and prose, elite and common.

In fact, despite attempts to criticize, or failing that, digest it into the tradition of parvenus by poseurs, Classical Indic Literary Theory managed to incorporate both the elite and common worlds. As written previously, Sanskrit and Prakrit were used alongside each other, not only by the same author, but in the same dramatic compositions! In our preceding posts we discussed the theory of rasa at great length, and by association, rasavat, that which provokes sentiment. These dramatic concepts and alankara (art of speech) are critical to poetics. Few demonstrated this as well as Dandin, famed for his way with words.

Upama Kalidasasya, Bharaverartha gauravam ! Dandinah padalalityam, Maghe santi trayogunah !!

The simile of Kalidasa, the depth of meaning of Bharavi, the word-play of Dandin, in Magha all three qualities are found! [3]

While Mahakavi Magha and his Sisupalavadha may be dealt with at another time, it is Acarya Dandin and his masterly art of wordplay that is our topic of today.

Dandin’s Life

The great litterateur Dandin is famed not only for his prose magnum opus, “The Chronicle of the Ten Princes”, but for scholarship in poetics in his own right. Along with the Dasakumaracarita he wrote the Kavyadarsa as an exegesis on the strictures and symphony of euphony that is the Classical Indic Poetic tradition.[2]

He is thought to have been an ascetic, after having led a material life of pleasure in his youth. This is because the word “dandin” properly suggest him as a “staff-bearer”. He is considered a man of the Dakshinapatha, likely hailing from Vidarbha, much like Bhavabhuti. This is confirmed by his frequent references to the Kaveri, as well as Kalinga and Andhra. He speaks highly of the Maharashtri Prakrit language and the Vaidarbhi style of writing. [1]

Another work of Sanskrit prose romance, Avantisundari-katha has also been attributed to him. According to this, Dandin is designated as coming from a Brahmin family of Kausika gotra, hailing originally from Anandapura in Gujarat. They afterwards took up residence in Achalapura in modern Maharashtra (Berar). Their progenitor was Narayana-svami  begat Damodara, aka Bharavi of Kiratarjuniya fame. Bharavi was the friend of a Western Ganga prince named Durvinita, and was later a poet in the court of the Pallava ruler Simhavishnu at Kanchi.

By this recounting, Bharavi begat Manoratha who begat Viradatta, who begat Dandin. This lineage, if correct, would make Dandin the great grandson of Bharavi. He lost his parents at a young age and was an itinerant during the terrible Chalukya-Pallava wars. He later returned and likely composed the above-mentioned Avantisundari-katha. Given this conflict between history and geneology, it is difficult to place Dandin. While there is a tradition that posits him as the rival of Kalidasa [1, xiv](between 1st and 4th centuries CE), most ascribe him to around 650 CE.[2]

  • Dandin is along with Vamana a high scholar of Sanskrit Alamkara.
  • He is mentioned in the Bhoja-prabandha
  • Mallika-maruta is also attributed to him by some, but this is likely to be a drama by Uddanda Ranganatha from 15th century Malabar.

It must be said that Dandin is a writer of prose par excellence. His wordsmithy is simply delightful to read. “Like the great masters Kalidasa, Bana, and Bhavabhuti, he has a perfect command over language” [2].


Having already discussed the Dasakumaracarita at length in the last piece, we will merely place it in context here, vis-a-vis Dandin and Poetics.

The Dasakumaracarita is considered an Akhyayika. An Akhyayika should include a genealogical account of the poet’s family and also of other poets; its verses may occur in it at intervals. Its chapters are called Asvaasas, which should contain introductory verses suggestive of episodes in the story. While the Dasakumaracarita does not strictly conform with this definition of the Akhayayika, it is nevertheless considered one.

Regarding the differences between the Akhyayika and the Katha, Visvanatha of the 15th century wrote in his SahithyadarpanaIn a Katha a charming plot is composed in prose, which is interspersed with stanzas in the Arya, Vaktra, and Aparavaktra metres; in the beginning there should be a salutation to a deity, a description of the nature of villains,etc. “[2, xii]. While most non-religious stories of Ancient India tend to claim descent from the Brihat-katha of Gunadya, the Dasakumaracarita of Dandin appears to be wholly original. If Kalidasa’s couplets read like supple vines, Dandin’s verses read like a rolling brook, pleasantly bubbling in our eyes and ears. The passage below illustrates this:

There, in the course of conversation with regard to her lover, she, coming to know his family and name from Balachandrika, was overcome with intense love (with the fall of Cupid’s arrows), and began to grow emaciated day by day, like the crescent of the moon in the dark half of the month, from the pangs of separation. She gave up taking food and her other daily pursuits, and in her secret chamber restlessly rolled her creeper-like (slender) frame on a bed formed of (tender) leaves and flowers wetted with sandal-juice. Her female friends, seeing the delicate princess in that state withering with the fire of love, and feeling very sad, tried to cool her body, with materials for relief from the torment, such as water prepared for her bath, mixed with sandal, usira and camphor and kept in gold vessels, garments of lotus-fibres, and fans of lotus-leaves. Even that application of cooling reeds simply [causes] fire to appear on all sides in her body like water dropped in heated oil…(the princess) of delicate limbs was affected by the highest stage of the feverish condition of love” [1, 250-1]

 The Dasakumaracarita is a must read for any lover of great literature, particularly the Classical and Indic. To understand the poetics and art of rhetoric that helped craft such perfect prose-poetry, Acarya Dandin’s own treatise must be read.

The Kavyadarsa

The Kavyadarsa promulgates and expounds many canons of poetic composition which show that its author had refined notions about style and its functions [1, xv]

Dandin’s work on poetics is itself poetic. Literally meaning ‘Mirror of Poetry’, the Kavyadarsa imbues us with knowledge of kavya and alankara-sastra (rhetoric) in a language redolent with the art of poesy Dandin himself extols. It is one of the earliest works on Alankara [2,ix].  Rather than being a boring list of categories and a lexicon of terms, it is fluidly composed and easy to read and digest even for the unschooled. A work of poetics that is itself poetry, it commences in appropriate fashion.  It is tradition in Sanskrit literature to begin with a benediction.

Pariccheda I

Chaturmukha mukhaambhojavana hamsavadhur mama

Maanase ramataam nityam sarvasuklaa Sarasvati P.I,S.1

May the lovely lady swan that sports among the lotus-mouths of Brahma, the all-white Sarasvati roam for ever in delight in the lotus-pool of my heart. [2,1]

Goddess Sarasvati is particularly praised by poets of all ranks, as she is the fountain of knowledge, truth, and speech. As for the work itself, it is divided into three Paricchedas, or sections. First and foremost in the first Pariccheda, where he stresses grammar, and how it is critical to understanding and evaluating poetry.

He then moves on to discuss the body of a poetic composition.

This (body) is classified threefold, as Padya, as Gadya as Misra (i.e. as verse, as prose and as a mixture of prose and verse). Verse has four feet; and (again) it is divided into two classes Vrttam and Jati (according to Varna and Matra respectively).” [2, 6]

Types of verse include Muktata, Kulaka, and Sanghaata, and are dealt with collectively as part of the Sarga-bandha. The truly great work of Poetry is the Mahakavya (Great Poem). A type of this is the Sarga-bandha, which is” a Mahakavya that has a beginning with a benediction or indication of contents, it deals with purusharthas and has one of the four types of heroes. It describes the various phases of romance between great lovers, their journeys, trials and tribulations, uses rasa and bhava, has reasonable size chapters and will survive several kalpas. [2, 8-10]

In contrast to poetry is prose, which is a sequence of words not constructed in metrical feet. Prose is divided into Akhyayika and Katha. The former, according to Dandin, is told only in the first person (from the mouth of the hero), while the latter may be told by all. The last type of literary body is Misra, which is a mix of prose and verse, usually in Nataka (dramatic) form and in Campu verse. Literature was further divided into four linguistic classes. [2,16]

“Samskrtam is the name of the celestial language which has been used by great sages; Prakrtam is divided into many ways as Tadbhava, Tasama and Desi.

In such language is the ocean of gemlike saying Setubhanda and other works.” [2,17]

In Poems, languages, like the Abhira and the like are considered as Apabhramsa; but in the sastras … any language other than Samskrtam is considered Apabhramsical. “[2, 18]

Sarga-bandha and other types of similar verses are Samskritam, Skanda and similar types are considered Prakritam, Aasara and others are Apabhramsa, and Nataka and others are considered Misrakam (due to their mixed linguistic nature).

Dandin then continues,  explicating the path of word being twofold, the path of Vidarbha and the path of Gauda.

He describes the Vidarbha as having the characateristics of “Slesa (compact), prasada (charity), Samata (evenness), Madhuryam (sweetness), Sukumarata (elegance), Arthavyakti (expressiveness), Udaratvam (excellence), Ojas (vigour), Kanti and Samadhi (structure)”[2,21]

Gauda is referred to the as the opposite of these. Slistam is when the letters are not loose and not of small breath-value while Sithilam is loose. The latter is a key part of the Gauda and adds dignity to the composition. For the uninitiated, Gauda may be deemed cumbersome, compound (sandhi), and consonant, while Vidarbha is light, short-syllabled, and easy to grasp. Evenness of composition, or samatam, is divided into Mrdu, Sphuta and Madhyamam (soft, hard and medium).

He criticizes easterners as effecting a want of evenness in literature stating “unnevenness and desiring the display of pompous embellishments, the series of Kavyas of the Paurasyas (easterners) have developed.” I guess some reputations haven’t changed! It is the general poetry of his poetic work, and witty remarks like this, that truly make Dandin a delight to read. Indeed, he moves on by extolling sweetness (Madhurya) as the flavour in words and in sentiment. The wise, he says, are like bees in that both are intoxicated with honey. The related concept is Anuprasa, which is word sequences that conveys flavour or sentiment (rasa) through evenness with prior words. [2, 29]

Examples of Anuprasa in words and metrical feet are then given, followed by descriptions of Sruti and Saithilya. Sruti here is sequences of similar sounds and saithilya is want of coherence of sounds rugged in build. The recurrence of the same sequence of sounds in uneven fashion is called Yamaka (alliteration). Daksinatyas (Southerners) did not like incoherence of sounds. It appears the South’s reputation for stricture and conservatism was intact back then as well!

Perhaps the most critical sloka on poetics for our era of vulgar parvenu poetry is the following:

Granting that all arts of speech (Alankara), and delectableness to the idea (conveyed) it is the absence of vulgarity of expression alone that is mostly responsible for delectableness” [2, 33]

Gramya is vulgarity in expression examples of this are given, as well as the opposite. The Acarya is very critical of vulgarity but also of unnecessary and overly complicated constructions to appear intelligent.

There has been a tendency, which Dandin appears to attribute to pretentious easterners, to preference difficult to pronounce compound words (sandhi) under the impression that they constitute grandeur.  He exhorts that it is only by Sukumarata, tenderness (i.e. use of non-harsh letters) rather than over-embellishment that we get approval in the minds of the good. [2,39]

Moving on, he describes Udara as when all sequence of words find their excellence when the word sequence’s excellence is clear, while “Ojas [vigour] is in abundance of compound words. This is the soul of Gadya (prose;) in verse Padya also for the non-Southerners this alone is the goal” [2, 43]

While kantam (not straying from standard meanings) is mentioned, most important, according to Dandin, is the concept of Samadhi. It is structural embellishment or the simultaneous application of many characteristics.

The guna or characteristic of poetry called Samadhi is the very treasure-house and constitutes the entire wealth of poetry. The entire group of poets follows (and uses) this characteristic.”[2, 53]

Pariccheda II

The Second Pariccheda focuses on Alankaras proper. This is the critical aspect of poetry that makes embellishment possible and sets it apart as an high art. But why explain what an old master does better:

They give the names of Alankaras to the characteristics, which render kavyas attractive. These characteristics are even to-day diversified anew; who then can treat of them exhaustively?” [2, 57]

The old masters have shown the following alankaras (figures of speech: -Realistic expression, simile, metaphor, light, repetition, objection, illustrative citation, differentiation, cause terseness, hyperbole, conceit, reason, subtlety, minuteness, sequence, felicity, provoking sentiment, vigour, paraphrase, unison, sublimity, denial, paronomasia, specialty, equation, direct praise, concealed praise, conjunctive expression, exchange, benediction, confusion and expressiveness. Realistic expression also called Jati or group description is the first alankara and describes the actual forms of different conditions of objects.” [2, 59]

Dandin moves on to discuss realistic expression of species (Jati), of action (Kriya), of characteristic (Guna) and of substance (Dravya). He then provides an entire section on the various and numerous types of upama, that is simile. This is delightfully done with poetic examples of this essential aspect of poetics. As it is too long to reprint here, we will merely list the different types of simile:

There is the simile of quality (Dharmopama), the simile of object (Vastupama),the transposed simile (Viparyasopama), the simile of mutuality (Anyonyopama), the simile of exclusive determination (Niyamopama), the simile of indetermination (Aniyamopama), the multiple simile (Sauccayopama), the hyperbolic simile (Atisayopama), the simile of conceit (Utpreksopama), the simile of wonder (Adhbutopama), the simile of delusion (Mohopama), the simile of doubt (Samsayopama), the simile of certainty (Nirnayopama), the paronomasiac simile (Slesopama), the simile of exactness (Samaanopama), the simile of contempt (Nindopama), the simile involving praise (Prasamsopama), simile involving the desire to express (Acikhyaasopama), the simile involving opposition (Virodhopama), the simile involving exclusion (Pratisedhopama), the simile of truthful expression (Asaadhaaranopama), the simile of impossibility (Adbhutopama), the simile involving statements contrary to nature (Asambhaavitopama), the simile of super-excellence (Vikriyopama), the simile in a series (Maalopama), the simile of sentences (Vaakyarthopama),  the simile stating the object (Prativastupama), the simile of equalising (Tulyayogopama), and finally the simile involving a statement of the reasons (Hetupama). [2, 62-82].

While many figures of speech may seem similar to the simile, there is a rule in Sanskrit poesy that a simile cannot be in verbs. This is the word of the Aaptas (or authoritative writers). [2, 148]

As one can see, the exhaustive and methodical classification of the simile, so elementarily treated in english, reaches a near-impossible level of sophistication. Perhaps it is not for nothing Alankara, like the sastras, are ultimately credited to divine beings in the Classical Indic Tradition.

Next, Dandin describes the Metaphor. Simile itself where the difference is implicity is called the metaphor, for example, arm-creeper, palm-lotus, foot-tendril” [2, 84]. There are 66 types of compound metaphors, which for reasons of brevity, won’t list here. The sanskrit word for metaphor is rupakam. The numerous varieties are so copious, there is even a rupaka-rupakam or metaphor on metaphor. [2, 94]

We move on from the two major concepts to other types of Alankara. The concept of Dipakam (or light) is unique as it is the notion of a word helping the entire sentence through jati (genus), kriya (action), guna (quality) or dravya, which is the subject-matter.[2,96] Avrtti, or repetition, is then discussed along with its assorted types and uses both in word and meaning. Aaksepa, which is objection and has a variety of classes. Interestingly, of the different types of objection includes anujnaksepa, that is objection in the form of apparent permission–a phenomenon with which married men the world over are all too familiar! Indeed, the section on Aaksepa is a veritable playbook for a woman in a relationship to influence her beloved!

Then there is illustrative citation (arthantara-nyaasa). Assorted figures of speech are used to express ideas by citing other objects such as those that are universally applicable (visvavyaapi), special (visesastha), panoro-masiac (slesa-viddha), having opposition (virodhavaan), incongruous(ayuktakaari ), fitting (yuktatma), partly incongruous and partly fitting), and contrary (viparyaya). [2, 123]

Acarya Dandin asserts that “Reason (hetu) and subtlety and minuteness (suksma and lesa) constitute the best alankaras of words” .[2,151] This is because a slight reference to a thing discloses (lesa) both indicates and excites the imagination.Correspondingly, Ingita and Aakaara are mentioned as facial gesture and condition of the body respectively. [2,163] Paryayoktham is the paraphrase .[2,178]

Udaattam (sublimity) is the alankara used to express the pre-eminent greatness of a person, both his qualities and his riches. Apahnuti is denial and is used to great effect in order to enhance the description. [2,184]. Slistam is paronomasia, or words with a single form but many meanings [2,187]. Indeed, there is an entire sub-section on specialty, which again, for brevity’s sake, we will leave at here.

Among other interesting concepts include variations of ninda (insult/deprecation) and praise, stuti. There are numerous categories of stuti, such as Aprastuta-prasamsa (indirect praise) and Vyaajastuti (concealed praise). Concealed praise is where it is in the form of despise and virtues are described through mention of vices.

With all these alankaras, or embellishments, Dandin uses examples to not only illustrate, but to very frequently entertain. What could easily have been an exhausting effort because engagingly educative.

Pariccheda III

In the third pariccheda, Dandin moves on to the more structural aspects of poetics. He discusses recurrences of letters (Yamaka) and various types of feet (pada), one through four. Types of recurrences are discusses such as Vyapeta-Yamaka (mediate recurrence) and Avyapeta (mixed recurrence of mediate and immediate). [2, 228]. This is described with great complexity with all the permutations and combinations of letter recurrences.

Finally, this magnum opus of poetics concludes with a veritable lesson in linguistics. From the listing of vowels to the various consonant types, it is highly detailed and worth a review. He also discusses Prahelikas (or Amusing Riddles). These are described as “useful in the entertainment of sportive assemblies; and by those who know them for the purpose of secret consultation in a crowd and for setting riddles to others” [2,262]. Once more, he goes into the technical aspects of riddles, and the various components and component types. In fact, there were as many as 16 types of Prahelikas.

Ten faults of artless poets are also discussed: Apaartham (or meaninglessness), Vyartham (or contrary meaning), Ekaartham (or identical in meaning), Samsayam (or doubtful meaning), Apakaaramam (or want of sequence), Sabdahinam (or wanting in word), Yatibhrastam (or absence of pause), Bhinnavrttam (or metrical defect). Visandhikam (absence of Sandhi, or pause) and impropriety in place, time, in branch of learning, etc.” (desadhi-virodhi,kala-virodha, nyaya-virodha, etc) [2, 276-7].  He nevertheless mentions how a clever poet can use any and all of the improprieties to lift up from the region of fault to the good qualities of poetry.

He concludes with concepts associated with love. Laya is the blending of tunes. Harmonious laya is said to promote Raaga or Love while”Utka and Unmanayantya both convey the longing of the beloved“. [2, 281]

Thus, with an exhaustive but easy-to-read treatise, Acarya Dandin explicates his educative exegisis on kavya and alankara-sastra. Fittingly, he ends with the following advice for would-be poets:

With his intellect, trained by this Path of guna and dosa (Excellences and Faults) shown according to the rules, the blessed person sports like a youth attracted by Words, who have loving eyes and who remain in his control; and he also obtains fame. [2, 305]


  1. Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
  2. Sastrulu, V.V., and Ed. Rabindra K. Panda. Kavyadarsah of Dandin. Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. 2008
  3. Das, Sisir Kumar. A History of Indian Literature, 500-1399: From Courtly to the Popular. New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. 2005. p.75

Classical Indic Literature I: Literary Theory

At long last, we touch on Literature proper here at the Andhra Cultural Portal.

The importance and impact of this aspect of Indian Civilization and Andhra Culture cannot be minimized. After all, the stories, heroes & heroines, great romances, beautiful places, and wondrous accomplishments of yore are all preserved in and passed on via the literature of a people.  It is this, the documentation of the sum total of a civilization’s life, society, and above all, values that connects the young with the old, and for those yearning for star-crossed sringara, connects lover with lover as well. However, to properly appreciate the nuances of a sophisticated culture’s Literary Accomplishments, one must first understand the structural theory it is founded upon.

Those of you following us on Twitter may have seen our recent tweets about videos and articles educating layreaders on the logic and principles of Classical Indian Music and Artistic systems. In that light we continue today with the first in a series on Classical Indic Literature: Literary Theory.

Intro to Classical Indic Literature

Scene from the Kurukshetra in the World’s Longest Epic Poem: Mahabharata

India’s Classical Literature Traditions indubitably begins with its unmatched Sanskrit Literary Heritage. By some counts of Indologists, there are some 30 million Sanskrit Texts on various subjects: some political, some religious, some scientific, some literary, some romantic, some historical, and many not even properly catalogued.

In the recent past, the study of Sanskrit has been highly and unfairly politicized. It was not just the language of Brahmins nor was it limited only to Vedic rite. In fact, Sanskrit was the language of high culture, and the speech of the elite and refined. Although most of the credentialed-but-ignorant think its poetry was merely limited to the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata; the reality, however, is that there is a galaxy of romantic poetry and comedic prose in this most elegant of tongues. Poets and Dramatists ran the spectrum and included such literary jewels as Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bhasa, and Dandin. Poems such as Meghadootam and Uttaramacarita captivated our forbears with their sentiments of passionate love. Plays such as AbhignanaSakuntala (Recognition of Sakuntala) and Malavikagnimitra (The Romance of Malavika & Agnimitra)made their heroic and comedic marks as far as Germany and beyond, with the former even developed into an Opera during the Enlightenment era.

Tragically, due to the vicissitudes of history and the travesty of politics, Classical Indic Literature was neglected, much like the Classical Indian Education. Therefore, to properly appreciate the literary accomplishments of Ancient India, one must first be properly acquainted with its literary theory and creative logic. Much like aesthetics is taught to artists, and music theory to musicians, so to is it with the civilized written word.

While our tradition maintains that Dharmic Civilization’s musical and theatrical canons originate with the Saama Veda (the fourth of the Vedas–the other three being the Rig, Yajur, and Atharva), India’s first great treatise specifically on these canons is the Natya Sastra of Sage Bharata.

Classical Indic Literary Theory

Natyasastra of Bharata Muni in Four Volumes

Classical Indic Literary Theory was highly developed, with a host of treatises expounding its structure and a constellation of commentaries applying its critical theory. Works such as Ghantapatha (commentary on Kiratarjuneeya) and Saahithyadarpana  along with names such as Jaggaadhara, Bhaamaha (a rhetorician), and Andhra’s own Mallinatha respectively provide expository on detailed structural theory and incisive analysis. Unlike today, many of these critics and commentators were successful litterateurs in their own right.

The origin of Classical Indian literary theory is traced to the Sanskrit treatise of Rishi Bharata, Natya Sastra. Natya translates to the performance arts (histrionics). Conservatively dated to 200 B.C.E, but very likely much earlier,”[i]ts comprehensive treatment of artistic experience, expression and communication, content and form emerges from an integral vision which flowers as a many-branched tree of all the Indian arts”.

This mighty work runs the gamut from literature, music, and dance to painting, sculpture, and architecture. While a discussion of this seminal opus of genius could take a series of blog posts or a book itself, the relevant aspect for our post today is the originality of Bharata Muni’s rasa theory, and its pervasiveness in not only dance and music, but literature as well.

The Rasa

Nava Rasa: The Nine Emotions of Natya

Rasa theory is the outstanding contribution of Classical India to World music, dance, and above all literature. This sentiment is the lasting impression or feeling of the author that he/she aims to impress upon the audience. These are nine in number (hence the term Nava Rasa): Sringara (Romantic), Veerya (Heroic), Haasya (Comedic), Karuna (Pathos), Raudra (Furious), Bhayaanika (Frightful), Bibhatsa (Loathsome), Adhbuta (Marvelous), and finally Shaantha (Calming).

The Sthayibhaava is the leitmotif or permanent sentiment of a composition. There are generally eight in number, based on eight of the nine rasas. They are as follows: rati (erotic), haasa (comic), shoka (sorrowful), krodha(angering), utsaha (enlivening), bhaya (frightening), jugupsa (disgusting), and vismaya (amazing). A ninth, sama (tranquility), is associated with Shaantha

Bhaava is the complete affecting of the heart by any emotion. Vibhaava is the Excitant which builds up the main sentiment and is divided into Aalambana, the subject (i.e. hero, heroine) of the Rasa  and Uddeepana or the object that excites (i.e. the moon, beauty, seasons, etc). Anubhaava means the Ensuant. This is the “outward manifestation of internal feelings, through the eyes, face, etc.”

There are other literary elements such as metre (chandah); however, such an expository on the Natya Sastra is best dealt with another day, the present focus being literary theory in general.


A Drama on Political Intrigue

The Literary structure of Classical India chiefly aggregates into Dramatics and Poetics.

Literature (saahithya) in Sanskrit has typically been divided into drusya (what can be seen or exhibited on stage) and sravya (what can only be heard or read).

Dramatics falls into the first category. Nataka is the word for a play, while rupaka is the term applied to dramatic compositions. Minor or short dramas, such as the Ratnavali of Sri Harsa Deva (Emperor Harsha Vardhana of Kanyakubjya (Kannauj)), are called Natikas. While there are 17 other classes, they needn’t be examined for our purposes.

The 3 main aspects of a Rupaka are (1) The Plot (Vasthu) (2) The Hero (Neta) (3) The Sentiment (Rasa). There are two main kinds of Vasthu: Principal (Adhikaarika ) and Accessory (Prasangika ). The Principal Plot is that which concerns the main characters of the piece and the central storyline. The Accessory Plot is that which deals with the supporting characters, and may in fact further the Principal Plot. There are two kinds of Prasangikas: Pataka and Prakari. The Pataka (meaning : “Banner”) “is an episode by which the progress of the plot is illustrated, furthered or hindered”. This further piques the audience’s interest in the story. It frequently spans the entire play to the very end. In contrast, the Prakari is only a short and minor episode of limited importance. The principal characters do not play any role here.

The other main plot devices in the classical Indic drama are the bija (seed), bindu (drop), and karya (the final issue or object of the plot). Together with the above two, these five dramatic constructs are called ArthaprakritisVasthus may borrow from history (Natakas) or may be wholly or partly fictitious (Prakarana).

The five stages of a play are called Avastha (conditions): (1) Aarambha(Beginning) (2) Yatna (Efforts ) (3) Praaptyaasa (Prospects of Success) (4)  Nityataapti (Obstacle Removal) and  (5) Phalaagama ( Attainment of Object). Links to connect them and other parts of the main action are called Samdhis, of which there are five kinds (mukha, pratimukha, garbha, avamarsa, and nirvahana). Mukha is where the seed is sown (including the various rasas), pratimukha is where the chief end is revealed, the garbha establishes the attainment or non-attainment of the object, avarmarsa is where the seeds attain growth and the attainment sprouts, and finally, the nirvahana is the consummation of the all of the preceding, in the story’s denouement.

The Hero of the Play (Neta) is expected to be “modest, decorous, comely, munificent, civil, of sweet address, eloquent, [and]…from a noble family” or a ministerial family. There are four kinds of hero: Dhirodaatta, Dhiralalita, Dhirashaantha, and most importantly, the Dhirodatta.

The Dhirodatta  is the hero of sublime qualities. He is known for his magnanimity, patience, modesty, self-possession, resolve, concealed high spirit, valor, and keeping of promises.

Heroic Rama defeating Ravana

Rama is the best example of this as well as Veerya rasa (heroism/manliness). This quality of his is best seen in the drama Mahaviracarita by Bhavabhuti. Rama’s romantic (sringara) qualities are highlighted in the same dramatist’s follow up work, Uttararamacarita.

The Hero’s principal assistants are the Peetamarda (key figure in the accessory plot/episodes), who is clever in speech, loyal to the Neta, and only slightly lesser to him in his manly qualities. Next is the famous Vidusaka, or comic relief. He is known for his wit and for assisting the hero in his romances. Finally, there is the Vita, who is skilled in one art (of the traditional 64).


The Nayika is the heroine, and must generally be the equal of the hero in his various virtues, as Sita is to Rama. She may be the wife of the hero, a woman who already is obligated to another, or a common woman. The helpers of the heroine are the sakhi (friend), daasi (servant), dhaatreyi (nurse or mother), and patikesika (neighbor).

The hero’s rival, or villain, is called the Pratinaayaka, and is generally “avaricious, bold, impetuous, criminal and of evil conduct”.

The Nataka is typically conducted by commencing with a benediction (svastivachana), followed by a prastaavana (prologue) introduced by the Nandi (the introductory portion which suggests the plot). All this is conducted by the Sutradhara (stage-manager). Typically divided into Scenes and Acts (which may be as many as five to ten in number), the Classical Nataka of Ancient India had long-standing rules on structure and even subject-matter. There was a historical rule against tragedies, since the rasas themselves are thought to imbue a spiritual quality in the audience. However, at least 1 play, Nagananda by Sri Harsa, is known to have broken this custom.

The most intriguing aspect of the classical drama is the diversity of languages. The aristocracy and other elites are seen conversing in Sanskrit, with the more common folk relying on various types of Prakrit for dialogue.



meghdutamPoetry is divided into Prose (gadhya), Verse (padhya), and Mixed (misra). The vast majority of our classical literature has been in padhya.

Gadhya is further divided into katha and aakhyaayika. The distinction between the two is generally considered to be minimal.The modern understanding is that the aakhyaayika gives a detailed prose narration of the litterateur’s family history and background (i.e. auto-biographical), while the katha is less restricted, in short verse, and therefore, is seemingly less formal. This is because the latter is rarely divided into chapters, and there are no embedded stanzas suggestive of future events.

Aakhyaayika is also strictly narrated by the hero, which is not the case in katha. There are other distinctions as well, such as names of chapters in Aakhyaayika being called ucchvaasa, but they are not important for our discussion today. The key take away is that, according to the treatise Alamkaarasamgraha, the Aakyaayika is based on historical facts and events, whereas a katha is considered purely fictional.

We end this post with a brief sample of a famous Aakhyaayika by a famous poet and scholar of Poetics: The Dasakumaracarita of Dandin.


One of four known historical prose romances, the Dasakumaracarita of Dandin is a remarkable work. Literally meaning History of the Ten Princes, it is a composition of prose par excellence. The author Dandin is celebrated for his word play (pada-lalityam) in a famous sanskrit sloka (couplet).

Since the author himself will be discussed in detail another time, the work will be the object of brief focus. A truly delightful story, Dasakumaracarita has it all, from political conflict and war to action/adventure to feverish romances. It is centered around the escapades of ten princes and young ministers as they all seek to gain the necessary allies and strength to defeat their King’s enemy. It nevertheless is set in a background that gives a vivid picture of common life and is a detailed rendition of Indian Society during that period.It is divided into three parts: the Purvapithaka (Prologue), Dasakumaracarita proper, and the Uttarapithaka (Epilogue).

This piece of prose is dated to the 6th-7th centuries C.E., although tradition holds that the author was a contemporaneous rival of Kalidasa himself, which would date him to the 1st-4th centuries C.E. While Dandin is also famous for his incisive and erudite work on Poetics, it is his lyrical command of language (apparent even in translation) that truly defines him and this magnum opus of literature.

Frustratingly, due to the baggage of history, only an incomplete portion of the original text was discovered. Thus, it effectively begins in medias res and two of the ten narratives are missing/incomplete. One of the foremost scholars of Sanskrit literature, the late Moreshwar Ramchandra Kale, wrote that the Dasakumaracarita is officially classified as an Aakhyaayika, though it doesn’t appear to carry the main markers of one. Therefore, he designates it a gadhya kaavya (prose poem or prose romance). Whether or not it is based on historical events, the Dasakumaracarita gives us a panoramic view of classical Bharat.

The Ten young noblemen in the story have various run ins with kings from throughout India, including Andhra, further demonstrating Bharat’s historical civilizational unity. While it is particularly famous for making delightful and frequently scintillating reading, we will end this post with a short passage that emphasizes its wisdom more than its word-play.

Foolish, indeed, are the worldly people that place Artha (wealth) and Kama (pleasure) on an equal footing with Dharma (virtue)…To be sure, Artha and Kama cannot come into being without Dharma; but even without regard to them, Dharma alone is the creative cause of final beatitude, and is attainable only by the concentration of the mind. It does not (like Artha and Kama) much depend on external means. Supported (i.e. held up) by the knowledge of the reality, it is not affected by Artha and Kama, howsoever pursued; and, even if affected, it is set right by a little exertion, and redaicating that defect also, it conduces the highest bliss.



  1. Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
  2. Malhotra, Rajiv. Sulekha. 2002. http://creative.sulekha.com/the-axis-of-neocolonialism_103313_blog
  3. http://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/bharata-natyasastra-IDD947/