Lakshana Granthas Continued
12. Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala – Part One
In the textual traditions of the Indian Dancing, the Natyashastra; the Brihad-desi and the Sangita-ratnakara are regarded as seminal works; both in regard to the theory and to the practice of Dance, in its various forms. The Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala, coming almost four hundred years after Sangita-ratnakara, is another major work
The Nartana-nirnaya is considered a highly significant and an influential text of its period (sixteen-seventeenth century); and, is classed along with the Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva in regard to the quality, the range and the depth of its discussion; and, also in regard to the extent of influence it exerted on the theory and practice of Dancing of the later periods.
The Sangita-ratnakara, in a concise form, had earlier summarized the changes that took place in the field of Sangita (Gita, Vadya and Nrtta) between the time of Bharata and the thirteenth century. In the process, it provided a theoretical basis and a textual authority for further discussions on the theories and practice (Lakshana-Lakshya) of Music and Dance.
The Nartana-nirnaya, following the Sangita-ratnakara, laid the foundation for further several interesting and radical changes that later took place in the practice of the Art forms, especially the Dance. At the same time, it set aside, many theories and practices that had become obsolete. Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya went beyond the Sangita-ratnakara.
In a similar manner, the Nartana-nirnaya went beyond the Natyashastra. Like most of the works prior to its time, the Nartana-nirnaya too discusses various types of Abhinaya (Angika-abhinaya, Sattvika-abhinaya and, Aharya-abhinaya) according to Natyashastra, as interpreted in the Sangitaratnakara. However, instead of merely following or reproducing the Natyashastra‘s descriptions of the 108 karanas and the 32 Angaharas, the Nartana-nirnaya selects only 16 of the karanas as representing the essential characteristics of a Bandha-nrtya, a well regulated Dance-form.
In contrast to that, the text then goes on to describe the distinctive features of the various kinds of Anibandha-nrtya , the free flowing , innovative dance sequences. The Nartana-nirnaya thus covers both the pristine (Marga) as also the improvised, spontaneous regional (Desi) dances, which are now a part of the ’classical dances’ of today.
All the types are defined; and, the author reproduces in the first ten verses, the Sangita-ratnakara’s view that Nrtya and Nrtta may both have varieties of Tandava and Lasya.
To sum up; apart from its deep concern for preserving the past traditions, Nartana-nirnaya presents a clear picture of the state of Arts during the contemporary times. It also introduces many new elements, components, techniques and terms into the theory and practice of Dancing. Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya not only encapsulates its past and its contemporary scene; but also serves as a guide and an inspiration for the Dance forms to follow. Therefore, the Nartana-nirnaya could be said to a path –finder; and a golden link (svarna-setu) that brings together the older and present day traditions of classical Indian dancing.
The Nartana-nirnaya comes about four hundred years after Sangita-ratnakara. This period between these two texts was marked by several interesting and rather radical changes and transformations that were taking place in India, in the field of Arts.
The Nartana-nirnaya was composed in the sixteenth century, while Pundarika Vitthala (or Pandari Vitthala) was in the service of the Mughal Court. Pundarika Vitthala, a versatile artist, scholar and an author, had the opportunity to witness and experience the diverse regional traditions of India as also the newer practices derived from Persia. Pundarika Vittala mentions that he wrote the Nartana-nirnaya, concerning music and dance, at the suggestion of Emperor Akbar, to cater to his taste – Akbara-nrupa rucyartham idam krutam (NN.4.2.675)
Akbar nrupae icchartha bhuloke sangitam / krutamidam bahu tara bhedam sah-hrudam hrdaye sukam bhuyath // N N 53 b //.
In the world, this simple Sangita is created with a lot of varieties in order to please the king Akbar. May it please the heart of the goodhearted ones.
The Royal Courts of Raja Man Singh, Raja Madhav Singh and Akbar provided the forum for interaction between the North and South Indian traditions on one hand; and, between Indian and Persian practices on the other. This surely was an interesting period when diverse streams of Art came together and fused into enterprising new forms; and, therefore, it is aptly termed as the watershed period of Indian Music and Dancing.
This was a vibrant period in the development of Music and Dance, in general. It was during this period that the standardization of Ragas, their classification into major groups (Melas) based on the structure of their notes (Svras); theoretical principles interpreted in terms of the position of the frets on the Vina (Vina-mela); ten types of Tala ( time-units)
Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya came into being in a fascinating, invigorating and an altogether different ambiance, providing opportunities and a forum for interaction between the different Schools of the North and the South; as also between the Indian (Desi) and Persian (Yavana) practices. Each of its Chapters reveals flashes of originality, innovation and ingenuity in adopting the newer, contemporary trends and practices into the traditional formats.
Though it is primarily based in the Natyashastra and the commentaries of Sarangadeva and Kallinatha, it, in essence, is an original treatise on Indian Music and Dancing. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, regarded as an authoritative and a creative text. As regards Music, it set new trends into motion by bringing together the best in the Karnataka Sangita, Hindustani Music and the Persian Music. And in dance, it brought into the fold of what could be called Classical Dance, the techniques of Persian Dance as also the idioms of folk dancing.
The subject matter central to Nartana-nirnaya is Dancing. The technical details of Dance as detailed in the Nartana-nirnaya are an important source for reconstructing the history of Indian music and dance during the middle period. This was also the time when the old practices were fading out and new concepts were stepping in. For instance, by the time of Pundarika Vittala, the 108 Karanas were reduced to sixteen. At the same time, dance formats such as Jakkini, Raasa nrtya were finding place among traditional type of Dances.
In his work, Pundarika Vitthala does not confine only to the traditional dances of India and Persia; but, he also describes the various dance traditions of the different regions of India that were practiced during his time. The information he provides on regional dance forms is quite specific, in the sense that he points to the part/s of India from where the particular style originated, the language of the accompanying songs and the modes its presentation. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, an invaluable treasure house on the state of regional dance forms as they existed in the sixteenth century India.
Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta
While explaining the title of his work (Nartana-nirnaya); and, the use of the term Nartana, generally, to mean ‘Dance’, Pundarika said that by Nartana he meant it to be a general class name for Dance. And, that the term Natrana would cover the three forms of Dance: Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta. The last (Nrtta) would again be subdivided into three other types: visama (acrobatic), vikata (ludicrous) and laghu (light and graceful), identified respectively as rope-dancing, a comic dance, and a dance based on easy karanas.
Thus, it seems, while Nartana stood for the general class name; the other three were its sub-divisions.
As regards the definition of these terms, Pundarika said he would be adopting those offered by Sarangadeva (11th century).
And, Sarangadeva had, in turn, followed the explanations given by the earlier writers like Somesvara, Dhananjaya and such others (perhaps Nadikesvara too?)
According to those explanations, generally (although there were some slight variations among them):
Natya: refers to an Art form that gives forth Rasa (ultimate aesthetic enjoyment); and, is based in Rasa – Natyam rasam-ashrayam (DR.I. 9). It gives expressions to the inner or true meaning of the lyrics through dance gestures – vakyartha-abhinayatmaka.
Nrtya: is a means of putting forth different aesthetic moods or Bhava (bhavahetu orbhavashraya) or giving expression to individual words of the song through appropriate gestures and/or facial expressions – pada –artha-abhinayatmaka
Nrtta: is the display of smart looking (shobhahetu) limb movements, in tune with attractive and catchy Taala (rhythm) and Laya (tempo) – Nrttam Taala Laya ashrayam (DR.I. 9). But, in itself, it is devoid of meaningful content; and, is valued for its mere visual beauty of body movements (gatrasya viksepaha).
Nandikeshvara (Abhinayadarpana-1. 15-16) had earlier distinguished Nrtya from Nrtta, thus:
Bhavabhinaya-hinam tu nrittamitya-abhidhyate | Rasabhava-vyanjana adi yuktam nrityam ity uchyate
And, Sarangadeva said that Nrtya and Nrtta can both be of two kinds –Tandava and Lasya (SR. 7. 28); and, while Tandava is uddhata (vigorous), the Lasya is of Lalita (delicate) movements (SR. 7. 29- 30).
But, Pundarika, in his Nartana-nirnaya, throughout, uses the terms Nrtta and Nrtya interchangeably, perhaps, because, both those dance forms involved, in some measure, the elements of abhinaya or interpretative movements.
Bhaddha – Anibhaddha
But, the more significant theoretical aspect of Nartana-nirnaya is the adoption of the two sets of concepts to classify the Dance forms.
Pundarika adopts Marga and Desi class concepts into the Lakshana and Lakshya (theory and practice) of Dance, for classifying its forms.
And then, he introduces a novel feature (hitherto not tried by anyone else); which is the principles of Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured) for stratifying the dance forms into two separate classes.
(1) Pundarika carried forward the practice of the earlier scholar-writers who distinguished the dance forms along the lines of Marga and Desi. The term Marga (literally ‘of the way’ or ‘path’) refers to those arts that adhere to codified rules; while Desi is understood as the unregulated regional variations.
The concepts of Marga and Desi were originally introduced into Music by Matanga in his Brhaddeshi (around seventh or eighth century) to distinguish the pure and well-structured Music (Marga) from the innovative regional melodies (Desi).
As regards the dance forms; by about the eleventh century, Somesvara adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the then existing Dance forms. Later, around the same time, Sarangadeva, in his Sangita-ratnakara, systematically presented the Marga and Desi forms as distinct styles of dance.
Here, in these texts, the classical style, that is the one codified by Bharata in the Natyashastra; and, acknowledged by tradition as the core of classical art, was regarded as the Marga. The Nrtya, for instance, was classified under Marga form of dance.
The regional and popular dance styles, with easy movements, that allowed more freedom, greater improvisation, within the given framework, were classified under Desi. The Nrtta, for instance, was treated as a Desi form of dance.
Pundarika Vitthala, in his Nartana-nirnaya, also adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the different dance forms. Nartana-nirnaya describes several entirely new dance forms that were popular during its time.
(2) The Nartana-nirnaya marks a major conceptual departure, primarily by following the structural principle of classifying Dance forms into two divisions: namely, Bandha, or styles that rigidly adhered to set rules of composition; and Anibandha, styles that did not do so and allowed innovations by the dancer. The texts of the earlier period, including Sangita-ratnakara, followed the approach of the Natyashastra. But, in the post-Nartananirnaya period, the classification of Dance forms along the lines of Bandha and Anibandha became part of their conceptual framework.
Matanga had earlier classified Music into two classes –Nibhadda and Anibhadda – the one that is regulated and structured with Dhatus (elements) ; and , the other that is not structured (un-bound).
According to Matanga’s classification: Anibaddha Gita is free flowing music that is not restricted by Taala; it is also free from disciplines of Chhandas (meter) and Matra (syllables); and, it does not also need the support of compositions woven with meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya).
In fact, neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita. Sarangadeva explains Anibaddha as Aalapa, which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).
And the Nibaddha Gita, in comparison, is a rendering of a pre-composed structured musical composition that is governed by Chhandas and Taala; and has words (meaningful or otherwise); as also has a definite beginning and an end. In short; it is a composition (like Prabandha, Giti, and Kriti etc.)
Pundarika was the first scholar to apply the Nibaddha – Anibhaddha type of classification to Dance forms. That is to say; almost 1500 years after these terms came into use in music, Pundarika Vitthala’s work applied them to Dance forms, in order to segregate well-structured dance forms from rather free flowing regional dances.
While both parts followed certain rules of structure and of exposition, Anibaddha was comparatively loose in its construction since it was free of the regimen of Taala. The Anibandha-nrttas are, thus, flexible in both form and content, within the broadly specified aesthetic frameworks.
Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:
It would seem that the Anibandha-nrttas were unlike any other dance pieces described in the literature before the Nartana-nirnaya. The Anibandha-nrttas seemed to be short dance-sequences, using which a dancer could choreograph her own piece. Thus, they have the same function in the dancer’s choreographic design as the karanas of the Marga tradition. But, their structural principle is entirely different from that of karanas, in that they are entirely flexible as to their components and structure while karanas are of course rigidly set structures.
Roughly, it would seem the Bandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there already were prescribed formats and rules ; while, the Anibandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there were none or minimal.
A traditional Bhaddha-nrtta was more rigorously constructed, bound as it was by the constraining patterns of Taala; and, was performed by dancers who were appropriately trained; and, who could interpret a composition perfectly, executing all the movements in detail and precisely as per the prescribed sequence.
Pundarika grouped under the Bandha-nrtta class, those dances that were characterized by yati, tala, laya, sthana, Cari and hasta etc. as prescribed in the Shastras. He enumerated twelve varieties; and, described in detail their specific movements, their structured sequences, including karanas (N2V.43a-45b)
All the other dance forms were drought under Anibandha Dance form. The principle of Anibaddha allowed the dancer a considerable degree of freedom, encouraging her to search for and to create, through her ingenuity, novel aesthetic expressions. This was a major departure from the regimen that required the dancer to rigorously follow the prescriptions of the texts. The opportunities to come up with artistic innovations, within the framework of the tradition, helped to infuse enterprise and vitality into dance performances. The dance became more alive.
In the Nartana- nirnaya, the Anibandha dances are described in two parts; the first consisting of twenty-one Anibandha-urupas (denoting a broad category of dance sequences formed with the karanas); and, the second, consisting two Anibandha-nrtyas. Of the two, some of the Anibandha-nrtyas come from Persia. And the other is Raasa, which includes the form called Dandarasa, the group dances associated with Lord Krishna and the Gopis (NN. 53a-b). Raasa is the only dance recorded by Pundarika which seems to have continued over centuries and is found even today in at least two regions of India, Gujarat and Manipur.
Though the Natyashastra continued to be the authoritative source book, which lays down the basic principles of the performing arts; and, identifies the range of body movements that constitute dancing, in the later times, many works on dancing followed the Nartana-nirnaya’s approach to the categories of dance; and, that eventually became part of their conceptual framework.
The emphasis of the later texts tended to shift away from the Marga of the Natyashastra; but, lean towards the newer forms of Desi Dances with their improvised techniques and structural principles. Apart from increase in the varieties of regional dance forms, a number of manuals in regional languages began to appear. These regional texts provide a glimpse of the state of Dance as was practiced in different regions.
Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:
Bharata’s account represented only a small part of the total body of dance styles of the time. When new styles became prominent in the medieval period they had to be included in the descriptions of dancing. Such a widening of frontiers meant a great increment of technical description in the texts.
The distinction between the Natyashastra and the later texts is not merely one of detail. Of greater significance is the fact that unlike the Natyashastra, the later texts recognize different styles. These are distinct from the one described by Bharata, the main path or Marga tradition of dancing. The later texts concern themselves more and more with other styles, known, generically, as Desi, whose technique and structural principles are sufficiently different from the style described by Bharata…
Thus, the evolution of Indian Dance system is a dynamic process that absorbed new elements and techniques without compromising its basic tenets. It, thus, demonstrates the time-honored Indian principle of growth: continuity along with change.
Now, as regards the historical significance of Nartana-nirnaya; many scholars, after a deep study of the text, have observed that there is enough evidence to conclude that the text marks the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi.
Dr. Mandakranta Bose, in her very well researched paper (The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition ) stresses the historical importance and relevance of Nartana-nirnaya; and , states : This text offers us a major breakthrough in understanding both the evolution and the continuity of the art of dance; because , it enables us to reconstruct the styles prevalent at a transitional period in the cultural history of India.
Thus, Nartana-nirnaya serves as a bridge that spans between the older and present-day traditions of classical Indian dancing.
It was during this period, the Persian influence, through the Mughal Court , entered into Indian dancing, giving rise to a new style of Dance form, the Kathak. This period was also marked by the emergence of the Dance forms that were not specifically mentioned in the Natyashastra – the Uparupakas. This genre of musical dance dramas not only came to be admitted into the mainstream of dancing, but also eventually became the dominant type of performing art, giving rise dance forms such as Odissi, Kuchipudi etc.
Dr. Bose also concurs that such connection seems highly plausible. The text, according to her, was part of the cultural world of the Mughal court that nurtured Kathak. She points out that several technical terms used in Nartana-nirnaya match those used in Kathak today. And she goes on to say:
One important contribution of the Nartana-nirnaya is the evidence we may draw from it to establish firmly the time of the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi. There has always been some controversy about the evolution of these two styles. Dance historians in general are agreed that while the roots of Kathak go back to ancient Hindu culture, its present form is derived from dancing styles imported by Mughal rulers. There is no doubt that Kathak did absorb some Persian influence, but the case for that influence is overstated. This can be easily seen by comparing the detailed descriptions found in the Nartana-nirnaya with the movements of Kathak. The style described in the Nartana-nirnaya is, of course, not termed Kathak, a name that came into use much later, but the descriptions clearly show it to be the same as what we know today as Kathak.
Karya tatra dvidha nrttam bhandakam ca nibhandakam / gatyadi niyamayur yuktam bhankam nrtta mucchyate ; anibhaddam tvaniyamaad..
When we look closely at the technique of the dance described under the Anibandha category, we begin to see certain striking similarities with the technique of Kathak. One cannot say that the style described in the Nartana-nirnaya matches Kathak in every detail. But, one may certainly view that style as the precursor to Kathak; because, the descriptions and the similarities in their techniques clearly show it to be the same as what we know today as Kathak.
The Nartana-nirnaya seems, thus, to be the proper textual source for Kathak. This claim becomes stronger still on examining points of technique….
[The renowned Dancer Smt. Maya Rao in her article “The Hastas in Kathak”, observes
In Kathak, the body as a whole is visualized as the prime medium of expression. For instance; if the dancer intends to represent the moon, not only will his hands show the Ardha-chandra Hasta, but his body will also bend in an arch to suggest the idea of a crescent moon.
The same approach to elaborating and dramatizing basic movements is found in the Nartana-nirnaya. The description of a dance called Lavani includes an almost identical movement in which the dancer bends her body from her waist in Ardha-chandra.
Two of the most distinctive movements of Kathak are Chakkars and Tatkars. A Chakkar is a rapidly spinning movement while a Tatkar means to stamp on the ground with one foot or both; and, marking the rhythm with ankle bells. Chakkar can be identified as the Chakra-bhramari mentioned in the Nartana-nirnaya, which describes it as a spinning movement (NN. 47b).
It is true that the Bhramaris were known long before the time of the Nartana-nirnaya. Bharata referred to them; but did not give them the prominence that they later received in the Nartana-nirnaya. The revolving movements are of course integral to all dance styles; but, in classical styles, other than Kathak, the movements are never fast enough, nor sustained enough to achieve the aesthetic form that a Chakkar creates in Kathak. It is the speed of revolution that sets it apart and it is precisely this element of fast spinning, comparable to that of the pirouette that we find in the description of Chakra-bhramaris in the Nartana-nirnaya.
In its discussion of revolving movements the Nartana-nirnaya also describes Tirapa-bhramari. [NN 47b: Revolving obliquely with both the legs after crossing them is Tirapa-bhramari]. A similar movement termed as Tirapa is used in Kathak as well.
As for the Tatkar, it clearly corresponds with the Gharghara, of which details are given in both Nartana-nirnaya and Sangita-ratnakara.
(NN. 50a) Where striking the ground to make the sound of the ankle bells, it is known as Gharghara.
(NN.52b-53a) Where the song is sung by the dancer in the language of the Yavana, holding her veil, words uttered with kalla etc. and Gajara etc. ; and beautified with Ahahga, the dance should be performed being adorned with various three Layas. When this dance is performed with soft movements adorned by Bhramaris , where the Kriya (keeping time with hands) is done with sounded beat in accordance with the difference between Dhruva and Samya, that dance, which is devoid of effort and action, is known as Jakkadi. Thus, the song sung by the experts from Persia using Udgraha, Svaras etc. and in vernacular is known as Jakkadi which is the favourite of the Yavanas.
This Dace sequence is an almost exact description of the Ghungat-gat, one of the best known compositions in Kathak.
The Nartana-nirnaya describes a certain Anibandha-nrtta as follows:
(NN. 52b) Where [the dancer] contracts one of her toes with the big toe extended, shakes her shank after extending it with various quick [movements] and with Gharghar is [that is, tinkling her ankle bells] it is known as Kudupa.
Precisely this action can be recognized today in Kathak when the dancer beats a fast tattoo on the ground to create rhythmic sounds with her ankle-bells.
Further, in Kathak , Yati or the rhythmic arrangement of the tempo is divided into five categories, sama, srotagata, gopucchika, pipilika and mrdangi. The Nartananirnaya lists the same types of yatis similar in every detail, although it includes a sixth type, kharjurika . Another term, kuvada, used in Kathak to denote the climax of a complex rhythmic pattern is also found in the Nartana-nirnaya.
Such similarities offer good reason to believe that the style described in the Nartananirnaya was something very much like Kathak, since it required musical elements similar to those needed for Kathak. The argument becomes even more persuasive when we examine the specifics of the dance technique. But first let us briefly consider the typical characteristics of Kathak as known today
The correspondence between Kathak and Anibandha-nrtta is important not only for discovering the roots of Kathak but also for understanding the value that came to be attached to improvisation in medieval times. In contrast with the prescriptive nature of the descriptions found in the earlier texts, those in the Nartana-nirnaya and its contemporaries allow the dancer more structural flexibility while retaining the basic movements described by Bharata and his successors.]
As regards Odissi, Dr. Bose observes:
The Bandha-nrtta as practiced in the Odissi style is very similar to the descriptions given in the Nartana-nirnaya. And, the basic standing postures prescribed in the Odissi style: Chauka and Tribhangi. (Chauka and Tribhangi are the two main basic stances in Odissi. Chahka is a stable-wide stance, with weight of the body distributed equally on both the sides; and, the heels facing the centre. It is said to be a masculine posture. Tribhangi, is a graceful feminine posture, with the body bent in three-ways). These are comparable to vaisakha-sthana and Agra-tala-sanchara-pada of the Nartana-nirnaya.
Further, some acrobatic postures that are still in use are: danda-paksam, lalata-tilakam and nisumbhitam (the foot raised up to the level of forehead), and several others are found both in Odissi and in Chau dance of Mayurbhanj region of Orissa. Further, there is in the Nartana-nirnaya, the description of a dance called Batu involving difficult poses; and it is very similar to the Batunrtta, a particularly difficult dance in the repertory of Odissi.
(NN. 53a) When the performer revolves touching the ground either with both the knees or with both the legs describing a circle [while her] back is bent [backwards] with her hands in lata then it is known as batu [and its] movement is like [moving] in the orbit of the sun.
This sequence is one of the twelve urupas described in the Nartananirnaya. Urupas are sequences formed with the karanas prescribed for bandhanrtta and are danced to specified varieties of yati, tala and laya. Specific sthana, cari and hand gestures characterize them. Using these twelve urupas a dancer can reconstruct a composition as described in the Nartananirnaya, which will not be far from what we see being performed by artists today. In Odissi we do find similar compositions. Such close correspondences are now proving to be of particular interest to many dancers and teachers who are trying to reconstruct older dance forms by following the Sanskrit manuals.
Again, there is a correspondence between Odissi and the movements described in the Nartana-nirnaya. The Text describes the use of hand gestures to express seven principal musical notes (Svaras) . Each note, according to the author, is a correlative of a bird or an animal, which is represented by hand gestures, as the following passage explains:
(NN. 20b) Peacock, rain bird, goat, heron, cuckoo, frog and elephant are the seven (notes starting with) Shadja etc that should be recited in order. [Sa=Mayura (peacock); Ri = Chatak (rain bird); Ga=Chag (goat); Ma= Krauncha (heron); Pa=Kokila (cuckoo); Dha = Dadur (frog); and , Ni= Gaja; elephant ].
Before we move on to a brief discussion on the structure and contents of the Nartana-nirnaya, let’s take a look at its author: Pundarika Vittala, a renowned a musician-scholar.
Pundarika Vittala (16th century) describes himself as a person hailing from Karnataka – Karnata Desiya – born in the village of Sathanur, situated near the Shivaganga Hills (about 50KMs from Bangalore).
Karnate Shivaganga abhidana giri nikate, Satanur-hrudaye yo gramasta janma pravarasunikarath Jamadagni yo asmita vamsa
He refers to his father as Vitthalarya (Vitthalayya) of Jamadagni Gotra – (Tarta Vitthalaryo bhavad amitaya sa sadgunakhya; tat suno ragachandrodaya iti bhaja-SC.3, 57)
He gives his mother’s name as Demaka (RJ.2.77) (Demaka janani-nijasuta Vittalakrta Ragamanjarike yam)
The shrine of Vitthala-raya-swami located about ten KMs from the town of Magadi is believed to be family deity (Kula-devata)
Pundarika Vittala was a remarkable link between the Art traditions of the South and of the North. After moving away from his native country, Pundarika Vittala settled down in the North, initially under the patronage of Muslim King Burhan Khan in Anandavalli (near Nasik) in the district of Khandesh. He then moved on to other Royal Courts in the Western and North India.
He was an expert in what is today known as Karnataka Sangita, Hindustani Music, Dancing, Lexicography and Dramaturgy. He later got familiar with Persian Music. He describes North Indian Music forms such as Dhrupad, Jakkari and Raasa etc. He wrote a series of books concerning Music of North India. He exhibits a broader view of the contemporary Arts and their practices in various regions of the country.
While in the Court of Burhan Khan of Khandesh, at Anandavalli, during 1560-1570, Pundarika Vittala wrote his famous work – Sad-raga-chandodaya – having three Chapters titled as: Svara-prasada, Svara-mela prasada, and Aalapi-prasada. It is a very extensive text, covering almost all the aspects of Music. In this work, Pundarika deals with both the Southern and Northern systems of Ragas ; and, classifies them under nineteen Thats or parent scale, viz.: Mukhari, Malava-gaula, Sri, Suddha-natta, Desaki, Karnata-gauda, Kedara, Hijeja, Hamir, Kamode, Todi, Abhiri, Suddha-varati, Suddha-ramakri, Devakri, Saranga, Kalyana, Hindola and Nada-Ramakri.
In this text, Pundarika Vittala introduced; and, almost adopted Ramamatya’s system of 19 Melas (as in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi) to the North Indian Music. He was, perhaps, the first Musicologist to undertake such an exercise. Out of these nineteen original (Mela) Ragas, he attributes five of them to their respective derivative forms (janya-raga). But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas.
Of the 19 Melas listed by Pundarika Vittala, 11 are identical with those mentioned by Ramamatya: Mukhari, Malavagaula, Sri, Shuddhanata, Desaksi, Karnatagaula, Kedaragaula, Abhiri, Shuddhavarali, Shuddharamakri and Nadanamakri. As regards the other eight Melas either their notes are different or their names as well as their names are different (few of them have only one note different). For instance; Ramamatya‘s Hejuri becomes Pundarika’s Hijeja. Similarly Vasanthabhairavi becomes Todi; and, Saranganata becomes Saranga.
His next treatise named Ragamala, was probably, written under the patronage of the Jaipur princes, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas. It is believed; Ragamala was written during 1576 for one Kapila muni (Srimath Kapilamuniyarthe kriyate Raga –maalikah) ,
Here, Pundarika Vittala classifies the Ragas (Raga-Ragini Parivara) under six male Ragas. And, attributes to each Male raga, five Raginis – ‘spouses’ (bharyyas) and five ‘sons’ (Raga putra) — totalling 66 Ragas. He also gives the details related to their Svaras, such as: graha, amsa, nyasa etc. He also explains the Raga structures in terms of: nada, sruti, svara, sthana, grama, murchana, tana, etc.
In all, he covers six Male Ragas – with five Raginis and five Putra (sons) for each Male Raga- totaling 66 Ragas.
Later, when he moved to the court of the Prince Madhavasimha and Manasimha who ruled from Jaipur as the feudatory of Akbar, Pundarika Vittala wrote his third treatise: Raga Manjari .
In his writings, Pundarika Vittala carried forward the work of Gopala Nayaka (14th century) of grafting Karnataka music on to the newly evolving North Indian music. Raga Manjari shows a further leaning towards North Indian Music, although the set of twenty Melas is the same as in his earlier Sad-raga-chandrodaya. He adopts the typical North Indian classification of Ragas as: Male (Purusha), female (Stri) and infant (Putra) Ragas.
But the interesting feature of this work is the recognition of as many as sixteen Persian melodies; and, relating them to the Indian Ragas by their nearest equivalents.
(1) Rahayi – Deva-gandhara (2) Mahur – Saranga (3) Desh – Ahanga (4) Suhaya – Kedara (5) Huseni – Jijavanta (6) Yaman – Kalyana (7) Deshkar – Vakhrej (8) Devangyo – Devagandhara-Mushakakya (9) Kanara – Nishavara (10) Jangula – Bangala (11) Vara – Malhara (12) Danasya – Irak (13) Sarparda – Bilaval (15) Malave – Muslik (16) Asavari – Hijjeja
Most probably, these imported melodies had already secured a place in the then current Indian music of the North; and, the author only confirmed the practice by including them in his work and by indicating their characters by assigning them to their places in relation to the Indian models.
According to the great Scholar Pundit VN Bhatkhande, it distinctly shows that Pundarika Vittala had come into contact with the music and musicians of North India , perhaps in Delhi or Agra, because the names of Ragas he mentions , like Chanri, Gowdi, Musali, Iraq, Bakharej, Yemen, Husaini, and Tirban distinctly belong to that region.
However, the fame of Pundarika Vitthala rests mainly on Nartana-nirnaya concerning Dance and dramaturgy, composed, in the sixteenth century, while he was in the service of Emperor Akbar.
By the time of Akbar, the Persian art and music had vastly influenced the cultural life of India, particularly the milieu surrounding the Mughal court. Though the regional traditions did exist, the Persian tradition was the dominant one.
Pundarika Vitthala, while in the Mughal Court, had the opportunity to watch, to appreciate and to enjoy excellent presentations of the Persian oriented dances and music. He also had the privilege of discussing varied issues related to Art with the Persian scholars and connoisseurs attached to the Royal Court.
The Nartana-nirnaya, an authentic text on dance and dramaturgy, written in a variety of metres (chhandas), has four chapters, one each on, rhythm (259 verses); drum (116 verses); vocal music (579 verses); and, on Dance (the largest, with 916 verses).
And, at the outset, Pundarika states that along with the various regional styles of dancing he would be describing the dance of the Yavanas, (meaning, the Persians). Pundarika Vitthala, with great sensitivity, lays down a framework for bringing about structural changes in the fields of Indian Music and dance.
The Nartana-nirnaya is indeed a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Oddisi – that are prevalent today. But, it is sad that Nartana-nirnaya has not received the level of attention and depth of study that it rightly deserves.
In the next part, let’s take a look at the structure and the contents , in brief, of the Nartana-nirnaya.
Sources and References
The primary source on which I have depended upon is Nartana-nirnaya (in three volumes) edited and commented upon by the renowned scholar Prof. Dr. R. Satyanarayana. For Volume One, please click here. For Volume three please click here.
For more on Nartana- nirnaya and other texts on Dance forms ; as also for the details of the few mentioned here , please do read Dr. Mandakranta Bose’s research paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition
Also refer to Pundarika Vittala by Dr. Padma Rajagopal
ALL IMAGES ARE FROM INTERNET