Dancer on a pillar

Jaya Senapati – The Kakatiya Commander Who Wrote a Treatise on Dance

One of the most interesting characters in my novel, The Sword with the Ruby Hilt, is Jāyapa. His character is based on Jāya Sēnāpati, commander of the elephant force (Gajasādhanika) of the Kakatiyas of Warangal and brother-in-law to King Ganapatideva (1198-1260 CE).

Ganapatideva ruled from his capital in Warangal (in present-day Telangana). During his uninterrupted reign of more than 60 years – in addition to art and architecture – prose, poetry and plays burgeoned and thrived in Telugu. Sanskrit and Telugu were the languages of Ganapatideva’s court.

Ganapatideva went on military campaigns to consolidate his hold over local chieftains. One such campaign was against the island principality of Diviseema, in present day Krishna District. Pina Choda of Ayya family was the ruler of Diviseema. He had three sons and two daughters, Narama and Perama. When Ganapatideva defeated Pina Choda and brought Diviseema principality under the Kakatiyas, he married Narama and Perama. He also brought a very young Jāya, the middle son of Pina Choda, with him to Warangal.

Jāya, raised in Ganapatideva’s household, learnt music, dance and combat. This warrior who was an exponent of the arts wrote Nrttaratnāvalī, a treatise, in Sanskrit, on Nrtta or dance in 1253-54 CE.

Nrttaratnāvalī is in eight chapters. It discusses different forms of dance – Mārga as handed down by Bharata, and Deśī or regional dances. Jāya gives a very detailed account of Nrtta, footwork variations, hand gestures, dance postures, facial expressions, including raising eyebrows, and head movements. The degree of detail is astonishing. The author doesn’t leave anything open to speculation.

Jāya pays attention to the dancer’s costume and jewellery. Orchestra and accompanying musicians and musical instruments are mentioned in detail. Moreover, Jāya lays great emphasis on a dancer synchronising their movements to that of accompanying musical instruments.

No detail is trivial for Jāya. He throws light on several interesting regional dance forms or deśī-nrtta. They are:

*Perani, Prekhana, Sūda-nartana, Rāsaka, Carcarī, Nātya-Rāsaka, Śivapriya, Cindu, Kanduka-nartana, Bhāndīka-nrtta, Ghatisani (?), Cārana-nrtta, Bahurūpa, Kollāta, and Gondalī.

Jāya also gives a detailed account of theatre for dance and how performances aught to be staged. He describes types of theatre by their shape, size and quality of audience and the person presiding over it.

The details include the number of dancers and musicians in a performance. How the main dancer should make their entrance and arrangement of the orchestra. Here’s an interesting fact: three curtains must be lowered (held across the stage by dancers) at specified intervals, after which the main dancer makes an appearance before the audience.

There are detailed instructions about how the king or the principal patron should be welcomed and seated in a place of honour very close to the stage. And how the dancers, musicians and poet should be honoured after the performance.

I find it remarkable that a warrior who held the position of commander in Ganapatideva’s army was also an artiste and connoisseur of dance. He was educated, cultured and well-versed in Sanskrit to be able to write Nrttaratnāvalī.

*Source: p. 35, Nrttaratnāvalī by Jaya Senapati, Madras Government Oriental Series, ed. AA Ramanathan & PK Parthasarathy, 1965