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The Nartananirnaya is the major work of Pandarika Vitthala, the versatile author of Medieval era, who addressed the performance tradition in pan-Indian perspective. Under Kalamulasastra series, IGNCA has brought out this text critical edition. In the Foreword, Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan explores the content historicallly and address the context in the perspective of ever continuing Indian tradition.


The Nartananirnaya is the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth volumes in the Kalamulasastra series of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. The Nartananirnaya by Pandarika Vitthala is important from many points of view. It is written by a scholar-musician from Karanataka who is at home with developments of the two arts in the North, particularly the courts of Man Singh, Madhava Singh and possible, Akbar.


In the Foreword to the first volume of the Brhaddesi, I had mentioned that the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) is endeavouring to place before scholars and practising artists primary texts in the fields of arts specially, architecture, sculpture, painting, music and dance, in a manner that the insulation between theory and the practice, the textual and the oral, the creative and the critical, can be broken. Within the tradition the two were complementary and there was a dynamic interplay. The scholar-writer codified or systematised the practice, gave the latter a theoretical framework and the practising artists followed the broad categories formulated or enunciated by the theoretician. Also it is clear from a careful perusal of these texts, specially of architecture, sculpture, painting, music, dance and drama that two parallel lifelines were sustained. One, a pan-Indian or universal and the other, regional. Also, we observed that the Brhaddesi was the first to clearly identify two levels, namely, Marga and Desa.

Elsewhere I have drawn attention to the fact that the textual tradition can be divided in terms of chronology into the pre and post Natyasastra period to the Sangitratnakara and again from the Sangitaratnakara to the sixteenth century when many new texts were written in different parts of India. A last period is evident from the textual evidence which is gradually coming to light from the sixteenth to the early part of the nineteenth century. The periodisation has to be further refined by placing Matanga’s Brhaddesi on music and Nandikesvara’s Abhinaya-darpana on dance between the Natyasastra and the Sangitaratnakara.

The Natyasastra, the Brhaddesi and the Sangitaratnakara are the milestones of the Indian tradition, both in theory and pracice for nearly a thousand years. Between the compiling of Natyasastra and the Sangitaratnakara many changes took place and the journey of these changes can be traced to the seminal text of Brhaddesi. It speaks for the first time of the murchhanas and raga. This was a clear departure from the Natyasastra tradition. The Sangitratnakara crystallizes the changes which may have taken place, gives them a theoretical basis by evolving new categories, thus, providing a textual authority for the performances. The Sangitaratnakara, therefore, was as deductive as it was inductive.

The Nartananirnaya, coming nearly 500 years later, is another major historical pillar which is established on the basis of several interesting, often radical, changes, transformations, which were taking place in India in the practice of these arts. Apart from the distinct regional schools mentioned in the Natyasastra in the concept of the pravrttis, of the two levels expounded by the Brhaddesi as Marga and Desa and further elaborated upon by the Sangitratnakara, the categories are modified and sometimes new definitions are introduced.

The Nartananirnaya was composed in a totally different ambience. Now the courts of Man Singh, Madhava Singh and Akbar provided a forum for interaction between the North and the South, of different schools as also influences from outside. Here was a surcharged atmosphere of electicism. In painting, this is reflected in the well-known series of paintings – the Hamzanama, the Akbarnama and the Taikh-e-Khandane-Timuria. In the musical traditions, the emergence of the schools of Dhrupad and all that is understood by the Tansenbani, is recognised. In dance also there was interaction amongst the dancers from Fargana, Tirbizi, and the dancers from Mandu brought to the Court as a result of the defeat of Baz Bahadur. Coupled with this was the inflow of the pervasive rasa tradition from Vrindaban. Pandarika Vitthala, known by several names, was the artist, scholar and author, who must have been spectator-rasika of this phenomenon. At home in Karnataka and in the court of Man Singh, Madhava Singh, possibly Akbar, witness to this eclectics, exposed to the diverse regional traditions, does an impressive and painstaking job of providing, once again, a theoretical base to an alive practical tradition. Thus, once again, as in the case of the Sangitaratnakara, the nartananirnaya is both a deductive as also an inductive text. Soon after the writing of this text, naturally, it influenced the practice in different parts of India. Jugging from the provenance of the Manuscripts, it appears to have travelled to many parts of India and was accepted as the authority for the structural framework of the two arts. The details of technique mentioned in the text are an important source for reconstructing the history of the compositional aspects of Indian music and dance. Pandarika Vitthala, with great sensitivity, lays down a framework in which he takes into account the major categories of tala, instrumental music, specially mrdanga, singing (gayana), dancing (nartana) and dancer (nartaka). Even a superficial glance at the text makes it clear that the author was familiar with the work of his predecessors, specially, Sarngadeva but he was no blind follower. This is as evident in Taladhyaya as it is in the Mrdanga, the Gayana and the Nartanadhyaya. Pandarika Vitthala subscribes to the broad classification of music (sangita), dance (natya, nrtya) of his predecessors. However, it is in the detail of the sub-categories that many new and radical departures are in evidence.

An important feature in the Taladhyaya, for example, becomes evident in his speaking about the muktaya and tihai principle in Tala. Of great significance is the details of the hastas in playing on the mrdanga. He mentions many fingering and stroking techniques. A detailed study of this section would reveal many intricacies in playing the Mrdanga. In dance, the division of bandha and anibandha is new. Important also is his very discreet but important detection of many types of movements in dance. Obviously, by Pandarika Vitthala's time many movements must have come into being, specially in the category of movements, known as the karanas. A careful perusal of this portion of his text clearly shows that 108 karanas had already been reduced to sixteen. Also, it is clear that certain composition had come into being. These compositions have to be clearly distinguished from the structure of dance. It is in this respect that we have to understand the forms that he mentions as the jakkani, the rasa-nrtyam, etc.

Extensiveness of the manuscripts material of the Nartananirnaya is indicative of its influence and the manner in which the text must have travelled to different parts of India, South India and Rajasthan alike. Its connections with Orissa are also obvious. In short, soon after the writing of the Nartananirnaya, apparently, it permeated into different parts of India - East and the West, North and the South.

In the case of Matralaksanam, Brhaddesi and the Dattilam the manuscripts material was meagre. Our editors had to work on a single manuscript or a fragment of the manuscript. In this case, the material was not only extensive, but voluminous. No wonder, many editions of this text have appeared, the latest being of Mandakranta Bose. Dr. R. Sathyanarayana, who has dedicatedly concentrated on texts of music and dance over the last three decades or more, has collated and edited the text on the basis of 15 manuscripts. He has given us a most erudite introduction, focussed attention on the distinctive contribution of Pandarika Vitthala and has compared this text with other works of the same author. Dr. mandakranta Bose in her edition has drawn attention to the connection between this text and the styles of Odissi and Kathak. There is more in this text which invites further discussion, discourse and dialogue between the scholars and artists from the South and the North, as also from Eastern India and the North.


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