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The Kakatiya connoisseurs


The Kakatiya dynasty that ruled the Deccan for five centuries patronised some brilliant minds in arts, literature and architecture. A former bureaucrat and a retired professor of engineering are now trying to make sure their achievements are remembered and conserved

Nine centuries ago, in the court of Kakatiya kings in the south, there lived an army officer Jaaya Senapati. By the day he was the commander of the elephant cavalry, but his hours of leisure were spent on a very non-macho pursuit. He was given to writing Sanskrit treatises on performing arts. Two of these were lost, but one, an exhaustive manual on footwork and the body language of dance survived. Nritta Ratnavalli, written by Senapati has finally been translated into English by scholar Pappu Venugopala Rao, bringing alive a lost age, its culture and a man with some remarkable talents. "After working on him extensively I would say that he was an honest man with a sense of humour and pride in his writings, " says Rao trying to put a face to the commanderpoet-rasika. Rao, along with dancer Vilasini Natyam dancer Yadhoda Thakore, recently released the English version in Delhi.

Could the beast commander have been a dancer himself? Likely, so strong is his understanding of dance kinetics. Senapati is among the many brilliant minds thrown up by the Kakatiya dynasty that ruled in the Deccan between the 11th and 14th century. It was a period of tremendous growth in Telugu art and architecture. Some spectacular monuments came up in the region that is present-day Warangal. Many of these still stand strong. This included not just temples and forts but also a cleverly laid-out network of 1, 000 tanks that still quenches Warangal's thirst and irrigates its fields.

Two connoisseurs of the Kakatiya legacy got together a couple of years ago and set up a heritage trust that has been working at showcasing it to the country and rest of the world. Pappa Rao and Panduranga Rao have one big mission in life - to push the Kakatiya zone as a Unesco heritage site. Nritta Ratnavalli was among one of their most recent projects.

"They were really benevolent rulers who spent a lot of time on the three Ts: tanks, temples and townships. A thousand years ago they excelled in both construction technology and engineering policies. They used an amazing technology called the sandboxing to raise these magnificent structures which were held up without any cement, concrete or steel, " says Pandurang Rao, a retired professor of engineering at the National Insitute of Technology, Warangal.
Despite this, years of neglect have managed to inflict some damage on these monuments. The biggest of these are the Ramappa temple, the Thousand Pillar temple and the Warangal fort. But the Raos are clear they don't want to be a two-man army battling the elements to conserve the monuments. They are working, they say, in conjunction with other stakeholders - ASI, INTACH and the local administration - to rebuild the damaged structures using the same technologies that the Kakatiyas patronised.

"It is a civil society initiative to put pressure on the authorities to conserve this heritage. We want to take the idea to everyone, including school and college students so they take pride in it, " says former bureaucrat Pappa Rao. His own interest in Warangal monuments was kicked off when, as a UN official for culture in Kosovo, he got to observe the architecture of the region. "There were wonderful mosques, churches - all destroyed by the war - being reconstructed. And it struck me that we had these wonderful monuments back home that were much older than those in Europe and we were allowing them to fall apart, " he says.
Starting last December a year long celebration of the Kakatiya legacy is on at Warangal. This year, the Ramappa temple also completes 800 years of its existence. The next book on the anvil is on the dynasty by Birad Rajaram Yajnik, a heritage writer.

The Kakatiya reign came to an end when Alauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate raided the region. Many of the clans and chieftains fled to surrounding areas and three kingdoms sprang from the remains of the dynasty. One of these was the Vijayanagara kingdom that managed to outshine the Kakatiyas with the citadel at Hampi. But Kakatiya loyalists will tell you that if it had not been for the engineering skills of Warangal rulers, Vijayanagara would not have been such a grand story.

Yashoda Thakore who incorporated Jaaya Senapati's dance diktats in her presentation Jaaya Vilasam says she is impressed by Senapati's very evolved understanding of dance. "This was no generalised, factory-type dance treatise. It dealt with every dancer as an individual with a different body type. The feet, the shank, the hips how they work for you in twirls, jumps, practice costumes, even spectator behaviour, he went into minute details, " says Thakore.
Venugopala Rao says that the book had to be transalted because it is a chronicle of its times. It tells us about the cultural landscape of the times - the provincial dances, the courtly ones and so on. But Senapati was not coy about his achievements. "If Bharata muni was to come alive today, he would have been pleased with my work, " says a shloka he penned. Clearly, humility was not among the senapati's many virtues. http:// www. carnaticbooks. com

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