Had it not been for the painstaking efforts of Padmashri Dr Nataraja Ramakrishna, the ancient dance form of Perini practiced during the reign of the Kakatiyas would have been lost in the pages of history. The vigorous dance performed to fast paced drum beats had almost disappeared after the decline of the dynasty.
It was only due to his research and subsequent revival that Perini once again showed up on the cultural map. And with the Telangana government planning to declare it as the State’s official dance form, it is set to grow to greater heights.
Starting this year, the classical dance form of Perini will be taught as a subject in government music and dance colleges. For the first time, students will get to study each nuance of the form in a syllabus formulated for a four year certificate course. “After the formation, we always wanted a dance which represented our State, so the first step we took was to revive Perini by identifying the Perini artistes. After many discussions, we procured the relevant audio, video musical records and documents related to the performance style and began to organise training camps and workshops on it. The Perini mega performance by 258 artistes at Lalitha Kala Thoranam in 2016 was part of that effort,” explains Mamidi Harikrishna, director, Department of Language and Culture, Telangana Govt. He adds, that the World Telugu Conference set to take place from October 22 to 28, will witness 1001 artistes performing Perini as an inaugural dance at the proposed venue LB Stadium.
The word Perini is derived from the word ‘Prerana’, it means encouraging or motivating. The dance is now performed in two styles, namely Thandavam performed by male artistes and Lasyam performed by the female artistes. Men perform this before going to war, while the women perform the soothing Lasyam.
“A lot of people say the dance is from Kakatiya dynasty, but according to literary writers, Saranga Devudu and Parsadevudu, it originated before that. Saranga Devudu in his Sangeetha Ratnakara book mentions the dance form reached its pinnacle during their regime, but it didn’t originate then,” says Sangeetha Nataka Academy award winner Kala Krishna and a close associate of Nataraja Ramakrishna.
Narrating a well-known story from the period, he says, “The chief of elephant brigade of Kakatiya rulers, Jayapa was an artist himself, who motivated his army with this dance. The soldiers liked the dance and it subsequently became an inspirational ritual whenever an army headed to war. Some say that’s how it came to be called a warrior dance.”
After the fall of the Kakatiya dynasty following Pratap Rudra II’s defeat in the hands of Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s army in 1322 AD, the art form got neglected. As the once powerful Kakatiya kingdom splintered into different fiefdoms, Perini’s patronage and support declined. Till 1970s, the dance form had not been revived for almost 700 years.
Resurrection of the dance itself was an onerous task and required a lot of research. Ramakrishna had come across mentions of a wartime dance performed only by men to invoke Lord Shiva in Jayapa’s Nritta Ratnavali. Intrigued, he began studying the agama texts and works of scholars Sarangadeva and Sarvanga Bhoopala Yechendra.
With the help of few epigraphers and the archeology department, he visited a few temples in Telangana to gain an insight into the dance. After a careful observation of each sculpted figure, he designed each step. A detailed study of Mridangam player’s fingers in the sculpture led to the jatis (musical syllables).
“From what he observed, the movement was frenzied; from there he deduced the music needed to be in sync with the wartime dance similar to the Shiva tandavam. Rather than a slow build up, the Perini dance begins at a fast beat which remains consistent till the end. The attire was also designed by him,” explains Dr. Suvarchala Suresh, a research scholar and faculty at Telugu University. A student and close associate of Ramakrishna, Suvarchala documented his entire research throughout this time. She says, they have submitted their research to the government, but they continue to discover new elements even now.
In 1973, Ramakrishna started to train men who were blessed with muscular physiques. Recalling his first meeting with the famous dance exponent, Kala Krishna says, “When he first saw me, he said, ‘you learn Andhra Natyam, as I had an androgynous frame’, I followed his advice. He initially taught one person for research purposes to see how it looked and was received by the public. His focus was mainly on sound and vibration. Later on, he took only five people in a batch for Perini. Each morning, they were sent for a gymnastics session before learning the dance.”
Currently, only seven to eight disciples of Ramakrishna remain who know the dance, according to Kala Krishna, chairman of the committee which framed the Perini syllabus. The government on its part has managed to implement everything it promised and more. Many will recall the slogan, ‘Mana kattu, mana bottu, mana bonam, mana bathukamma, mana perini,’ which form the cultural identity of Telangana. And going by the schemes put into motion since then, they have all come through. A dying art form infused with new blood has helped bring an identity to the State. As the saying goes, never suppress something, as it’s bound to bounce back with an even greater force.