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Maratha contribution to Bharatnatyam – Part II

Niranjan Bhombe

Rishikesh Shinde

12 December 2022

"Let’s pick up from where we had left off in the first part of this blog that studies the history of...."

....the Maratha contribution to Bharatnatyam – The Oldest Classical dance form of Bharat.

Tukkoji :( 1728-1736)

Tukkoji was a good linguist. He is also credited with having introduced Hindusthani music in Thanjavur. He had a strong understanding in various academic disciplines and was an authority in a variety of topics, including politics, jyotisha, ayurveda, and dharmashastra. He is well-known for writing Sangita Saramrita. Significant work on music theory and practice was done at the time. Nrittaprakarnam, the chapter devoted to dancing, is also included. Tulaja-I was a brilliant musicologist as well as a talented Yakshagana composer. Rajaranjan Vidya Vilas Nataka and Shivakamasundari Parinay Nataka demonstrate their expertise in the dance world. The Telugu-language Yakshaganas, which are interspersed with scholarly darus, help readers visualize the emotional content of the theme because they achieve the ideal balance between lyrics and music, demonstrating King Tulaja's prowess as a playwright. In the play Rajaranjan Vidya Vilas Nataka, six enemies—lust, money, anger, infatuation, miserliness, and intoxication—that stand between a person's soul and the highest are defeated. The names of the ragas are perfectly matched with the characters appearing in the darus, which is a very distinctive aspect of this drama. Ex: Daru performs a raga version of Moha. Anandbhairavi, joy. This demonstrates his ability to choose ragas quickly and effectively to convey the significance of darus. Additionally, he has written a number of padas in Marathi, Telugu, and Sanskrit.


Ekoji II: (1736-1737)

He was proficient in Telugu, Marathi, and Sanskrit. His classic works include the Vigneshwar Kalyanam and Tyageshwar Kamalamba Parinava Nataka. There are 86 padams in total, all of which are exceptional and have themes like Shringara, niti, and bhakti. He was Tukoji's oldest child. Despite the tumultuous surroundings and internal fights for the throne; the cultural essence of Tanjore was preserved by Ekoji II. He was a generous patron, and his court was decorated with dancers of the highest kind.


Pratapsingh :( 1739-1763)

He was the strongest intelligent king of Thanjavur Maratha kingdom. His rise to power followed three years of anarchy and civil war and restored the state to its previous greatness. His reign witnessed the Carnatic Wars and the Seven Years War. He supported the Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, and Sanskrit languages, and his court was filled with erudite men and composers. His court poets wrote a number of sallamdarus in his honour. He was a renowned Marathi scholar who made a substantial contribution to the language's literature. His best Marathi works include Krishnamanjari, Ramadinacharya, Madanasanjivani (a treatise on sexology), and Uma Samhita.


Tuljaji :( 1763-1787)

Being one of the most generous king of Thanjavur Maratha Kingdom, he had supported a number of Telugu, Sanskrit, and Marathi poets.

As the musical trinity of Sri Tyagaraja, Sri Shayamasastri, and Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar existed during this time and generously contributed to the lakshana and the lakshya of Carnatic music with their magnificent works, the time of Tulaji and his son Serfoji was an Augustan age of Carnatic music. The growing English influence also did not stop him to give royal patronage to the literary work. Bhagavatamela Natakas received full patronage at the hand of both King Tuljaji and Serfoji – II. Separate Bhagavatamela troupes were attached to the court. The expenditure incurred for the maintenance of these artists were met from the royal treasury.


Serfoji II :( 1787-1832)

In the history of pre-Victorian Bharat, Serfoji's name often pops up at the first instance. He was a great savant and humanist, a man who was far ahead of his times. During his time, Thanjavur was one of the most developed princely states in the Indian subcontinent. While many rajahs were engrossed in fighting and civil wars, Serfoji ushered in an era of peace, prosperity and scientific development and pioneered new administrative and educational reforms. He was the last ruler of the Bhonsle dynasty of the Maratha Principality of Tanjore to exercise absolute sovereignty over his dominions. He ruled Thanjavur until his death in 1832.


Serfoji - II occupies a significant place in the history and development of Sadir dance. His court was remarkable with the confluence of many eminent Nattuvanars, composers, musicians and dancers whose creative energies fostered the development of Sadir and marked the period of most innovative and distinguished annals of Bharatanatyam. The artistic and intellectual atmosphere of the Tanjore court was further illuminated with the Tanjore Quartette. Separate Bhagavatamela troupes were attached to the court. The expenditure incurred for the maintenance of these artists were met from the royal treasury. He occupies a significant place in the history and development of Sadir dance, presently known as Bharatanatyam. He was a great patron of art and literature and encouraged numerous scholars, poets of different branches to maximize their outputs.


He himself a scholar in almost all disciplines, was a distinguished king endowed with such high encyclopedic knowledge in different subjects that he seems to have been truly blessed by muse in learning. His erudition in different sciences, ingenious composer, multilinguist, architect of internationally renowned library. The “Thanjavur Maharaja Saraswati Mahal Library” is a literary treasure house of knowledge, richest collection of innumerable manuscripts of rare merit, bulk of valuable treatises and book on varied disciplines – music, dance, literature, grammar, medicine, ethics, astrology, yoga, Kama sutra, math, philosophy, architecture in different languages – Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and Marathi. This library was built in his reign.


The king was skilled in foreign languages as well as oriental languages, including French, German, Latin, Italian, and English. Kumara Sambhava Tika, Mudrarakshasachaya, Smriti sangraha, and Smritisarasamuchya are some of his well-known works in Sanskrit. Ganesha Lilarnava Nataka, Ganesha Vijaya Nataka, Ganga Vishveshwara Parinay Nataka, RadhaKrishna Vilas Nataka, Shivratri Upakhyana Nataka, and many other of his Marathi compositions are there. His impact on dance and music is tremendous. The kirtankaras in Harikatha Kalakshepa made extensive use of Marathi-originating musical styles including ovi, abhang, sakhi, dindi, and nirupanas. All of the characters in Serfoji II's nirupana were performed by a single dancer, and occasionally by two or three.


It goes without saying that the king himself was a dazzling star, and the court was constantly brimming with esteemed philosophers and poets of the highest kind. The Trinity of music and the Augustan age of Carnatic music are the names of his era. Tanjore was home to Tyagaraja, Shayamasastri, and Mutthuswami Dikshitar during his rule. These musical prodigies helped a number of ragas evolve, and it was under his reign that the musical style Kriti became widely famous. A large flood of singers, scholars, and artists from all over the world arrived under his rule. He was naturally achievement-oriented, always thought highly of artists, and believed that any presents he gave them in appreciation paled in comparison to their abilities. This shows his humbleness towards artist and above all his unstinted devotion for arts. He also maintained amicable relationships with Maharaja Swati Tirunal of Travancore who too was a true votary of arts and literature.


Lavani which is a folk dance of Maharashtra is performed during socio-religious festivals; during his reign Lavani were also written in Tamil. During his sojourn to Banaras, he made a good collection of rare manuscripts, inaccessible anywhere, in return to his precious jewels. Lavani, Dummy horse dance, Pinakolattam, Modi dance, Kanchin etc. were highly encouraged by the king. This shows the king’s interest in these arts which gained high popularity along with their classical counterpart. Several Natakas produced from the royal pen and court poets of Maratha kings were especially enacted during important festivals like –Vinayak Chaturthi, Navaratri, and Diwali and so on. Sarvanga Sundara Natakam, Panchabhasha Vilas Natakam, Subhadra Kalyan Natakam, Rati Kalyanam Nataka are a few to name which were enacted during festivals.


The king himself was an expert of both Indian and Western music. He was credited with the formation of Tanjore Band which gained high popularity and appreciation from various people during his reign. Many of the winged and stringed instruments like clarinet, violin came to be utilized for 1st time in South Indian chamber music and Sadir dance. The concluding charana svaras of some varnams produced during the period were called Notu svaras indicating the impact of English notes of the band music on Carnatic music. Such was the deep influence of Western music on the king. On the request of Governor of Madras, he sent his Tanjore band, for a special program and it is said that they received the highest approbation from the governing forces who lauded the king for his exemplary creative ideas and egalitarian outlook. Serfoji composed many songs with European staff notation for the Indian ragas which is recorded in several music books specially maintained by the king himself. It was at the king’s request that several European instruments – Harp, Clarinet, Bagpipe, Harpsichord, Pianoforte, Brass Horns, Concert Trumpet, Tambourine and Organ were supplied from London. Because of the Western influence many European instruments got added to the Indian band and Western dance on par with Sadir and Hindustani Nautch was also encouraged in the court.


At Serfoji II’s funeral, a visiting missionary, Rev.Bishop Heber observed:


“I have seen many crowned heads, but not one whose deportment was princelier.”


Shivaji II :( 1833-1855):


He was the only surviving son of Serfoji II. We have few dramas and Panegyrics from his reign. He patronized poets and scholars and encouraged the writers to bring more books. During his period, the temple arts like music, dance etc., flourished. He also showed keen interest in the upkeep and developments of Sarasvati Mahal Library. One Varahappaiyar prepared a catalog for all the manuscripts.  This titular dignity of the Rajah became extinct on his death without an heir. The Marathas under Shivaji I and his successors had evolved a system of administration, which prevailed in Maharashtra.  The Marathas of Thanjavur did not introduce the typical Maratha administration in the conquered territory, but put a veneer of their own innovations out to an essentially local set up.


Padmashree awardee Classical vocalist Aruna Sairam explained the process: "A wonderful thing that the Marathas did when they started ruling over Thanjavur, was instead of trying to eradicate the local prevailing culture, they added to it. The Marathi influence was seen in so many spheres – notably music, dance and painting. They learnt Telugu themselves, commissioned works in Telugu, and composed themselves.


Thanjavur Maratha kingdom gave an enormous contribution to the field  of literature and music which had  helped evolve Indian classical dance forms, music & literature till date.Several hundred "Tanjore Maharashtrians" continue to live in the city to this day,demonstrating the complete blending of the two cultures.Together with the Bhosales,they had relocated to Thanjavur and established themselves there.Thanjavur Maratha Kingdom can always be remembered while defining the expansion of Maratha Empire from cuttack to Attock & from Thanjavur to Peshawar.





1) The Maratha Rajas of Tanjore' by K.R.Subramanian, 1928.




3) Srividya Natarajan, Another Stage in the life of the Nation - Sadir, Bharatanatyam.







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