Dance, Spirituality and Divinity

One can define spirituality as the inner vision to remain connected with the source of life and be peaceful and happy. Spiritual existence and divine life isn’t exactly the same. Also the state of being divine is not merely the belief in God. Divinity is the state of extending pure love to all and seeing the oneness with the higher self.

In this context, classical dance is considered to be of divine origin – as enumerated in the Natya Shastra and in Tamil literary works like Koothanool.

What accords a “divine status” to Dance?

The primary goal of the practice of arts like Bharatanatyam is to align and connect with the principles of energy in perfect fusion with the realm of consciousness. In terms of the Ardhanareeshwara, it is Shiva and Shakti Aikya or oneness with sacred geometry of the forceful Tandava and graceful Lasya, devotional involvement  and aesthetic appeal. This would in turn enhance  transcendence in dancer and spectator, way beyond the mundane. Physical and emotional expression leading to psychical and metaphysical experience makes one expand into the divine.

The question whether these are religious arts can be analysed thus – Based and evolved out of Shaivism, the classical dances like Bharatanatyam are not restricted by religion although it has all along continued to be universal only due to the ageless and timeless Vedic Dharma that has governed it. Same is the case with the arts that have been shaped by Vaishnavism philosophy and ritual.

Bharatanatyam and other dances do constitute a spiritual domain. This ought to be so as sensuous parameters are to be ultimately sublimated in the experience of Rasa which is akin to Brahman Aswada- taste of the eternal Self. This spiritual  Dhwani or throb is constantly vibrating within and without. Dance infact constitutes a form of meditation as it is deeply embedded in sound energy. One gets trained to perform which helps to forget the realms that bind to the lower instincts. Meditation is one pointed concentration which spontaneously happens as we dissolve into other selves as characters and finally sum up or dissolve into resting on peace – Shantam.

Let us examine the divine and spiritual aspects from performer’s stand. It is seen that the performers location does influence the satisfaction/ achievement levels. Different is the feeling of performing in a temple versus performing in a normal auditorium indeed.

Temples are vibratory spaces wherein the life forces have been evoked and preserved. Hence the ambience is conducive to a higher journey through dance both for spectator and dancer. Most poetry themselves were inspired by the deities so all the more the relevance. A modern proscenium needs to get austereley consecrated. The Shastra has unquestionably prescribed the Puja on stage.

Besides this, the order of dance items as defined in a traditional Margam repertoire exerts an influence in the level of spiritual attainment reached through dance. It follows the pattern of temple architecture which replicates within the dance. A typical Margam describes –

the entry into the Gopuram, movement into the pedestals and then sanctum sanctorum to venerate the principal deity with utmost love followed by the other deities in the temple complex and finally a Pradakshina – circumambulation.

The relationship between Bharatanatyam and Yoga is age- old.  Yuj the root of the term Yoga is to yoke oneself and dance in essence connotes the same. Prescribing practical advice on the eight limbed yoga is a forerunner in the Shastra and other texts. Anjali Hasta or Namaskara Mudra as is called in dance and Yoga represents the divine connect between the individual and the eternal ie- Jivatma and Paramatma respectively.

Although timeless and spaceless the world drama gets played on stage while simultaneously, time and space co-exist in these dances.

Through Tala the timeless gets measured in rhythmic beats and through a dimensional stage the spaceless gets demarcated . This is true of all performing as well as fine arts. One is characterised by actual dynamic  movement while other lies in static movement.

Dance, Spirituality and Divinity can be defined as — One is a medium, the second- an end and the last — a blissful state.

About the author

Dr Padmaja Venkatesh (Suresh)

Experienced and noted artiste of Bharatanatyam, teacher, researcher, TV host and social worker, Dr Padmaja holds degrees in Commerce, Law, Diploma in choreography, a Masters in Philosophy and a doctorate. Her institution Aatmalaya Academy, Bangalore imparts training and has a charitable wing Kalachaitanya for propagating arts for lesser privileged and rural children.

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