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Mysticism in dance
- Padmaja Suresh, Bangalore

December 6, 2009

The divine dancer Nataraja is picture perfect, a symbol of Yogic Chakras in full bloom. The left leg has been raised, an effect of the upward movement of the Apana to unify with Prana, indicative of the emergence of mastery in yoga. It is a unique moment that takes place in the yogi's heart (right-sided one and not the biological heart), resulting in complete cessation of all the activities of the mind. No more turbulence, just transcendence. Nataraja, with his dynamic, throbbing self is this mystery, striking the ultimate dancing posture. When we ponder into the eyes of Nataraja, we are reminded of the Shambhavi Mudra in which the eyes are open but the vision is turned inward. Yet another benevolent, eloquent and meditative form is that of the south facing Dakshinamurti, the silent teacher. The Dyana Mudra where the tips of the thumb and index finger touch each other, the mounds of Guru and Sukra are joined, again symbolic of unity of male and female principles resulting in perfect balance and control over senses. It is interesting to note that some worshippers of the Devi cult of Sri Chakra (the mystical diagram representing creative force of Shiva and Shakti in union) ultimately enter into the state of worship of Nataraja.

Some authors have cited parallels to the conception of chakras in other traditions. There is correlation between the chakras and the kyo shos or pressure points in the Japanese judo (esoteric) as also in the acupuncture points in shiatzu (a therapy from Japan). Kundalini is known to the Kungs in South Africa as "n/um." To the Chinese, it was known as 'spiritual fire' and to the American Indians as 'hurakan.'
A clear insight into the Chakras indicates how the syllables in our dance movements like recitation of nattuvangam for Nritta originated. The beeja/seed Mantras of each Chakra according to Tantric Yoga were very well known and practised by the sages of yore and were absorbed into dances.

1. Muladara Chakra: The Earth Chakra, governing seed syllable (beeja mantra) is Lam.
2. Svadhisthana Chakra: The Water Chakra, governing seed syllable is Vam.
3. Manipura Chakra: The Fire Chakra, governing seed syllable is Ram.
4. Anahata Chakra: The Air Chakra, governing seed syllable is Yam.
5. Vishuddha Chakra: The Ether Chakra, governing seed syllable is Ham.
6. Ajna Chakra: The third eye, seed syllable is Ksham
7. Sahasra Padma Chakra: The Crown Chakra, seed syllable is Om.

Chanting of OM in different pitches awakens the chakras, the Indian musical scale also follows the energy centers. Sa corresponds to the Muladara, Re to the Swadhishthana, Ga to the Manipura, Ma to the Anahata, Pa to the Vishuddha, Da to the Ajna and Ni to the Sahasrara. The music of the unstruck mystic sound called Anahata Dhvani heard by Yogis in meditation, is the bell during worship equivalent to the ghunguru in dance. Yet, the external symbol is only supposed to lead one into the resonance and reverberation of the unheard sound that is absorbed with the Anahata Chakra residing in the heart.
According to the pre-eminent Goethe, while sounds appear, fade and become transient, it's only harmony that endures.

Exactly as in poetry, music, dance and visual arts, the 'unsaid' silent is almost more important that the 'said' and 'sung'. Here it is the most important implicit level which is not explicated. The two levels of the undifferentiated states of oneness, non-duality, and the differentiated states of diversity and multiplicity are connected.

Extracts from Lights on the Path
The Light of Asia, At the Feet of The Master, The Voice of Silence and Lights on the Path by Sir Edwin Arnold, Theosophical Pub. House, Madras.

The Voice of Silence is a selection from the Book of Golden Precepts by H Blavatsky. It is again a daily handbook for every disciple. Referring to the mystic sounds that greet the seeker, the text says:
Before thou sett'st thy foot upon the ladder's upper rung, the ladder of the mystic sounds thou hast to hear the voice of thy inner God in seven manners
The first is like the nightingale's sweet voice chanting a song of parting to its mate.
The second comes as the sound of silver cymbal of the Dhvanis, awakening the twinkling stars.
The next is the plaint melodious of the ocean-sprite imprisoned in its shell
And this is followed by the chant of Vina
The fifth like sound of bamboo-flute shrills in thine ear.
It changes next into a trumpet-blast
The last vibrates like the dull rumbling of a thundercloud
(Page No.406/407)

It is interesting to recollect what an Upanishad (Hamsa) has to say on the subject:
"The sound is of ten kinds. The first is chini; the second is chinchini; the third is the sound of bell; the fourth is the sound of conch; the fifth is the sound of lute; the sixth is the sound of cymbals; the seventh is the sound of flute; the eighth is the sound of mridanga; the ninth is the sound of kettle-drum; the tenth is the sound of thunder."

Energy and consciousness - the dance of Shakti and Shiva
The intensive study on electric energy, electro magnetism, radioactivity, particles, wave theories, quantum physics and so on have over the years led to an undeniable connection between the deepest truths and principles propounded in the sacred Vedas and Upanishads and scientific theories. Kinetic energy manifests in dance.

The intensive state of consciousness can be induced through meditation or religious ritual such as chanting or trance dancing. It is energy that consents to go from word to word, from thought to thought. It is the first moment of will, the initial motion of the spirit, which is presupposed by any form of consciousness. Spanda is the movement, the inner rhythm of the aesthetic experience. There are many investigators who recognize the fact that the ancient Rishis might have possessed a basic knowledge of Spanda, this mysterious energy and that they might have absorbed, transmitted and thus utilized it with unbelievably astounding results.

What perplexes the modern investigators is the apparently peculiar behaviour of this energy. It seems to defy the well-known physical laws. Some investigators suggest that it is neither electrical nor electromagnetic, and that it appears to exhibit certain characteristics of consciousness. It is this consciousness that speaks to the mystics in deep meditation.
Such is the passion of dance - a beautiful form of meditation, especially if one allows the body to pick up the strains of the rhythmic beat, every drum to metamorphose our soul to the heart throb experienced in the mother's womb, bridging one's consciousness of the psyche with the soul. Many artistes feel that solo dancing is always more powerful, unless the whole group's or both the partner's energies are fully in tandem. Religious dances should however not become images of an idolatrous cult but yield a spiritual essence through the coordinated action of making visible, what is invisible and consistent, what is timeless. The intensity revealed bursts forth from the artist's initialized inspiration, which betrays a kind of solitude, at times. The luminosity of the dancer's face and actions would create a striking contrast with the darkness in which the scenario is plunged. Indeed, most virtuoso performers seek to protect their eyes from glaring stage bulbs and flashing cameras, lest they falter in concentration. The vivifying notes of music, incredibly nebulous and trajectory by nature seep into the hearts of audiences, producing osmosis of the audio-visual assimilations.

In Sufism, an offshoot of Islam, this experience is called Fana. The closeness to Vedantic Hindu philosophy is seen prominently and the chants, music and dance, especially the whirling circles of the dervishes, extol the importance of tuning in with the divine sounds. It may be any deity, any prophet, any name given to the consciousness that is experienced. It may be Shiva finally or Shakti finally depending on the faith and cult. Supposing we consider them as the male and the female respectively, it is not the point as it hardly matters whether we attach any gender to THAT unitariness. The fact is THAT remains and a Sadhaka would have tasted supreme joy by knowing this. This powerful, altered state of consciousness in which all sense of the individual and all sense of duality disappears has been described by mystics for centuries. It is the goal of meditation and rituals. Because it is subjective, it cannot be described in terms acceptable to language.

THAT I AM (Tatwam Asi) is the highest realization that can come with Natya Sadhana, a feeling of being One and the same, yet different...different yet one and the same - this TRUTH can be observed repeatedly while, say for example, a Bharatanatyam dancer is in action and is depicting the polarities like soft and fierce, big and small, beautiful and ugly, man and woman. The artiste reaches far and wide and serves the purpose of sages and worshippers through the art itself, an art which is a yogic discipline like Tantra with scientific connotations and applications but is more popularly used due to its appeal to the fine and subtle senses and the mind.

Bharatanatyam dancer/teacher Padmaja Suresh has been trained by prominent gurus in dance, music, choreography and nattuvangam. She hails from a family of renowned artistes - her great-grandfather Kalamandalam Maddalam Vengichen and father Chakyar Koothu K K Rajan. She holds degrees in Commerce, Law, Diploma in choreography from Guru Maya Rao's Natya Institute, a Masters in Philosophy. Her institution Kalpataru Kalavihar imparts training in classical dance and music and has a charitable wing Kalachaitanya for propagating arts for underprivileged children.

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