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The Immanent and Immaculate One

August 18, 2021

The non-iconic Rudra of the Vedas was described as Shiva and Shankara in the Grihya Sutra, the Ashtyadhyaya grammar of Panini and Kautilya's Arthashastra in the pre-Christian era. Rudra-Shiva, as a iconic form, was eulogized in the epics and the Puranas. Shiva icons are presented in two forms: lingas (phallic icon) and human. Historically, the lingas on Kushana coins were plain, or one, four or five-faced. The human representation in Uma-Maheshwara and Ardhanarishvara forms occurred long after the first century AD. The post-Gupta era brought in fully evolved Shiva images, such as, Yoga-Dakshina, Vinadhara, Lingotbhava, Samhara and Bhairava. According to the Agama treatises, lingas could be Swayambhu (already existent) or manmade. The main five aspects of Shiva sculpted were: Vamadeva, Tripurusha, Aghora, Sadyojata and Ishana.

Among the anthropomorphic representations, the Urdhareta images have been carved artistically in the early Christian millennium. Shiva, as a master of yoga, music and dance is known as Dakshinmurti. The latter is manifest as Yoga Dakshinamurti in the Kumayun Himalayas. Vinodhara Dakhinamurti has been widely, though varyingly, sculpted all over the land. Vyakhana Dakshinamurti abounds in Jageshwar and near about. The Nataraja Shiva - as the supreme dancer - is mentioned in the Shaiva Agamas in turn of the second millennium in South India in one hundred and eight karanas transforming the physical form into cosmic upheaval through Ananda Tandava, Gauri Tandava, Sandhya Tandava and the like. Kalyana Sundaramurti stems from the marriage ceremony of Shiva and Parvati, sculpted tenderly following the Agamas.

Satyam Shivam Sundaram was a thematic Kuchipudi solo performance, presented online, by Dilip Diwakar, a Kuchipudi artist from Chennai and the senior disciple of Guru Sailaja. The theme of the presentation was a holistic appreciation of Shiva, as stated in the introduction: "Understanding that eternal reality which causes the Satchitananda. The Linga Purana states, 'the non-characterized is the root of characterized'. This characterized is endowed with the senses, which are of five -- color, smell, taste, sound and touch, and is called as Prakriti or Pradhāna or Shakti. On the contrary, that which is devoid of everything is the non-characterized, called the Purusha or Shiva, which is the substratum to the Prakriti. From this union comes the intellectual identical self, Atman/Brahman, the inside/outside. In turn, this trifurcates as 'truth, consciousness, bliss', 'Sat, Chit, Ananda', leading to Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram, the sublime nature of Lord Shiva." After such a profound introduction, one approaches the performed narrative with some trepidation, expecting a comprehensive enunciation of various manifestations of Shiva as visualized in sculptures through the ages, as very briefly mentioned above. In an over-70-minute presentation, one is occasionally left wondering whether he got a thorough initiation from his choreographer and mentor into this prerequisite. And one does wonder as to which Shiva iconic form allows him to don a thoroughly feminine makeup: complete with garish red lipstick, elaborate eye decorations and even using copious alta (red lac-dye) under both feet, to re-imagine the austere masculine countenance of Shiva!

Dilip begins his sojourn towards "a brilliant linga: the incomparable, inexplicable, indistinct power, the Ultimate Reality" with a Mallari in raga Nattai and tala adi. As is known in Bharatanatyam, Mallaris are invocatory items coming in varied forms and talas, generally set to raga Gambhira Nattai. While there should be no sahitya (lyrics) in a Mallari, it is the thavil artiste who begins the alarippu 'tom tom ta tom tom ta, kuntakuntakum, kuntakuntakum' and then the nadaswaram artiste renders the raga elaborately. Dilip's Mallari seems to follow somewhat the Bharatanatyam pattern but adds a lyric that subtly cascades by reciting in vritta (circularity) the chosen theme.

The second item is abhinaya with a song by Dayananda Saraswati, Dakshinamurte Amurte... in raga Ranjani and tala adi, preceded by a shloka by Adi Shankara: Mauna Vyaakhyaa Prakattita Parabrahma Tattvam Yuvaanam... (He is that profound silence, which awakens the knowledge of that Ultimate Supreme). This is danced very well with elaborate angika abhinaya, emphasizing the transcendence from silence to sound and vice versa. Yet many nritya hastas appear closer to Bharatanatyam than Kuchipudi and this seems to be a recurring feature of an otherwise competent and well-researched performance.

Dilip does substantiate his research by affirming, "Each time the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution happens, the primal seed turns into the golden egg, from which Brahma evolves and creates, Vishnu preserves, and Rudra annihilates. This repeated 'Jagatkaranam' is performed by Shiva, the endless- the infinite. These three activities apart, Shiva carries out two other - a total of five -which is the reason for him being called Panchabrahma: Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Aghora, Tatpurusha and Isana. This aspect of five in itself has a myriad of attributes, including Shiva's five faces: deputed lord, power, time, sphere and much more.The five attributes are the five acts of Siva Nataraja, Lord of Dance, proclaims Raurava Agama from Saiva Agama scriptures. The drums in the upper right arm represent the primal sound, the creation (srishti); the abhaya mudra in the lower right hand the preservation (sthithi); the fire in the upper left arm the dissolution (samhara); the right foot on the Apasmara the obscuration (tirodhana); and, the lifted left foot the revelation (anugraha)".

The third item in the presentation is a Dhyana Shloka of Shiva Stuti by Adi Shankara, followed by a composition by Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Neelakantham Bhajeham..., in raga Kedaragaula, tala rupaka. An admittedly strong point of Dilip is bringing out a large number of myths and legends on Shiva. As for instance, Dikshitar in his song has eulogized Shiva who is in the form of Swayambu Linga of Tirukulitalai Balakuchambasahita Sri Kadambavananatar. He has incorporated two legends associated with this temple. The first one from Sthala Puranam is about Brahma asking salvation from Shiva as he feels dejected with his duty of creation, thus attaining it by worshipping Shiva in the temple. The other is the legend of Shiva protecting the Sapta Matrikas (the seven divine mothers). Since Goddess Durga is worn out in her battle against the demon Dhumralochana, she summons the divine mothers. He escapes and hides in the abode of Sage Katyayana, who is deeply engrossed in meditation. Mistaking the Sage to be the demon in guise, the divine mothers slay the sage and become the subjects to the sin of Brahmahatya (killing a Brahmin). They seek refuge under Shiva and thus get absolved of the sin. The choreography has some intricate twinning of two main aspects: the eternal manifestation of Shiva as linga -- pertaining to the theme -- and the historical context of the song dealing with the temple at Tirukulitalai and its legends.

The penultimate item is Sapta Tandavam in Ragamalika and Talamalika, As is well-known, Tandava, the vibrant and vigorous dance, according to Natya Shastra, was performed by Tandu and hence the name. Shiva and Tandava are synonymous and his Sapta Tandava symbolizes the magnificent beauty and extraordinary bliss of Panchakritya: srishti, sthithi, samhara, tirodhana and anugraha. Dilip attempts to visualize aesthetically the seven aspects of Tandava as Kalika, Gowri, Sandhya, Samhara, Tripura or Vijaya, Urdhwa and Ananda. There is again little to distinguish his Kuchipudi from Bharatanatyam.The finale is a Tillana set in raga Suruti and tala adi set at a vigorous pace, concluding with a Mangalam.

The concept and the lyrics - very aptly composed -- are by Pappu Venugopala Rao, while the music is by S Rajeshwari. Choreography is by Sailaja and Jaikishore Mosalikanti. The program is by courtesy of The Hindu. One last word - some touch of symbolism about Shiva's striking couture could have been suggestively incorporated in the aharya, and not entirely lost sight of, in an exclusively thematic program such as this.

Dr. Utpal K Banerjee is a scholar-commentator on performing arts over last four decades. He has authored 23 books on Indian art and culture, and 10 on Tagore studies. He served IGNCA as National Project Director, was a Tagore Research Scholar and is recipient of Padma Shri.

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