Dance of the Gods

How divine imageries convey the essence of movement and expression

The influence of the Bhakti movement has been immense in shaping the depth of devotion in the arts. While some classical dances have natural affinity to Vaishnavism , some focus on Saivite themes and others on Sakti. While in the philosophy behind the dance, one can assert the supreme validity of Advaita Vedānta, one has to accept in practice, both the Nityā (eternal substratum) and the Leelā (play of the dynamic phenomena) as aspects of Brahman. The traditional favourites in worship, who are often the protagonists in performing arts are –

Ganeśa, the elephant-faced deity, who is said to remove obstacles on the path of success and devotion; Maheśvara or Śivā, the be-all and end-all of meditation, depicted as the Lord engaged in endless dance with the embodiment of energy, Śakti.

Vishnū and his manifestations in the forms of Rāma, Krishna and other avatārs.

Devi in her three forms of Durgā or Pārvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

Subrahmanya, the six-faced deity known also as Murugan or Kumāran.

Hanūman , Ayyappa and Govinda.

Suryadev, the Sun-God and the other eight planetary Gods, namely, Chandra, Mangala, Budha, Guru/Brihaspati, Śukra, Śaniswara, Rāhu and Ketu.

The Yantra in dance, the body-mind-soul, is our temple and must be revered in every way. The training leads to believe that our body is a pulsating miracle, a beautiful gift from the higher Universe. The entire Universe is said to dwell in our bodies and Nātya Sādhana proves it. The dance becomes spontaneous, unmanipulated and done in surrender.

Coming back to the deities, Ranganātha and Natarāja mean the very same thing, differently expressed. Natarāja is the lord of the stage, so also Ranganātha (Ranga means stage). The stage is the stage of the world, of the cosmos, or better still of the body and the senses. Nandikeshwara describes the dance of Śiva as being depicted in seven forms called the Tāndavas — Ananda Tāndava (blissful); Sandhya (evening dance); Uma (dance with Uma); Gouri (dance with Gouri); Kālika (dance with Kāli); Triputa (dance of the destruction of three cities); Samhāra (dance of destruction). There is a verse in Śivānanda Lahari describing Ananda —the dance of bliss. In that verse, Neelakanta is used for Śiva. Neelakanta also means a peacock, a dancing bird.

Finer interpretation

The peacock’s enemy is the serpent but significantly, Śiva (Neelakanta) is adorned here by serpents. In Subrahmanya or Kārthikeya’s image, a symbolic suggestion lies in the peacock clutching a serpent with its claws. It can destroy the serpent if it wishes to, but the serpent is held here in captivity without being destroyed. The serpent represents the ego, the vagrant mind of man which tempts him to use his material equipments for seeking the fleeting pleasures of the pluralistic world. Although the serpent carries poison in its fangs, it is for its own protection. Similarly, the ego carries with it the poisonous mind, which, when focused on mere material vestures, assumes the vanity of ‘I’, ‘Me’ and ‘mine’. It is important, therefore to note that the ego is not destroyed.

Dance of the Gods

The same mind can be tuned intelligently for evolving oneself, to unfold and recognise one’s real nature. In Kaliya Mardana, the serpent stands for the senses and Krishna, also called ‘Natwar’, the dancer-actor, overpowers them through his dance. In Kundalini Yoga, the serpent rises to the head, Śiva and Śakti unite in the thousand petalled Lotus and Lord Krishna, a Parabrahmaswaroopa, places himself comfortably atop the serpent. The man-woman deity, ‘Ardhanāreeśwara’ indicates that each individual, man or woman is the supreme Prajāpati or the creator and creates a mind-born feminine to function as ‘energy’ for all creative activity who typifies the principles of intelligence and intellect in the individual.

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