Sunday, 4 September 2016

English Story King of Dance

English Story
King of Dance

Chakaara Chanda Taandavam Tanotu Nah Sivah Sivam.
May the One who danced the fierce Taandava bestow on us His auspiciousness.

In an age long gone by, in a clearing of a dense forest of deodhar trees known as Daruka aranya- or Daruka Forest- resided a group of learned brahmins. Their knowledge of Vedic rituals was so deep and their adherence to the practice of those rituals so steadfast that they had acquired tremendous spiritual power over the years. This power, however, both drew from and imposed with greater force rite, routine, knowledge and brute intellect. It engendered supreme arrogance and left no place for individuality, liberty or imagination in their society.

Once, an unusual couple visited this settlement of brahmin sages in the Daruka aranya- a handsome but stark naked yogi carrying a begging bowl made of a human skull and, by the looks of it, his comely wife. They called each other Hara and Mohini respectively. Upon the mere sight of the yogi, all the women of the woods- the wives of the sages- were instantly enchanted and seduced. They were utterly unabashed in admiring his handsome face which bore an expression of reserved interest, his chiselled physique and even his proud manhood, for the yogi Hara was verily the epitome of masculinity. The yogi's companion, Mohini, had a similarly seducing effect on the sages. However, owing to their spiritual prowess, they snapped out of their reverie soon and were consumed by wrath at the yogi for the effect he had had on their wives.

In their rage, they insulted him calling him Bhikshaatana- the personification of mendicancy- and they kindled a great yagna fire to punish this Bhikshaatana for his most unwanted intrusion. Summoning their formidable knowledge of various Vedic rites, the brahmins poured offerings into the fire asking Agni, the lord over all fires, for a force that would destroy the mendicant. Out from the tongues of flame emerged a huge stag and charged towards the foe of the sages. Little did those brahmins know, however, that the one they called Bhikshaatana was also known as Pashupati, the Lord of Animals, in the distant country he came from. Their stag turned docile and playful, abandoning its violent intention towards him the moment it approached him. With his right hand, he fed it grass and it pranced about him like a tame deer.
This somehow intensified the rage of those brahmins, who prayed to Agni for fiercer aid. Then out came a hungry tiger whose roar could strike terror in the heart of the bravest. Bhikshaatana, however, stood unfazed, and as the tiger pounced on him, he brawled with it, pinned it down and flayed it. He then proceeded to drape its skin around his waist like a skirt.
The angry brahmins next extracted the venomous snake Takshaka from the fire and ordered him to destroy Bhikshaatana with his poisonous bite. The tiger-skin clad ascetic smiled as Takshaka slithered toward him, calmly picked him up and wrapped him around his throat like a garland!
Their rage yet unspent, the brahmins of Daruka linked their individual abilities to form a fused corpus of terrible power and summoned a demon from the fire. This demon was in a sense the child of those sages wrought from the fire of ritual and tradition. His form was diminutive and grotesque to behold; symbolizing the deployment of the word of Scripture for destruction, he was thus the very epitome of ignorance, of avidya. Named Apasmara, this dwarf-demon rushed with a raised sword toward Bhikshaatana, who struck him down with ease, stepped over him and began dancing.

It was not a dance of celebration, nor one for entertainment. This Dance conveyed the state of being of the Universe itself. This was Taandava and its dancer was Nataraja, the King of Dance. Gone was his aspect as a mendicant with a begging bowl. In its place now was a form with a pale crescent moon on its brow, long tresses undulating like the waves of an ocean and six limbs, each bearing an implement or a message. The upper right arm played a dumroo- a rattledrum- producing Sound to remind everyone of the rhythm that pervades the endless cycle of creation and destruction. The lower right hand stood in a gesture which has since come to be known as the abhaya mudra. It was Nataraja's statement of reassurance. Fear not, He said, for change is inevitable. That which had stagnated, that which was stifling, that which engendered avidya in the form of the vanquished Apasmara, was suppressed by the right foot of that great Dancer. His left foot was raised to take a new step, poised to leap from a state of ignorance to a state of imagination and enlightenment. His lower left hand gently pointed downward, in the manner of an elephant's trunk, reminiscent of His son Ganesha, to convey the grace that blessed new beginnings. His upper left hand vented out His own great internal fire, the fire of tapa, that burned itself without fuel, like His Dance, which needed neither occasion nor appreciation. His face was the picture of calmness, in complete contrast with His body which moved with grace and fierce vigor; a mind that had accepted change and was at complete ease with the transience of matter. All around Him worlds came into being and burnt with the energy of His Dance. He appeared wreathed in a circle of fire; eternity itself paying its tribute to the Dance that encapsulated the Cosmos.

Not just the sages of Daruka aranya but the denizens of all worlds watched His Dance with awe and rapture for never had stillness and motion met and combined so perfectly. His friend Hari, Himself an accomplished dancer famous as Natanaagara and Natwara, watched mesmerized, having discarded His garb of the comely Mohini. In another age, He too had immersed Himself in dance in a forest, set to the rhythm of the anklets of milkmaids and the tune of His flute. That had been a celebratory dance, celebrating love and life. Indra, the king of devas watched too. A connoisseur of dance, he held regular dance shows by his apsaraas, in his court for his personal entertainment. Nandi, the chief attendant of Nataraja, fashioned a barrel drum he called the mridangam from wood and leather and produced wonderful percussion music on it, inspired directly from the beats emanating from his master's dumroo.

Thus did Hara- literally, One Who Destroys- in His supremely artistic manner, herald a shift from an outlook of ritual and dogmatism to one of change and enlightenment. His Cosmic Dance is a reflection of the Universe itself with mind and matter coming together in a dance of impermanence and transience. It is believed that the sage Bharata, the author of Natya Sastra- a treatise on dance, drama and music- was among the sages of Daruka and drew the inspiration for his work from the movements of Nataraja. It is also believed that Bharatanatyam, the dance form that takes its name after him, is an attempt at reproducing those graceful movements