Shiva Nataraja, the God of dance.

The symbolism of the dance of Shiva is represented by the attitude called "Ananda Tandavam". Shiva has four arms : one right hand holds the "damaru", symbol of creation through the primordial sound; in one of the left hands, the purifying fire, symbol of transformation; the other right hand makes the reassuring gesture; the other left hand, the protecting gesture; his left foot, lifted up, evokes liberation and salvation; his right foot crushes the demon of ignorance and evil.

Bharata-Natyam is one of the most important and perfect among the eight Indian classical styles of dance. It is practised throughout the South of India, and particularly in the Tanjavur region. Bharata- Natyam is the most faithful style in relation to the rules enunciated in the "Natya Shastra", which is a treatise about drama, dance and music written around 2'000 years ago by the sage Bharata Muni. One has only to observe the thousands of sculptures of the temples to note the similitude of the attitudes of the dancers in stone and that of dances of today. Indian dance is above all religious and, in the past, was performed strictly in the temples by the "devadasis", female dancers who were attached to the temple hereditarily and dedicated to the God since childhood. Bharata-Natyam has disappeared from the temples and is now performed on the stage. In the past a dance offering was a part of the daily ritual and was the most important act of devotion, as is explained in the Indian sacred books : "no prayer, no offering is more agreeable to God".

This pose represents God Shiva holding the moon in his hair
It is a dance for a soloist and its very difficult technique requires many years of practise. It brings every muscle in the body into use, those of the face included : the "abhinaya", expression of the emotions and feelings, by means of facial expressions is essential in every Indian dance style. Bharata-Natyam requires vigour and grace, balance and suppleness, a great physical endurance and a faultless sens of rhythm. The mouvements are ample and precise, always symetrical. The technical vocabulary comprises jumps, spins, and balanced attitudes. There are three sorts of dances : purely technical dances, with no other aim than aesthetic pleasure, based on beautiful attitudes and difficult rhythmic patterns ; dances expressing a feeling based on a chosen theme, alternating pure technical dance and "abhinaya"; narrative dances ("padams"), where the dancer mimes, with the help of the symbolical gestures called "mudras", along with expressions of face and body, the most subtle nuances of the invocation song.

This "mudra" is called DARPANA, the mirror. It portrays a woman adorning herself. With her right hand she puts a flower in her hair, her left hand, holds a mirror.

The ancient dance treatise "Abhinaya Darpanam" meaning "the Mirror of the Gesture", says : "where the hand go, the eye follows; where the eye goes, the mind goes; where the mind goes, is the heart; where the heart is, lies the reality of being." This interior reality is not only awoken in the dancer, but also in the audience. Thus, this art which blends with the sacred, brings back to man the feel of his origin. Everything in Indian dance is meaning, deep learning, together with the aesthetic pleasure and joy which it gives.

(Article by Smt Amala Devi)

© 1996 Chandikusum