Natya's co-relation with the esoteric discipline of Tantra
- Padmaja Venkatesh (Suresh)
e-mail: padmajasuresh@hotmail.com


December 20, 2007

Essentially, Tantra is that belief and practice which is based on the Vedantic principle that the universe we experience is the material, conspicuous and tangible manifestation of the divine energy itself. It is believed that Lord Shiva's philosophy is promulgated in the world through the many Tantras which exist in the form of dialogues between Himself and his Shakti. Almost entirely founded on Shiva and Shakti worship, Hindu tantra visualizes the ultimate Brahman as Param Shiva, manifested through Shiva (the passive, masculine force of Lord Shiva) and Shakti (the active, creative feminine force of his consort, variously known as Ma Kali, Durga, Shakti, Parvati and others). It focuses on the kundalini, a three and a half-coiled 'snake' of spiritual energy at the base of the spine that rises through the chakras until union between Shiva and Shakti (also known as samadhi) is achieved. Tantra seeks to, within a discipline, apply worship, rituals and actions that can contact, imbue, channelise and imbibe that 'macrocosmic' energy, within the human microcosm. These rituals are akin to those in Vedic times.

The human body is certainly one piece of CLASSIC ENGINEERING DESIGNED to enable positive physical and mental and above all spiritual enhancement. It is well upon the individual to understand, utilize and then usher in great sense of fulfillment. The Lord Supreme has gifted us this wonderful YANTRA - our body and we have to neither pamper nor neglect it but to generate, nurture and promote its well-being. This key factor is noticed both in the practice of Tantra and Natya. The relation of rituals to Natya can be observed through the commonality of devotional songs called Bhajans (written primarily from the 14th-17th centuries), Keertanams (devotional songs), and Aarti that are sometimes sung in conjunction with the performance of the puja. Prose, poetry, literature used in Natya are substituted by Mantric incantations, rendered several times in a normal audible manner, sometimes as a solemn recitation and at other times, within the mind in order to emphasize physical silence and raise the spiritual contemplation. The connection between the two -Tantra and Natya - is observed such, that the latter employs the body and the various qualifying and embellishing costumes, ornaments and accessories like stage crafts, sets, properties, make-up instead of the former's YANTRAS. Devotional songs and melodious, rhythmic chants are rendered in the latter while JAPAS, HOMAS, MANTRAS are essential feature of the former. The consecration of the Sanskrit drama playhouse too followed the ritualistic consecration akin to those before construction of temples or places of worship, propitiation to the natural elements and respective deities to ward off obstacles and calamities.

The flavour, RASA is realized only when the life forces and dramatic stories are first appropriated within and then transmitted across to the world around - the Rasikas, Bhaktas and others, in creative, ecstatic and emancipatory ways. The shackles and barriers of the physical and material are destroyed and the Sadhaka transcends to a divine realm and with him also the closely empathizing groups of people called SAHRUDAYA PREKSHAKAS. But as in any other field, a lot depends ultimately on the dedicated 'Sadhana' and devotional temperament whether Tantra or Natya.

Guru and Sishya
The word Guru in Tantra is a spiritual guide and teacher.

The Guru-Sishya relationship is an indispensable part of Vedic and Tantrik practice. A living preceptor, who has already trodden the path successfully is essential for all practice. This Guru-Sishya relationship is a very intimate one and needs to be so for the Sishya's success. Actually it is a two-way process, for the Guru, in turn, is enabled to have a deeper understanding of the disciple and thereby is better able to guide and direct the progress.

Offering obeisance to the Natyacharya by the Shishyas is also traditional and obligatory, as in Tantra practice where the Guru's Pada pooja and Archana is conducted. Teacher-student lineage is indispensable and this 'cycle' is maintained with devotion and passed on (student becoming fit to assume the role of 'preceptor') for all beneficial purposes which ensures the continuity for such divine traditions. Thus Tantra shares many similarities with Natya Yoga.

Analyzing the practised form of tantric worship, a kind of meditative dance can be already discovered on close examination. Tantra and Natya are common to all castes, creed and both sexes. Tantras mudras are few - Natya Hastas are varied. Healing potential of hands in both cases is developed. Yet another important common aspect is the broad based spectra generously giving sanction to all castes - varies and creed and both the sexes to practice these Shastras provided they have the required potential and dedication. This is unlike other Vedic practices only open to Brahmana castes. In Tantra, gratification of senses and material needs without arousing limits of perversity have a definite purpose and meaning too.

From all the above, it is quite obvious that 'dance,' if and when considered as a medium of divine pursuit bears a lot of resemblance or is rather derived from the same grounds.


Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher, choreographer Padmaja Venkatesh (Suresh) is a research scholar, Dept of Philosophy, Mysore University, Manasa Gangotri. She is the Director of Kalpataru Kalavihar, Institute of Performing Arts, Bangalore and the daughter of late Chakyar Koothu Rajan, mono act theater personality.