- Padmaja Suresh, Bangalore
March 4, 2009
The common coining of NATYA YOGA as synonymous with dance forms such as Bharatanatyam is since ages, not without sufficient ground. The dance experiment leads to an incomparable experience. 'Nat' means to act. A Natya exponent represents histrionically, various characters, situations, stories, emotions, events, legends, epics, heroes, heroines and so on. The presentation is an 'acting' combined with dance and music. The objective is to spread knowledge, educate and enlighten the people with added attraction of melody, rhythm, dance and drama.
Most of the performed dance lyrics are popular verses of saint poets of later times like the Bhakti cult era. Sanskrit plays of ancient origin, devotional songs and Natya repertoire songs composed by eminent classical musicians are rampantly used for dance and drama performances. Contemporary Bharatanatyam is practiced as Natya Yoga, a sacred Hindu meditational tradition by the traditional, orthodox schools.
The origin of Natya being one of religious spirit and the fact that Indian dance forms started from temples makes it natural for this to consist of religious and spiritual allegorical presentations primarily. Although its significance according to the Natya Shastra is linked to everyday life representation encompassing nature, beauty and various characters, its 'sine qua non' is the sublime unification of individual and Universal spirit.
The symbolism of the dance of Shiva (in the form of Nataraja) is represented by 'Ananda Tandavam,' the joyful, ecstatic, blissful dance of the cosmos. Shiva's arms: One holds the 'damaru,' symbol of creation through the primordial sound; one hand makes a blessing and protective gesture. In one, he holds the purifying fire, a symbol of transformation; with the other, he holds the serpent showing that He is the Master of Yoga. While the sun and moon are His right and left eyes, His third eye - the Inner eye - begets the fire of birth and dissolution. His left foot, lifted up, evokes liberation and salvation, while his right foot crushes the ego.
Yoga is the yoking and joining of these levels in an ascending order - a movement from the physical to the metaphysical. It is generally translated as "union of the individual atma with Paramatma, the universal soul." This may be understood as union with the Divine by integration of body, mind, and spirit. Yoga may include love and devotion (as in Bhakti Yoga), selfless work (as in Karma Yoga), knowledge and discernment (as in Jnana Yoga), or an eight-limbed system of disciplines emphasizing meditation (as in Raja Yoga). While the guide to Natya (dance) Yoga, the Natya Shastra, was written by Bharata Muni, Sage Narada along with Gandharvas were the first to practice Natya Yoga, which comprise all the four main yogas.
In dance, these divinities are accessed in first person by taking on their characters, roles, episodes and events, in second and third persons by treating them as fellow humans with feelings of love, anger, fear, disgust, humour, wonder, courage, compassion either addressing them directly or communicating about them to others, all through their songs in praise and awe as well as songs containing any other element as the theme. The dividing line between the dancer and the character vanishes for sure but comes back when another scene or character is portrayed or when the entire spectacle ends. In some dances, the dance drama extends to more than a day and continues and the artistes are expected to follow some decorous rules during the course of the event in order to get well energized.
In Bharatanatyam, the artiste dons many images and returns every time from role to role and has to maintain the involvement in many parts with equilibrium throughout. It is with years of good practice that one transcends and sees the oneness below the surface. It is not an exaggeration to say that a good dancer performs the Tantri's role of worshipping with mudras and offering the self before the Lord as the Yogi, the body harnessed as the Yantra here. Natya Yoga practiced with sincerity and involvement can and does actually bring about an elevation of the Chakras (energy circles) on the practitioner and some of the enlightened audience who are sensitive and within good vibratory fields, especially those already familiar with these subtleties.
The Natya Shastra implies a theory of aesthetics. Bharata speaks of artistic expression and communication. Without explicitly stating it, Bharata makes it clear that what he has set out to do is to present a universe of name and form (naama and rupa) of the physical, the body, senses and speech, which will match intuition and meditation, ritual and sacrifice. Male and female principles, matter and spirit, energy and consciousness are all in play during this dance. Ardhanareeswara concept in dance represents the oneness, equality, complementariness of Prakriti and Purusha (Sankhya philosophy). The duality between male and female only exists in form and this unites to become one whole formless self finally.
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. THAT I AM (Tatwam Asi) is the highest realization that can come with Natya Sadhana, a feeling of being One and the same, yet different... different yet one and the same - this TRUTH can be observed repeatedly while, say for example, a Bharatanatyam dancer is in action and is depicting the polarities like soft and fierce, big and small, beautiful and ugly, man and woman. The artiste reaches far and wide and serves the purpose of sages and worshippers through the art itself, an art which is a Yogic discipline like Tantra with scientific connotations and applications but is more popularly used due to its appeal to the fine and subtle senses and the mind.
Bharatanatyam dancer/teacher Padmaja Suresh has been trained by prominent gurus in dance, music, choreography and nattuvangam. She hails from a family of renowned artistes - her great-grandfather Kalamandalam Maddalam Vengichen and father Chakyar Koothu K K Rajan. She holds degrees in Commerce, Law, Diploma in choreography from Guru Maya Rao's Natya Institute, a Masters in Philosophy. Her institution Kalpataru Kalavihar imparts training in classical dance and music and has a charitable wing Kalachaitanya for propagating arts for underprivileged children.