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The Science of Tantra and the Art of Natya: A co-relative study
- Dr. Padmaja Venkatesh (Suresh)

January 12, 2012

(Guide - Prof. VN Seshagiri Rao, HOD, Dept of Philosophy, University of Mysore)

The term Tantra has a wide connotation. Originally, it must have stood for knowledge which is spread - 'Tantrayate vistāryate jnanam anena' - i.e. by which knowledge is spread or developed. A Tantra Sāstra paradigm (Nātya can also be called as one such paradigm) exemplifies conception of supreme personality of God, the dual aspect when God himself becomes the Universe beyond Purusa and Prakriti - the complete, whole, an undivided 'one'.

Siva promulgates his teaching in the world below in the Tantrās which exist in the form of dialogues between Devatā and his Sakti, the Devi in her form as Parvati. Siva and Uma are again attributed with creation of Nātya at the behest of Brahma who appealed on behalf of the Gods. What is that element, that essence or that principle that connects ONE to the dance, connects dance to LIFE, connects one to audiences, crossing all barriers? Is it the body owning a spirit, that is wanting to express something or is it the spirit that has manifested into this form in order to express? One realizes through this journey that although one may not believe in the Gods which are unique to the various religions, one cannot disagree with what is believed to be the good, positive energy and the presence of consciousness, all these being 'universals.' How has the dance started, its infinite quality, its correlation with Indian philosophy, the Tāntrik and Vedic aspects, the symbolic representation of rituals and worship?

Several books on Tantra have been written which interestingly expand the scope of the subject and obliterate unwanted premonitions. Every letter of such books makes us want to devour the vast wealth of our knowledge and hunger for more. There is a sort of an unquenchable thirst to know and know again....WHAT IS 'THAT' WHICH IS KNOWN BY THE MYSTIC? The brain does its job of assimilating in this manner, laying the academic platform, doing the tough analysis of subjects and drawing impressions. But CAN THE BRAIN ALONE LEAD ONE FINALLY TO THAT? Not really... no... it cannot as it just does not have that acumen. The music starts, the movement begin, accelerates, gathers momentum and despite all gnawing desires to know, one cannot hold on to any desire any further when one merges with the music which becomes a beautiful wave. The feet act instinctively and spontaneously, the tinkling bells on them ring loud into the ears like a reminder that they are now on a divine journey. Are they like the bells at the altar?

The biological heart no longer belongs to the dancer as she became someone else, felt him or her inside and moved around in this new character's role to perform myriad emotions, fleeting across the entire being as she swung her arms, turned, pirouetted, slid, swirled, stretched and stamped her feet swiftly according to the rhythm, the moods, the stories. Finally, SOMETHING lands into her being while she continued to dance in the world of stars and played in the astral realm. She simply feels it filling her whole being and becomes the Shanta Rasa, a feeling of nothingness, emptiness, zero. This zero happens within, it is a complete zero and it remains the only truth. The world seen by the biological eyes disappears and is absorbed into the frame itself. The natural elements seem to vibrate from within, the sky made the dancer agile, the water made her buoyant, the air made her light, the earth made her firm, the fire made her sparkle..... Is it what is known in ritual dancing, trance dancing, including dances like Bharatanatyam which originated as a ritual itself? Similarly, the Tantri (the temple worshipper using Tantra as integral part of worship) unifies with the innate spirit of the deity worshipped.

Hence, the thesis to co-relate the two wonderful streams. It is important to convey the wealth of our land and culture. The underlying truths are getting eclipsed by the jet age culture.

In the thesis, chapter one deals with Antiquity and Meaning of Nātya and Tantra while chapter two describes the Process, Practices and Methods followed in the two fields. Starting from Tantra origin, traditions, relation between Tantra and Vedas, History of Tantra, Hinduism, Tāntric Guru Dattātreya, we move on to Natya origin and traditions, ancient and medieval history, the uprising and then compare the two traditions, focusing on the common Vedic origin. Tantra practices include mantras and yantras and their significance and the meditational aspects of the Tanmātras, the Cakrās, the Guru-Sishya parampara while Natya practices cover technique, styles, music, the terminologies in the Sastra like Abhinaya, Rasa and others.

Chapter three highlights the Place of Symbolism and its relevance to Tantra Sāstra and Nātya Sāstra. We have topics on Sri Yantra, Yoginis, Nādis, Breath and Sound, the symbols of Hinduism, Tāntric Yoga and Mudrās, Tāntric Buddhism, Nātya Hastābhinaya and the symbolic meaning of Sanskrit theatre. Chapter four is on the Schools and Branches of Tantra and Nātya. Topics covered herein are Saivism, Sāktism, Vajrāyana Buddhism and Malabar school of Tantra are studied in detail, the rationale behind the distinct dance styles, the traditional repertoire of Bharatanātyam, the styles of music, the school practicing worship of Kundalini Sakti, the characteristics given in the Shastras of the Guru, the co-relation between the beejaksharas of Cakra worship and the syllables used in the technique of dance. The next chapter discusses the Darshanas, the philosophy of Advaita and Visisht Advaita in relation to Tantra and Nātya. And finally, the findings in the concluding chapter.

Bharatanatyam dancer Padmaja Suresh 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 Atmalaya imparts training in classical dance and music and has a charitable wing Kalachaitanya for propagating arts for underprivileged children.

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