Education in spiritual values through Bharatanatyam: Part IV
Nyaya and vaiseshika in Margam
- Chandra Anand

January 11, 2015

This word “margam” has been used to signify the repertoire of a full programme of a Bharatanatyam presentation. “Margam means the “path” or a newly created space, a certain vision.”[1] Margam comes from the Sanskrit word ‘“marga” which means “to seek”[2] a path to present a vision intuited. ‘Tanjore Quartet margam’ has an idea, a vision that corresponds to a philosophy. It is well laid and a highly symbolic path. Each item creates rasa in the spectator and leads him towards bliss.

Idea of ‘Tanjore Quartet margam
Through the ‘Tanjore Quartet margam’, a Bharatanatyam artiste puts forward the ultimate truth of life as preached in the texts of Hindu philosophy starting from the Vedas to the “shad darshanas.”  It explains the path for spiritual realization with the theme of ‘jivatma yearning for union with the paramatma’ which is the desire of selves worldwide. Here the jivatma is the nayika and paramatma is the nayaka, where through madhura bhakti ‘the self’ as nayika yearning for union with the “Original Self” as nayaka is portrayed. The Absolute, who is impersonal and all pervading, is made personal and close through the precepts of bhakti yoga, which is the way the common man is goaded towards realizing his goal of spiritual liberation.

This theme must have got a lot of support, for since ancient times, Hindu religion and Indian philosophy have played a large part in Indian arts and the way of life. Veena Londe explains, “Both in life and in philosophy, the spiritual motif is predominant in India. Indian religion recognizes the spirit as the truth of our being, and our life as a growth and evolution of the spirit. Philosophy is for life. It is to be lived; it is not enough to know the ultimate truth, but to realize it and to become one with it. Truth is to be sought and found within. The inner spirit of man is significant clue to his reality and to that of universe. Indian philosophy makes use of reason, but, intuition is accepted as the only method through which the Ultimate can be known. One does not merely know the truth in Indian philosophy, but realizes it.  Intuition is a direct experience of reality which transcends not only intellectual thinking, but also sensory perception.  Every new discovery originates in a sudden non-verbal flash; and finally the acceptance of authority of the intuitive insights of the ancient seers i.e. of Vedas is its main characteristic” [3].

When the atheist philosophies questioned the principles of Hindu tradition, the knowledge of the Vedas was re-interpreted in six different ways. Thus the Vedic knowledge was safeguarded. Theos Bernard writes, “According to Indian tradition there is only one ultimate reality, but there are six fundamental interpretations of that reality. These are called shad darshanas or “six insights” because they give man sight of the sensible verities and enable him to understand in the light of reason the super-sensible Truth attainable only through the revealed scriptures (Vedas) or through the experience of rsis (sages). The six darshanas namely nyaya, vaisesika, samkhya, yoga, mimamsa, and vedanta constitute the classic philosophical systems of India. Together they form a graduated interpretation of the ultimate reality, so inter-related that the hypothesis and method of each is dependent upon the other.  In no way are they contradictory or antagonistic to one another, for they all lead to the same practical end, knowledge of the Absolute and liberation of the soul.” [4]

Very interesting to know is that “the six systems agree on certain essentials. The acceptance of the Vedas implies that all the systems have drawn from a common reservoir of thought…  In the systems, philosophy becomes self-conscious.  The spiritual experiences recorded in the Vedas are subjected to a logical criticism. The question of the validity and means of knowledge forms an important chapter of each system.  Each philosophical scheme has its own theory of knowledge, which is an integral part or a necessary consequence of its metaphysics.  Intuition, inference and the Vedas are accepted by the systems.  Reason is subordinated to intuition.  Life cannot be comprehended in its fullness by logical reason.  Self-consciousness is not the ultimate category of the universe. There is something transcending the consciousness of self, to which many names are given - Intuition, Revelation, Cosmic Consciousness and God-vision.  We cannot describe it adequately, so we call it the super-consciousness.  When we now and then tend to have glimpses of this higher form, we feel that it involves a purer illumination and a wider compass. As the difference between mere consciousness and self-consciousness constitutes the wide gulf separating the animal from man, so the difference between self-consciousness and super-consciousness constitutes all the difference between man as he is and man as he ought to be.  The philosophy of India takes its stand on the spirit which is above mere logic, and holds that culture based on mere logic or science may be efficient, but cannot be inspiring.” [5]

Nyaya and vaishesika philosophies in natya
Since natya is microcosm of the macrosm of Universe, the same questions that brought out the philosophy of existence of self and the world will pertain in the make believe world of art too. Why, whither, whence did the art forms originate, what is their nature of existence and in which manner do they support the existence of life? Art through symbolism explains the philosophy of life to the audience by bringing to conscious level the spiritual states of beings. Let us look for some of the answers in the six systems of Hindu philosophy.

Nyaya philosophy... is purely a system of pure logic, concerned with the means of acquiring right knowledge,”[6] i.e., obtaining valid knowledge is the only way to obtain release from suffering. Just as the correct knowledge of concepts clears our doubts and fears, true knowledge of the relationship of the soul and the creator gives the fortitude to give up all desires and leads us on the path to liberation.

“The nyaya is the science of logical proof, and furnishes a correct method of philosophical inquiry into the objects and subjects of human knowledge. It is said to be the means to true knowledge about the soul and the realization of the destiny of man according to the laws of nature. The term nyaya is a Sanskrit word which signifies “going into a subject,” that is, an analytical investigation of the subject through the process of logical reason.”[7]

It is only through the study of mankind that one can understand man and his problems. Ideas pertaining to human experiences are presented in art.  Emotion is the basic truth of life and performing arts or natya helps understand the feelings and thoughts of human beings by aesthetic presentations.

Supporting this philosophy is “the account of the first dramatic performance given in Bharata’s Natya Sastra, the angry reaction of the demons and the assurance given by Prajapati himself, throw much light on what the natya intends to present and thereby the content of drama and of literature in general. Through Prajapati, Bharata says that ‘natya is lokavrtta,’ that is, what happens to people physically and mentally, the actions and feelings of people. In further explanation it is pointed out that natya is an imitative rendering of the emotions of all the people in the universe.  In other words, emotions, emotional experience or emotive reactions to an experience, form the subject or content of dramatic and literary art…. The events and incidents, characters, their actions and thoughts, are imaginatively created by the writer in keeping with the laws of realism and probability. The feelings and emotions of humanity represent the basic truth of human life. The poetic insights into the emotional life, its artistic presentations, are the source of beauty (saundarya) and delight (ananda). And the vision of life which a true artist presents, widening our understanding of life and intensifying our appreciation of the deeper values of life, constitutes the wholesome and ennobling aspect of literature” [8] and drama.

“Art is one place where reason and heart gets connected as a single whole or are in harmony with each other. Art gives an intellectual awareness arousing the subconscious emotions of man. Art is aimed at improving higher intellectual principles in man and society. When reality comes into focus of human consciousness and is made, transformed or modified by it, it also acquires a value aspect of its existence, a meaning.” [9]
Vaisesika philosophy “classifies all knowledge of the objective world (made of substances or dravyas) under nine realities. It discusses how the various combinations of these nine basic realities bring all things into being.” [10] “The realities are prithvi (earth), ap (water), tejas (fire), vayu (air), akasa (ether), kala (time), dik (space), atman (self) and manas (mind). The first five are called bhutas, the substances having some specific qualities like colour, form, taste, odour and sound etc, so that they could be perceived by one or the other external senses. As a system of philosophy, the vaisesika teaches that knowledge of the nature of reality is obtained by knowing the special properties or essential differences which distinguish the Nine Realities.” [11]

Elucidating on this, “Substance (dravya) is shown to be the foundation of the universe and is resolved into the nine Eternal Realities.” [12] The five bhutas are the materials that our body is made up of. The five sense organs or indriyas help atman to perceive these different forms of the world made of the five substances and identify them according to their special properties or essential differences. And they help the body to perform different activities. “Time or kala is the force that gives our notional ideas of present, past, and future produced by the continual coming and going of all manifest phenomena observed in the objective world of sensible manner.” [13] “The dik, which is also called space, is that power or force that holds all discrete substances in their respective positions in relation to each and other things in space or ether (akasa).” [14] The atman “is the Soul, Self, Principle of Life and sensation or Abstract Individual.” [15] It is the abode of consciousness having the property of awareness. The manas  is “the entire internal organ of perception, the faculty or instrument through which thoughts enter or by which objects affect the atman... It helps the atman perceive objects of the subjective or internal world in the nature of ideas, thoughts and feelings... Atman is the basis of all experience, while manas (mind) is only an instrument for experience.” [16] The atman here is the subject and the five indriyas and manas are its objects of perception through which it gets aware of the objective world.
Thus, our body, made of five bhutas, is the instrument through which one does nritta and nritya. Kala gives us the metrical cycle or tala or time for music and dance. Dik or space is the kinesphere where the dancer performs and connects to the audience through her energy spreading through akasa. Emotions, thoughts and ideas get developed in the mind or manas. And, the atman draws the manas and indriyas together as one to help manifest the ideas and emotions externally to the world; by actions through the gross physical form (made of five bhutas) tuned to the rhythmical patterns (kala) of music in a given space or position (dik). Thus the performing art of dance is formed.
Margam is the path through which the artiste seeks to present facts of life. The space denotes the choreographical and transcendental aspects of art. The artiste sculpts the space to present a world of living beings according to the laws of realism and probabilities; and through the beauty of the presentation transcends the audience to the world in a different space and time; and the vision is the idea that unifies all the elements together culminating in a spiritual experience.

In “Tanjore Quartet margam”, it is through the bhakti marg, the themes of love and devotion to God are presented in a fitting manner. The padams and javali portions in particular, pick up emotional themes as experienced by humanity in day to day life. Thus with a religio -philosophic theme, the ‘Tanjore Quartet margam’ reigned in the temple as well as the court presentations.

Notes to reference:
  1. Swarnamalya Ganesh, Notions of “classical” in Bharatanatyam: a cultural operation of the classes - arguments of the cosmopolitan Margi and indigenous Desi, repertoires of the Nayak period
  2. Sangitratnakara of Sarngadeva, Text and English Translation, R.K. Shringy & Prem Lata Sharma, Vol. I, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 2007, chapter 1, pg 10.
  3. Veena Londhe, Notes on Hindu philosophy, pg 5-6.
  4. Theos Bernard, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt ltd., New Delhi, India, Introduction, pg 4 & 5.
  5. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, Princeton University Press, USA, 1957, General Introduction, pg 353-354.
  6. Theos Bernard, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt ltd., New Delhi, India, Introduction, pg 6.
  7. Ibid, pg 30
  8. G.K. Bhat, Rasa Theory, M. S. University of Baroda, August 1984, chapter 1, pg 4-5.
  9. A. Spirkin, Man and Culture
  10. Theos Bernard, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt ltd., New Delhi, India, 1999, Introduction, pg 6
  12. Theos Bernard, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt ltd., New Delhi, India, 1999, chapter 2, pg 47.
  13. Ibid, pg 56.
  14. Ibid, pg 58.
  15. Ibid, pg 58.
  16. Ibid, pg 62-63.

  1. A Source book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Radhakrishnan Sarvepalli & Moore A. Charles, Princeton University Press, USA, 1957.
  2. Sangitratnakara of Sarngadeva, Text and English translation, Vol. I, Shringy R.K & Sharma Premlata, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 2007.
  3. Bernard Theos, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass publishers’ private limited, New Delhi, 1999.
  4. Bhat G.K., Rasa theory, M. S. University of Baroda, Baroda, August 1984.
  5. Hiriyanna M, The essentials of Indian Philosophy, 2nd edition, Blackie and son publishers Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai, 1973.
  6. Londhe Veena, Notes on Hindu philosophy, distributed in class.
  7. A. Spirkin, Man and Culture
  8. Ganesh Swarnamalya, Notions of “classical” in Bharatanatyam: a cultural operation of the classes - arguments of the cosmopolitan Margi and indigenous Desi, repertoires of the Nayak period

Chandra Anand is a Bharatanatyam artiste and teacher. A student of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharatanatya Kalamandir since 1972, she is presently training under Guru Lata Raman. Apart from MA in Eng Lit. from Bombay University (1990) and B Ed from Bombay University (1994), she has an MA in Classical Dance (Bharatanatyam) from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune (2014). This article is adapted from the dissertation titled “Education in Spiritual Values through Bharatanatyam” under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Malati Agneswaran.

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