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Education in Spiritual values through Bharatanatyam: Part V
Tanjore Quartet margam: A journey in space and time with the Divine Spirit
- Chandra Anand

February 15, 2015

As explained by Balasaraswati, Bharatanatyam is an artistic yoga, a means to reveal the spiritual through the corporeal and the Tanjore Quartet margam is the space created to divulge the knowledge about the spiritual self. To elucidate this sequentially:

Alarippu corresponds to Vedanta philosophy. "The Vedanta philosophy, in one or another of its forms is closely bound up with the religion (bhakti tradition) of India...The Vedanta Sutra deals with Vedanta or the final aim of the Veda. It is also called the Brahma Sutra, since it deals with the doctrine of Brahman. The Self (Atman) is existence, knowledge and bliss...Atman is the same as Brahman; the essence of the subject, the deepest part of our being is one with the essence of the world. "[1]

Alarippu is philosophically considered as an offering or prayer to paramatman (Self), who resides in all living beings as jivatman (self). This atman takes rebirths or is born many times, till it achieves spiritual liberation which happens only when it cultivates detachment, acquires knowledge of the ultimate reality and transforms that knowledge into direct experience. In alarippu, this amsa (limited self) of God prays to the Ultimate Being (unlimited Self). The physical body here is the vehicle of the atman (inner self), to help one set out on the path of spiritual realization.

Alarippu, the initial nritta item is a prayer to God (bhakti marg). The dancer, as a devotee, uses elemental movements to awaken the different limbs of the body and in the culminating movements propitiates to God with the whole body. This awakening is said to be the blossoming of the body and is symbolically compared to blooming of the lotus flower. It is performed to a rhythm pattern set within a metrical cycle.

Jatiswaram is an nritta item, and precedes all nritya and abhinaya numbers. This item corresponds to yoga philosophy. "The term yoga comes from the root yuj, "to yoke or join." Here it is used to mean the union of the individual spirit (jivatman) with the Universal Spirit (paramatman)...The yoga system pertains to the individual condition of nature...This subtle aspect (atman) is but a spark of the divine (atman)...can be known only by the power of spiritual be known only through the practice of Yoga."[2]

Nritta in classical dance is a coordinated unit of movement which is well structured with geometric precision and harmony. Nritta has evolved from the systematization of body movements which were perhaps the very initial way man used to express his joy and sorrow before he learnt to speak. "In India, dance took two directions. One, it developed as a way of amusing oneself and others on occasions i.e., the desire of man to express his sense of fun through dancing. Another is, to use dance as ritualistic practices of our faith. Not only has man known that the mortal form can express joy and sorrow through movement, but he has also realized that this movement must have discrimination and selection and just as he must organize society to transcend the selfishness of the personal man on the horizontal plane, he must formalize movement to transcend himself along the vertical plane and devote himself to a being higher than himself, a power which he evokes and to whom he dedicates himself body and soul. This direction of growth is most important for our purpose as it is this instinct for sublimation, for transcendence, that gives true fibre and character to classical dance. That dancing was and is an essential feature of the Hindu temple is not a casual happening. It results directly from a continuous process of thought and living: this ritualistic dancing, in both its religious and classical richness, ascends and descends - grows and declines, with the other sociological processes of history."[3] Nritta item is called a pure dance number for it lays the foundation to perceive pure consciousness and therefore a Bharatanatyam artist can get in touch with one's inner self or embodied being, like a yogi through his practice of meditation.

In jatiswaram, with the help of the variety of dance patterns, the body raises the energy levels in the kinesphere. It is known that in adavus, "the point of perfect balance can be maintained if there is the minimum possible deviation from the centre of gravity."[4] The centerline or the vertical median of the body demarcates the bilateral symmetrical system of the body. It represents the direction of the pull of gravity. This centre line is where the chakras lie. Automatically, the araimandi posture helps concentrate on the chakras. The effect of concentration on the chakras has been well explained by yoga practitioners. When the chakras are concentrated upon, the coiled energies are awoken. The energies spread through the body. The angular, triangular and circular dance patterns in Bharatanatyam end in angular and triangular postures. Hastas and mudras lock the energies in the body preventing their escape through outstretched hands. Thus the body creates an electrical space (spherical shaped) around itself, inside which the self/devotee communicates with God (bhakti marg). Perhaps, it is like a séance; the dancer makes a purified sanctum around himself/herself, where the spirit meets its Original Source.

According to yoga system, "The focus of yoga is to set another dimension alive within you that is beyond the physical."[5] "Yoga is discrimination between the subject and object, purusha (self or spirit) and prakriti (Nature), which means the establishment of the self in its purity."[6] Purusha and prakriti are the basic conceptions of samkhya philosophy. Purusha comes to be by itself, through extrication from prakriti with practice of yoga.

Thus sabdam comes next, which is an interpretative dance. Sabdam is associated with samkhya philosophy which postulates two ultimate realities, Spirit (purusha) and Matter (prakriti), to account for all experience. Only when purusha unites with prakriti will evolution of world occur. Prakriti develops into both male and female forms and purusha (Self/Brahman) is formless and the all pervading element. And only when the 'self', which is the embodied being in prakriti, realizes the purusha aspect in itself and as itself, will evolution of 'self' begin. In the margam, the theme is evolution of the self/spirit on the path to spiritual goal. It is only after acquiring the knowledge of the ultimate truth (sravana) and reflecting upon it (manana) does one realize the self. Knowledge, according to this doctrine, is a state or modification of the empirical self.

In sabdam, the dancer interprets words and verses of devotion through abhinaya. Here, the devotee expresses his profound devotion to God (bhakti marg). He expresses his wish to be always at His feet and only be thinking of Him. The devotee describes the God in His splendour, and praises His compassion, valiance etc, and requests God to show some benevolence towards him. The theme of the song could be devotional or romantic.

Then we come to items where abhinaya is performed extensively. To do abhinaya convincingly, the dancer requires an analytical mind, power of reasoning, logical thinking, a sense of correctness, a good understanding of human nature and an ability to express accurately. Although there is diversity around us, all are united by the same human values and emotions. It is the plurality of souls and their different temperaments that accounts for a vast gradation of emotions in the life of human beings. These points denote the nyaya-vaisesika philosophy.

The reflection of other philosophies is seen in varnam and padams - (mimamsa philosophy and Bhakti philosophy). "The purpose of mimamsa is to inquire into the nature of Right action (dharma)".[7] "The term dharma is derived from the root dhar, 'to hold, maintain, preserve'. It has reference, therefore, to anything that holds, supports or preserves. When used in the metaphysical sense, it means those universal laws of Nature that sustain the operation of the universe and the manifestation of all things, without which nothing could be. When applied to the individual, it has reference to that code of conduct that sustains the soul, and enables man to fulfill his divine destiny. Here it has reference to the actions, practices and duties that will benefit man in the world to come; therefore, it is that which produces virtue, morality, or religious merit leading toward the development of man."[8] "The basic premise of mimamsa is that action is the very essence of human existence...without action human destiny cannot be fulfilled; therefore, Right Action (dharma) is the spiritual pre-requisite of life."[9] It says, "right action is proved and defended by the means of knowledge; all the effects of right action lead to the evolution of consciousness...The soul to achieve salvation must first exhaust its potentialities through action...It must survive the earthly manifestations."[10] It is necessary that one understands life, its source and value of existence which can be done only by living through it.

Thus the soul has to undergo actions, emotions and feelings while experiencing various relationships one's life offers and pass through the principles of purushartha - dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Any human aspiration like desire for wife i.e. procreation, desire for wealth or desire for name and fame in this and the other world, has to be guided by these four ends. Dharma and moksha have to support and guide all the human activities. All activities are symbolized by artha and kama and are bracketed by dharma and moksha. Dharma means support while moksha means release, deliverance, freedom from ignorance, bondage and birth and death phenomenon."[11] Thus, the Vedas show the right path to be followed, i.e. path of moral conduct to reach the ultimate goal of life - release, liberation, salvation.

The performing arts express emotions and feelings of humanity or emotional experiences that are the basic truth of life, through the medium of various actions and relationships. The art of abhinaya through varnam, padam and javali in Bharatanatyam, portrays actions and reactions which are the outcome brought about by various relationships one gets to experience in life. This is where the empirical world is portrayed and emotions and feelings of human beings are expressed out in the open along with poetry and rhythm, with élan. The padams and javalis constitute the larger part of the traditional repertoire where the strengths and frailties of human beings are to be dealt with.

The emotions of love, affection and devotion to each other become important for these emotions alone bring us happiness and keep us united with our beloved ones. Thus the idea of pining for union with the God (bhakti marg) is shown through emotions of shringara (lover), vatsalya (child) and bhakti bhava (devotee) in varnam, padam and javali where God is treated with human attributes.

Varnam points out that only through love, devotion and surrender to God (bhakti marg) can one attain salvation. "If you use your emotions and try to reach the ultimate, we call this bhakti yoga, the path of devotion. Devotion is another dimension of intelligence. Intellect wants to conquer the truth. Devotion just embraces the truth. Devotion cannot decipher but devotion can experience. Intellect can decipher but can never experience. A devotee is someone who has the right perspective of his place in the existence".[12] Varnam is a comprehensive item in the margam. It combines nritta and abhinaya. The dancer portrays a lovelorn heroine pining for union with the hero - her Lord. She conveys her love and devotion to Him by speaking about his goodness and greatness that attracts her to Him. She considers him as epitome of perfection. She pleads with her sakhi personifying guru to help her. The significance of nayika pining for the nayaka is 'jivatma' seeking spiritual union with 'paramatma.'

In padams, there is a gamut of human emotions displayed. The navarasas come into play. The artiste can choose from any of the classification of nayikas and nayakas in their different moods to express his/her feelings and thoughts and relationships, with God (bhakti marg), to portray the empirical world. Even so, underlying idea in padams also is to be taken as jivatma's yearning for union with paramatma. Many of the songs used in padams are written by bhakti poets. In padams and javalis, which are pure abhinaya items, the dancer portrays the nayika as awaiting the nayaka's arrival, or is angry for His infidelity (Indenthu vachithivira), or how she dresses up for nayaka's arrival (Dari juchu). Or he/she could expresses his/her wish to stay at His feet forever and remember Him always (Varugalamo aiyya), or surrender to God, (as in charanam charanam raghurama).

A point to be noted here is that, in Natyasastra, Bharata says, "There are no limitations of theme or content in this art. It depicts the exploits of gods, asuras, kings and ordinary human beings. Its range extends to the seven divisions of the world (sapta dvipa). The limitless range of human nature, with its joys and sorrows, is depicted by means of representation through abhinaya."[13] This explains the import of mimamsa philosophy that social themes and issues are part of natya. Then depiction of social life and issues in Bharatanatyam a derivative of natya are also valid. Adhuvum solluval, Velavare umai thedi, Ethanai chonnallum, Unnai thoodh anupinen, Padari varuguthu are a few examples.

Tillana is essentially the expression of joy. Tillana expresses the happiness of the devotee, as a certain promise of union has been obtained or a prophecy of his attaining union with the Lord (bhakti marg) in the immediate future is foretold. Here the song is sung in syllables. In the sahitya the devotee asks God to be quick and not delay His arrival. It signifies the final cry signifying yearning for union with God. Only one verse in words indicating the God worshipped, is found in the charanam.

In tillana, the dancer dances intricate dance patterns to the music of rhythmic syllables. The dance patterns are choreographed such that the space of the cuboid or sphere created around the artist is covered with large movements. The movements after charanam look artistically and geometrically designed and quite fast to show the excitement of union with God. The energy levels are increased to fortify the purified sanctum. This also follows yoga philosophy as jatiswaram.

Shlokam or viruttam reflects vedanta philosophy. It is a simple devotional verse. A prayer to the Lord is offered (Kasturi tilakam) and is the last item in margam; here the devotee describes the God (bhakti marg) as seen by her. One becomes that Ultimate Being realized by self.

Mangalam (bhakti marg) is to thank God for His divine vision and pray that His beautiful image thus should eternally be perceived in the mind of the devotees throughout their worldly existence.

Realization of one's own true nature is becoming Brahman. Final freedom does not therefore mean any actual change in the nature of the self but the attainment of release (moksha) from the empirical state of being. "'Tat tvam asi" (That art thou) is the goal of life. To see the Self one must become "calm, controlled, quiet, patiently enduring and contented.""[14]

Sarvepalli Radhakrishanan explains the spiritual nature of man as emphasized in Vedanta philosophy, "The Self (Atman) is existence, knowledge and bliss. It is universal and infinite...... Our ignorance is born of a confusion of the transcendental subject (atman) with empirical existence (anantman)..... Atman is the same as Brahman; the essence of the subject, the deepest part of our being, is one with the essence of the world...Ignorance affects our whole empirical being...To remove ignorance is to realize the truth. We reach wisdom when error is dissipated. While absolute truth is Brahman, empirical truth is not false. In this empirical universe, we have God (Isvara), selves and the world... By the practice of ethical virtues and by the pursuit of devotion and knowledge we reach the goal of self-realization (moksha). Moksha (self-realization or freedom) is the direct realization of the truth which has been there from eternity. On the attainment of freedom nothing happens to the world; only our view of it changes. Moksha is not the dissolution of the world but is the displacement of a false outlook (avidya) by the right outlook wisdom (vidya)."[15]

Put in a Nutshell
"Spirituality in Hindu philosophy ...defines spiritual practice as one's journey towards moksha, awareness of self, the discovery of higher truths, true nature of reality, and a consciousness that is liberated and content."[16] The Tanjore Quartet margam imparts this knowledge through its structure or lineup of items. The adoption of the prthgartha style of nritya helps move from one ideology to another. It makes an effort to understand life and reality, which is the function of natya, by analyzing human emotions in its innumerable tones through abhinaya. It has made a judicious use of rhythm, movement and feelings and thoughts for the expression of the inner self or the embodied being. It puts forward at the outset the truth of the human life (allaripu), then the zenith that a human being has the possibilities to reach (varnam) and then the realities of life (padams and javalis) and ends expressing the hope to attain or regain the epitome of life (shloka). It explains Hindu philosophy through bhakti marg as the unifying base through which the common man can contemplate on God or 'Self' - the Supreme Truth, goodness and beauty of which perfect happiness essentially consists - easily.

Tanjore Quartet margam educates and elevates society by giving the spectator a foretaste of moksha, the ultimate spiritual experience through rasa - experience. Even mediate knowledge of the reality of 'self' brings bliss. This elevating experience perhaps can be credited for the increase in viewership for Bharatanatyam; for encouraging the spectators to view the art for the charm and magic that envelops them after a presentation; and stimulating them to take keen interest in the presentation.

Universal theme
"India's concentrated study of the inner nature of man is, in the end, a study of man universal."[17] So, the theme of spirituality is universally applicable. Thus the Tanjore Quartet margam imparts the knowledge of the interminable truth and goal of every single being in the world.

Tanjore Quartet margam and Ashrama system
Margam can be applied to the life time of the human being. The items of margam can be linked to the life stages of man as explained in the scriptures. Alarippu is blossoming of the young child into an adult. Jatiswaram is the building up of all faculties to lead life. Sabdam is where a young boy and young girl enter into wedlock and promise each other their companionship. In varnam we can see the various ways they portray their love and pining for each other. Padams express the life they lead in various hues. Tillana is celebration of the life they lived together. Finally shloka is their readiness to lead life devoted to God. Thus the ashrama system is portrayed. Alarippu and jatiswaram is in the brahmacharya ashram; sabdam, varnam and padams fall into the grihastashram, the vanaprasta and sanyasa ashrams are not relevant in this age and time; but perhaps one can bring in tillana and shloka in the vanaprasta and sanyasa ashrams for it is here they seek the spiritual path of life. Thus the life time of the human being comes under margam to which the lay man can relate.

The Comprehensive character
Natyasastra states, Lord Brahma created the art of dance upon the request of the Gods as a form of entertainment and it became known as the fifth veda, and was open to all, irrespective of caste and creed. Natyaveda of Brahma was written taking different constituents from the four Vedas namely rig veda, yajur veda, sama veda and atharva veda. Lord Brahma drew literature or pathya from rigveda, song or gitam from sama veda, abhinaya or expression from yajur veda and rasa or aesthetic experience from atharva veda. Abhinayadarpanam states another version about the origin and creation of art, but it too has divine origins. Thus divinity has been attributed to Indian classical performing arts right from inception stage. The Tanjore Quartet margam integrates all philosophies from Vedas to shad darshanas and bhakti cults within itself, derives its technique from Natyasastra and other treatises in Sanskrit and regional languages and preaches the teaching of Vedas in a short time. Thus by combining philosophical values and empirical states of being with a theistic stance the conception of this margam venerates the Divine Spirit.

Notes to reference:
1) A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, Princeton University Press, USA, 1957, chapter XV, pg 506-507.
2) Theos Bernard, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. ltd., New Delhi, India, 1999, chapter 4, pg 86-90.
3) Kapila Vatsyayan, Classical Indian Dance in literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977, chapter 1, pg 8.
4) Ibid, chapter 1, pg 8.
5) Article of Isha Engineering blog.
6) A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, Princeton University Press, USA, 1957, chapter XIII, pg 453.
7) Theos Bernard, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt ltd., New Delhi, India, 1999, chapter 5,102.
8) Ibid, pg 104.
9) Ibid, pg 102.
10) Ibid, pg 103.
11) Veena Londhe, Notes on Hindu philosophy, pg 3.
12) Sadhguru on Bhakti yoga, what is devotion
13) Kapila Vatsyayan, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977, chapter 1, pg 8
14) A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, Princeton University Press, USA, 1957, chapter II, pg 38.
15) Ibid, Chapter XV, pg 507.
16) Hindu-temple#cite_note_stellakvol1-2
17) A Source Book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore, Princeton University Press, USA, 1957, General Introduction, pg xxx.

1) A Source book in Indian Philosophy, edited by Radhakrishnan Sarvepalli & Moore A. Charles, Princeton University press, USA, 1957.
2) Bernard Theos, Hindu Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass publishers' private limited, New Delhi, India, 1999.
3) Hiriyanna M, The essentials of Indian Philosophy, 2nd edition, Blackie and Son Publishers Pvt. Ltd. Mumbai, 1973.
4) Vatsyayan Kapila, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977.
5) Londhe Veena, Notes on Hindu philosophy, distributed in class.
6) Article of Isha Engineering blog.
8) Hindu-temple#cite_note_stellakvol1-2
9) Bharatanatyam and yoga,

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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