Indian Classical Dance - One Way to God-Experience
The Purpose of Indian Classical Dance
Since ancient times Indian Classical Dance was a sacred Art, practised and performed mainly in Temples.
The Indian Classical Dance is basically a Prayer or a Puja, performed by the dancer to beautiful music, adorned with colourful divine dresses and ornaments, for the glorification of the Divine.
It is an eternal art, having come from Lord Shiva and Divine Mother Parvati down to earth to inspire and uplift the suffering human beings.
This dance was originally meant to please the Divine and to be a powerful means to bring the dancer as well as the audience back to its final destiny, God-experience.
Therefore this sacred form of Dance can also be called a “Yoga”, since its aim is the Union of the individual Soul with the Absolute, the Paramatman.
Divine Beauty as an important Aspect of Indian Classical Dance
Beauty is an essential attribute of the Divine. Absolute Beauty and the Divine are one and the same. The Divinity, the Divine Mother, is indescribably beautiful, aesthetic, tender, sweet, subtle, charming and attractive.
Therefore in the Indian Classical Dance, which is essentially an expression of Divine Grace and subtle Divine Beauty, very much emphasis is laid upon Beauty and Elegance of the dance-movements as well as the appearance of the dancer.
In ancient times the Temple-Dancer was regarded and worshipped as the living Representative of the Divinity. The real Temple-Dancer was supposed to be highly dignified, pure, of good moral character, very well educated and exclusively devoted to divine ideals and aspirations.
The outer appearance of the Temple-Dancer, the dresses, the jewels, etc. were arranged in such a way, that everyone got the impression, that not an ordinary human being is dancing, but a vibrant, beautiful, real Divinity.
Even now, in the present performances of Indian Classical Dance, especially in the Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi-styles, very much emphasis is laid upon the Divine appearance of the dancer. The costumes and ornaments, used in these dances, are extremely beautiful and colourful. The ornaments are so attractive, that they immediately delight the eyes and heart of the viewers.
The hidden, mystical Meanings of some Temple-Dance-Ornaments
Those attractive dance-ornaments, whose original design is derived from the Temples, are not only beautiful to look at, but they have at the same time a deep mystical meaning.
Some dancers put on their long hair-braid, along the spine, a snake-like, shining ornament, representing the Kundalini-Power.
Above the hair-braid, at the height of the neck area, white, orange or different coloured flowers are arranged sometimes in such a way, that they resemble the hood of a cobra, which, in this case, is symbolizing the awakened Kundalini Shakti.
Above this, on the upper part of the back of the head, is put a beautiful ornament in the form of a disc, approx. 6 or 7 cm in diameter, on which glittering stones are fixed. This shining disc is usually surrounded with white flowers. Some people say, that this ornament represents the Brahmarandhra. In Tamil language this circular ornament, worn on the crown of the head, is called "Raakkodi".
I personally find the following explanation of the spiritual meaning of this shining disc the most beautiful one:
This very attractive looking, glittering round ornament may represent the seat of the “Nectar of Immortality” (the real "Soma"), which is available in every human being, but stored in a sort of a "frozen", "inactive" state. When, by the Grace of the Sadguru, as a result of utmost purity in heart, selflessness, egolessness and immense devotion to the Divine, this Nectar of Immortality starts “melting”, it flows down through innumerable subtle channels and floods the Devotee with indescribable Bliss, a divine Ecstasy, accompanied by unending Peace, Joy and Wisdom.
When this happens, the mortal, individual human being attains Immortality, while living in a physical body.
Great Saints, Mystics and Sages have emphasized, that this conscious experience of Immortality is possible and that by this experience the human being attains the crown of evolution, “Jivanmukti”, the state of a living liberated being.
Indian Classical Dancers often wear other head-ornaments, derived from the Temple-Tradition, like the sun (on the right side of the head) and the moon (on the left side of the head). Sun and moon are representing “Pingala” and “Ida” (subtle channels, mentioned in the science of Yoga). When Pingala and Ida are united in an enlightened Yogi or Sage, the Nectar of Immortality starts flowing, as mentioned before.
The flowing down of the Nectar of Immortality is further represented by another beautiful head-ornament, leading in a line along the parting of the hair from the upper part of the head towards the forehead, ending in a pendant and sometimes parting from there towards the temples of the forehead. This ornament is very common in India - not only in Indian Classical Dance - it is worn by Ladies all over India, for joyous and auspicious occasions and festivals. In Tamil language this ornament is called "Netri-Chutti" and in Hindi it is called "Maang-Tikaa". It often consists of pure gold or gold-plated metal, studded with many shining stones or many small pearls.
The tiny, glittering stones or the small white pearls, seen in this ornament, represent the drops of the flowing Nectar of Immortality.
There are other dance-ornaments, which are having spiritual meanings, too, like for example different necklaces, belts etc., with shining colourful stones in very appealing and attractive designs. These ornaments indicate the different chakras, the throat-chakra, the heart-chakra, etc.
Saintliness or “inner” Divine Beauty as most important Requisite
The above mentioned explanations concerning the use of beautiful dance-ornaments in Indian Classical Dance, prove, how closely this art is connected to the Temples, to the mystical, Divine Beauty.
But the outer beauty of the dancer, the beautiful ornaments and costumes should not be a pure formality or show. One should never forget, that the outer beauty should remind us of the Beauty of Beauties, God, the living, omnipresent, omnipotent Divine Mother, or the Sadguru.
In order to realize and express real Divine Beauty the dancer must therefore try to become a completely divine personality.
A dancer may be outwardly beautiful and technically perfect, but if he or she is not a saintly or divine personality, one may compare this dancer to a tasteless soup without salt or a beautiful flower without sweet fragrance. On the other hand, there may be a dancer, who may or may not be outwardly so beautiful or technically perfect, but fully divine. If such a divine dancer performs a dance, the whole world will be attracted to such a person.
The Use of elegant dance-movements and hand-gestures (Mudras)
The movements of the Indian Classical Dance are very subtle and aesthetic. Usually elegance and grace come only after a long and dedicated practice of this art. Dancers, who have acquired this grace and elegance, can inspire everybody by their charming personality and appearance, even in the “normal” day to day life.
With the help of special hand-gestures, called “Mudras”, the dancers can convey myriads of meanings.
The subtle and soft, but at the same time very clear hand-gestures and movements, are exquisitely counterbalanced by powerful, rhythmic footwork, which gives a lively and ecstatic expression to the dance-performance.
Powerful Rhythm and Footwork as Help for One-pointed Concentration
The sometimes very complicated footwork in the Indian Classical Dances requires a lot of concentration from the dancer, which can be a wonderful help to transcend the mind, forget the individual self and merge with the Universal Self, the Paramatman, which is the true aim of each Sadhana, also the Indian Classical Dance.
One among many practical examples, how powerful rhythm and footwork is used as means for one-pointed concentration, is the last item of an Odissi-dance performance, which is called “Moksha”, meaning “Liberation”. Through this item the dancer tries to surrender completely to the Divine through very powerful footwork and ecstatic dance-movements.
The same aspect is seen in other Indian Classical Dances, too, like in the North-Indian Kathak-Dance, and also in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam.
Bhakti plays a great role in the Indian Classical Dance, since the dancer worships the Divine through the dance, tells stories of the Divine through dance, and even has to represent the Divinity in the dance. Here the dancer has to try to identify herself completely with the Divinity and by this the same aim can be achieved, the final merging of the individual self with the Divine Mother or the Absolute, the Paramatman, which is called “Parabhakti” (the highest state of Devotion).
The immense Educational and other Values of Indian Classical Dance
Indian Classical Dance is so immensely rich in divine values that it really deserves to be called a “Sadhana”, a way to God-experience. It trains the physical, artistic, musical, intellectual, ethical and devotional abilities of a student. If practised properly, it can discipline and heal body and mind, it can inspire and delight through its immense aesthetic appeal and divine beauty and it is also a kind of visible “divine music”. But the most important thing is, that the dancer and the audience are constantly reminded of the Divine, since the dance is performed for the Divine and for describing the glories of the Divine.
This art can be a powerful inspiration and enrichment for the lives of so many, also for the children. But it should not be misused for selfish purposes, otherwise it will lose its power and beauty.
The immense educational value of the Indian Classical Dance should not be underestimated. The hidden mystic treasures of the Indian Classical Dance, specially the Indian Temple Dance or the Devotional Indian Dance deserve to be appreciated in the whole world. According to my opinion no other dance in the world has a match to this divine form of dance.
I want to close my short essay about “Indian Classical Dance – One Way to God-experience” with a small excerpt of a speech, which my Adorable Sadgurudev, Paramahamsa Shri Swami Omkarananda Saraswati, gave in Omkarananda Ashram Switzerland, after an Indian Dance-Performance of a small girl:
“It was not a dance as such, it was an Adoration of God. Through the movements of her body she worshipped God. It has cosmic dimension. It affects the nature. The society profited, the nature profited, the whole cosmos profited. God is the aim of this dance.
“‘Rock and Roll’ does not give you happiness. It does not make you a Saint.
“This dance is an education in itself. It makes you happy. The rhythms of the Infinite are expressing themselves in this dance. If you want to see the real Bharatanatyam, go to Madras. There you will see, what this dance really is. But the soul of it lies in the hands of the Divine. Be a great devotee of the Divine and you will know all the secrets of this dance, all its metaphysics."
Many intuitions and insights concerning the heart-touching mystical aspects of Dance and Music, which may not be found in books, I got only through my Guru Shri Swami Omkarananda’s Grace and Inspirations.
I am immensely grateful to my adorable Sadgurudev Paramahamsa Omkarananda Saraswati, that by His Grace I have got the opportunity to study, practise, perform and teach Indian Classical Dance as a Way to God-Experience. OM.
Guru-Bhakti-Ratna Kumari Somashekhari
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