Metaphysics in Natya Dance

All about the origin of Sound

The sound of water falling on lotus leaves could be an inspiration   | Photo Credit: N_BASHKARAN

The deity Ganesa is worshipped as the remover of obstacles in one’s spiritual path, including the ascent to higher levels that is aimed at in the dance enterprise. There is no direct reference to Ganesa in Natya Sastra. However, Abhinavagupta says that Ganesha is the Mahagramani deity in the treatise whom one propitiates along with the ceremony of Jarjara — the flagstaff weapon of Indra — the installation of which marks the lightning that can burn off any hindrance. Ganesa is full bellied in the idols sculpted, dance performed or in every visual representation. Do we ponder on this round-bellied concept of Ganesa? The universe seems like a round bubble, everything in it spinning round in circles, made by planets, moons and stars relentlessly.

The Sivamahima Stotra of Pushpadanta says that Nataraja dances incessantly, the purpose being ‘Progressive Evolution’ — the circular cycle of creation to dissolution and vice-versa. The galaxies are dancing a spectacular Rasa Lila, again the circle of life. It seems pure magic that the earth has survived fatal collisions and life has bounced back even after a comet or asteroid impact, but it is all set in Siva’s tempo — Laya. This is called the orderly composed rhythm in a well-choreographed drama, expressing PERFECTION even in CHAOS. The cosmic dance has a majestic appearance on the universal stage. On this stage, even with the best tools that man has invented, only a tiny part of is visible. It is a mind-boggling exercise in math — to figure out the number of visible or the largely invisible stars just in our milky way. Subatomic interaction of energy with energy brings about form from emptiness and emptiness from form, both merging as if the dancer and the dance are ONE.

Bharata indirectly adheres to this principle that ‘everything related to sound and form comes from an origin and then disappears only to return — back and forth is the infinite music.’ At the beginning of every performance, the three SAMANS, believed to emerge from the mouth of Brahman, are chanted and the drums are played as resonance of the cosmic evolution from sound. Drums in Natya Sastra are referred to as Bhands as they move about — Bhramayati, again symbolising the movement in cosmos that is creating forms out of Dhwani. The chants are made three times for Omkara as A-U-M. They are the three scales of three Vedas — Trayi, which are Rig, Yajur and Sama. On stage, the orchestra faces East, says Bharata. The female and male singers face each other. Men are good in recitation and women make good singers but exceptions are there, says he. The Tri-sama ceremony welcomes the Gods and pleases the sages. It offers benediction to the moon, serpents and creatures of water. The Tri-sama singing also bids farewell at the closing of the performance.

The percussions play both heavy and light syllables and invoke the success of the dramatic performance. In fact, there are rituals prescribed by Bharata while these instruments are made with ideal substances and consecrated on holy days before use. The actual playing of these instruments also involves the Tattvas of the five elements like the way the fingers are drawn from space or ether and so on in perfect order. The artistes have to be well aware of the tempos, harmony and measure in order to deliver pure, pleasing and distinct strokes, says the sage. The Dakshina and Vama, meaning the right and left, sides of the instrument are known to produce the different consonants and vowels in the alphabet and actually correspond to these sounds.

Bharata emphasises that these are already given by the sages Swati and Narada — the Gaandharva Vidya, which is being retold by him. There is a story also recaptured on how Swati got inspired by the variations caused by the wind in the sound of water falling on lotus leaves. The sage observed high, medium and low sounds as deep, sweet and pleasing notes and then devised the three major drums — Mridanga, Dardura and Panava — with the help of Viswakarma. He saw the Dundubhi of the Gods and made more instruments covering all with hide and binding them with strings. Bharata assures that the ones among the Manajaha (sons of Manu), who will cause this music, dance and drama (Sangita) to be performed will receive highest honour in the world.

The author is a Bharatanatyam exponent and researcher

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 7:27:00 PM |

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