Metaphysics of Natya Dance

Relevance of Natya Veda

Saiva Agama that influenced dances takes emotions and gestures as specific forms of communion with gods. The practice hints at direct close links between Natya and Agama. Natya Sastra in the consecration rites connected with the worship of Siva, Brahma and Vishnu. Theatre was a model of the cosmos; each deity had a specific place in the cardinal directions that were marked and the centre of brahma-mandala established on stage itself.

In connection with the invocation ceremony of playhouses, a Yantra-mystic diagram was to be drawn in accordance with the injunctions at the due places. In the middle, Brahma was installed, seated in a lotus. At the outset, Lord Siva was installed in the east. In accordance with these rules of procedure all the deities were installed in their conventional forms and colours, in their respective positions. The Jarjara represented the thunderbolt, Indra’s weapon to destroy inimical forces.

After the performance of the adoration of the Jarjara with all oblations, the Natyacharya performed Homa, uttering the requisite Mantras and sprinkled the sanctified water on the artistes. The rite of Kumbhabhedana (breaking the pot) was also done to indicate that the Acharya can be without fear. He then took up a lighted lamp and illuminated the entire dramatic hall. Says the treatise, “A well consecrated hall and stage shall bring about splendid results to the Lord, to the region and to the city including the old and the young. This adoration of the deities of the stage is on a par with a Vedic Yajna. No one shall produce a play without the worship of the stage.”

Natya Veda has no beginning and end and hence it is immortal. The origin of the divine arts per se cannot be traced; they are without a beginning. One can only renew and adorn it and it is not a new creation, but a new discovery, just as the Vedas were discovered and not invented. The oral tradition has always been more dependable than the texts. This point was also emphasised by Bharata and Nandikeswara. In the ancient Gurukula system, a syllabus for dance training was unknown and the resources of the student inspired the teacher to initiate new or complex numbers.

Initiation of students was given great importance and followed with extreme sincerity in the traditional system. The custom in dance forms such as Kuchupidi was that little boys were taken to the temples, primarily of Sri Ramalingeshwara and initiated into Natya-Veda by holding the pataka hasta and reciting the sollus or rhythmic beats. After over five years of grounding in the basics of music and dance, the students were introduced to the elements of abhinaya along with the poetry or kavyas.

Observing veterans in dance was another way to advance. Many propitiation rites are common to other dances such as Chhau, including rites which revolve around the installation of a pole as a symbol of fertility. The pole still continues to represent Lord Siva while a representation of the Goddess Śakti is made with the Ghatam or pitcher. The devotees, called Bhagtas, have to perform a fire-walking ritual or suspended by the feet on a pole over a flaming fire. Even tougher is the ritual of some who walk on thorns. The Tantrik temple of Bhairava is propitiated and initiation is done by tying a piece of red thread on the right wrist of the dancer. Ritualistic worship and prayer is offered at midnight too.

Even today, Rangapuja is done at the onset, with rangakramana movements in Bharatanatyam. In songs like Melaprapti, invocation rites done with materials used in worship are symbolically represented during dance. In Sanskrit plays, Purvaranga dance involved movements bordering the peripheral space with centrifugal and centripetal actions inter alia. It had music and pageantry, whereas the rites of theatre foundation were austere and esoteric.

Nyasa postures and Mudra gestures during the invocation dances abstracted from their earthly self as they were energised with Sakti and rose to a divine essence. The commentator par excellence Abhinavagupta attaches the highest importance to the actual practice of the art. He points out that the rhythm and action, to become charmingly graceful, cannot be comprehended, unless one is an adept in the field. Those who know the form can in the true sense, absorb the linking of movements through the use of the head, eyes, neck and every other part including the mind and consciousness.

The author is a Bharatanatyam exponent and researcher

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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 1:35:42 PM |

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