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T H E S A C R E D D A N C E
The date of the earliest known sculptures of the Nataraj are dated somewhere in the 6th century A.D. and do not give us any idea of when the Nataraja image was first conceived. It is reasonable to assume that the stone image may have been derived from wooden prototypes of a much earlier date. And long before that, mental images may have been symbolized in the scared dance of Vedic rituals.
Whether the Nataraja image originated in the south or whether it did in the north one can not say. Of the 3 dynamic symbols of the trinity that Vedic philosophy gave to Indian art there may be a reason why that of the Nataraja became specially consecrated to the art of the south, while the other two were more distinctive of northern art.
Scholars of Indian art reason that when the Brahmans migrated to Southern India they found a new environment, very different to that of the Himalayas, where Vedic religion had its early home. Therefore, they began to merge their sacred images to the new environment. The scared rivers which descend from Siva’s brow had their counterparts in the Krishna and Godavari rivers, with their tributaries named after the heroes of the Mahabharat.
But, the pilgrims of the western ghats had no image of the icy cell of the Great Yogi in meditation or the snow capped pinnacles touching the heavens holding the universe in balance in their summits. But, in the western ghats they could watch the sun in its daily stride across the Deccan plateau, from the time when the Dragon of the eastern seas released it from its maws at dawn, until it was swallowed up at eventide by the Dragon of the West. This was a familiar symbol of the cosmic process of life, death and rebirth used as a motif in the Amravati sculptures, often as a long scroll of lotus flowers issuing at the end from the open jaw of a Makara, a sea dragon, and being swallowed at the opposite end by a similar monster. The dragons are also frequently placed on opposite sides at the springing of each arch used for windows and gables of monasteries and stupa houses and for the Torana, or arch of flame, used as an aura for an image.
" But of all the impressions which the pilgrims to
the sacred shrines along the western ghats carried home with them, the most
vivid must have been the gorgeous spectacle of the sun in its descent towards
the ocean, illuminating tier after tier of rocky precipices and the forest clad
ravines with its slanting rays of crimson and burnished gold, until at the time
of evening prayer (Sadhana) it touched the far off sea horizon and began the
Sacred Dance in response to the ceaseless time-beat of the waves-the Dance of
the Cosmic Rythme which all the Rishis and all the Devas knew.
This imagery so perfectly described by Havell can only be understood by traveling in the western ghats and seeing the perfection of it oneself. It will then become easier to understand how the response to such constant mental stimulus in promoting the spiritual self would find its response in the ritual of the Sacred Dance, taking a permanent place with the temple icons of the Deccan and Southern India, the natural imagery being translated in to metaphysical concepts, for the Brahman.
Siva for his devotees is the supreme dancer of the Dance of the Cosmic rhythm, and the master magician. Manifesting his presence though dance he reveals himself to his devotees. It is as witness, the Tandava he performed when once upon a time, Siva disguised as a yogi came to a forest hermitage to argue with certain Rishis who held heretical doctrines. He easily defeated them in argument, and they in a rage tried to destroy him by black magic first by creating a fierce tiger in the sacrificial fire. Siva seized it in its spring, stripped off its skin with the nail of his little finger and wrapped it as a garment round his loins. Then they created a venemous serpent which Siva took and wreathed as a garland round his neck and began the dance. Next an evil spirit shaped like an ugly dwarf rushed out of the fire. But Siva crushed it under his foot, broke its back and then resumed his dance. The demon under Siva’s right foot is Muyalaka, the dark cloud of materialism in the Eternal Ether (Akasa), which disappears in the sunshine of the Divine Spirit.
The Tandava is one of the high relief sculptures at the Elephanta, by a master, who carved the wonderous colossal bust of the Trimurti around which the whole series is grouped. The Nataraja of Elephanta stands out as one of the supreme achievements of the classic age of Indian art.
Of the metal images of Nataraj, the best known and the best preserved are in copper or bronze, those used in the processional services of the temples of Southern India.
In seeing the Nataraj image the Indian devotee is exposed to images of sacredness which over many centuries have with great subtlety and thought merged the images of the Himalayan with that of Southern India.
The Torana or aura of flame surrounding the Nataraja image is the Solar symbolism in the arch of radiance.
The Makar, or crocodile dragon, disgorging and swallowing it on either side, according to the ancient myth of sunrise and sunset.
The association of Siva with his Himalayan heritage is indicated by his wavy locks, spread out like a halo round his head in the whirling of the dance, among which a miniature image of Ganga reminds the worshipper of Kailasa and its sacred streams
The third eye in the forehead represents spiritual insight
Every gesture (mudra) has its special significance.
The upper right hand is rattling an hour-glass drum to beat the rhythm of the dance-sound representing the primary creative forces and the intervals of the beat, the time-process.
The corresponding arm on the left holds a flame, the fire of sacrifice.
The other left hand is stretched across the body and points to the upraised foot, a gesture signifying the blissful refuge which Siva grants to those who seek his grace.
The upraised hand of the lower right arm with a cobra coiled round it also gives an assurance of protection to the devotee.
The torana, or arch of flame surrounding the image, is the Hall of the Universe in which Siva is dancing.
The dance had a dual significance. On the one hand it represents the material processes of nature, on the other the subjective spiritual processes by which worldly passions, evil-thinking, and wickedness are destroyed or transmuted in the alembic of the Divine Alchemist.
Every Indian image has its appropriate dhyana, a devotional text, generally in Sanskrit, used as a guide by the imager, conveying the impression which the icon is intended to make in the mind of the worshipper. This is one which is still used in the temple service of Southern India.
"O Lord of the Dance, who calls by beat of drums all those who are absorbed in worldly things, and dispels fear of the humble and comforts them with His love divine: who points with His uplifted Lotus foot as the refuge of Salvation; who carries the fire of sacrifice and dances in the Hall of the Universe, do Thou protect us!"
Another one from a Tamil text runs thus: (A. Coomaraswamy, Catalouge of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Indian Section)
"O my Lord, Thy hand holding the sacred drum hath made and ordered the heavens and earth and other worlds and souls innumerable. Thy uplifted hand protects the multifarious animate and inanimate extended universe. Thy sacred foot, planted on the ground, gives an abode to the tired soul struggling in the toils of Karma. It is Thy uplifted foot that grants eternal bliss to those that approach Thee. These Five Actions are indeed Thy handiwork."
The superb artistry of the two well-known images of the Madras Museum dating back to the 10th and 11th century, have won the unqualified admiration of the famous French sculptor Auguste RODIN, (Ars Asiatica, Part III, edited by Victor Goloubefl.), whose sympathy for the religious art of India was attracted by its close affinity with the spirit of the great Gothic cathedrals. But these two stand almost alone among the metal images of the Nataraja now known to exist. Another one exists in the great temple of Tanjore built in the 11th century by Chola Rajaraja the Great. This figure excluding the pedestal and the aura is nearly 4 feet high and a perfect piece.
In expressing the inexpressible and the unknowable through art, the process of expression itself was a spiritual experience. A superb artist could bring the pilgrim to as close an encounter of the divine as could be possible. Art in its perfection was to the Indian an experience of the Divine. This understanding is essential to the understanding of Indian art by a western critic.
The reader is encouraged to add to the knowledge of the subject and to bring new perception in examining with DeMythic the powerful spiritual and material impressions, and their enduring forms in India's Art.
All Indian images conform to canonical rules of design and proportion fixed by immemorial tradition in the scriptures of craft-ritual (silpa-sastra), and are never regarded from the point of view of the modern critic as pure works of art. The supreme artistic qualities which the finest of them undoubtedly possess are a subconscious reflection of the spiritual efforts of mystics who worshipped the divinity in Nature, rather than the result of a deliberate attempt to please the eye. The imagers only aimed at spiritual truth, being sure that in finding it they would realize all perfections.
We must, however, always bear in mind that the spiritual significance of a religious symbol must be appraised by what it conveys to the mind of the worshipper and not merely by its aesthetic content. Ethical and aesthetical values do not always coincide, either in the East or the West, and the Western critic is not the best judge of what an Indian symbol may mean to an instructed Indian mind. It is certainly difficult to trace any such direct connection between the Kali image another aspect of the cosmic dance of dissolution and the joyous, loving nature-worship of the Vedic hymns as suggested for the derivation of the Nataraj.
Tributaries of Godavari: Pravara, Purna, Manjra, Pranahita, Indravathy, Sabari
Tributaries of Krishna: Ghataprabha, Malaprabha, Bhima and Tungabhadra
Amravati or Amraoti near Hyderabad lies near the bank of river Krishna and is the most sublime Buddhist pilgrimage site of South India. In the ancient days, Amravati was the capital of the Satvahanas. Amravati is the hub of Buddhist stupas constructed by the missionary of Ashoka in the 200 BC. Amravati is located about 307 kilometers from Hyderabad in Andra Pradesh.
Makara a Sea Dragon
Trimurti of Elephanta Caves
The bronze collections of Salarjung museum. Ananda Tandava
Solar Symbolism in the arch
Five Actions: Creation, preservation, destruction, illusion or incarnation, release or salvation