Padmaja Suresh The Times of India 20 Feb, 2007
The role of prema or devotional love is pivotal in divine dance forms such as Bharatanatyam. The combination of nritta or pure dance, abhinaya or pure expression and nritya or expressive dancing leads the dancer close to the infinite domain of the cosmic self. For this, dance needs to be portrayed in a spirit of total ecstasy, rising above the physical realm and parameters of the body. Natyopasana or devotional fervour in dance wherein the dance assumes worshipful nature, leads to natyabrahmn: Realising the Universe within the individual self, a dancer uses her own personality comprising physical form and mental states as the primary vehicle in the first stage. She then acquires the personality of the various charac-ters represented as the secondary vehicle in the second stage and unwinds shackles of personal traits as the dance level evolves and deepens. Finally she gets elevated to the highest spiritual sphere, sringara or love. This is the first among rasas that are aesthetic flavours of dance and drama. Sringara considered as rasa raja as its portrayal alone has the scope to touch upon other bhavas too, taking its three basic delineations as vatsalya or motherly affection, rati or union of male and female principles and bhakti or self-surrender and devotion to the Almighty. Sringara becomes delectable in any form and offers the easiest path to be one with the ethereal world: that's natya yoga. A dancer could be skilled and sincere too, but unless there is sublimation of ego, the dance cannot create rasanubhava, the impact of splendour. The dancer merges in the spirit of dance, surrenders to its magnificence and spontaneously expresses a divine energy, and transports the audience to similar experiences. Through inspiration and intuition, dance makes the audience feel divine energy. The dancer's quest is to negate egoistic tendencies by submitting herself as an instrument to experience divinity. It is said that true movement cannot lie. True joy can be experienced through devotional love. This cannot always be taught but can perhaps be imbibed from eminent gurus.We can assess philosophical terms like advaita, vishishta advaita and dvaita in the context of dance. The concept of a dancer becoming one with the dance through natya yoga is holistic and advaitic, while the aesthetic representation and appreciation of manifestations of divinity incorporated in dance are examples of admitting to theosophies like vishishta advaita. Again, the bhakti-marg or pathway to God prescribed by saints is so suffused with infectious love, humble devotion and self-surrender, that dancing to their innumerable compositions has the potency to infuse spiritual well-being. Creating, adding form — from nirguna to saguna — and placing this divinity on the highest pedestal become tools for communication, a must for successful dramatic representation. Advaitam, true shantam, resting in Monism can be the 'end'. Indeed where there cannot be any mundane expression but natya, in order to carry the dancer and spectators, it has to be thoroughly expressive and appear world-related. It is multidimensional, physically externalising through movement and emotions using eyes, parts of face, neck, limbs... and also all along internalising by correlating the mind. Witnessing all these ephemeral states is the 'mystical eye' that can make one see divine reality in dance. Hence, one can understand dance as life itself... as cosmic movement... as infinite cycle of creation, sustenance and destruction. Presented at the first international indology conference, Goa, Feb 7-10.