óBy Ragini

In India the dance has been one of the chief forms of religious expression since time immemorial. Shiva, Lord of Creation, was the first dancer. In the mythological heaven of Indra, God of Rain, and encircled by the celestial host of gods and goddesses, Shiva danced, His form infinite and eternal, expressing in an ecstasy of motion the great cosmic activities of Creation, Preservation and Destruction.

Sri Laksmi, Goddess of Wealth and Beauty, and wife of Vishnu, the Preserver, was the first classical dancer of heaven. Adorned with jewels and wearing anklets of bells, She danced with a divine grace that completely won the acclaim of Indra's court and made Her at once the peer of the heavenly nymphs to whom She taught Her Art. She is supposed to have imparted this divine knowledge to human beings as well.

The Hindu religious conception is conjugal rather than filial. God, in His various aspects or manifestations, is therefore associated with a feminine counterpart. The consort of Shiva is Parvati or Gouri, who represents the powers without which there could be no creation or evolution. Laksmi, the Hindu Venus, is the wife of Vishnu, the Preserver; Sita, queen of chastity, is the wife of Rama, incarnation of Vishnu.

The romance of Krishna, the Divine flute-player, and Radha, His consort, who danced together in the moonlight attended by many enamored maidens, has an underlying spiritual significance. The music of Krishna's flute is the Celestial Song of Songs calling the individual soul to God. Radha represents human emotional experience. Thus the appeal of the Infinite and Eternal to the souls of men is a beautiful narrative of love and devotion.

Hindu folklore abounds in romantic tales and fables of gods and goddesses. The mischievous pranks perpetrated by them on each other, and on human beings as well, are often related in song, dance and drama.

To the ancient Aryans, the dance was an expression of spiritual energy on the earth-plane through the senses and intelligence. The old Sanskrit Shastras included treatises on the arts of dancing, music and drama in their sacred texts. Hindu philosophy recognizes and identifies the human emotions as emanating from a Universal Source. The moods and expressions of the physical and sense-life are realized but without a sense of individual ownership.

It may be said that all Oriental conception of art is rooted in deep spiritual soil. When the greatest Sufi poet of Persia, Jala-uddin, introduced music and dancing as part of the Sufi funeral rites, he explained his innovation thus: "When the human spirit, after years of imprisonment in the cage and dungeon of the body, is at length set free, and wings its flight to the Source whence it came, is not this an occasion for rejoicings, and thanks, and dancing?" The mystical dances (sama) of the Sufis were designed to represent the circling processes of the spheres, and the dervishes seek to portray the return of the soul to God by cyclic whirls of movement.

According to Hindu definition there are thirteen emotions called Rasas. They are Sringara, also called Adi or the original sex rasa which lies at the very root of creation; Vira, meaning valor or courage; Karuna, pity and compassion; Advuta, the sense of wonder; Hasya, laughter; Bhayanaka, fear; Bibhatsa, the sense of the grotesque; Raudra, or the terrible; Shantu, or absolute quietude; Dasya, devotion and service, Saukhya, friendship; Vatsalya, the parental feeling; Madhura,* romance or conjugal life.

These thirteen Rasas find expression in the Hindu dance modes according to definite rules of technique for rhythmic body movements, head and hand postures and facial expressions. There are more than a hundred such modes, which give an ample variety of dance figures to suit religious and secular tastes.

Hinduism teaches emotional culture through music and dancing; and not only as a means of worship and spiritual understanding, but as a necessary method of character development. Character means well-regulated emotion. Dancing and music are excellent regulators of the emotions. Ill-regulated emotion ruins life and destroys happiness.

The venerable Brahmins who defined and practiced the fine arts in the past, never meant to include the Charleston or jazz music in their curriculum of emotional culture. I am sure that the movements and music of jazz dancing would have been labeled by them as "ill-regulated emotion."

The point I want to make clear, however, is that in Hinduism the emotions are spiritualized, idealized and universalized as emanating from the Source and Substance of all our various emotions.

The Hindu nautch is, for this reason, impersonal and animated by a sense of inner spirituality. Whether it be a ritualistic temple dance, or an expression of romance, or joy in Springtime, there is a certain sweet dignity and restraint, a refinement of expression which is derived from the traditional spiritual conception of art that belongs to India.


*By the scientific construction of Sanskrit, "the language of the gods," the sound of words as they are pronounced, convey the actual meaning. Thus, is not Hasya a laughing word? Has not Bibhatsa a grotesque sound? Does not Raudra convey terror? Is Shantu not a peaceful word?

Return To Contents