Land of Dances
The International dance day is celebrated on April 29th every year. In the land of India, every festival is an occasion for dance, be it the dance for Holi, be it for Bihu in Assam, be it the dance of Dandya for Navaratri, be it the cowherds dancing for Mattu Pongal. So, every occasion, every festival is a reason to dance in this land.
Difference dances in Indian tradition
Brahma created the fifth Veda called Natya Veda. He took the lyrics from the Rig Veda, music from Sama Veda, the language of gestures and emotions from the Yajur Veda and the Aesthetic experience or Rasa from Atharva Veda.
Cosmic Dance of Shiva – the Legend
Once Vishnu recounted to Adishesha, the wonderful Cosmic Dance, Tandava of Shiva, He had witnessed.
Dance of Shiva
Adishesha was wonderstruck by Vishnu’s recital of the great dance of Shiva at Thillai, Chidambaram. He prayed to Shiva to grant him a chance to see that vision. Shiva then directed him to go to Chidambaram and await Him. Adishesha then assumed the form of Rishi Patanjali.
In the old times, it is said, there were 2 shrines within the inner precincts of Chidambaram, one of which was dedicated to Kali. Now, as Shiva made his second visit to grant his devotee the vision of the Tandava, Kali did not permit Him to enter the great hall of dance. So, they decided to dance it out, with the condition that the vanquished would give up all claims to the shrine & leave the town. Then began the great competition witnessed by all the devas. The 2 great exponents of the Natya Shastra were equally matched in wondrous steps and no clear winner seemed to emerge!
The devas watched with bated breath. At last Mahadeva resorted to a pose where he shot his right leg straight over his head! Mahakali, doubtless, could have done it equally well, but feeling bashful, hesitated. And thus it was that Mahadeva was declared the winner and Kali had to take up her abode in the outskirts of Chidambaram. Thus it was that Patanjali got his glimpse of the Master of yoga. And that dance is much more than just an art form for us & is deeply connected to the sacred is evident from these mudras adorning the walls of the Thillai, in Chidambaram.
Popular Dance festivals in India
There are various dances that are innate to that festival, to that region.
Some of the popular dance festivals today in India being,
- Mamalpuram dance festival in front of Arjuna’s penance bas relief
Mamalapuram dance festival
- Konark Dance festival
Konark dance festival in the foreground of Konark Sun Temple
- Chidambaram dance festival
Chidambaram dance festival
- Khajuraho Dance festival
Khajuraho dance festival in the foreground of Lakshmana temple
Dance is not unique to humans alone. Even the animals, the birds and beasts have their own varieties of dance. The plants and trees also dance swaying gently in the breeze. So, everything in nature dances. This dance is just not random movement or flaying of one’s limbs but is a movement that is aesthetic, beautifully and most importantly in rhythm with nature. This rhythmic movement of all components exists in this universe, in the cosmos, which is why it is called Cosmic Dance. Nataraja is the embodiment of this cosmic dance.
More on the correlation and details between the cosmic dance, Nataraja and the underlying principle, Shiva Tattva is discussed in our book “Understanding Shiva”, which is a part of the Bharath Gyan series.