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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Three

Continued from Part Two 

 Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya

shiva_dancing_for_parvati

Intro.

As it has been said very often; the Natyashastra is the earliest available text of Indian Dancing traditions. It combines in itself the fundamentals of the principles, practices and techniques of Dance. it thus serves as the principal text of the Dance. And, therefore, the influence exerted by it on the growth and development of all Dance-forms, has been deep and vast.  The Natyashastra, an authoritative text to which the Masters and learners alike turn to, seeking instructions, guidance, and inspiration, is central to any discussion on classical Dance. And, therefore, no discussion on classical Dance is complete without referring to the concepts  of the  Natyashastra.

[Having said that; let me also mention that in the context of Dance , as it is practiced in the present day, besides Natyashastra , several other texts are followed. The Natyashastra provides the earliest theoretical framework; but, the practice of Dance  and the techniques of dancing were  molded and improved by many texts of the later periods. What we have today is the culmination of several textual traditions and their practices. We shall come to those aspects later in the series.]

Because of the position that Natyashastra occupies in the evolution of the Arts and its forms, it would help to try to understand the early concepts and their relationships to Dance. And, thereafter, we may follow the unfolding and transformation of those concepts acquiring different meanings and applications; as also the emergence of new terms and art-forms, during the later times.

In that context, we may, in particular, discuss the three terms; their derivation; their manifestation and transformation; as also the mutual relations among the three. In the process, we may also look at the related concepts; and their evolution over the centuries. The three terms that I am referring to are the Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya, which are fundamental to most of the Dance formats.

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As regards the  other texts that discuss the theories, practices and techniques of Dancing, there are no significant works between the period of Bharata and that of Abhinavagupta and Dhananjaya (eleventh century). Even if any were there, none has come down to us. But during this period, the dance and its concepts had changed significantly. And, the manuscript editions of the Natyashastra had also undergone alterations.

Over the different periods, the concepts of Natyashastra, along with that of its basic terms such as Nrtta, Natya etc., came to be interpreted in number of amazingly different ways, depending, largely, upon the attitudes and the approach of the authors coming from diverse backgrounds and following varied regional cultural practices. It is a labyrinth, a virtual maze, in which one can easily get lost.

It would, therefore, hopefully, make sense if we try to understand these terms in the context of each period that spans the course of the long history of Dancing in India, instead of trying to take an overall or summary view.

In the following pages, let us try to understand these terms and their applications in relation to the  concepts and the techniques of dancing, as it emerged in various stages, during the three phases of Indian Art history: the period of the  Natyashastra of Bharata; the theories and commentaries by the authors of the medieval period; and, dance as practiced in the present-day.

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Before we get into the specifics, let’s briefly talk about Dance in general, within the context of Natyashastra.

Bharata’s Natyashastra represents the first known stage of Indian Art-history where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics etc., combined harmoniously, to fruitfully produce an enjoyable play. 

It is quite possible that the authors prior to the time of Bharata did speak of Dance; its forms and practices.  But, it was, primarily, Bharata who recognized the communicative power of Dance; and, laid down its concepts.

Bharata described what he considered to be the most cultivated dance styles, which formed the core of the dominant art-practice (prayoga) in his time, the Drama.

The framework within which Bharata describes Dance is, largely, related to Drama. And, his primary interest seemed to be to explore the ways to enhance the beauty of a dramatic presentation. Thus, Dance in association with music was treated as an ornamental overlay upon Drama.  As Nandikesvara said, the Dance should have songs (gitam). And, the song must be sung, displaying (pradarshayet) the meaning (Artha) and emotions (Bhavam) of the lyrics through the gestures of the hands (hastenatha); shown through the eyes (chakshuryo darshaved); and, in tune with rhythm and corresponding foot-work (padabhyam talam-achareth).

Asyena alambaved gitam, hastena artha pradarshayet/chakshuryo darshaved bhavam, padabhyam talam-achareth (Ab.Da.36)

Dance, at that stage, was an ancillary part (Anga) or one of the ingredients that lent elegance and grace to theatrical performance; and, it was not yet an independent art-form, by itself. Bharata , at that stage, is credited with  devising a more creative Dance-form , which was adorned with elegant, evocative and graceful body-movements; performed in unison with attractive rhythm and enthralling music; in order to effectively interpret and illustrate the lyrics of a song; and, also to depict the emotional content of a dramatic sequence.But, he had not assigned it a name.

It was only in the later times, when the concepts and descriptions provided by Bharata were adopted and improved upon, that Dance gained the status of a self-regulating, independent specialized form of art, as Nrtya.

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The scholars opine that in the evolution of Dance, first comes Nrtta; then Natya; and, later Nrtya appeared. Here, Nrtta is said to be pure dance; while Nrtya emerged when Abhinayas of four types (Angika; Vachika; Sattvika; and Aharya) were combined with Nrtta. And, Natya included both these (Nrtta and Nrtya), even while the speech and the songs remained prominent. Thus, Natya comprises all the three features – Dance, music and speech (song) – which are very essential for the production and enactment of Drama.

To put the entire series of developments, in the context of Natyashastra, in a summary form:

Nrtta, as described in Natyashastra, had been in practice even during the very ancient times. The Nrtta, according to Bharata, was a dance form created by Shiva; and, which, he taught to his disciple Tandu.  It seems to have been older than Natya

Natya too goes back to the very distant past. Even by the time of Bharata, say by   about the fourth to second century BCE, Natya was already a highly developed and accomplished Art. It was regarded as the best; and, also as the culmination of all Art forms. Though Nrtta was older, Natya was not derived from it. Both the Nrtta and the Natya had independent origins; and, developed independent of each other. And, later too, the two ran on parallel lines.

It was during Bharata’s time that Nrtta was integrated into Natya. Even though the two came together, they never merged into each other. And, up to the present-day they have retained their identity; and, run parallel in ways peculiar to them. (Even in a Bharatanatya performance the treatment and presentation of the Nrtta is different from that of the rest.)

 By combining Nrtta, the pure Dance, with the Abhinaya of Natya, a new form of Dance viz., the Nrtya came into being. Bharata is credited with this creative, innovative act of bringing together two of the most enjoyable Art forms (Bhartopajanaka). But, it developed to its full extant only after the time of Bharata.

But, at the time of Bharata, that resultant new-art was not assigned a separate name; nor was it then classified into Tandava and Lasya types.  In fact, the terms Nrtya and Lasya do not appear either in the Natyashastra or in its early commentaries. It was only during the later times that Nrtya gained an independent recognition as an expressive, eloquent representational Art, which projects human experiences, with amazing fluidity and grace.

Nrtya, a blend of two well studied, well developed and well codified Art forms – the dance of Nrtta and Abhinayas of Natya – over a period, advanced  vibrantly, imbibing on its way numerous novel features; and, soon became hugely popular among all classes of the society. It gained recognition as the most delightful Art-form; and in particular, as the most admired phrase or form of Dance.

With this general backdrop, let’s go further.

Hamsa 4

A. Nrtta in Natyasahastra

Nrtta

Initially, Bharata, in the fourth Chapter of the Natyashastra, titled Tandava Lakshanam, deals with the Dance. The term that he used to denote Dance was Nrtta (pure dancing or limb movements, not associated with any particular emotion, Bhava).

The Nrtta comprised two varieties of Dances (Nrtta-prayoga) : The Tandava and Sukumara. The Tandava was not necessarily aggressive; nor danced only by men. And, the gentler, graceful form of dance was Sukumara-prayoga

And, in the context of Drama, both of these were said to refer to the physical structure of dance movements. And, both were performed during the preliminaries before the commencement of the play – Purvaranga – while offering prayers to the deities, Deva-stuti   ; and, not in the drama per se.

Mayāpīdam smta ntta sandhyākāleu Ntttā nānā karaa sayuktai raga hārair vibhūitam 4.13

Pūrva-raga-vidhā avasmistvayā samyak prayojyatām vardhamāna kayogeu gītevāsāriteu ca 4.14

The Dance performed during the Purvaranga was accompanied by vocal and instrumental music. It is said; the songs that were sung during the Purvaranga were of the Marga class- sacred, somber and well regulated (Niyata). Such Marga songs were in praise of Shiva (Shiva-stuti). Bharata explains Marga or Gandharva as the Music dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā), giving great pleasure to Gandharvas; and, therefore it is called Gandharva.

Atyartham iṣṭa devānā tathā prīti-kara puna | gandharvāā ca yasmād dhi tasmād gāndharvam ucyate – NS Ch. 28, 9

shiva dance

Almost the entire Chapter Four of Natyashastra is devoted to Nrtta. That is because, the term that Bharata generally used to symbolize  Dance, was Nrtta.  And, the Nrtta, Bharata said, was created to give expression to beauty and grace – śobhā prajanayediti Ntta pravartitam (NS.4.264). The Nrtta is visual art. The term Nrtta, in the context of the Natyashastra, is explained by Abhinavagupta as (Angavikshepa), the graceful composition of the limbs – gatram vilasena kshepaha.

The Nrtta stands for pure, abstract and beautiful dance, performed in tune with the rhythm and tempo, to the accompaniment of vocal and instrumental music.

The Nrtta performed during the Purvaranga was not as an auxiliary to Natya. And, therefore, Nrtta was considered to be independent and complete by itself.

Nrtta is described in terms of the motion of the limbs; the beauty of its form; the balanced geometrical structure; creative use of space; and rhythm (time). It gives form to the formless.  Here, the body speaks its own language; an expression of the self. It delights the eye with its posture, rhythm and synchronized movements of the dancer’s body.

Nrtta is the spontaneous rhythmic movement of different parts of the body (Angas, Upangas and Pratyangas). Nrtta is also associated with the surrounding nature and its beauty. For instance; Shiva does his Nrtta in the evening, before sun set, (Sandhyayam nrtyaha Shamboh) surrounded by the salubrious shining snow peaks of the Himalayas, while he is in the company of Devi Parvathi and his Ganas.

It is said; the sense of Nrtta is ingrained in the nature. For instance; the peacocks burst into simple rhythmic movements at the sight of rain-bearing clouds; and, the waves in the sea swing in ebb and flow as the full moon rises up in a clear cloudless night.

Nrtta is a kind of architecture. It is an Art-form whose life is the beauty of its form. But, Nrtta was not meant for giving forth meaningful expressions. It did not look for a purpose; not even of narrating a theme.

Thus, Nrtta could be understood as a metaphor of Dance made of coordinated movement of hands and feet (Cari and Karana or dance units or postures), in a single graceful flow.  Nrtta is useful for its beautiful visual appeal; as that which pleases the eye (Shobha hetuvena).

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Tandava

shiva tandava

And, Tandava is said to be the Nrtta that Shiva taught to his disciple Tandu (Tando rayam Tandavah).  It was composed by combining the circular movement of a limb (Recaka) and the sequence of dance movements (KaranasAngaharas) . It is not clear  how these movements were utilized.

The term Tandava could also be understood as Bharata’s term for Nrtta , the Dance (Nrtta-prayoga) – Nrtta-prayoga sṛṣṭo ya sa Tāṇḍava iti smta. NS.4.261. And, Tandava is often used as a synonym for Nrtta.

[Abhinavagupta, in his typical style, provides a totally different sort of explanation to the term Tandava. According to him, the term ṇḍava is derived from the sounds like ‘Tando; tam-tam’, produced by the accompanying Damaru shaped drums. It follows the manner, in Grammar (vyākaraa), of naming an object, based on the sound it produces – śabda-anukti.  For instance; Yaska, in his Nirukta (318) had mentioned that a kaka (crow) is so called, because of the sound it makes – kāka, iti Śabda, anuktis, tad idam, śakunisu bahulam.

Abhinavagupta also mentions that the Bhaṇḍam (percussion instruments), which produce sounds like ‘Bhan, Than’ etc., are important for the performance of the Ntta.]

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And, in regard to the Drama, the Tandava,  a form of Nrtta, is performed before the commencement of the play, as a prayer-offering to gods (Deva stuti). It is a dance that creates beauty of form; and, is submitted to gods, just as one offers flowers (pushpanjali).

The Tandava, at this stage, did not necessarily mean a violent dance; nor was it performed only by men.

According to Bharata, the Tandava Nrtta, during Purvaranga, iperformed to accompaniment of appropriate songs and drums. And, it is composed of Recakas, Angaharas and the Pindibandhas; (NS. 4. 259-61).

Recakā Agahārāśca Piṇḍībandhā tasthaiva ca 4.259 sṛṣṭvā bhagavatā dattās Taṇḍave munaye tadā tenāpi hi tata samyag-gāna-bhāṇḍa-samanvita 4.260 Ntta-prayoga sṛṣṭo ya sa Tāṇḍava iti smta 4.261

[Please also check this link http://www.tarrdaniel.com/documents/Yoga-Yogacara/nata_yoga.html ]

Sukumara

devi lasya.

And , Sukumara Prayoga is the tender and graceful type of dance performed by the Devi Parvathi.

It is said; Shiva’s Tandava dance comprising Angaharas and Recakas inspired Devi Parvathi to perform her own type of dance, adorned with graceful and delicate movements (sukumara-prayoga) – (Sukumāra-prayogeṇa Nṛttam caiva Pārvatīm –NS.4.250). 

Recakair-agahāraiś ca Ntyanta vīkya Sakaram 249 Sukumāra-prayogea Ntyantī caiva Pārvatīm (NS. 4. 249-50)

Parvathi ‘s  dance was also adorned with graceful gestures – Recakas and Angaharas. But, her dance cannot be construed as s counterpart to Tandava. It was her own form of Dance.

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Abhinavagupta explains; the Angaharas of Parvathi’s Dance was rich in loveliness and subtle beauty (Lalitha Angahara); celebrating the erotic sentiment, Sṛṅgāra, the love that binds male and female – (Sukumāra-prayogaśca śṛṅgāra-rasa-sambhavaḥ – NS.4.269). Her Dance was bedecked with emotion; and, was full of meaning (Abhinaya prāptyartham arthānā tajjñair abhinaya kta NS.4. 261).

Yattu śṛṅgāra sabaddha gāna strī puruā aśrayam Devī ktair agahārair lalitais tat prayojayet NS.4. 312

Abhinavagupta says; the fruit (phala) of the gentle dance is that it pleases the Goddess (Devī); and that of ṇḍava is that it pleases Shiva who is with Soma. He also mentions that while performing the dance-gestures (abhinaya) for Puṣhpāñjali, the dancer’s looks must not be diverted towards the audience. That is because; that dance-offering is not addressed to the spectators. Therefore, it must be performed looking into one’s own soul.

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[ We need to remember that the Tandava and the Sukumara, the pure types of Dances, were discussed by Bharata in the context of the purvaranga, not in that of drama proper (yaścāya pūrva-ragastu tvayā śuddha prayojita – NS.4. 15). And, such a Purvaranga was called Chitra (Citro nāma bhaviyati); Chitra meant diagrams/formations. These dances , at that stage , were not associated with expression of emotions.

However, Abhinavagupta, in his commentary, at many places, interprets Natyashastra in the light of contemporary concepts and practices. He also introduces certain ideas and terms that were not present during the time of Bharata.

For instance; during the time of Bharata, there was no clear theoretical division of Dance into Tandava and Sukumara. And, the term Lasya, which in the later period meant gentle, delicate and graceful, does not also appear in Natyashastra. But, the concept of the element of grace and beauty did exist; and, was named as Sukumara-prayoga.

The Tandava as described in the Natyashastra was Nrtta (pure dance); and, it was not necessarily aggressive; though Abhinavagupta interpreted Tandava as Uddhata (vigorous). But, in the Natyashastra, Tandava does not convey the sense of Uddhata.

Similarly, though Tandava is mentioned as Nrtta; it, in no way, refers to, or is related to furious dance, which in the present-day goes by the name Tandava-nrtta

Abhinavagupta states that Lasya (which term he uses to substitute Sukumara-prayoga), the graceful dance with delicate, graceful movements , performed by Devi Parvathi was in contrast to Shiva’s forceful (Uddhata Angaharas) and fast paced Tandava Nrtta. But, nether term Lasya, nor such distinctions or contrasts are mentioned in the Natyashastra.

Both Tandava and Sukumara come under Nrtta – the pure Dance, devoid of meaning and emotion. But, Abhinavagupta describes the Sukumara of Devi as being ‘bedecked with emotion and full of meaning’.

Abhinavagupta also brings in the notion of relating Tandava and Sukumara to male (Purusha) and female (Stri) dances. But, such gender-based associations were not mentioned in the Natyashastra.]

NataYoga10-12

Recaka, Karana and Angahara

As mentioned earlier, according to Bharata, the Tandava Nrtta, performed to the accompaniment of appropriate songs and drum-beats, is composed of Recakas, Angaharas and the Pindibandhas – (Recakā Agahārāśca Piṇḍībandhā tasthaiva caNS. 4. 259-61). The Tandava, at this stage, as said earlier, did not necessarily mean a violent dance; nor was it performed only by men.

Recaka

Here, Recaka (derived from Recita, relating to limbs) is understood as the extending movements of the feet (pāda), waist (kai), hands (hasta) and neck (grīva or kanta):  pāda-recaka eka syat dvitīya kai-recaka kararecakas tritīyas tu caturta kaṇṭha-recakaḥ (NS.4. 248). The Recakas are said to be separate  movements; and, are not parts of Karanas or Cari.

Movement of the feet from one side to the other with faltering or unsteady gaits as also of other types of feet movement is called Pada-recaka. Rising up, stretching up and turning round the waist as well as drawing it back characterize the Kati-recaka. Throwing up,putting forward, throwing sideways, swinging round and drawing back of the hands are called Hasta-recaka. Raising up, lowering, and bending the neck sideways to left and right or such other movements form the Kanta-recaka.

In each of the four varieties of major joint movements, the limb is moved or turned from one position to another. These four basic oscillating movements, which lend grace and elegance to the postures, are regarded as fundamental to dancing.

Abhinavagupta also says; it is through the Recakas that the Karanas and the Angaharas derive their beauty and grace. He gives some guidelines to be observed while performing a Recaka of the foot (Pada-recaka) , neck (Griva-recaka) and the hands (Hastha-recaka) .

According to him; while performing the Recaka of the foot one should pay attention to the movements of the big toe; in the Recaka of the hands one should perform  Hamsa-paksha Hastha in quick circular movements; and, in the Recaka of the neck one should execute it with slow graceful movements.

Padayoreva chalanam na cha parnir bhutayor antar bahisha sannatam namanonna manavyamsitam gamanam Angustasya cha /Hasthareva chalanam Hamsapakshayo paryayena dhruta bramanam/ Grivayastu Recitatvam vidhuta brantata//

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It is said; on entering the stage, with flowers in her hands (pupāñjali-dharā bhūtvā praviśed raga-maṇtapam), the female dancer should be in vaisakha sthana (posture) ; and , perform all the four Recakas (those of feet, waist, hands and neck) – vaiśākha-sthāna-keneha sarva-recaka-cāriī ॥ 274॥

And, only then , she should go round the stage scattering flowers , in submission to gods. After bowing to gods, she should perform her Abhinaya .

pupāñjali visjyātha ragapīha parītya ca 275 praamya devatābhyaś ca tato abhinayam-ācaret 276

Abhinavagupta also says, the Recakas are basically related to tender graceful movements, where music is prominent (Sukumara-Samgita-Vadya pradanene cha prayoga esham)

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Somehow, there is not much discussion about Recaka in the major texts. Kallinātha, the commentator, merely states that Recakas form part of the Agahāras; and, is useful in adjusting the Taala (time units).

Hamsa 4

Karanas

According to the Natyashastra, the Nrtta is Angahara, which is made of Karanas – Nānā Karaa sayuktair Agahārair vibhūitam (NS.4.13)

And, Karana is defined by Bharata as the perfect combination of the hands and feet – Hasta-pada samyoga Nrttasya Karanam bhavet (NS.4.30). The Karanas are classified under Nrtta.

And, the Karanas are themselves made up of Sthanas (static postures), Caris and Nrtta-hastas (movement of the feet and the hands). It involves both the aspects: movement and position.

Abhinavagupta also explains; Karana is indeed the harmonious combination (sam-militam) of Gati (movement of feet), Sthanaka (stance), Cari (foot position) and Nrtta-hastha (hand-gestures)

Gatau tu Caryah / purvakaye tu Gatau Nrttahastha drusta-yashcha / sthithau pathakadyaha tena Gati-Sthithi – sam-militam Karanam

According to him, the Sthanaka, Cari and Nrtta-hastha can be compared to subject (kartru-pada), object (Karma-pada) and verb (Kriya-pada) in a meaningful sentence.

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Thus, Karaa is not a mere pose, a stance or a posture that is isolated and frozen in time. Karaa is the stylized synthesis of Sthiti (a fixed position-static) and Gati (motion-dynamic). That is to say; a Karana made of Sthanas, Caris and Nrtttahastas is a dynamic process.  It is an aesthetically appealing, well coordinated movement of the hands and feet, capturing an image of beauty and grace .

A Karana functions as a fundamental unit of dance. It is a technical component, which helps to provide a structural framework, on which dance movements and formations are built and developed,

Bharata enumerates 108 types of Karanas in the Fourth Chapter of the Natyashastra. He devotes a two-line verse (Karika) to each of the Karanas, mentioning the associated hand gestures (hastas), foot movements (Caris), and body positions (Mandalas).

Abhinavagupta explains Karaa as action (Kriyā Karaam); and, as the very life (jivitam) of Ntta. It is a Kriya, an act which starts from a given place and terminates after reaching the proper one. It involves both the static and dynamic aspects: pose (Sthiti) and movement (Gati). And that is why, he says, Karaa is called as ‘Ntta Karaa’.

In the Karanas, the balance, equipoise, the ease, is the key. The movement of each limb must be in relation with that of the other, which is either following it in the same direction or is playing as the counterpart in the other direction. The flow must be fluid and harmonious. Every Karana is well thought out; and, is complete by itself.

Nrtta is the art that solely depends on the form. Its purpose is to achieve beauty in forms. That is the reason; Karana is defined as the perfect composition of the entire body. Unless each and every Karana is individually illustrated, it might not be possible to point out whether it is perfect; and whether all the elements that are required for that Karana are present.

karana (1)

Abhinavagupta explains; Karana is different from the actions of normal life (Lokadharmi). And, it is not a mere placement, replacement or displacement. Such throws (kepa) of the limbs must be guided by a sense of beauty and grace (vilasa-ksepasya). Hence, Karana is a free movement of limbs in a pleasing, unbroken flow (ekā kriyā). That is why, though the Karaa is defined ‘kriyā karaam’, Abhinavagupta says: a Karana has to be intellectually and spiritually satisfying. The word nttasya in Bharata’s definition is meant to emphasize this aspect of dance.

Pūrva-ketre sayoga-tyāgena samucita ketrāntara-prapti-paryantatayā ekā kriyā tattaranmityamartha

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As said earlier; Karaa was defined by Bharata as ‘hasta-pāda-sayoga nttasya karaa bhavet’ (BhN_4.30); meaning that the combination of hand and foot movements in dance (Ntta) are called Karaa.  

Abhinavagupta explains that ‘hasta’ and ‘pāda’, here, do not denote merely the hand and foot. But, hasta implies all actions pertaining to the upper part (Purva-kaya) of the body (Anga); and, it’s Shākhā-aga (branches, the various movements of the hands – Kara varhana), and Upāga (subsidiaries like the eyebrows, the nose, the lower lip, the cheeks and the chin etc).

Similarly, pāda stands for all actions of the lower limbs of the body (Apara-kaya); such as sides, waist, thighs, trunk and feet.

Thus, Karana involves the movement of the feet (pada karmani); shifting of a single foot (Cari) and postures of the legs (Sthana), along with hand gestures (hastas– single as also combined Nrtta gestures).

And, all the actions of the hands and feet must be suitably and coherently combined with those of the waist, sides, thighs, chest and back – Hasta, pada samyogaha  Nrtta Karanam bhavet.

That is to say; when the Anga moves, the Pratyanga and Upanga also move accordingly. The flow of the movement (gatravikshepa) should be such that the entire body is involved in the curves and bends.

hastau śiras-sannata ca gagāvataraa tviti / yāni sthānāni yāścāryo vyāyāme kathitāni tu // BhN_4.169 // ādapracārastveā tu karaānāmaya bhavet / ye cāpi ntta hastāstu gaditā nttakarmai // BhN_4.170 //

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There is an elaborate discussion on two important features of a Karana execution: (1) Sausthava (keeping different limbs in their proper position) – about which Bharata says that the whole beauty of Nrtta rests on the Sausthava , so the performer never shines unless he pays attention to this – Shobha sarvaiva nityam hi Sausthavam; and, (2) Chaturasrya (square composition of the body, mainly in relation to the chest) – about which Abhinavagupta remarks that the very vital principle (jivitam)  of the body, in dance, is based on  its square position (Chaturasrya-mulam Nrttena  angasya jivitam), and adds that the very object of Sausthava is to attain a perfect Chaturasrya ,

This again emphasizes that Nrtta rests on the notion of formal-beauty, which is achieved through the perfect composition of the whole body. This involves not merely the geometrical values, but also the balance and harmony among the body parts.

While commenting on the Karaas, Abhinavagupta says that such static elements within the dynamics of the Karaas are useful in dance, not only as factors that beautify the presentation , but also as mediums of expression for communicating the meaning of the lyrics through vākyā-arthā-abhinaya (actions interpreting the meanings of its sentences). According to him, the Karanas are not mere physical actions; they can give form to ideas and thoughts. He opines that Nrtta can produce Bhavas. And, Nrtta, in reality, is Art par excellence.

While commenting on the fifteenth Karaa (the Svastika), Abhinavagupta asserts that every Karaa is capable of conveying a certain idea (Artha) or a thought, at least in a very subtle way. (But, such notions of associating Karanas with representation are not found in the Natyashastra.)

Sarangadeva in his Sangitaratnakara (Chapter 7, Nrttakarana, verses 548-49) also defines the Nrtta Karana as a beautiful (vilasena) combination of the actions (kriya) of the hands (Kara), feet (pada) etc., appropriate to the Rasa it intends to evoke.

Nrttakarana

Thus, while many of the 108-karanas are primarily associated with stylized movements, some Ntta Karaas are used, also, to express various emotions; going beyond the conventional Nrtta format. And, the depiction of such Karanas is a dynamic process. There is scope for innovation and experimentation.

For instance; while explaining the 10th Karana – the Ardha-nikuttaka karana (placing one hand on the shoulder; striking it with outstretched fingers; and then striking the ground with one of the heels) – which employs ancita (curve) of the hands, Abhinavagupta mentions that Sankuka’s description was different from that of Bharata; and, cannot be accepted. Further, he says; this Karana can be performed in two or more different ways; and, therefore, concludes that the performer has some degree of freedom in interpreting a Karana.

He mentions that a Karana can be performed both in the sitting posture and by moving about on a stage by employing Nrtta-hastas (hand postures) and Drsti (glances) – Tatravastane karakayopayogi sthanakam. Gatau tu caryah; purvakaye to gatanau Nrtta-hasta Drstaya ca

And, again, along with his explanation of the 66th Karaa (Atikranta moving forward with each foot treading alternatively with a flourish and swing), he states that wherever the use of the Karaa is not specifically stated, it is left to the imagination of the performer.

[In the later times, Karanas came to be described as the means to convey a meaning (Artha) or a pattern, such as: svastikarcita or mandala-svastika. But, in the Natyashastra, the Nrtta or the Karanas are not associated with such representations.]

And, in the later times, the idioms and phrases (Karanas and Angahara) of these dances, as also the ways of expressing the intent and meaning (Abhinaya) of a situation or of a lyric, were adopted into the play-proper, as also into various Dance forms; thus , enhancing the quality of those art-forms.

It is said; even during the course of the play , one should adopt the physical movements – Uddhata Angaharas of Tandava, created by Shiva, while depicting action in fighting scenes. And, for rendering love-scenes, one should adopt the Sukumara Angaharas created by the Devi.

Since the Karanas epitomize the beauty of form; and, symbolize the concept of aesthetics, they served as models for the artist; and, inspired them to create sculptures of lasting beauty. The sculptors (Shilpis) regarded the Karanas as the vital breath (Prana) of their Art. The much admired Indian sculptures are, indeed, the frozen forms of Karanas. The linear measurements or the deviation from the vertical median (Brahma Sutra); the stances; and, iconometry of the Indian sculptures are all rooted in the Karanas of the Nrtta, the idiom of visual delight. These wondrous sculptures, poems in stone, continue to fascinate and do evoke admiration and pleasure (Rasa) in the hearts of the viewers.

[Please do not fail to read the Doctoral thesis on the Dance imagery in south Indian temples : study of the 108-karana sculptures, prepared by Dr. Bindu S. Shankar]

And, in the present-day dance curriculum, the Karanas are used as the phrases or the basic units of the dance structure.   Nrtta is taught as a combination of basic dance motions called Adavus for which there is a corresponding pattern of phonetic syllables. The Adavus of Bharatanatya are based in limb movements, postures, hand gestures and geometry as in the Karanas; though the Adavus might differ from Karanas, in their execution.

Adavus are regarded as the building blocks of Bharatanatya. Different combinations of Adavus create varieties of body movements.

[The Adavus (smallest units of dance patterns) are composed as dance-modulations (Nrtta), where all the movements relate to the vertical median (Brahma-sutra) on the one hand; and to the stable equipoise, fixed position of one-half of the dancer’s body, on the other. The Adavus are, thus, primary units of movements, where the position of the feet (Sthana), posture of our standing (Mandala), walking movements (Cari), gestures of the hands (Nrtta hasthas) and other limbs of the body together form a precise dance pattern. It is said; there are about ten or more basic types of Adavus (Dasha-vidha); and, more number of variations could be formed de pending on the School of Dancing (Bani).]

adavus2-16b3d

Agahāra

Nrtta in Natyashastra is of Angaharas, which are made of Karanas – Nānā Karaa sayuktair Agahārair vibhūitam (NS.4.13)

Abhinavagupta explains Agahāra as the process of sending the limbs of the body from a given position to the other proper one (Angavikshepa). It could also be taken to mean, twisting and bending of the limbs in a graceful manner.

And, such Angavikshepa is said to be a dominant feature of the Nrtta. And, as mentioned earlier, that term stands for graceful composition of limbs (gatram vilasena kshepaha). Thus, the Angaharas, basically, are Nrtta movements, the Angika-abhinaya, involving six Angas or segments of the body.

Abhinavagupta relates Angavikshepa to the Angaharas; and says, they could be taken, almost, as synonyms . But, they are not the same.

The Angaharas along with Recakas and Karanas constitute the essential aspects of the Nrtta; especially in the in the Purvaranga, and at times on the stage, as a part of the prelude (Naandi),  by female dancers dressed as goddesses – nikrāntāsu ca sarvāsu nartakīsu tata param 5. 156.  Bharata lists 32 Angaharas in verses 19 to 26 of Chapter Four.

[Towards the end of his comments on the 32 Angaharas, Abhinavagupta mentions that these could be produced in separate two sets of 16 each. One set of sixteen could be performed as a part of the Purvanga; and, the other set of sixteen after lifting the curtain, in full view of the spectators. While on the stage, four female dancers could perform four Angaharas each. Eight of them could be in Trisra Taala and the other eight in Chatursra Taala (Trysratalakah sodasa Esam; caturasra sryastav avantaratah).]

A Karana, as said earlier, is a basic unit of dance, constructed of well coordinated static postures and dynamic movements. The Nrtta technique consists in constructing a series of short compositions, by using the Karanas.

The Natyashastra mentions that a unit of two Karanas makes one Matrka; three Karanas makes one Kalapaka; four Karanas make a Sandaka; and, five Karanas make one Samghataka.  Thus, it says, The Angaharas consist of six, seven, eight or nine Karanas.

A meaningful combination of six to nine Karanas is said to constitute an Angahara, which could be called as a basic dance sequence (abhirvā saptabhirvāpi aṣṭabhir navabhis tathākaraairiha sayuktā agahārā prakīrtāḥ – NS.4.33).

It is said; the Angahara is like a garland where the selected Karanas (like flowers) are strung together, weaving a delightful pattern. It is basically a visual delight (prekshaniya).

Angahara is, thus, a dance sequence composed of uninterrupted series of Karanas. Such combination of Karanas cannot be done randomly; but, it should follow a method. That is because; the nature of an Angahāra is defined by the appropriate arrangement (yojana) or the order of the occurrence of its constituent Karaas. Out of the 108, say, six to nine suitable Karanas are, therefore, selected and strung together in various permutations to form a meaningful Angahara sequences or a Dance segment. Chapter Four (verses 31 to 55) of the Natyashastra describes 32 selected Angaharas, to choose from.

[Pundarika Vittala, the author of Nartana -nirnaya , mentions that by his time, the sixteenth century, the 108 Karanas had , in effect , been reduced to sixteen.] 

Abhinavagupta, while explaining the fourth Angahara (the Apaviddha) remarks that even the best of the theoreticians (Lakshnakaro) cannot rationally and adequately explain the sequence of Karanas that should occur in an Angahara. Hence, whatever sequence is given by authorities should not be taken as final. The performers should go by their experience and intuition. The choreographer / performer, therefore, enjoy a certain degree of freedom in composing an Angahara sequence.

Nahi susiksitopi lakshnakaro vakyanam pratipadam laksanam keutum saknoti / Asya pascadidam prayojyamiti jnapitena kincid atmaano yojana ca samhita karya / Niyeimanamagre vak ityuktam /

Though Angaharas and Karanas have much in common, the two are not said to be the same. The Angaharas are not mere the sum or totality of Karanas. Each possesses a distinctive character of its own. The Angaharas are distinct from Karanas. That is the reason Bharata says: Nana karaa sayuktān vyākhyāsyāmi sarecakān (NS.4.19)

The Angaharas, though mainly made up of Karanas, also need Recakas, which are the stylized movements of four limbs: neck (griva), hands (hasta), waist (kati) and feet (carana). The Recakas fulfill two purposes. One, it provides beauty and grace to the presentation; and, two, it ensures a smooth and seamless movement in such a way as to adjust the entire Angahara to the given Tala.

*

Thus, in short, the Dance choreography of Nrtta is the series of body-movements, composed of Angaharas. The Angaharas in turn are made of appropriate Karanas. And, the Karanas are themselves made up of Caris, Nrtta-hastas and Sthanas. 

Nrtta, as articulated by Bharata, is of the Marga class. And, according to Abhinavagupta, it is capable of evoking Rasa, although it is non-representational.

padmakarana2

Which is the basic unit of Nrtta..?

Now, we have in sequence Caris; Nrttahastas; Sthanas; Karanas and Angaharas.

And, Abhinavagupta questions, which of these should be considered as the basic unit of Nrtta. He says the combination of two karanas, called Nrtta-matrka (Nrtta alphabet) is the basic unit of Nrtta; because, until the two Karanas are performed, you will not get the sense that you are dancing (Nrttyati).

But, that view was disputed by the later scholars. They counter questioned why only two Karanas; why not three or four or more.

They point out that the components of a Karana; like Caris; Nrtta-hastas; Sthanas, by themselves, individually cannot convey the sense of the Nrtta. They argued that Karana is, indeed, the factor, that characterizes Nrtta, which is built up by the clever arrangement of its patterns, just as in architecture. That form of beauty is achieved through the perfect geometrical qualities and harmonious composition of various body-parts. The sense of balance, ease and poise is the key. Therefore, a well thought out Karana, which is complete by itself, is regarded as the basic unit of Nrtta.

dance pose

Bharatanatya

Eventually, the Karanas, Angaharas and Nrtta, all, form part of Nrtya, the expressive dance. And, a Dance form like Bharatanatya is not complete without adaptation of the Nrtta techniques.

Bharatanatya is a composite Dance form, which brings together Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya formats. It draws its references (apart from Natyashastra) from various other texts of regional nature. Besides, it has developed its own specialized forms.

The Indian classical dance of today (Bharatanatya) has, over a period, evolved its own Grammar; and, has constructed its own devices. Its Nrtta element too has changed greatly from what it meant during the days of Bharata. Its structure and style is based in different units of movements, postures, and hand gestures such as Adavus etc., which are the combination of steps and gestures artistically woven into Nrtta sequences.

The basic Nrtta items in the Bharatanatya repertoire are the Alarippu (invocation); Jatiswaram (perhaps a successor of Yati Nrtta, where the Jati patterns are interspersed with appropriate Svara); and , Tillana (brisk, short rhythmic passages presented towards the close of the performance

Such Nrtta items in a Bharatanatya performance are dominated by the technique of the Angikabhinaya, which is defined as acting by means of body movements.

[ Alarippu

Alarippu is a dance invocation, which , at the same time, executes a series of pure Dance movements (Nrtta) following rhythmic patterns. It is an ideal introduction or prologue to a Dance performance. It commences with perfect repose, a well balanced poise (Sama-bhanga). Then, the individual movements of the neck, the shoulders, and the arms follow. And, next is the Ardha-mandali (the flexed position of the knees) and the full Mandali.  Thus, the Alarippu introduces the movements of the major limbs (Anga) and the minor limbs (Upanga) , in their simple formations. The dancer, thus, is able to check on her limb-movements; attaining positions of perfect  balance; and, the ease of her performance. The Alarippu sets the Dancer and the Dance performance to take off with eloquence and composure.

Jatisvaram

The Jatisvaram, which follows the Alarippu, is also a dance form of the Nrtta class. It properly introduces the music element into the dance. The Jatisvaram follows the rules of the Svara-jati , in its musical structure. And, it consists three movements: the Pallavi, the Anu-pallavi and the Charanam. The music of the Jatisvaram is distinguished from the musical composition called Gita (song) ; as also from the Varnam , which is a complex composition. In the Jatisvaram, the music is not composed of meaningful words. But, here, the series of sol-fa passages (Svaras) are very highly important. A Jatisvaram composition is set to five Jatis (time-units) of metrical – cyclic patterns (Taala) – say, of 3,4,5,7,9. The basic Taala cycle guides the dancer; and she weaves different types of rhythmic patterns, in terms of the primary units of the dance (the Adavus).

The execution of Jatisvaram is based on the principle of repetition of the musical notes (Svara) of the melody, set to a given Taala. Following that principle, the dancer weaves a variety of dance-patterns.

Thus, what is pure Svara in music becomes pure dance (Nrtta) modulation in the Jatisvaram. The dancer and the musician may begin together on the first note of the melody; and, synchronize to return to the first beat of the Taala cycle; or, the dancer may begin the dance-pattern on the third beat, and yet may synchronize at the end of the phrase of the melodic line. But, the variety of punctuations and combinations within the Jatisvaram format are truly countless. It is up to the ingenuity, the skill and imagination of the dancer to weave as many complex patterns as she is capable of.

Tillana

Tillana is a rhythmic dance that is generally performed towards the end of a concert. A Tillana uses Taala-like phrases in the Pallavi and Anupallavi, and lyrics in the Charanam. It  is predominantly a rhythmic composition.

**

Varnam

The Varnam is a highly interesting and complex composition in the Karnataka Samgita. And, when adopted into Dance-form, Varnam is transformed into the richest composition in Bharatanatya. The Varnam, either in music or dance, is a finely crafted exquisite works of art; and, it gives full scope to the musician and also to the dancer to display ones knowledge, skill and expertise.

And , in Dance , its alternating passages of Sahitya (lyrics) and Svaras (notes of the melody) gives scope to the dancer to perform both the Nrtya (dance with Abhinaya) and Nrtta (pure dance movements) aspects. In its performance, a Varnam employs all the three tempos. The movement of a Varnam, which is crisp and tightly knit, is strictly controlled; and, it’s rendering demands discipline and skill. It also calls for complete understanding between the singer and the dancer; and also for the dancer’s ability to interpret not only the words (Sahitya) but also the musical notes (Svaras) as per the requisite time units (Taala). The dancer presents, in varied ways, through Angika-abhinaya the dance elements, which the singer brings forth through the rendering of the Svaras]

Hamsa 4

The Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeshvara is widely used by the teachers and learners of Bharatanatya. The text is concerned mainly with the descriptions and applications of Angikabhinaya in dance. These are body movements composed by combining the movements of body parts; such as: Angas (major limbs); Upangas (minor limbs), and Pratayangas (smaller parts like fingers, etc).

[The Abhinaya Darpana (Chapter 8, Angika Abhinaya Pages: 47 to71) lists, in great detail, the following kinds of body movements under Angika-abhinaya. And, these are followed by the students and the teachers of Bharatanatya.

Shirobheda (movements of the head); Dristibheda (movements of the eyes); Grivabheda (movements of the neck); Asamyukta-hasta (gestures of one hand); Samyukta-hasta (gestures by both hands together); Padabheda (standing postures with Hasta); Sthanaka (Simple standing posture); Utplavana (jumps); Chari-s (different ways of walking, or moving of feet/soles); and, Gati-s (different ways of walking)

In addition, there are other kinds of movements and activities of various parts of the body that are important to Nrtta.]

[The following well known verses said to be of the Abhinaya Darpana are very often quoted

Khantaanyat Lambayat Geetam; Hastena Artha Pradakshayat; Chakshubhyam Darshayat Bhavom; Padabhyam Tala Acherait

Keep your throat full of song; Let your hands bring out the meaning; May your glance be full of expression, While your feet maintain the rhythm

Yato Hasta tato Drushti; Yato Drushti tato Manaha; Yato Manaha tato Bhavaha; Yato Bhava tato Rasaha

Where the hand goes, there the eyes should follow; Where the eyes are, there the mind should follow; Where the mind is, there the expression should be brought out; Where there is  expression , there the Rasa will manifest.]

Hamsa 4

Pindlbandhas

Pindlbandhas (Pindi = cluster or lump) are basically group dances that constitute a distinct phase of the preliminaries (purvaranga) to a play. According to Bharata, the Pindlbandhas were patterned after the dance performed by Shiva along with his Ganas and disciples such as Nandi and Bhadramukha. The purpose of performing the Pindlbandhas, before the commencement of the play proper, was to please the gods; and, to invoke their blessings.

After the exit of the dancer who performed the Pushpanjali (flower offering to gods), The Pindis are danced , by another set of women, to the accompaniment of songs and instrumental music –  anyāścā anukrameātha piṇḍī badhnanti yā striyaḥ- ॥ 279॥

***

While describing the physical structure and composition of the Pindibandhas; and the various types of clusters and patterns formed by its dancers, Bharata mentions four types of Pindibandhas that were performed during his time: Pindi (Gulma-lump-like formation); Latha (entwined creeper or net like formation, where dancers put their arms around each other); Srinkhalika (chain like formation by holding each other’s hands); and, Bhedyaka (where the dancers break away from the group and perform individual numbers).

piṇḍī śṛṅkhalikā caiva latābandho’tha bhedyaka piṇḍībandhastu piṇḍatvādgulma śṛṅkhalikā bhavet 288

In short; the Pindibandha is the technique of group formations; and, weaving patterns. Abhinavagupta describes it as ‘piṇḍī ādhāra agādi saghāta,’- a collection of all those basic elements which make a composite whole. It is called Pindibandha, because it draws in all other aspects; and, ties them together. He also states that Agahāras form the core of the Pindibandhas.

 It is said; each variation of a cluster-formation (Pindi) was dedicated to and named after a god or a goddess, who was denoted by the weapons, vehicles, insignia or emblems associated with that deity; and, her/his glory was celebrated through the formation created by the dancers.

Abhinavagupta also explains Pindibandha as the term which refers to the insignia or weapon etc; and, which reminds one of the divinity or concept associated with it.

Pindi adhara-angadi sanghatah; taya badhyate buddhau pravesyate tanu-bhavena sakalaya va vyoma-adaviti pindibandha akrti-visesah

(For instance: Īśvara piṇḍī for Īśvara; Sihavāhinī for Caṇḍikā; Śikhī piṇḍī for Kumar and so on).


*

Abhinavagupta explains that in the Pindibandha, the  dancers coming together, can combine in two ways : as  Sajatiya , in which the two dancers would appear as two lotuses from a common stalk;  or as Vijatiya,  in which one dancer will remain in one pose like the swan and the other will be in a different pose to give the effect of lotus with stalk, held by the swan-lady. And, in the gulma-srnkhalika formation, three women would combine; and in the Latha, creeper like formation, four women would combine.

Bharata provides a list of such Pindis in verses 253-258 of Chapter Four. Bharata states that in order to be able to create such auspicious diagrams/formations (citra), in an appropriate manner, the dancers need to undergo systematic training (śikāyogas tathā caiva prayoktavya prayoktbhiḥ – NS.4.291)

The presentation of the preliminaries seemed to be quite an elaborate affair, with the participation of singers, drummers, and groups of dancers.

Tikuli art

The most celebrated type of the Pindibandha Nrtta is, of course, is the Rasalila that Sri Krishna performed with the Goips amidst the mango and Kadamba groves along the banks of the gentle flowing Yamuna under resplendent full moon of the Sharad-ritu.

Srimamad Bhagavatha sings the glory and joy of Rasa-Lila with love and divine ecstasy, in five Chapters from 29 to 33 of the Tenth Canto (Dashama-skanda) titled as ‘Rasa-panca-adhyayi’. (Harivamsa also describes this dance; but, calls it as Hallisaka)

“That night beautified by the autumnal moon (sharad indu), the almighty Lord having seen the night rendered delightful with the blooming of autumnal jasmines  sported with  the Gopis, while he played on his flute melodious tunes and songs captivating the hearts of the Gopis.

Then having stationed himself between every two of these damsels the Lord of all Yoga, commenced in that circle of the Gopis the festive dance known as Rasa-Lila. Then that ring of dancers was filled with the sounds of bracelets, bangles and the kinkinis of the damsels. While they sang sweet and melodious songs filled with love, the Gopis gesticulated with their hands to express various Bhavas of the Srngara-rasa.

With their measured steps, with the movements of their hands, with their smiles, with the graceful and amorous contraction of their eyebrows, with their dancing bodies, their moving locks of hair covering their foreheads with drops of perspiration trickling down tneir gentle cheeks  and with the knots of their hair loosened, Gopis began to sing. The music of their song filled the Universe.”

Rasa Lila – from Vishnu Purana

The Raasa Dance of today is the re-enactment of Krishna’s celestial Rasa-Lila. It is a Pindibandha type of  dance performed by a well coordinated group of eight, sixteen or thirty two men and women , alternatively positioned, holding each other’s hands; forming a circle (Mandala); going round in rhythmic steps  , singing songs of love made of soft and sweet sounding words; clapping each other’s hands rhythmically; and,  throwing gentle looks at each other (bhrubhanga vikasita). Laya and Taala in combination with vocal and instrumental music play an important role in the Rasa dance.

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The direct descendants of the Rasa-Lila Pindibandhas described in the Puranas  are the many types of folk and other types of group in many parts of India :  Raslīlā, Daṇḍaras, Kummi, Perani, Kolāṭṭam and similar other dances. The most famous of them all is the Maha-Rasa of Manipur, performed with the singing of the verses of Srimad Bhagavata.

manipur-ras-lila-

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[When you take an overview, you can see that during the time of Bharata, Nrtta meant a Marga class of dance. And, Tandava and Sukumara were also of the Nrtta type. Though the connotation of those terms has since changed vastly, their underlying principles are relevant even to this day.

In the textual tradition, the framework devised by Bharata continued to be followed by the later authors, in principle, for classification and descriptions of several of dance forms – (even though Nrtta and Nrtya were no longer confined to Drama –Natya). The norms laid down by Bharata were treated as the standard or the criterion (Marga, Nibaddha), in comparison with regional (Desi) other types of improvised (Anibaddha) dance forms, in their discussions. The regional dance-forms , despite their specialized formats,  were primarily based in the basic principles of Natyashastra.

This amazing continuity in the tradition of the Natyashastra is preserved in all the Indian classical Dance forms.]

lotus-flower-and-bud

In the next Part we will talk about Nrtta, Natya and Nritya as they were understood, interpreted and commented upon in the Post-Bharata period, i.e., the medieval times and in the present-day.

Continued

 In

Part Four

References and sources

All images are from the Internet

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2018 in Art, Natya

 

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Saptamatrka – Part One – Devi

 

This article is primarily about the Matrkas the mother-like deities. But, I cannot resist talking about Devi the Great Goddess. Let’s dwell on Devi for a while before we proceed to the Matrkas.

goddess_maha_shakti_hi49 (1)

Mother

1.1. The concept and worship of God as Mother dates back to the hoary past. And, it continues to represent a very important but intricate aspect of the Indian philosophies, religions, arts and literatures. The faith in Mother Goddess permeates the consciousness of Indian people at all levels. And, it has influenced all segments, emotional aspects and intellectual ideologies of Indian life. Even the Indian landmass is idealized and pictured as Bharat-Mata, as a tall beautiful woman with long flowing hair, dressed in a sari, wearing a crown upon her head and holding a trishul in her hand. The vision of nation as Mother that charged the hearts of the 19th and early 20th century patriots and freedom fighters is epitomized by the immortal anthem ’Vande Mataram’. And, indeed the whole of the earth is looked upon as Dharti-mata.

1.2. But, in essence, the archetype Mother-images don’t really refer to any concrete or physical Mother existing in space and time. But, it truly is a yearning towards an inward image of Mother in our collective psyche. It’s symbolic expressions abound in myths, legends, rites and arts of various types spread over the ages across the regions, sects and sub sects that make what we now call India. They also pervade our private worlds of dreams, fantasies and emotional outbursts, finding their expressions in myriad forms of creative art – the sublime as also the sick. They exist/existed in all classes of societies, matriarchic or patriarchic or otherwise.

Devi Mahatmya

Manuscript of the Devimahatmya

[While you read, you might like to listen to Mahalaya rendered by Shri Birendra Krishna Bhadra. Please RIGHT click here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXDnhN-hPT4]

2.1. Most of the Puranas, it is believed, were rendered into written form by about 250 AD, though the exact periods are not known. The Gupta period (400-600 AD) hailed as the Golden Age witnessed innovations in art and literature. It was the age of revivalism. This was also the period when Puranas were expanded or reinterpreted. This literarily production was ground breaking. It brought the lore of gods and goddesses closer to common people. Each Purana was dedicated to the glorification of a particular god such as Vishnu or Shiva. However, some Puranas devoted exclusive chapters to narrate the legends of the Great Goddess Devi. One such Maha-purana was Markandeya-purana (Ca.250-400 CE). In its Section of thirteen chapters – Devi Mahatmya- it celebrated the glory of Devi as the Great Mother the Supreme Deity.

[ Please do read the detailed analysis of the Devi MahatmyaThe Glory of the Goddess-Devi Mahatmyam by Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary

Please check here for Sri Durga Saptashati in translation; and , check here for an analysis of the structure of Sri Durga Saptashati ; both prepared by the researcher Mr. Ranjan , Mukesh]

2.2. Of all the Indian texts, the Devi Mahatmya, in particular, has been instrumental in establishing the all comprehensive nature of the Mother as the Supreme God, Mahadevi – the Great Goddess. Some believe, the text is the starting point for investigating into the nature of feminine transcendence. She is the Power – spiritual, moral, mental, biological, and psychological as well as physical. It is believed that Devi Mahatmya brings together various ancient traditions of female deities and their worship. The Devi Mahatmya celebrates, in particular, the glory of the Mother and her martial deeds. It adulates Devi as the greatest warrior; and rejoices Devi as Chandi the destroyer of evil and its tendencies. She is the protector of the world from demons; and she does so from time to time by assuming various forms. She is also Ambika the mother who protects; and also Durga the goddess who saves us from all sorts of miseries and difficulties. And, it is She who, just as a boat, takes the devotees across oceans of existence (Bhava-Tarini). Her splendour and beauty is sung   and exalted by countless other names and forms. The text is the celebration of the limitless powers and the splendour of the Mother Goddess. It affirms its faith that   the ultimate power and authority in the Universe reside in Devi. She encompasses and overrides everything in the Universe. She is the ultimate reality.    Devi Mahatmya asserts its faith that her Ultimate reality is really the ultimate; and it is not merely feminine.

2.3. The Devi Mahatmya dated somewhere around the fourth- fifth century , also renowned as Durga SaptasatiDurgapathaChandi, Chandipatha or Chandi Saptashati, is composed as a long poem of seven hundred verses (Saptashathi) ** arranged over thirteen   chapters which are grouped into three sections: Prathama Charitra, Madhyama Charitra and the Uttama Charitra. It is accompanied by glorious   hymns in praise of the Mother Goddess and her Shaktihis who descend upon earth from time to time to rid the world of demons and evil-doers. The Devi Mahatmya centered on Devi (as mentioned earlier) is originally a section (chapters 81-93) of the Markandeya Purana. The importance of Devi Mahatmya is so huge and its uniqueness so significant that it has come to be recognized as independent of its parent text. Over the centuries, the Devi Mahatmya has acquired a number of subsidiary texts (anga) that are mainly concerned with the ritual worship of the Devi.

The thirteen chapters of the Devi Mahatmya, the Chandi, are grouped into three sections comprising of three major episodes (caritras), each one describing the glory of one of the three different aspects of the Supreme Goddess; the three Goddesses identified as Maha-Kali, Mahālakṣhmī and Maha-Sarasvathi. The three forms of the Devi correspond to three Gunas: Maha-Sarasvathi (Sattva), Mahālakṣhmī (Rajas) and Maha-Kali (Tamas). Although they are represented as three distinct images, they are virtually one; and, this is true not only for the three Goddesses, but also for all other forms of the  Maha Devi , the Supreme Goddess.

[**There are 537 Sloka mantras (full Slokas); 38 Ardha-sloka mantras (half Slokas); 66 khanda mantras (part of a Sloka); 57 Uvacha mantras; and, 2 Punarukta mantras, totalling 700 altogether. The number 700 is thus not related to the number of verses, but indicates the total number of mantras in the Devi Mahatmya. Though the details of the breakup of the mantras is not important for simple recitation, these details are important for Chandi Homa, Japa and Archana.]

Devi

The unique feature of Devi Mahatmya is its oral tradition and the intense devotional fervor of its hymns. And, therefore the entire text is revered as a Mantra*.   Its popularity is immense. It is recited for averting calamities   in life; and at dire times when the country is under threat of attack; as also for overcoming impurities: Mala, Vikshepa and Avarana. And, as the text itself says, it bestows not only temporal prosperity but also illumination by destroying the darkness of Avidya.  The recitation of Devi Mahatmya is an integral part of the Devi-worship celebrations performed during Sharad Navaratri and Chandi Yajna; as also of Tantric Sadhana involving   Sat-chakra – behda.  The Dura-puja festivities commence with the recitation of Devi Mahatmya on the night of the last day of pitri-paksha (the fortnight of the Pitris).

[* Sri Swami Krishnananda explains “The Devi Mahatmya is treated as if it were a Mantra   . Each of its episodes (charita) is associated with a Rishi (the sage who visualised it) , a chandas (its meter), a presiding deity ( pradhna-devata), and viniyoga (for japa).He further says that every sloka of the Devi-Mahatmya is a Mantra by itself. For instance, the opening sloka of Devi Mahatmya: “Savarnih suryatanayo yo manuh Kathyate-shtamah” is ordinarily taken to mean “Listen to the story of the king who is the eighth Manu” .But, it is in fact a mantra, he says; and its Tantric interpretation is: “Now, I shall describe to you the glory of Hreem“. The Swami explains; Ha is the eighth letter from among: Ya, Ra, La, Va, Sya, Sha, Sa, and Ha. And add to that ‘Ram’ the Bija of Agni and one hook to make ‘Hreem’. Here, Hreem is the Bija-mantra of Devi; and, is equivalent to Pranava mantra Om. ]

The text of the Devi Mahatmya also celebrates the glory and splendour of the auspicious Devi in four sublime hymns. Bhaskararaya Makhin (18th century) regards these hymns as Sruti-s (revealed wisdom), the exalted revealed (Drsta) knowledge, equalling the Vedas, than as made, the Krta.

The four hymns are:

  1. Brahma-stuti (DM. 1.73-87) starting with tvaṃ svāhā tvaṃ svadhā tvaṃ hi vaṣaṭkāraḥ svarātmikā;
  2. the Sakaradi-stuti (DM.4.2-27) starting with śakrādayaḥ suragaṇā nihate’tivīrye;
  3. the Aparajita –stuti (DM.5.9-82) starting with namo devyai mahādevyai śivāyai satataṃ nama ; and,
  4. the Narayani-stuti (DM.11. 3-35) starting with devi prapannārtihare prasīda.

These hymns describe the nature and character of the Goddess in spiritual terms:

The Brahma-stuti (DM.1.73-87) also known as the Tantrika Ratri Suktam, establishes the Divine Mother’s ultimate transcendence and her identity her as the creator and sustainer and the dissolver of the Universe. She is all compassing source of the good and the evil, alike; both radiant splendour and terrifying darkness. And yet, she ultimately is the ineffable bliss beyond all duality.

In the longest and most eloquent of the Devi Mahatmya’s four hymns, richly detailed Sakaradi-stuti (DM.4.3-27) Indra and other gods praise Durga’s supremacy and transcendence. Her purpose is to preserve the moral order, and to that end she appears as ’good fortune in the dwelling of the virtuous; and, misfortune in the house of the wicked’, granting abundant blessings and subduing misconduct (DM.4.5). ‘Every intent on benevolence towards all’ (sarvo-upakāra-karaṇāya sadārdracittā DM.4.17), she reveals even her vast destructive power as ultimately compassionate, for in slaying those enemies of the world who ‘may have committed enough evil to keep them long in torment’ (kurvantu nāma narakāya cirāya pāpam – DM.4.18) , she redeems them with the purifying touch of her weapons so that they ‘may attain the higher worlds’ (lokānprayāntu ripavo’pi hi śastrapūtā/ itthaṃ matirbhavati teṣvahiteṣusādhvī –DM.4.19).

The Devas , distressed that the Asuras have re-grouped and once again overturned the world-order , invoke the Devi in a magnificent hymn , the Aparajita-stuti or Tantrika Devi Suktam, the twenty slokas beginning with ‘ya devi sarva bhuteshu , praise to the invincible Goddess , which celebrates her immanent presence in the Universe as the consciousness that manifests in all beings (yā devī sarvabhūteṣu cetanetyabhidhīyate) . Thereupon the Devi appears on the banks of the Ganga. Her radiant manifestation emerging from the body of Parvathi embodies the Guna of Sattva, the pure energy of light and peace. Later, She takes on multiple and varied forms in the course of the battle with the Asuras.

The final hymn, the Narayani-stuti (DM.11.3-35) lauds the Devi in her universal, omnipresent aspect and also in the diverse expressions of her powers .Thereupon, the Devi  assures to protect all existence and to intervene whenever evil arises.

2.4. Devi Mahatmya is not a Tantric text; but is the basic text for the Shaktha cult. The Shaktha theology was derived from the triad of: the primacy of Prakrti as in Samkhya; the monistic Brahman as in Advaita; and, the ritualism of Tantra. It staunchly believes in the supremacy of the female principle. And, it idealizes Devi the Mother Goddess in most abstract philosophical terms as Shakthi the primal energy of all (sarvamayi) that is manifest (jadathmika) and un-manifest (Arupa). She is beyond all forms and gunas, but assumes them to create and operate the world.

At another level, the Shaktas  worship the Devi Durga , who is beyond, as an independent Supreme Divinity. She is the primordial energy and was the first to appear before everything (sarva-sadhya); She is both devoid of form (nirakara) and filled with forms (sakara);   She is both manifest and unmanifest; She is the essence of all things (sarva sattva mayi). She creates and governs all existence (Isvari), and is known by various names (nana-abhidhana-brut). She is the Mother of the worlds (Jagadamba) and sustainer of the worlds (Jagad-dhatri).  Everything in the universe is a minute expression her inscrutable power (Yoga Maya). She is the ultimate goal of yoga.  She is the creator of the Trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra.

The Rishi sumits to the Supreme Goddess  Chaṇḍikā : Oh Devi of incomparable greatness and power ; who cannot be described even by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva , protect all the beings in  the entire world and  destroy the fear of evil (DM.4.4)

yasyāḥ prabhāva matulaṃ bhagavān ananto / brahmā haraśca na hi vaktumalaṃ balaṃ ca।  sā caṇḍikā akhila jagat paripālanāya / nāśāya cāśubha bhayasya matiṃ karotu ॥ 4.4

shiva-shakthi

For the limited purpose of understanding, the forms of the Mother are said to be three: Para the supreme form which is beyond senses and intellect; Sukshma the subtle formless mantras; and Sthula the physical form. She is also the illusion (Maya) and the redeemer of it. In Shaktha cult, Devi as Vac presiding over speech is the motivating power of every effort in the world. She is the concept of power inherent in gods, humans, animals, vegetation and everything else (bhumarupa).She is seen as one and as many, as it were, but one moon reflected in countless waters.

2.5. The Shakthas therefore adore the Mother Goddess, in love and reverence, as the ultimate reality, as Shakthi the supremely powerful goddess; as the primal cause, the sustenance and the withdrawal of the universe. She , indeed,  is Brahman. It said; just as a spider weaves its web out of its own body, the Mother Goddess Devi brings forth the entire universe out of her own body; and, she constitutes every created object (kshetra-swarupa). At the time of the dissolution, she withdraws the whole of the creation back into her womb (vishvagarbha); and there it rests as the seed of the next creation, when it will grow and blossom forth again. With that, the vision of God as Mother became the focus of devotion as also of its philosophical and mystical renderings.

Devi

3.1. The middle episode of the Devi Mahatmya describes how, in a long drawn battle, the gods having failed to overcome the powerful demon Mahisasura,   realized their inadequacies. Thereafter, the great gods willed into existence the blazing power in the form of the magnificent Great Goddess Durga by uniting their vital energies (tejas).In Durga, the diverse energies of the gods converged to form a single totality, a resplendent goddess in her own right.

3.2. Devi Mahatmya (DM: 2; 9-17) narrates, with awe and wonder, how a supremely powerful goddess was created from the combined anger of the gods: from the face of Vishnu filled with intense indignation as well as from that of Brahma and Shiva sprang forth fierce heat. From the bodies of Devas headed by Indra issued forth a resplendent lustre. All this brilliant light unified into one blazing pile of light like a glowing mountain throwing out flames in all directions, filling the whole space and beyond. Then that matchless splendour of light transformed itself into the Great Goddess, enveloping the three worlds by her brilliance (DM: 2.9-12).

Her face was produced from the light of Shiva; her hair from that of Yama; her arms from the lustre of Vishnu; her breasts from that of the Moon; her bust from that of Indra; her thighs and legs from that of Varuna. The three eyed goddess adorned with the crescent moon, jewels, ornaments, garments, garlands and rosaries of gems and beads, all offered by various Devas was resplendent in her majestic grandeur. She held auspicious weapons and emblems in her multiple arms.

 The Devi Mahathmya, with awe and wonder; and  with an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, describes  the grand, sublime and extremely powerful spectacle of the Devi in her manifestation as Mahalakshmi destroying  the demon Mahishasura. In a narration filled with divine longing and fascination, Devi Mahathmya describes   the terrible battle.  The Great Goddess fought the demon Mahishasura for nine days starting from prathipath (the first day of the brighter halfof the month of Ashvayuja; and killed the demon on the tenth day Vijaya-Dashami ending his reign of evil and terror. Her victory symbolizes the victory of good over evil.

Her golden body blazing with the brilliance of a thousand suns, seated on her lion, Chandi  as Mahalakshmi the most spectacular personification of lethal divine anger and of all cosmic energies sets forth to battle the Demon Mahisha the King of Asuras who was himself a combined power of demons; and who   had taken control of the minor gods. Riding a lion into battle, Durga the great warrior goddess slew the buffalo by cutting off its head and then she destroyed the spirit of the demon Mahisha as he emerged from the buffalo’s severed neck. It is through this mighty act that order was established in the world.

4.1. In the Third episode of the Devi Mahatmya, according to one version (DM: 10; 2-5), Durga brought forth from herself multiple groups of female warriors displaying various facets of her ferocious nature. Among the groups mentioned, the Sapta Matrkas and the Nava Durgas are prominent. Devi Mahatmya also refers to a group of goddesses having resemblance with Mahavidyas, though the text does not name them as such. A fiery burst of energy emerging from Devi’s third eye takes the dark skeletal form of goddess Kali. With her huge mouth and enormous tongue she ferociously laps up Raktabija’s blood, thus preventing the uprising of further demons. In this version, Kali is described as Matrka. And, after she overpowers and beheads Chanda and Munda, Kali is celebrated as Chamunda.The Devi declares that since Kali presented her with the heads of these two demons, she would henceforth be renowned in the world as Chamunda.Thereafter in the text, Kali and Chamunda become synonyms. Kali and the group of Matrkas destroy the forces of the demons Shumba and Nishumba.

Yasmāc-caṇḍaṃ ca muṇḍaṃ ca gṛhītvā tvamupāgatā । cāmuṇḍeti tato loke khyātā devī bhaviṣyasi7.27

[ Bhaskararaya Makhin  in his commentary interprets Chamunda as : ‘chamum, ‘army’ and lati, ‘eats’; meaning  that Chamunda is literally ‘she who eats armies’—a  reference to Kali as Chamunda who drinks the blood-army of the demon Raktabija.]

4.2. The Asura Shumba taunts the Goddess for winning a battle with the help of these other goddesses: “O Durga, you are puffed up with the pride of strength. Do not be haughty; you are exceedingly proud but you are indeed fighting with the strength of others”.

The Devi retorts and declares: “I am all alone in the world here. What other is there besides me, O you vile one? See that these goddesses are my own powers entering into myself.”

ekaivāhaṃ jagatyatra dvitīyā kā mamāparā । paśyaitā duṣṭa mayyeva viśantyo madvibhūtayaḥ ॥ 5॥ 

4.3. In the final battle against Shumba, Devi absorbs into herself Kali, the Matrkas as also the countless others, and stands supremely alone . The Devi affirms: “Through my power I stood here in many forms; all that has been withdrawn by me (into myself) and now I stand alone.” (DM: 10; 5-6)

tataḥ samastāstā devyo brahmāṇīpramukhā layam । tasyā devyāstanau jagmurekaivāsīttadāmbikā ॥ 6॥

ahaṃ vibhūtyā bahubhiriha rūpairyadāsthitā । tatsaṃhṛtaṃ mayaikaiva tiṣṭhāmyājau sthiro bhava ॥ 8॥

4.4. It is said; the assertion made by the Devi in the Devi Mahatmya was inspired by the powerful hymn Devi Sukta or Vac Sukta or Vac-Ambhrni-Sukta, which occurs in the tenth Mandala of the Rig-Veda (RV.10. 10.125) , regarded by most as the origin or the catalyst of worship of God as Mother. The highly charged hymn is, in fact, an ecstatic exclamation by Vach or Rishika Vagambhrina (the daughter of the sage Ambhrina) who identifies herself with Devi. This hymn is the most magnificent chant singing the almighty glory of the feminine principle, Devi the Supreme all-pervading Divinity. The Devi proclaims with great authority:

” I am the sovereign Queen, the bestower of all wealth, the most thoughtful, the first of those who merit worship, and the foremost of those to whom the sacrificial homage are submitted. The gods in all places worship me. I enter many homes; take numerous forms and permeate everything. Whoever eats, breaths, sees, speaks or hears does it only through me. They know it not, but yet they all dwell in me. Listen, I make the man I love exceeding mighty; make him a sage, a Rsi and a genius. I wage the war to protect the good. I blow like the breath of life creating all the worlds. I give birth to infinite expanse overspreading the earth. I transcend the heaven and yonder, the earth below and all the worlds. I, in my mighty grandeur, hold together all existence”.

[  Please click here for the rendering of Devi Sukta]

5.1. The Great Goddess combines in herself the multiple powers, energies (tejas) that flowed from of all other gods. And, She, the warrior fighting   for the defence of the divine order, is described as “filling the three worlds with her splendour, bending low the earth with the force of her strides, scratching the sky with her pointed diadem, shaking the nether worlds with the twang of her bowstring and standing there filling the ten directions of space with her thousand arms” (DM: 2:37-38).

5.2. Mahadevi in all her mystical embodiment of power in all its myriad forms is ferociously magnificent (Rudra-manohara) Chandika the ‘violent and impetuous one’. After the battle, Chandika the mother of all the worlds quaffed a divine drink again and again, and laughed, her eyes becoming red (DM: 3.34).

tataḥ kruddhā jaganmātā caṇḍikā pānamuttamam । papau punaḥ punaś caiva jahās āruṇa locanā ॥ 3.34

6.1. In some battles, Chandika, in her full might, fights as herself; but, in some other battles, she creates her own forces of female warriors such as Kali of most terrifying aspect as also Matrkas and others. And in some others, all her diverse forms combine back into her.

6.2. The Devi Mahatmya, generally, adores and addresses this full form of Devi which is the totality of all the diverse energies as Chandika the ferocious. And occasionally calls her out by various other names and titles, such as Ambika, the nurturing mother; as Durga the saviour; and, as Mahadevi the Great Goddess. In the Devi-kavacha attached to the Chandi, the Devi as Nava Durga is described as Shailaputri, Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Mahagauri, Skandamata, Katyayani, Kalaratri, and Siddidhatri. 

Devi Durga is also worshiped as Nava Durga in her nine other  splendorous forms as : Nilakanthi (bestower  of wealth and happiness ); Kshemankari (bestower of health and wellbeing); Harasiddhi (one who confers attainment of desires) ; Rudramsha –Durga ( the counterpart of Rudra riding a lion ); Vana Durga (the goddess of bountiful nature); Agni Durga ( bright and glowing like fire); Jaya Durga (resplendent goddess of victory and bestower of Siddhis ); Vindya Vasini Durga (the goddess who resides atop the green mountains of the Vindhya region with her ride lion standing beside her); Ripu-mari –Durga (fierce destroyer of enemies and their followers) and Mahishasura mardhini (Destroyer of Mahisha demon).

She also shares some appellations with the creator goddess such as Sri, Prakrti and Mahamaya. There are a host of other names of varied descriptions. Devi is the confluence of all opposites; and she encompasses all the ambiguities inherent in nature.

 

7.1. One of the most amazing facets of Devi, as narrated in Devi Mahatmya, is her independence and sovereignty. After the battle is won, the great warrior goddess does not return to the gods. She remains a supreme goddess in her own right. She is entirely separate from the gods and is able to produce further powers of her own. She as Shakthi also differs from the Vedic or the other the puranic goddesses. The Devi is not depicted as a consort. In fact she bears no special relationship with anyone other than with her devotees. She does not depend on male support for carrying out her ventures; but manages her male role herself. Nor does she lend her power to a male god. But, she rather assumes his powers to perform her own heroic deeds. The gods gave up their inner strength, fire and heat to create her; and in doing so they gave up their potency to her. At the end, the gods submitted to Devi (namaste sharanyey Shive) praying to her to protect and establish Peace and order in the world. (DM- chapter 11; Narayani-stuti).

adoration_of_supreme_goddess_by_vishnu_brahma_devas_hh70-b

The Narayani Stuti, narrated in chapter 11 of the Devi Mahatmya, is sung with great gusto charged with intense devotion and a blessed sense of fulfilment. The verses 13 to 21 of Narayani Stuti are dedicated to Matrkas – Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Narasimhi, Indri, Shivaduti, and Chamnda. In salutations to the Matrkas, the verses describe, in brief, the splendour, virtues, powers and vahanas of these deities which are but the aspects of the Maha Devi, the Great Mother Goddess.

Salutations to you Oh Narayani who assumes the form of :  Brahmi riding celestial Chariot Yoked with Swans; Maheshwari adorned with the moon , riding the Great Bull and holding the trident; Kaumari of great virtue holding the powerful spear, surrounded by peacocks , cocks and bears; Vaishnavi the most excellent holding shankha , chakra , gadha and the dhanus; Varahi appearing as a ferocious Boar sporting awesome tusks , rescuing Mother Earth from her distress; Narasimhi as lioness in fearsome rage , destroying the enemies and protecting the three worlds; Indri the glorious queen of thousand eyes , destroyer of the Demon Vritra , in all her splendour decorated with a diadem and holding a blazing thunderbolt; Shivaduti roaring loudly  who sent Shiva himself as messenger and destroyed the Demons; and, Chamunda the most ferocious and invincible  with dreadful face and sharp protruding fangs , adorned with garland of severed heads, the destroyer of Demons Chanda and Munda.

7.2. The Devi Mahatmya, at another level, glorifies the Goddess as the ultimate creative force of the Universe. She no longer is a goddess created by the united energies of other gods, but is the supreme power having the Universe as her form; she is the supreme consciousness, the supreme knowledge, the supreme memory, the great delusion as also the one who grants liberation from delusion. She is the consciousness, the principle of knowledge and perception through which all of the existence, real or apparent becomes known. She is the Shakthi, the womb (Hiranyagarbha) the source of everything   , the origin of the phenomenal world; and one who gives manifest forms to other divine energies Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Without her, the gods are inactive, and nonexistent. She is the supporter of the world, the cause of its maintenance and its dissolution.

Another text, the Devi Bhagavata Purana, declares she is present everywhere, right up from the creator god Brahma, down to a blade of grass (DBP: 1.9.31-32). She proclaims to Vishnu that she is everything that is seen (DBP: 1.15.52).

7.3. The Yoga believes that the Great Mother is manifest in two polar extremities. One: on physical plane, where she seems shrouded by her own created matter, coiled and asleep. The other is: the fully awakened state, the highest state of bliss and illumination, which is one and the same as Shiva the Supreme consciousness. She is Kundalini-shakthi. She is realized in the microcosm as the ultimate goal of yoga.

7.4. Thus, in the Devi Mahatmya , the Devi is depicted in varieties of ways : as the creation of the gods , brought forth by uniting their energies – as an independent goddess who produces further powers of her own – as the culmination of all the feminine powers of the past , present and future – as the Great Mother Goddess who gives manifest forms to all the gods including Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – as the Supreme Goddess , the ultimate creative force of the Universe – as   the supporter of the world, the cause of its maintenance and its dissolution – and , She is verily the Brahman.

7.5. Devadatta Kāli who has translated the Devi Mahatmya’ with dignity and eloquence befitting a sacred text  ‘, writes :  even Sixteen centuries after its composition, the Devi Mahatmya still shines as a beacon from a primordial age when men and women , enchanted by nature’s beauty and abundance , yet terrified by its fierce , destructive power , honoured the source of creation as the Great Mother….Even today, the great hymn of praise that is the Devi Mahatmya reveals to us an all-embracing vision of harmony between the Mahadevi’s abiding earthly presence and transcendental unity proclaimed by the seers of the ancient India.

Symbolisms

8.1. The Chandipata is recited by the devotees with great fervour and reverence in glory of Devi and her all- pervasive power and majesty. It is an act of intense love and devotion; and indeed is regarded as the very fulfilment of one’s existence. Apart from that, there are various symbolisms associated with the exploits of the Devi.

8.2. The Chandi depicts conflicts between the Devi on one side and the prominent Asuras on the other .It seems like an allegorical representation of the continual battles between the divine and the demonic in the human. Her adversaries represent the all-too-human impulses arising from the pursuit of power, possessions and pleasure; and from delusions of self-importance. They are, in particular, described in the traditional texts as eight evil dispositions which corrupt human nature and prevent entry of pure light.

8.3. The Devi’s battle field is indeed the human consciousness. Therein, every dominant passion or instinct produces its special array. The deep rooted passions and prejudices within us often seem indestructible. When one is killed the other one rises up instantly – just as Rakthabija whose every drop of blood regenerates host of similar demons. Our passions and instincts whenever they find they are in danger of being eradicated or suppressed change their form, appearance, colour and sublimate, trying to disguise and escape , or even try to justify their existence.

The Devi, the supreme Goddess, in all her kindness and love, confronts the demons of ego and dispels our mistaken idea of who we are. Paradoxically –it is she who creates the delusion in the first place; and it is she alone who awakens us to our true being. It is the awakening of the Mother-consciousness within that makes us strong enough to overcome the evil.

Devadatta Kali in his commentary and translation of the Devi Mahatmya (In Praise of the Goddess and the Veiling Brilliancevisualizes the Great battle that the Devi fought as the very reflection of the various facets our inner consciousness.  Devi, of course, is the Supreme Self; the gods being the positive aspects such as mind, consciousness; and, the Demons are indeed the obstacles, frustrations and failures that we strive to overcome.

According to him, the battle is about regaining nature of one’s true self; and overcoming the sense of loss, limitation and dispossession. The main characters that figure in the narration are all afflicted by dispossession; the king is disposed of his realm by his scheming rivals; the merchant is dispossessed of his wealth by his greedy relatives; and, the gods are driven out of the heaven by the Demons.  We the readers, also face in our lives defeat and dispossession.  It is the grace of the Devi that helps us all to overcome the obstacles and regain our true nature.

The Devi Mahatmya, he says, is about understanding the process of the working of our mind; and, the very nature of our lives. One thought succeeds the other in an endless sequence; we are ever distracted, restless and forget out true self.  The text is about being aware of the working of our mind; conquering the restless process of our mind ;and , attaining  equanimity and peace.

It is the celebration of the sense of divine, beauty, wonder and joy that ultimately pervades the Devi Mahatmya.]

[ Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary explains:

At one level the Devi Mahatmya chronicles the battle between the Devi and the Asuras. At another level it deals with the battle of life. At yet another level it deals with the inner battle between the divine and the demoniac forces within the human psyche, between the positive and negative.

The battlegrounds represent our own human consciousness, and its events symbolize our own experiences. The demons are symbolic of the psychic forces within the shadow. They represent all the evils in the external world that have been internalized. Whatever has been internalised in turn again manifests externally in our life.

The Divine Mother is our own true being, our inherent divinity and wholeness. Her clashes with the demons symbolize the outward and inward struggles we face daily. The Devi, personified simultaneously as the one supreme Goddess and also the many goddesses, confronts the demons of ahamkara or ego (our mistaken notion of who we are or what we identify ourselves with), of excessive tamas and rajas, that in turn give birth to other demons of excessive craving, greed, anger and pride, and of incessant citta vrttis (compulsive inner thought processes springing from past karmic residue).

In the ultimate sense, the dichotomy between the bad and the good is also a false one. There is no duality. Both are part of one single paradoxical reality. The text drives home this truth so beautifully.]

8.4. Since we are talking here about the Matrkas the mother-like deities lets also briefly look at their symbolisms associated with the Mother.

In Tantra, the letters of the alphabets are the perceptible forms or the aspects of the Mother; and hence are termed as Matrkas, the mother-like who attend on the Great Mother and approximate her to some extent. It believed that the fifty-two alphabets of the Sanskrit language emanated from the Mother; and she takes the name in every one of them. During the ritual worship of the Mother, her presence is invoked in the body of the Sadhaka through a procedure known as anga-nyasa or consecration of the different parts of the body. It is meant to emphasize   that you belong to the Mother; and you are sanctified by her presence in you.

9.1. The goal and the summit of the Tantric-sadhana is the identity with the Mother divine. It is to feel and to experience you are no longer separate but truly a child and a part of her consciousness. She is always in you; and you in her. It is a stage as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa explained: a simple, natural and constant experience that all your thoughts, seeing and actions, and your very breathing and existence comes from her and are hers. You realize , see and feel that you are a person formed by her power out of herself, put out from her for play and yet always safe in her .You are indeed a being of her being, consciousness of her consciousness , force of her force and Ananda of her Ananda. And that is the true significance and essence of Mother-worship.

In the next part let’s take a broad look at the Origins, history and development of the Matrkas.

Mahadevi

Continued in Part Two

 

References and Sources

The iconography of the saptamatrikas: by Katherine Anne HarperEdwin Mellen press ltd (1989-10)

Saptamatrka Worship and Sculptures by Shivaji K Panikkar; DK Print World (1997).

The Roots of Tantra by Katherine Anne Harper (2002)

Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions by David Kinsley; (1987)

Tribal Roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari; Sarup and Sons (2002)

The Portrait of the Goddess in the Devī-māhātmya by David Kinsley

The Little Goddesses (Matrikas) by Aryan, K.C; Rekha Prakashan (1980)

Goddesses in Ancient India by P K Agrawala; Abhinav Publications (1984)

The Tantra of Sri Chakra by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao; Sharada Prakashana (1983)

Matrikas:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrikas

Sapta Matrikas and Matrikas

http://shaktisadhana.50megs.com/Newhomepage/Frames/forumframebodyindex.html

The mother goddess in Indian sculpture By Cyril Veliath

http://www.info.sophia.ac.jp/fs/staff/kiyo/kiyo37/veliath.pdf

Some discussions on the Skanda – Tantra and Balagrahas

http://manasataramgini.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/some-discursion-on-skanda-tantra-s-and-balagraha-s/

The Mahabharata of Krishna –Dwaipayana Vyasa (Book 3, Part 2) Section 229

http://www.bookrags.com/ebooks/12333/180.html

Devis of the first enclosure

http://shaktisadhana.50megs.com/Newhomepage/Frames/gallery/Khadgamala/1stenclosureB.html

 All pictures are from Internet

 
13 Comments

Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Devi, Saptamatrka

 

Tags: , , , ,

Ardha-Nari

Ardha-Nari

(A bunch of thoughts – Posted in response to a Note from Shri D Sampath)

ardhanarishvara_shiva_shakti

In both the Shakta and Shaiva traditions of Tantra school, the Ultimate Reality is conceived as the Unity of Shakti and Shiva They are regarded as one.

Ardhanarishvara “the Lord Whose Half Is Woman” represents a transgendered being created by the union of Shiva (male) and Shakti (female). The Ardhanari form illustrates how the female principle of God- Shakti is inseparable from the male principle of God – Shiva. The Ardhanarishvara, above all, represents the totality that lies beyond duality.

Siva in the compound form of Ardha-nari is a hermaphrodite from whose womb the phenomenal existence proceeds.

Shiva Ardha-nari is described, as being the Soul of the World, and as partaking of the nature of both sexes. From him, all existence is derived. The creation is evolving itself. Death is nothing more than a change of body and a passing from state of visibility into invisibility. Every moment, some part of the world passes into this Invisibility. It does not utterly perish, but only disappears from our sight, or being translated into some other form.

According to  Shaktha tradition, Devi is identified as the source of all manifestation, male and female … it is her body that splits in half. In other words, she is the androgynous divine.  Shakthas therefore customarily refer to the hermaphrodite from as Ardhanarishwari using the feminine ending i to suggest saying she is “a goddess who is half woman”.

(Devi as Ardha-purusha)

The significance of this view is rather interesting. Shakta creation theories place the Goddess at the center of the scheme of things. They argue that since the nature of the Cosmos is reflected in the human body; and since it is the Female who gestates and gives birth to new life,  it  is appropriate to recognize  the hermaphrodite from as being principally feminine.

In the Shakta view, the Ardhanarishwari illustrates Devi, the Goddess, as producing her consort Shiva out of herself, balancing perfectly her feminine and masculine aspects.

[ I reckon, the arguments about the male or female orientations of Ardha-nari are rather pointless, beyond a certain level of analysis . After all, the Supreme Divine is neither female nor male;  rather, it encompasses and transcends all gender distinctions.]

ganga composite

Ardha-nari in iconography is depicted as half-male and half-female. Ardhanarishvara is typically shown with the left half of his body being female and the right half, male. The female (Shakti, or Parvati, or Uma) half is usually garbed in red and often holds a lotus, while the male half (Shiva) wears a tiger skin or an ascetic’s cloth around the waist. The skin of the female half is tan, while that of the male half is light blue. His/her gaze is pensive, serene; his/her pose sensuous, inviting. The cult of Ardhanarishvara appears to have reached a pinnacle during the tenth through the twelfth centuries and again in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when he-she became a popular subject in sculpture and painting. The best sculptural depictions of Shiva as Ardhanari are to be seen in the sensuous Chola dynasty bronzes and the sculptures at Ellora and Elephanta.

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It was as though two objects were simultaneously perceived in close proximity. In one half it was as white as camphor and in the other half it is as red as red lead. The body of a single unit was highly wonderful. In one-half there was flowing tresses. In the middle of the necklace there was a flower. The body of the crescent moon-crested Lord had silk in one-half that was beautiful with a single anklet, ear-ring and bracelet. The body of the companion of Kubera shone with a single breast“.

 [Skanda Purana]

ardhanari

Her body is fair like the champak flower;
His body is like camphor.
She has elaborately braided hair decked with pearls;
And he has matted hair.

From Her you hear the movement of tinkling anklets and bracelets,
His lotus feet have glistening anklets of snakes.
She is adorned with golden armlets,
And He has armlets of snakes

Hers is the dance that creates differentiation;
His is the dance that destroys everything.
I bow to the Mother of the Universe.
I bow to the Father of the Universe.

[“Ardhanarinateshwara Stotra,” or

 “Hymn to the Lord of the Dance Who Is Half Woman”]

Ms. Ellen Goldberg observes: the true Shakti-Shiva balance of Ardha-nari enables the devotees to overcome the purely human biases and prejudices. As she explains “The image of Ardhanarishwara does not merely present a synthesis of masculine and feminine gender traits, but rather attempts to portray a fundamental belief in the possibility of personal transcendence, usually understood as the attainment of non dual consciousness. … [However,] it can only capture this ideal if and when the ego of gender — which at times distorts and privileges the male half of the image — has been recognized and [overcome].”

***

http://shaktisadhana.50megs.com/Newhomepage/shakti/shivanshakti2.html

Please see Ardhanareeshwara Stuthi which describes Shiva as Ardha nari

http://www.stutimandal.com/gif_misc/ardhanari_nateshvar_stuti.htm

Please also check the Shaktha version of Ardhanareeshwari Stotra a beautiful poetry which sings the glory and the sublime beauty of the Mother as Ardha nari.

http://shaktisadhana.50megs.com/Newhomepage/stotras/ardhanari.html

nandalal_bose_untitled_d5716157h

Rig Veda also speaks about the One appearing as many; and the single egg splitting into Bhuta and Prana. ‘He, who is described as male, is as much the female and the penetrating eye does not fail to see it’. The male is only so much male as much he is female; and the female is only as much female as much she is male. The maleness and femaleness are the attributes contained in one frame.

In the hymn ‘Ekohum bahusyami’ (Shiva Purana), Shiva says, I am One, but wishes to be many.

The imagery of the all enveloping space issuing out of a dimension-less Bindu often occurs in Tantric texts. The Bindu at the center of the Sri Chakrais the symbolic representation of the complete harmony (samarasya) of Shiva (consciousness) and Shakti (energy). It signifies a state of non-duality where all tendencies and distinctions have vanished.  By worshipping the Devi in Sri Chakra one is actually worshipping the highest ultimate force in the Tantric ideology, Sri Ardhanari, where all aspects are non-existent.

The followers of Sri Vidya who worship the Sri Chakra too envision the deity as Mother Goddess.

It is explained the Sri Chakra is itself androgynous by its very nature .Bindu is Kameshwara, the ground of the universe; the trikona is Kameshwari the mother of the universe. The union of the two is Sri Chakra, which in its androgynous form symbolizes the underlying unitary principle in all existence.

The Samayin school of Sri Vidya regards Shiva and Shakthi as one; Shiva becomes Kameshwara and Kameshwari becomes Shiva. The identity of Shiva and Shakthi is the foundation of phenomenal manifestation in order to create (srusti), preserve (sthithi) and withdraw (samhara).

This school regards Shiva as Dakshina_ murthi. The expression Dakshina means a woman, a female principle which is competent to create, unfold and manifest. And, when Dakshina assumes a form as Dakshina_murthi, it is Ardha-nari.

Kashmiri Shaivism too argues that the Absolute is not merely self-luminous but is also self-consciousness and dynamic. The two aspects of self-luminosity (svaprakasha) and self-consciousness (vimarsha) are the representations of Shiva and Shakthi. And, their non-duality is figuratively expressed through the concept and the form of Ardha–nari, the two conjoined- the one as two and inseparable. This school believes that the Absolute manifests itself as multiplicity while never shedding its fundamental nature. The entire world of experience –diversity and unity, subjective or objective- is the manifestation of the Absolute.

The relationship between the world of manifestation and multiplicity, with the Absolute is sought to be explained with the analogy of the gold and the ornaments made out of it.Shiva is the essence and when this force fuses with Shakthi it results in multitude of manifestations.

The relation between Shiva and Shakthi is also compared to the relation between the sun and its rays. The analogy represents the union of the core substance and energy it radiates; the Being and his Shakti. It embodies the principle of Ardhanaeeshwara.

Brahman is static Shakti; and Shakti is dynamic Brahman.

ot23

**

Ajna chakra is positioned at the eyebrow region and is said to represent the psychic channels Ida and Pingala which meet here with the central shushumna channel, before rising to the crown chakra, Sahasra. Ajna is considered the chakra of the mind. It is the seat of intuition, and the ability to see the underlying reasons behind everything. It is here that all energies of the body meet up and become one. The presiding over this chakra is, aptly, the Ardhanareeshwara also called Shukla –mahakala, a hermaphrodite form of Shiva-Shakthi symbolizing the primordial duality of Subject and Object and the culmination of all energies. The deity of this chakra is Haakinii, the one with six faces and six arms.

***

Rig Veda speaks about Dyava-Prihtvi  Heaven and Earth as parents who sustain all creatures; they are also the parents of the gods. One is a prolific bull and the other a variegated cow, both being rich in seed.  In this case, the Earth or Matter was the wife; and the Soul often identified with Heaven or the subtle ether was the husband. By their conjunction all things come in to existence. So inseparable is their union, as father and mother, that the two blend together, forming one great Hermaphroditic deity from whom sprang every varied part of the Universe.

[Dyaus is usually referred to as the father (Dyaus pita), while Prithvi the Earth is the Mother (Prithvi –mata).But, strangely, both are, at times, spoken of as two maidens or mothers (RV: 10.64.14).And, in about 20 passages, Dyaus is feminine and is called as a Devi (goddess) .Prof. MacDonnell remarks that Dyaus’s female counterpart (Prithvi) was so dominating and overpowering as even the gender of Dyaus of got subdued into a feminine status.]

In this material system, the Intelligent Being was sometimes regarded the animating Soul and sometimes the husband of the Universe (purusha), while the Universe ( creation ) on the other hand was sometimes reckoned the body and sometimes the wife of the Intelligent Being (prakriti). The husband and wife blended together into one hermaphrodite; whatever is said of the one is also said of the other.  Shiva and Parvathi form that compound deity partaking of both sexes, the Ardha-Nari. The union of the two is as perfect as that of the soul and body in a person.

The Great Poet Kalidasa hails the two as inseparable like the word  (vak) and its meaning (artha). 

The expression Purusha etymologically signifies that which moves ahead (purati agre gachchhati) . It is derived from the root pf which carries shades of meanings as protecting, pervading, filling etc. Prakriti the feminine principle represents matter, nature and life . Prakriti evolves, changes and binds; but it needs the presence of Purusha to enliven, to create and to preserve life. The Universe is the manifestation of Purusha and Prakriti, entwined inseparably.

(Painting by Sheree Rehema who says “This is easily my favourite of any art piece I’ve done, and symbolizes creation, love, and divine unity amongst a host of other things for me. I hope the love shines through.”)

***

Similar ideas appear in other cultures and other religions. Please check this interesting site for details. It showcases comprehensively then on-binary and inte-rsexed deities in Egyptian, Greek, Hindu,Kabbalah,Buddhist,Christian, Polynesian, Sumerian, African Aztec and Norse traditions :

http://www.whatisgender.net/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?t=187

When you make the two one, and when you make the inner as the outer and the outer as the inner and the above as the below and when you make the male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female not be female …. Then you shall enter the Kingdom.”

Jesus of Nazareth, in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Logion 22

Zohar considered the most important work of kabbalah or Jewish mysticism  too holds the belief that the Godhead is complex, rather than simple, and that divinity is dynamic and incorporates gender, having both male and female dimensions. The oneness of God is perceived in androgynous terms as the pairing of male and female; the former characterized as the capacity to overflow and the latter as the potential to receive.

George Stanley Faber in his The Origin of pagan idolatry (1812) makes an interesting observation in this regards:

We sometimes find in these texts the serpent was produced from the egg, and sometimes the egg from the serpent. They stand therefore connected mutually with each other in the relation of parent and child. It is perhaps that contradictory relationship which is feigned to subsist between the great father and the great mother. The one is said to be the husband of the other; and from their mystic embrace all things are generated: yet the great father is described as the parent of his consort; and the great mother is represented as the parent of her husband.

But the great father was Adam reappearing in Noah: and the great mother was the Earth melting into the character of that smaller world the Ark. These two being blended into one, whatever is said of the former is equally said of the latter: and, as the great god was also a goddess, and as the great goddess was also a god; each of them, by whatever name they may be distinguished, is alike pronounced to be one and all things.

Such is also the character of Janus, Jupiter, Pan, and every other chief god: they are declared to be each the same person. Such also is the character of Isis, Isi, Venus, and the other kindred goddesses: they are each declared to be one person, and properly they are the Earth and the Ark viewed conjointly; yet, from their hermaphroditic union with the great father, they are each like him declared to be the Universe.

The Shakta texts declare that Devi is the Brahman (the Supreme Divine), and that Shiva and all other gods and goddesses are her aspects. Amazingly, the Ardhanarishwari produces her consort Shiva out of herself, perfectly balancing Her Feminine and Masculine aspects. She is atonce the mother and the consort.

The tantric text Pingalo-panishat (verse 21) describes the Devi. She is seated in the centre of the triangle (trikona chakra) the three sides of which are represented by the three gods Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Rudra (destroyer). They are the expressions of the aspects of Shakthi. They are her creations. She is Chinmayi, pure consciousness. She is masculine, feminine and nature .She is the mother goddess, the mother- father of the entire universe. She is the hermaphroditic Devi in the form of Ardha-Nari.

At the same time, the other texts describe that in the single character of Hiranyagarbha all the three offices of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, are united. He is at once the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer. He is the primeval hermaphrodite, or the great father and great mother blended together in one person. Consequently, he is the hermaphroditic Siva in the form of Ardha-Nari.

[ http://www.amcbryan.btinternet.co.uk/origin-of-pagan-idolatry-vol-1.pdf ]

The Chinese, the Pythagorean, the Orphic, and the Platonic theology regard same great father and great mother united in the single mysterious person of the hermaphroditic Adonis, or Zeus, Phoenician, or Orphic theology.

According to Greek mythology Hermaphroditus the child of Hermes and Aphrodite fell so passionately in love with Salmacis, a nymph, that they beseeched Zeus , the king of gods, to unite them for all times. Zeus did accede to their request and joined them in a single body. Since then , it is believed , man and woman reside in each other.

The Pythagoreans were fond of expressing such notions by numbers. Similar to this is the Chinese opinion, that one produces two, that two produce three, and that three produce all things.

In Chinese Taoism this concept is symbolized by the coming together of YIN and YANG in the Tao. Like Ardhanarishvara the Greek god Hermes, is associated with communication; the intermediate being that often serves to mediate between women and men, mortals and deities, and between other entities.

  

Androgynous Azoth by Johann Georg Gichtel(1638 – 1710)

According to some interpreters of Tarots, the central figure is androgyny; and the scarf conceals this fact. This figure represents Truth, just as Ardha –nari represents Truth and harmony in nature.

Similarly, the Hermit is the Androgynous keeper of self knowledge. He too wears a veil.

***

Finally, The Supreme Reality is conceived as non-dual, having within it, a subtle duality of Shiva and Shakthi – the Power holder and Power- described as being (Sat) and will (Chit). What is called the Power becomes the Mother, Tripurasundari and the Power Holder, Shiva her Concert. Though they are one in principal, they appear distinct. Shiva and Devi both encompass each other’s aspects and each becomes the substratum of Ardhanareeswara.

ardhanarishvara_parvati_shiva_pg81sm

At another level, Ardhanareeswara´s iconographical embodiment of paradox and the meeting of dualities-embodied sonically as well as visually- and synthesis; embodied by individual men and women. The male hormone Testosterone in women and the female hormone Estrogens in men testify to the fact that characteristics of both sexes are present in each one of us. The production of these in our bodies keeps our personalities and our bodies in balance. The differences are brought together in the beautifully conceived anthropomorphic form of Ardhanareeswara. The form encompasses everything from action to inaction, eternal rest to endless activity, the terrible and the benign. The Devi depicted on the left half of the deity, is the power of god by which creation, protection, and destruction of the universe is accomplished. The philosophy of the Ardhanareeswara places the genders on equal terms without question.

Ardhanareeshwara stands for a profound philosophic truth that the female and the male are complementary to each other and it is their combination, the blending of grace and power  that contributes to the creation , preservation and propagation of life.

It is one of those things; as a concept Ardha-nari is highly fascinating;  and one can talk endlessly  about it eloquently and even sing in rapture. But as a reality, it is very hard to deal with; and more so live it.It is worse than living hell.

6a00d8341c73fe53ef00e550bc80098833-640wi

Resources:


Lalitha Sahasranama, Soundarya Lahari and Bhakararaya’s commentary on  Bhavanopanishath.

Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty

The Lord Who Is Half Woman: Ardhanarisvara in Indian and Feminist Perspective by Ellen Goldberg

ALL PICTURES ARE FROM INTERNET

 
7 Comments

Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Ardha-nari, Indian Philosophy, Speculation

 

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