Indian dancing and the philosophy of Brahma (Part I)

Dance most proudest art of all

The nature-worshipping Aryans invaded India about 4,000 years ago. It was in that age that the Hindus always regarded dancing as the most ancient and proudest of all Arts. The language of Indian dance tells of the daily dance – Dainie Nrtya – attuned to the infinite with its essence in nature. It tells of every aspect of Creation: Man, birds, beasts, flowers, fruits and trees, wind and waves. With it all, they hold, there is harmony and rhythm. There is the murmur of the waves; the whispers of leaves and grass; the warbles of the birds; the humming of the insects and the plaintive, notes of the wind.
All this, Hindi legend says, is part of the creation of the world and of the way Brahma moved with three majestic strides – a downward pace to bring the Earth into being; upward to give space; and a third stride to lay the sky over us.

In this Brahmanic philosophy there lie vast tracts of time, the cycles of the ages and the souls of men and women who move through their countless lives that slowly and calmly work out their salvation or Nirvana – peace everlasting.
This is what we know as the turning of the cosmic wheel that runs its course through numberless evolutions and over which is the trinity of Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu the Preserver; and Shiva who is looked upon as the first dancer and whose cosmic power brings all the aspects of nature to life, maintains and then destroys.

Lord of dance
The Shiva Dance – he is known in every nook and cranny of India as the Natarajah – Lord/King of the Dance. Hindi takes Nata as Dance, Rajah as Lord King. Even in the sight of Brahma, Nature lies inert and only Shiva can will it to dance as he rises in rapture and sends his waves of awakening sound to make all matter dance and surround him in glory.
As the Natarajah dances, he sustains all around him and, in the fullness of time, even as he continues to dance, he destroys all names and forms by fire and gives nature a new rest. My readers will find all this in Ananda K. Coomaraswamy’s fascinating study, Dance of Shiva.
In so many Shiva temples throughout India the Natarajah is depicted in the many dance forms. When his upper right hand holds the Damaru – the Sacred Drum – it implies Creation, and the Brahmanic inscription tells that... ‘Thy hand holding the Sacred Drum has made and ordered the Heavens and the Earth and other worlds and innumerable souls...’ If depicted with lower right hand held high it tells of protection or Pataka while the inscription tells of... ‘Thy lifted hand protects the conscious and unconscious order o/thy Creation...’
If the upper left hand holds a flame it symbolizes Destruction ... ‘All these worlds are transformed by thy hand bearing fire...’ and when the painting/statue places the right foot that holds down the demon Mayulaga… ‘Thy sacred foot planted firmly on the demon Mayulaga stamps out all evil and gives abode to the tired souls that are struggling in the toils of causality...’ If the Natarajah’s left foot is raised high, it signifies release... ‘It is that lifted foot that gives eternal bliss to all those that approach thee – so are these five works thy handiwork...’
As we see, Shiva is very like a master conductor, and the daily dance is his eternal response to all creation, combining the Tandava Dance – the Panchakritiya – that tell of the fivefold activities as given above. Each of these activities also relate to five Gods: The Brahma who creates through Shrshti (Abirbhava); Vishnu who preserves through Sthiti; Rudra who destroys through Samhara; Maheshwara who confers illusion (Tirobhava); and Sadashiva who, through Anugraha, releases the human soul from its cycles of rebirth.

Dual image
The Dance of Shiva carries many fascinating legends. One is told of in the Dhakshya Jagna season. This is the sacred fire ceremony that was offered to King Dakshya, the Father of Parvati who was the wife of Shiva. I have told of this in my Travelogue, Indian Journeys, but to repeat, King Dhakshya refused to invite Shiva to his feast because he abhorred the manner in which Shiva associated with gods as well as demons, wore ragged clothing and frequented cemeteries and places that hold the ashes and graves of the dead. Parvati was insulted by her father’s behaviour and threw herself into the fire. On finding her corpse, Shiva placed it around his shoulders and, in intense grief, performed a frenzied dance.

My readers are also to note that in many ancient sculptures, Shiva and Parvati are shown as one composite figure. Such sculptures have been founding Mohenjo-daro and Harappa as well. Such figures are the Ardharariswara-Natarajah, half male, half female and Shiva wears a man’s ring on one ear and a woman’s ring on the other. Does this tell us that the age-old dances from the beginning of time had been performed by men and women?
A study of the Shiva Purana gives us more. Brahma was not satisfied with the Prajapatis he assigned to help his work of creation. He called on Maheshwara, the God of illusion who came to him in dual-sex form. Brahma then gave to the female half the responsibility of creation. There is also an ancient sloka that tells of the composite aspect of Shiva and Parvati who was also Shakti. It declares: ‘Pure as crystal and having Parvati as one half of his body.’ (Suddha spatika sankasan umadardhadharinam).
We also have emotional impulses that urge dancing – such dances as those that express the fervour of the soul, or the hunter’s dance that is inspired by the joy of the chase, and other ritual performances that give to the blood wildness and courage.

Havelock Ellis, who made a tremendous study of it all, said: ‘If we are indifferent to the Art of Dancing, we have failed to understand not only the supreme manifestation of physical life, but also the supreme symbol of spiritual life.’
Another writer, Collum – (incidentally, I have written to my Indian Editor to locate and send me his book) – has said ‘...all matter, as total nature must dance, for in its entirety lies the pattern of atoms that build it. An Indian dance is truly of these patterns that keep melting into one another. They form the symbolism of the dance of Shiva and as poetic as the highest sense where poetry is of the highest significance – the beauty that tells us all of an idea or thing that makes it alive and valid. The conception of the dance of Shiva will remain innate is all Eastern ideas of movement – and of history. Construction and destruction are mutually antagonistic realities. But since Rontgen’s accidental discovery of physics, so many have revealed the scientific facts that fully justify the dance of Shiva – everlasting, both constructive and destructive at the same time...’
It is now known of and accepted throughout much of the world that there exists all nature’s reverberation to the rhythm of Shiva’s dancing feet. This is why through Hindu Asia he is also given five image forms: The Samhara Murti, Dakshina Murti, Bhikkatara Murti, Anugraha Murti and the Nrtta Murti.
The first is in his role as destroyer, even if it is understood that he destroys only evil and the clasps of illusion. The second sees him as a Yogi, the third as a mendicant, the fourth as a boon-giver and the fifth as Lord of the Dance, wiping out time, space and evil.


Herekleion found off Alexandria

For 2,000 years, the magnificent Greek city of Herakleion lay hidden beneath the sea, four miles off the Egyptian coast of Alexandria.
The city was built in 5BC on the principal mouth of the Nile, but in 2AD an earthquake dragged it out in monstrous shoals of sand and buried it. It was only in the 1930s that an Egyptian prince, when diving, had found old stone slabs on the ocean floor. On bringing up one of the slabs and reporting his find, it was obvious that somewhere beneath the sand lay the city that had disappeared.

Short shrift from Kipling

In 1925, a women’s rights campaigner, Marie Stopes, wrote to Rudyard Kipling, asking him to change then last line of his poem If from ‘As what is more – you’ll be a man, my son’ to ‘And – what is more – a sweeter round you’ve won!’
Kipling tossed the letter into the Mississippi, watched it float, then disappear.
‘Women,’ he muttered, ‘now they don’t like the whiff of If!’

Writers who left ‘muggy, reckless’ England

Both Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis moved to the USA. They dismissed England as ‘A smug, scelerotic, closed-in country, gently sliding into oblivion on a mangy tide of warm beer.’
They had to be knocked down a peg or two, naturally, and Ferdinand Mount took up the cudgels. He was welcomed to say his all in the Times Literary Supplement and this is what emerged:
‘It’s very odd. America, although wonderful, is a polite, orderly, sleepy republic, chugging along with very few upheavals. Modern Britain is an almost insanely-minded, casually reckless place... but there’s a quarter of a million French citizens living here, soaking up the excitement. Not long ago, Britain was about the last place a Frenchman would think of settling in. I decry Amis and his kind who call us dull. We British have to become more like our 18th Century ancestors and coarsely freeboot these people whose licentiousness is contained by a certain underlying patriotic self-discipline.’
So, America has no upheavals! Great stuff to tell the troops. And what have the French to do with what Rushdie and Amis think? Poles apart! And is America all that polite and orderly? Not on your Nelly!

Forced into glory

A new book by Lerone Bennett had taken a sledgehammer to one of America’s most revered figures. Abraham Lincoln is the subject of Bennett’s book, Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.
Bennett claims that Lincoln wanted to reserve the West of the country for whites only and also opposed the settlement of blacks in his home state of Illinois. Instead, he advocated that all freed slaves be sent to some fertile country with a good climate which they could have for themselves.
Author Bennett was fiercely attacked by right-wing critics but he insisted that Lincoln’s true racist beliefs are very apparent in all his writings and speeches. The book sold like wildfire!
Teenage author with a £50,000 advance
Anslew Audley is only 17 years old. And he is revising for his A/Levels at Milfield School in Somerset.
He began to write a novel; titled it Heresy.
It was accepted for publication and he pocketed a £50,000 publisher’s advance!


Skeletons tucked away have new formations

By Carl Muller
There is this book, Living and Dying in England, 1100-1540 by Barbara Harvey who has explored every aspect of monastic life and especially of the monks’ diet. It’s a strange thing to write of, but Barbara gives documentary evidence of a skeletal disease with association with obesity.
Chasing up a Medical Dictionary, I found that Spinal Fusion has several names. There is Forrestier’s Disease of the spine. There is the better known Senile Ankylosing Hyperostosis. This latter has been called DISH in many clinical studies and is known to occur in 2-5% of populations, but how many over 50s, usually males, know how terrible DISH can be? They may have some spinal stiffness and a few aches and pains, but will it really matter if new bone formations begin to appear in their skeletons after they are in their graves? Ah, but as medical studies show, a quarter of these patients were also associated with obesity and diabetics!

Digging up bones
There is also Dr. Juliet Rogers whose tale of monastic skeletons was featured in the Journal of the Department of English, Bristol. My readers could always write to Professor Timothy Webb should they think it a necessity, but will this fusion business really trouble us? Who’s going to dig up our bones and examine them anyway?
What Dr. Rogers says is that most medieval monks were fat. She sees this in Art, even the cinema, and points immensely to Friar Tuck in the many Robin Hood stories – and it was not just spinal but large areas of new bone formation.

Science agrees. Friar Tuck must have not only tucked in all the venison and pork he could get, but he also drank too much ale, beer and wine each day. Dr. Rogers is a lecturer in Palacopathology. She says the evidence from monastic graveyards showed a much higher frequency than normal of the fusion forms, and this was also in high status burial sites. However, she said that not all who show DISH are monks and, after all, there monks who had never been fat at all. High living and obesity were widespread in other ecclesiastics and the nobles in medieval times. It was nice of her to also reveal that for the monks, the daily calorie allowance was as high as 7,000 calories. ‘That is ample explanation for the popular message of gross fat, rotund monks like Friar Tuck!’
This whole unnerving (or is it more-boning?) began in 1978 with the Bishop of Giso of Wells Cathedral. The Old Saxon and late-medieval cemetery had to be excavated and this gave the opportunity to examine the tombs that contained seven Saxon Bishops of Wells. A single body was found in one tomb while the others held multiple bodies. The Bishop Giso, who was a native of Lorraine and at one-time Chaplain to King Edward the Confessor, had died in 1088. Spectacular layers were found on his skeleton. New bone formation had grown; looking like candle wax and even the eight separate vertebrae in the middle of the spine had been joined together by three formations.

This graveyard provided the testing of another hypothesis. There were remains of two Lady Chapels; one 13th Century, the other 16th, and they overlaid one another. Each had burials – all identifiable by the Chapel records – of priests, high status officials and benefactors. Many had bone-formations in various parts of the skeleton, particularly where ligaments attach. There were new rims of bone at joint margins .called Osteophyte. This is common of many joint diseases, but what brought in the ‘Bone-formers?’ Do the bones develop after death?
In Wells Chapels there was a very high proportion of Bone-formers. The dead were also very much older at death than the rest of the people but they all had a stronger association with status, obesity, rich foods and much drink.

Food and wine
Studies have also been made at St. Peter’s Church and St. Oswald’s Priory at Barton-on-Humber where the great masses of bone formation were found on nineteen joint sites and twelve ligament sites. Merton priory in London and Saint Alban’s Cathedral also provided many examples and it was then agreed, considering all that had been seen, that it could be survival to an older age of better nutrition as well as guzzling drink and taking in the richest and fattest of food.

I have a picture to show of a very thin monk of the ancient days who had opened the monastery cellars and with a tureen and the cellar keys in one hand and a long potted goblet in the other, kept filling the ale from a large barrel into the goblet while he emptied the tureen. Obviously he was not going to take a quick drink and creep away. He was going to drink until he could feel his stomach swell, it wouldn’t be long before he could boast a very big belly and gladly tell whoever he wishes to tell that he feels very much a priest! This print is found in the British Library and should tell us a lot.

We have heard of a read so much of the old legends, but this is no more a legend. Do our bodies rot away to reveal skeletons that keep growing? Doesn’t death take away all this or not? There are so many Biblical yarns about the rich (the fat?) not being able to pass through the eye of a needle. There is to come the time when the dead shall rise again and face judgement. What manner of Diffuse Idiopathic Skeleton Hyperostosis skeletons will burrow out of their graves and what will a DISH tell God?
What form of Earthly disease can cause new bone-life in a wasted pile of bone?
Just look at our poor, our starving, our children eating from dustbins, asleep on the pavements. Will they be the dead that will truly die, free of a deadly curse, while our fat, obese, and diabetic big shots are lauded to the skies? Should we waste ourselves honouring them or just say we have no truck with these other Friar Tucks?


Hollywood a vendetta against the British

We did see the Hollywood blockbuster when it was shown here. Mel Gibson was the ‘Patriot’ and the film was all the rage here. But it has been roundly criticized in England for a pernicious distortion of facts! Hollywood is accused of re-writing British history and the film had been deliberately made to malign the British involvement in the American War of Independence.
As British newspapers said: ‘The reportedly true story of a peaceful farmer who is dragged into the war has been transformed into a 160-minute polemic against the British.’
I suppose there is a degree of poetic licence that can be expected, but there is growing concern in England of a post-literate society where children get more information from films and TV than books. This is why the routine distortion of British history needs to be stopped. It could create a sort of international pat-a-cake that could get ugly.
This hasn’t been the first blackballing of British history. There was V-571 – a film that purported to tell the true story behind the capture of an English code-breaking machine from a German V-Boat in 1942. The film had a crew of American sailors steal the machine. Britain goggled. The device was stolen and brought back by the British Navy!
Anyway, let America run with its lousy vendetta. Should we care? Three years ago I would have said ‘yes.’ What if somebody had made a Prabhakaran blockbuster and called it ‘Our Patriot?’