Importance of The Dance Tradition in Society

Spirituality is the core of Indian Art.

Evolved out of spiritual passions, art in India is considered a extremely valuable and worthy path of devotion to the Divine that not only serves the spiritual aspirant/artist but the family and society as well. Be it sculpture, architecture, painting, dance or music, the theme of the artist is rooted in spirituality, devotion to the Creator and the spirit of creation; the urge is as much spiritual as it is aesthetic. Spirituality is the divine experience of communion with God. All the Indian art-forms have been attuned to this ideal.

Vedic art is an ancient development that still holds much appreciation in modern times. Art in the Vedic tradition was never a mere representation of an artist’s imagination. It was always a vehicle to convey higher truths and principles, levels of reality that may exist beyond our sense perception. It was always used to bring us to a higher purpose of existence and awareness. In this way, it was always sacred and beheld the sacred. Still today it is used to allow others to enter into a transcendental experience. It may also present the devotional objects of our meditation.

Vedic paintings or symbols are unique in that they can deliver the same spiritual energy, vibration and insight that it represents. In other words, through the meditation and devotional mood of the artist, the art becomes a manifestation of the higher reality. In this way, the painting or symbol becomes the doorway to the spiritual essence contained within. They are like windows into the spiritual world. Through that window we can have the experience of darshan of the Divine or divinities, God or His associates. Darshan is not merely seeing the Divine but it is also entering into the exchange of seeing and being seen by the Divine.

Thus the art is beyond mundane principles or ingredients, such as paint, paper, stone or metal with which it may be made, but it becomes completely spiritual through which the very essence of the subject of meditation is revealed, affecting consciousness. The truth of spiritual reality can pierce through the darkness of the material energy and enter our mind and illuminate our consciousness.

To convey higher realities in paintings and sculpture, everything has a meaning. The postures, gestures, colours, instruments or weapons, everything conveys a principle or purpose, which often must be explained to those who lack understanding. Thus, knowing the inner meaning of the painting increases its depth for those who can perceive it, which makes it worthy of further meditation and contemplation.

As with art, DANCE in India was not merely an expression of an artist’s emotional mindset or imagination, but was meant to be an interpretation or conveyance of higher spiritual principles or pastimes of the Divine. In fact, in the Vedic pantheon Shiva is known as Nataraja, the king of dancers. Shiva’s dance was also not without a more significant purpose. His dance was based on the rhythm of cosmic energy that pervades the universe, and the destruction of the illusory energy by which all souls are given the opportunity for release from the illusion to attain liberation, moksha.

In this way, traditional Indian dance is highly spiritual and often accompanies important religious rituals and holy days and festivals. Vedic dance goes back to prehistoric times. Bharata Muni wrote his Natya Shastra, science of drama and dance, over 2000 years ago. In it he explains that it was Lord Brahma, the secondary engineer of the universal creation, who brought dance (natya) and drama to the people of Earth millions of years ago, shortly after the Earth was created.

Now dance has evolved into a tradition involving various schools and styles but with strict discipline. It is not uncommon that Indian families will have their daughters spend at least several years or more in such study and practice. There is a precise method of postures, facial and hand gestures (mudras), and movements, along with footwork that must be learned and synchronized to the beat and music in order to convey specific meanings, moods and stories to the audience. Many temples, especially in South India, were known for maintaining large groups of dancers that performed at festivals and religious functions.

When the dance is performed according to the spiritual standards, which some view as similar to the practice of yoga, even the dancers can invoke a high degree of spirituality in their own consciousness and bring unity between their inner selves and God. Then the transcendental atmosphere can manifest and draw the Divine to appear in the performers on stage. Thus, the environment becomes transformed and the audience may also experience darshan of the Divine and experience an inspiring upliftment in their own consciousness. In this way, the dance is divine beauty in motion. Or it is a way of invoking the spiritual dimension into our midst. Few other forms of dance attempt to do this.

Indian Classical Dance is an expression of devotion for the “Higher Being”. Along with religious trends, dance trends followed suite. From a very early time (as mentioned) the dance found its spiritual home in the holy caves, temples and religious institutions as an essential religious practice. While religions sprang up with organized divine services, Indian dance too became more organized and refined into the art-forms practiced today.

Throughout the centuries, again as mentioned earlier – it became an important part of any celebration by the people who considered art to be the most pleasing item for the Gods and Goddesses. It is felt that no festival or ceremony is accepted as even being COMPLETE without a performance of dance and music.

Various schools of dance include Bharata Natyam, Kathakali, Manipuri, Odissi, Kathak, Mohini Atam, Krishna Atam, Bhagavata Mela, etc. Thus, we may have many dances that convey stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or Krishna-lila from the Bhagavata Purana. Nowadays this ancient art of Indian dance is enjoying a wide audience and a prominent place on the international stage.

The arts have always been regarded by ancient civilizations as sacred tools / pathways that are provided in order for humanity to reach its fullest potentials, both as individuals who are searching for their own fulfillment and spiritual awakening, and as a society that can function in harmony with nature and cooperation amongst themselves.

It is time that our western society starts to honour and recognize the tremendous value of the arts. It is time that our artists start believing in themselves so much so, that they begin to KNOW without a shadow of a doubt, with unshakable confidence… their worthiness. May all artists realize from the depths of their being, their worth; their most essential place and part in the society. 

For without art… what kind of a life and world would it be for anyone?

We were created

as channels for the spontaneous Creative Life force,

To co-create with God,

a world in His image and likeness.

And as His children, we inherited a spark of the Original Creator.

So it must be true that He lives inside all hearts…

This spark of The Divine

desires nothing more

than to inspire His children.

When you feel inspired my daughter… (He says)

This is my Word made manifest as your thoughts and feelings.

Please do not ignore your soul’s enthusiasm…

For the expression of your divine beauty,

and everything you create from this well spring ~

Communicates your love for Me.

– Sheena Oliphant

Thank-you to my teachers, beautiful dancing sisters and to Robert for inspiring me and reflecting the Divine through your steadiness and ease of being, wise council, compassionate love, healing confirmation, kind guidance, imagination, creativity, passion, enthusiasm, joy, playfulness and devotion to your art/co-creating from your hearts. Anna, Sage, Janna, Kari, Victoria, Veronica, Lisa-Marie and Sumeetha, thank-you so much.

Namaste.

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