Nritya: Expression of Atman

Zdena Bronislawska Deylova, Czechoslovakia

The activity of the fife force in the universe may be compared to a cosmic dance. This power is a rhythmical movement, an exact vibration, like the beating of a drum. Its rhythm is the pulsation of the cosmos which is going through an unbroken cycle of creation and destruction. This free flow of the fire of life is a whirling dance - the dance of Shiva.

Lord Shiva, the gracious destroyer and third member of the Hindu trinity, revealed the 8,400,000 asanas, positions of the body which include movements of all creatures from infancy to old age. The connection between asanas and dance movements is very close.

Lord Brahma, the creator and first member of the trinity, chose elements from each of the four Vedas and from these created a fifth, Nritya Veda- the dance. He took lyrics from the Rig Veda, gestures from the Yajur Veda, music from the Sama Veda and emotional and aesthetic content from the Atharva Veda. All these elements, as well as that of drama, constituted the Nritya Veda. Having created the dance form, Brahma instructed Bharata and entrusted him with the duty of popularizing it. In the first chapter of the Nritya Shastra, Bharata refers to this. Of the thirty seven chapters, only five deal directly with dance. From these arose the classical Indian dance, bharata natyam, in which stories from the epics Mahabharata, Ramayana, etc. are told by gestures and movements of hands, head, eyes and the whole body.

The sacred serpent, the power of shakti, kundalini, maha shakti are all names for the goddess of movement and life. This power creates the flawing movements of dance. A typical example is naga, the serpent dance, with its fluid movements of the whole body. The folk dancing of all countries is also an expression of the innate creative energy. In contrast to classical dance, it is a natural expression of the temperament of various nations and individuals. From the secret suppressed fire of the staccato heel stamping rhythms of flamenco to total body expression in the undulating hips of the Arabian zambra dances, all are manifestations of Shakti. This is particularly evident in the erotic content of much African dance. The western dance forms have in many instances developed from these: jazz dancing, soul, blues, rock n' roll, samba, mamba, cha-cha, bump, etc. They all permit expression of inner fire which relieves stiffness and promotes relaxation of the whole body-mind. I feel the vibrations of Shakti in all dance forms. It is a sinuous, flowing, strong and beautiful power leading to a fullness of experience and a goal- home, the snowy mountain peak where Lord Shiva, consciousness, waits to be united with her in ecstasy.

This power is not just that of movement, however, but also that which provides inspiration for all artists. Kundalini is the potential hidden power in every human being. Its awakening manifests in spiritual realization as well as in the creativity of all artists - composers, painters, sculptors, poets, dancers, choreographers, singers and writers. Those in whom it is spontaneously awakened are said to possess 'God given talents'. Kundalini awakening is the source of the genius of all outstanding people down through the ages.

This energy, the latent dynamic power, can be awakened by means of awareness and yogic techniques. Through the practice of specific exercises and a regular, moderate lifestyle, the psychic centres along the spinal column (chakras) open and the nerve channels (nadis) are purified. Those who practice come to understand creativity and develop artistic gifts as they progress. Therefore yogic techniques should be cultivated to develop the highest artistic abilities. Through the conscious awakening of kundalini we are able to bring power to our artistic endeavours and enrich all of our experiences. This potential treasure belongs to everyone, and I have been indeed fortunate to experience it to some degree for myself.

I have studied dance since the age of five and have been a professional ballet dancer with the National Theatre in Prague. Ten years ago I visited BSY, Monghyr where I learned kriya yoga from Swami Satyananda Saraswati and was guided by him to study Indian dance. Since my visit to BSY my experience in yoga has had a great influence on my work. As my art ripened, other faculties manifested. I choreographed Kalidas's "Shakuntala", working with actors and dancers teaching them gestures and movements originated from Indian dance and hatha yoga asanas. I successfully applied suitable elements from asanas to complete the dance sequences in that drama and I am continuing to do this whenever opportunities present themselves.

The well known French choreographer M. Befart derived inspiration for his ballet "Bhakti" from India and yoga, and the famous Stanislavsky developed his acting methods through a study of yoga. I studied under Prof. Indur Kumar and Prof. Kelu Nayar and the results of this study, my Indian dances - "Pooja" and "Apsara", were very well received in both Europe and Australia. The connection between yoga and my work is best expressed in my dance "Yoga Etude" which represents a series of sixteen asanas: kapali asana, sirshasana, ushtrasana, paschimottanasana, sarvangasana, setu asana, padmasarvangasana, yoga mudra, niralamba paschimottanasana, tadasana, sirsha angusthasana, hastapadasana, janusirshasana, vrischikasana, parvatasana and padmasana. These were done in dance form to the accompaniment of tabla in very slow rhythm. This dance originated twelve years ago during my stay in Monghyr when I was inspired by Swami Satyananda to give fluent asana demonstrations for the Fourth Yoga Convention held in Monghyr.

The movements of classical ballet, folk dance and modern dance are all closely related to the whole scale of asanas. For example, in classical ballet there are two positions, attitude devant croisse and attitude effacee derriere, which represent both forms of the well known yogic pose natraj asana (Lord Shiva's dance). Also asanas such as utthanasana, bhadrasana and hastapadasana are used in ballet training to develop maximum flexibility in the hip joints.

The connection between yoga and dance is very close indeed and I have seen for myself the benefits that yoga practice can bring to a dancer. The flexibility of the body and the ability to express through gesture are greatly increased by the art of concentration. The body is connected with mind and mind with body. When the mind is dissipated, the body is less flexible and the gestures ungraceful and uncoordinated. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (ch3 v.32) it says: "Steadiness is achieved by concentration on the kurma nadi." Kurma nadi is a psychic nerve channel situated just below the pit of the throat. I achieved steadiness with the help of ujjayi pranayama which stimulates this nadi, and I would tike to state that ujjayi has been of inestimable value to me in controlling many extremely difficult dance variations, Trataka is also very helpful for developing concentration and steadiness.

Another practice which i have found particularly useful is chakra anusandhana (awareness of chakras). Through this, the establishment of awareness of the body as the axis between two poles - the end of the spinal column (mooladhara) and the top of the head (bindu)- is made possible. With this awareness I combined with that of the abdominal centre (manipura) through which the axis runs, perfect coordination of the body develops as Shakti, the divine power, is progressively awakened.

Shakti brings light into darkness, movement into inertia and inspiration into mundane experience. Shakti, the beautiful regulating power that unites us with highest consciousness, can be awakened through the practice of yoga to invest our whole life with her power and radiance. It is she who is mirrored in gestures and movement. She is the dancer, unfolding creation in time to the cosmic rhythms of the universe.