Date of Award

11-11-2007

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS)

Department

Liberal Studies

First Reader

Isabel Brown

Second Reader

Joel Smith

Abstract

Bharata natyam is herald as a sacred art. The goal of all traditional Indian arts is to evoke rasa (a tasting of spiritual bliss) in the artist as well as the spectator. I have personally experienced a spiritual power while performing and practicing this ancient dance form. Bharata natya has two main aspects to its dance presentation: natya (story-telling), and nrtta (pure dance technique). The natya portion clearly nurtures devotional feelings and religious contemplation by retelling stories of the gods, of the great Hindu epics and of myths. This study focuses on the subtle role that the nrtta portion of the dance plays in the cultivation of rasa. I have always felt that there must be some great purpose behind the actual technique of bharata natyam, its severe geometry and unnatural positions of the body.

The connections between kundalini yoga, tantric philosophy, and bharata natyam are numerous. All are ancient traditions that developed within secret societies where a guru (teacher) imparted information as the shaisha (student) became ready to receive. The human body is the medium through which each strives to achieve union with the Divine. Common tools of mudra (stylized hand gestures), mantra (repetition of sacred syllables), and asana (body positions) are prevalent in each practice, but are they used in the same way? I propose that nrtta of bharata natyam does use these tools with a tantric and kundalini intent to direct energy and attention toward the realization of a spiritual union. I suggest that the mudras in nrtta channel and direct energy to balance the gross and subtle bodies as in kundalini yoga. I further propose that the body itself becomes a dynamic yantra focusing the dancer's and the audience's attention alternating between involution to the center (Brahman) and evolution (simulating cosmic time) mirroring the use of tantric yantras. Lastly I suggest that the sollukattu (pneumonic syllables) that the dancer internalizes while learning adavus (basic dance steps) function as mantra, repetition changing vibration and signifying proper meter and pause.

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