Articles and Interviews

Play of Prakriti and Purusha Experienced Through Dance
By Navtej S. Johar

The concept of Purusha informs all Indian thought. It is that spiritual core within each one of us, which is resonant, still and constant. Out of it ensues quietude. Purusha is constant: it was, is and will be.

It is universal: each of us is endowed with an equal measure of Purusha. It is the Shiva or male principle and its very nature is to remain full, still and conti-nuous. In contrast, all that moves is Prakriti or Shakti, the feminine principle.

Thus, any movement that takes place in relation to either the spiritual core within or the world without is Shakti at work. A yearning to unite with Purusha, the inner, constant core is an integral and inherent part of human nature; to yearn for continuity no matter how intangible this yearning or the inner object of this yearning might be.

Purusha is the stream of continuity. Both the yearning and the varied pursuits of the self to arrive at, consummate and experience this continuity are human nature and feminine. However, because of the subjective and intangible nature of Purusha, it is easy to be distracted, sometimes for ever.

The feminine principle is multi-pronged and so has multiple flip sides, the chief polarities being between vidya or the mindful that pursues the spiritual core, and Maya that distracts the mind and eye to become entangled with objects and stimuli from the material world outside.

Dance and music are traditionally designed to take one from the material to the sublime. The idea of abhinaya is to move from the outer to the inner, and through process of externalising the impressions of the outer upon the heart and soul of the dancer: abhinaya literally being the art of externalising the interior.

The goal of abhinaya is to offer the viewer a shift in her vantage point. Midstream through a performance the viewer begins to see something other than what the eye actually sees.

The imagining, ever-fluid eye of the dancer is transfixed upon and is "really" responding to imaginary objects that only she can see, the viewer seeing the responses of this invisible object upon the body and being of the dancer, and through the process of sympathetic identification, steps out of her vantage point and is propelled to view and partake of this imagined world through the eyes and heart of the dancer.

From then on, the dancer and the viewer may co-author the dance, or the dancer may give form to the viewer's inner desire and intent. However the imagination that propels the viewer to enter the liquid eye of the dancer is not a dry, studied, clinical affair.

It is juicy, sensuous, vital, rigorous and erotic. The erotic, sensual energy must be generated within the body in order to treat, lift, subvert or invert the material to reach sublime heights.

To view dance is to witness meaning in the making, a meaning which lies in a transformation of the material into the sublime.

This transformation is not a result of mime-abhinaya, but the result of surrender of a readied, disciplined, material body of the dancer offering itself in full public view to the will and forces of an intangible imagined/ real universe; seeking an entry point into that intangible universe of continuity on behalf of all viewers. But this will be possible only till the dancer remains unself-conscious.

The writer is a Bharatnatyam dancer.

The Times of India. Section: Editorial, Speaking Tree Date: 8 May, 2006