The yogi who dances – REVIEWS of The Yoga of Indian Dance and Sutras on Dance

Sutras on Dance and The Yoga of Indian Dance
By Mandakini Trivedi

Shiva is the origin of both Dance and Yoga in the Hindu tradition. He is Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, and the Aadi Yogi, the First Yogi. But curiously, there have never been any recently famous examples of somebody who is both a dancer and yogi. This is an anomaly so breathtakingly obvious, India has chosen to ignore it altogether. For men the reasons for such distaste are obvious. Classical Indian dance is too yin, developing overtly feminine qualities in its practitioner. {My personal explanation for that is there are missing yang sections in Bharatha Muni’s Natyashastra but of that another time}. The great Tamil actor Kamalahasan who is also a very good classical dancer took to body building to prevent the inevitable slide into perceived sissiness ! That was astute, as pumping iron is very yang and makes a male energy of either gender that practice it. The Martials arts alone seem to enhance inherent gender qualities while kicking ass. So dance in India, even though it has the Nataraja, has always to fight this social archetype of being solely a feminine concern. The few male dancers that exist do not provide a persuasive argument to the contrary. I know, I know, gender stereotyping, but come on everybody knows this is what the audience is thinking while smirking upon the sight of the usual male classical dancer.

So dancers do not provide very much Shiva energy so as to speak, but yogis do not become dancers either. Most styles of Yoga have become obsessed with physical stillness – with good reasons- but they have forgotten that the Yogi is also the Ananda Tandava Murthi – The Bliss Dancer. Centuries of foreign rule under suspicious Semitic cultural gazes also left the Hindu curiously apologetic and furtively ashamed about dance. Yogis do not dance even if they could. The last person who could have combined them was Swami Vivekananda, who did dance, though more out of exuberance than training. It was classical music that he was an expert at. The four most ‘masculine’ yogis I have ever met are Jaggi Vasudev, Master Charles Cannon, Gurunath Siddhanath, and the no longer amongst us Justice Dudhat. Not one dancer amongst them, though Jaggi does twirl and whirl a bit when in the mood. It is an extraordinary situation; Nataraja is huge amongst dancers and the spiritual culture of the county, but Yogis do not dance and dancers are not very good yogis.

Well now there is an exception. It is perhaps inevitably a woman who has begun the new trend but she is a very great dancer and a very good yogi indeed, called Mandakini Trivedi. Her form of classical dance is Mohiniattam and she is a hard core yogi too, not a renunciate, I must stress, but a live example that Yoga, the joining of the limited self to the larger cosmos is possible through art as well as asanas. She has written two books to express this unique fusion called The Yoga of Indian Dance and another a book of meditative aphorisms called Sutras on Dance. There have been many good books on classical Indian dance before; in the world India alone has seven classical dance forms – Bharathnatyam, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Manipuri, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, and three forms of classical music – Dhrupad, Hindustani and Carnatic as well as the world’s oldest classical martial art, Kalaripayattu! Yeah I know! Awesome! And all of them are gasping for survival, unable to find funding while the numbers of the philistine rich grow exponentially. That too is reality.
These two books restate the primacy of dance to the spiritual process, the spiritual discipline or sadhana, that it originated as, instead of as a mere performance form. In the circumstances outlined above it seems like an act of exceeding courage, though Trivedi seems to have written them because she felt they should be. The sutra tradition of teaching is also perhaps on its last legs. It was an inspiring method of ensuring the learning became a vital organic part of the student, instead of rote memorization. A terse sentence dealing with some vital principle was offered up for contemplation, somewhat in the much later koan style. The student struggled with the sutra, meditated upon it, pondered the widening implications that surfaced in consciousness, and realized the sutra kept deepening its meaning as one aged. The Sutras on Dance seek to reignite that sensible tradition. They are seemingly simple, perhaps obvious, sometimes trite. A view that is a mistake, and only a superficial first glance could lead to such a blunder. I do not wish to talk about the books in detail; it would be much better if you perused them yourselves. Yes infinitely better. For both yogis and dancers, indeed all creative people, who wish to be integral and meld their creative self to their spiritual side these books should be most valuable.

These are two very significant books, for, -I am aware what I am saying here-, in over a 1000 years in India a dancer AND a yogi has not engaged with the tradition as Trivedi has.


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