I just read Rabindranath Tagore’s poem I Won’t Let You Go(Jete Nahi Dibo, translated from the Bangla by Fakrul Alam).
It is our perennial anthem. Our longing to grasp, to hold fast to – all that is dear, all that is ours. And this in the face of a world of leavings, of things torn away, of hearts torn apart. In the face of the unraveling of every minutely, carefully worked weaving. A conclusion denied but inevitable.
Mid to late afternoon, after tea, after reading Tagore. I lie down on the couch and curl up like a comma. Not to sleep, but to go quietly inside and think things through.
Today, I am considering the collision of world-views.
A few blog posts back I considered this distance that separates in the air you breathe: the inevitability of the separation that results from being coiled into our cultural cocoons.
The divide is fractal, existing not only on the macro level of culture, but on the micro level of any two individuals. We are all blind, in varying degrees, to the ground upon which we stand. We look out into the world, thinking that we see objectively. But the really real is veiled by the innumerable beliefs we hold about it.
What to do, then? Just give up and sink into the false conviction that only my world-view is real?
It occurs to me that attempting to bridge the gap is why we’re here. Here, now, in apparent isolation from everything else. Our attempts to find connection may often be clumsy and miss the mark. But we can’t give up the project.
This conundrum reminds me of the title of one of Tagore’s novels: Yogayog. That is, yoga + ayoga. Yoga – connection, and its opposite – ayoga – separation. The former is the ultimate reality that underlies everything. The latter is the relative reality in which we spend most of our time.
May we support each other in the attempt to bridge the gap and find connection. The survival of everything depends upon this.
Our life, like a river, strikes its banks not to find itself closed in by them, but to realize anew every moment that it has its unending opening towards the sea. It is as a poem that strikes its meter at every step not to be silenced by its rigid regulations, but to give expression every moment to the inner freedom of its harmony. – Rabindranath Tagore: The Problem of Self from Sadhana.
Or perhaps life is like the highly codified art form of Bharatanatyam.
One must first learn the rules of this intricate dance idiom in order that the Divine might find expression through it. The latter cannot happen through force or calculation, but only and ever through Grace.
When it does come together, Divinity dances among us and we are utterly transformed.
I experience this in Supratim Talukdar’s expression of Arekar’s choreography Ardhanarīshvara…
Diversity is of many kinds – in a family of ten, there are ten different kinds of diversity. -Rabindranath Tagore*
This observation, penned by Tagore in 1895, expresses a perennial truth. Why then do we insist on separating life into polarities? Are you black or white? Gay or straight? Liberal or conservative? Religious or non-religious?
Daring to look at the astounding abundance of diversity in the natural world, it becomes evident that nothing could be further from the truth. There is only and ever a continuously evolving flow of expression. An infinity of dancing points of light.
Let’s embrace the image of the tāndava dance of Śiva Natarāja encompassing everything and every place and all time. The swirling ecstasy that has no opposite.
Wishing you all an auspicious Mahaśivarātri!
*from Raja O Proja , 1895, translated by Debjani Sengupta
Today, as my online Bharatanatyam class was finishing up, the next student, a little girl from Dubai, Zoomed in. My teacher (Kolkata, India), myself (Ottawa, Canada), and little Adhanu (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) were all on the screen together. I doubt that Adhanu speaks much English, but she certainly understood me waving hello – and responded enthusiastically. My teacher then requested that I perform Namaskaram to end my class, and Adhanu leapt up to perform Namaskaram to start her class.
So she and I danced together, touching the earth with our fingertips and bringing Earth’s blessing up to our eyes, then saluting God, the Guru, and each other.
Nandanar, a pure-hearted devotee, asks permission of the presiding Brahmin priest to enter the temple so he might gaze on the statue of Lord Śiva. Being of a lower caste, he is summarily dismissed by the haughty priest, who then suggests that Nandanar might gain admittance to the temple if he single-handedly completes a virtually impossible task. Nandanar collapses in despair, but when he raises his head again, he sees that the task has been miraculously completed by the Lord Śiva Himself! Nandanar joyously rushes to show the hard-hearted Brahmin, who not only denies him entrance again, but beats him cruelly. As Nandanar limps away, crushed, he ventures one last glance back at the temple – and sees that the statue of Nandi has miraculously moved aside to allow Nandanar a clear view of his beloved Lord Śiva! Joy ignites his being as he prostrates before his Lord.
In the following video, you will see this story exquisitely portrayed through dance by Supratim Talukder. Pay special attention to the central retelling of the story through mime…
…there is a point in the mimed section where the dancer turns from incarnating the brutal Brahmin to becoming the despairing Nandanar.
This pivotal point has the feeling of a gravitational well… as I have watched this video again and again, I feel drawn more and more deeply into this transitional point.
These two characters – opposites – can one exist without the other? Does the one not in fact define the other? Is this not a microcosm of the world of samsara? Are these polarities not continually orbiting one another on a gradual spiral toward ultimate meaning?
The wild tāndava of Lord Śiva – does it not take in all this? The good and the evil in the world are not static entities, but energies that dance together, continually transforming towards the bliss that has no opposite.
I’ve been working on some improvisatory movement around the theme of the lotus with my Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder. I’m realizing that this is not easy work. I keep falling into movement that is over-articulated, or cliché, or just not connecting… My teacher, while kindly encouraging, is also uncompromising. You need to find your inner movement, I’m advised. Find your inner lotus. But –
This morning, as I sat for my prānāyāma practice, I let my awareness settle on grounding – on the muladhara. The muck that we are all rooted in. Tentative rootlets insinuating, exploring down.
Then, gradually moving up to that liquid space of generative creativity. Of water. From the root, finding the gentle caress of flow.
And all the climbing energy centres echoing this watery origin of movement, of sway. Svadhisthana.
After introducing a new step or hand position, my Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder, always seems to ask me this. I understand his meaning: do I understand the new step? But the way he phrases it generally pushes me to an existential level: do I have any doubts?
Well, um, yes.
When I wake up greeted by grey skies hiding the sun… When I read another pandemic related article in the newspaper… When I reflect on the many ways the current lockdown is impacting lives…
But today the sun, reflected by white snow, turned the world bright. A safely distanced walk with friends rekindled life-giving communion. And I learned some new dance steps in my class – Natya Adavus 1, 2 & 3!
Doubt transformed into delight, hope, and joy.
Life continually offers possibilities that have the potential to banish all doubt. We swim in beauty. Possibilities for connection are endless, transformative, and absolutely life-giving. So many blessings, so much to be thankful for! I leave you with a dance that celebrates that beauty – in the enchanted world of Vrindavan.