Today the sun shines. The banks of snow begin to warm and sink into the still hidden earth. Spring is not yet here, but its song is whispered. Our winter souls recognize the melody and start to thaw…
Today I had bharatanatyam class #19 with Supratim Talukder. In spite of his observation that my attempt at Natta Adavus #8 was woefully lacking, I feel flooded by an irrepressible optimism. Guided by his observations, I will improve. And he introduced me to some rhythmic footwork in the Pancha Nadai. I love playing with rhythm. My father was an amateur percussionist, and I carry on his love of rhythm. I’m SO excited to explore this new footwork! Beating out rhythms with my feet…
The rhythm of the changing season fills my soul. Time to get out for a walk – to taste the promise that fills the air.
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.
During my yoga teacher training we talked about holding space. A teacher in front of a class of yoga students needs to find an authentic way to hold space. This is not about having all your sequencing and cues memorized… it’s much deeper and more subtle.
It’s about letting go of planning. It’s about expanding into vulnerability. It’s about allowing the heart to open to those who have gathered for your class. It’s about becoming an empty channel for the divine to flow through you and embrace everyone there.
For me, it’s much easier to write about than to do.
In my online Bharatanatyam class this morning, my teacher touched on this concept from his point of view as a performer on stage. Each dance gesture needs to be expansive, to fill the space and create connection with the rasikas (literally, the tasters, or audience). He mentioned too that, for him, Bharatanatyam is a sadhana. It’s a sacred path to moksha, or liberation. This is not an overlay, but rather at the core of what it is to dance…
…and at the core of what it is to teach or practice yoga, or maybe just to serve tea to a friend.
Samputa, in the exquisite gestural language of Bharatanatyam, is one of the double hand gestures. The right and left hands are cupped together to create a container. A little treasure box.
I find the image apt for many of the traditional Sanskrit names given to the poses in Yogāsana. For example, Vīrabhadrāsanaencodes the whole story of the death of Lord Śiva’s beloved wife Satī. Overcome with grief and rage, Śiva rips out one of His dreadlocks, throws it to the ground, and the fearsome Vīrabhadra arises, ready to avenge Satī’s death.
Investigation into the stories behind the names of the poses can take our practice of yogāsana to another level. Taking Vīrabhadrāsana – literally “Blessed Hero” – again as an example, how might this familiar pose transform if we allow ourselves to embody the dharmic or righteous rage of this avenger? What does it mean to take dharmic action in the world?
The sadhana of yogāsana is a treasure box freely bequeathed to us from the rich culture of India, its birthplace. Do we have the courage to open it up and investigate what lies within?
On this day, the 72nd celebration of the Republic of India, I offer my heartfelt thanks to the land of Bharat for the priceless treasure of yogāsana!
My main sadhana, for many years, has been yogāsana. I practice, like most hatha yoga practitioners, on a yoga mat. About 68 by 24 inches. A container. A sacred space. A safe space.
But today, I rolled it up, and stood in the middle of the floor in my practice space. I was starting class #14 with my Bharatanatyam teacher, Supratim Talukder, via Zoom. Today’s class focused on improvisatory movement prompted by various types of cues: situational, musical, emotional… Once I allowed myself to surrender to the process, it felt incredibly liberating. 75 minutes spun by. And afterwards – I felt like I had let go of a lot of stuff. You know – all the individual and collective angst related to this pandemic and life in general. I just – danced it out! It felt so cleansing – like I had just breathed in a truckload of fresh air. Without a mask.
I followed my class up by getting back on my mat and doing some asana. It felt – quite different. There was more space in my body. Familiar poses felt new.
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.