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Jyothi Venkatachalam

Shiva the Hindu god of destruction also is known as Nataraja.

There is an interesting story behind the conception of Shiva as Nataraja: Once upon a time, many sages or Rishis lived in the forests of South India. One day, Shiva accompanied by Vishnu disguised as a beautiful Mohini (woman) came to the forest. On seeing the beautiful lady, the sages wanted to win her.

They first fought among themselves but then they decided to get rid of Shiva by using their Vedic powers. First, they created a fierce tiger in the sacrificial fires. The tiger rushed at Shiva, but Shiva caught it and with the nail of his little finger, stripped off its skin, and wrapped it around himself like a cloth.

The sages then produced a venomous snake, which Shiva happily wrapped around his neck like a garland of flowers. Finally, they rushed a dwarf sized monster at him. Shiva crushed him with his toe and continued to dance. Thus, evolved the cosmic form of Nataraja.

Lord Shiva is praised as the embodiment of dance in the following shlokam

Angikam bhuvanam yasya
Vachicam sarva vangmayam
Aharyam chandra taradi
tam vande satvikam shivam.

We bow to Him the benevolent One
Whose limbs are the world,
Whose song and poetry are the essence of all language,
Whose costume is the moon and the stars..."

In Lord Shiva's well-known pose of Nataraja, (the four arms and the left leg raised across toward the right foot), each hand either holds an object or a mudra.

The Right:

In his upper right hand, he holds the hourglass-shaped drum called the Damaru, which symbolizes creation. Each unit of the Damaru symbolizes the male and female principals of the universe. When the two triangles cross each other, they form a hexagon creating the Universe and when they separate, the universe also dissolves. It symbolizes a new awakening.

The creation of sound by the drum symbolizes the beating pulse of the Universe. It also provides music for his dance, which is most pervasive of all elements. It is believed that when Panini, the great Sanskrit scholar, was granted the boon of wisdom to end his ignorance, the sound of the drum encapsulated the whole Sanskrit grammar.

His second right hand rests Abhaya (fearlessness). Fearlessness against everything portrays Shiva as a reliable protector of the universe.

The right then symbolizes, not just the completion of the universe by a life-giving pulse, but also protecting such a creation. It ultimately symbolizes creation and protection.

The Left

On his left hand, he holds the fire. Fire is an element of destruction.

The second left hand that swings across the body pointing toward the left raised foot has the shape of an elephant's trunk. This symbolizes the removing of obstacles.

The Feet

The left foot raised and stretched across toward the right foot depicts the cycle of birth and death. The right foot set firmly on the dwarf sized demon depicts the destruction of ignorance.

Thus, we see not only a diachronic relationship between the left and right, a relationship between destruction and protection, but also a hint of the cyclic nature of such dichotomies.

Having known the symbolic interpretation of Nataraja, I feel that just one look at the Lord of Dance constantly gives us a message that our body is just inert without dance. Every move defines and anchors us to a freedom which is not granted by real life. Nataraja is not just an event of a particular deity in our mythological story but a universal view in which the forces of nature and aspirations, hope and limitations of man confront each other and are woven together.

So, let us dance with passion, beauty, courage and focused energy. Let us use dance as a healer and bring people together globally. Putting aside competing social influences let us educate the young generation of today to become committed dancers and an interested audience of tomorrow.

The curator of the Indian collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has rightly written that: "If one had to select a single icon to represent the extraordinarily rich and complex cultural heritage of India, the Shiva Nataraja might well be the most remunerative candidate."

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at [email protected]


Lavanya Dinesh

One of the brightest stars in the Indian classical music firmament is Pandit Kumar Gandharva. This late great vocalist was known for his unique forceful voice and compelling rendition. Kumar Gandharva's recordings have always been a musical staple in my household growing up.

In my adulthood, I have come to understand and appreciate the transcendental quality of this stalwart's music even more. Gandharva's inimitable rendition of classic classical raagas such as Purya Dhanashree (an evening melody), Malkauns (a midnight melody) and the folksy Malawati are some of the favorites on my classical playlist. Hailing from the Dharwad region of North Karnataka in southern India, this artist was born with the name Shivputra Siddharamaiah Komkali. He was given the title of Kumar Gandharva (celestial musician) because of the ethereal and other-worldly quality of his music.

Pandit Kumar Gandharva

Gandharva was a child prodigy with a formidable mastery of raagas and taalas whose performances enthralled both cognoscenti and laymen alike. Later on in life, a bout of illness caused him to lose one of his lungs. He worked around this impediment to formulate a rendering style all his own - a style of grit and sincerity.

When one listens to Kumar Gandharva sing, one is struck by his reinterpretation of traditional raagas, his short but robust and adroit phrasing and the vibrancy of his outstanding taan patterns (speedy note oscillations). His most mesmerizing pieces are Nirguni Bhajans, devotional compositions of Kabir, Meerabai and other poet saints.

In Gandharva's enunciation, they become more than devotional. They are imbued with a spirituality and mysticism that lift you up into a higher plane. Bhajans such as "Jhini Bini Chadariya," "Kehta Hai Guni Gyani" and "Ud Jayega Hans Akela" are unforgettable.

Another sweet yet powerful voice belongs to the doyen of Gwalior Gharana (school of thought) of Hindustani classical music namely Pandit D.V.Paluskar. Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram is one of the most popular bhajans in India. Several vocal and instrumental versions of the above are available. But this bhajan was first rendered and popularized by the young Dattatreya Vishnu Paluskar in the 1930s. He even sang it at several Indian freedom movement rallies where Mahatma Gandhi gave his speeches.

Pandit D.V.Paluskar
This wonderful classical vocalist was the son and disciple of the great Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar - musicologist and an overall musical colossus of the late 19th and early 20th century. In his short life of 34 years, young D.V.Paluskar made a huge impact on Indian classical and devotional music, leaving behind several beautiful recordings. His classical raags such as Marwa, Gaud Sarang, Bhoopali, Multani, Todi, Vibhas are attractive and masterful all at once.

His singing is marked by a syrupy quality, yet it is clean-cut with precise phrasing and succinct taans. They are aesthetically pleasing and technically sound.

The short recordings make you yearn for more. Paluskar's one of a kind rendition of raaga Shree - the composition "Hari Ke Charan Kamal" is an all-time classic inspiring several imitations. But this musical prodigy is better known for his lively, bhakti-filled bhajans like "Thumak Chalat Ramachandra," "Payori Maine," "Chalo Mana Ganga Jamuna Teer" and so on.

One can easily access Pandit Paluskar's film rendition of raaga Desi from "Baiju Bawra," where he has almost outshone the legendary maestro Ustad Amir Khan - in a sequence depicting a musical duel between Mian Tansen and Baiju Bawra set in the 17th-century Mughal court of Emperor Akbar.

A contemporary and more accessible vocalist who might alleviate the pain of nostalgia for a bygone era in Hindustani classical music is Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar. This learned musician/musicologist represents a thoroughbred musicianship and sophisticated enunciation of even simplistic raagas.

Kashalkar has a mellow, steady style of vocalism sans gimmicks. His commercial recordings are widely available. While his thumri and tarana renditions are delightful, Kashalkar's raaga rendition harkens back to the maestros of yesteryear. I especially enjoy his raaga Vibhas and Shuddh Sarang.

His "Darbari Kanada" is immaculate. Recordings of ragas Bihagada, Sohini and Kafi are also notable. This musician is a guru at the Sangeeth Research Academy (SRA) in Calcutta. He routinely conducts concert tours all over the world. Ulhas Kashalkar has performed in Tampa as well in 2004.

To be continued.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music and resides in Tampa. Lavanya regularly performs at musical venues both in India and the United States. She has three album releases to her credit. The artist has worked as a music critic and feature writer for The Times of India and Deccan Herald. She can be reached at [email protected].

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