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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]






By LAVANYA DINESH                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Lavanya Dinesh

Variety is the spice of life and some of us choose to color our canvases with myriad melodies. Raagas reflect our every emotion and mood, touch our hearts and provoke our senses.

I wake up one early morning to the soulful, somber strains of a raaga called �Todi� played on the Shehnai (Indian version of the clarinet) by the late stalwart Ustad Bismillah Khan. The notes and ebb and flow of Todi convey pathos, a deep meditative spirit and a sense of gravity in equal measure. You have to hear it to feel the effect of Todi weighing you down into a spiritual stupor. I dream of ghats on the banks of the river Ganga in the holy city of Banaras. It immediately puts me in an introspective mood. As I do riyaz (practice) of raaga Todi dwelling upon notes in the lower octave, a calm resignation toward the maladies of life comes over me. �Kaa Kariye Jina Maaro� in this raga, also known as Mian Ki Todi, (named after Mian Tansen � the legendary musician of the 16th century) is a well-known composition. Among vocalists, I especially enjoy listening to an old 1960s                             Sanjeev Abhyankar

 recording of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. The classic rendition by this maestro consists of the vilambit (slow-paced) composition �Tore Nainawa� and the dhrut (fast-paced) piece �Yeri Maayi Aaj Piya�. Pandit Joshi�s style is always forceful and inimitable; at the same time, this version of Todi is brilliant, pure and unadulterated.

I would urge raaga lovers to pickup an HMV album of Kishori Amonkar�s meditative live vocal performance recording of this raga, also entitled Todi. Kishori�s tranquil �Begun Gun Gaa� is deeply spiritual. A more youthful vocal rendition comes from Sanjeev Abhyankar in the �Mewati� style of Guru Pandit Jasraj. Abhyankar sings �Ab Ghar Aayo� (slow-paced composition) and �Maane Na Mora� (fast paced) with serene abandon. Light music and film music enthusiasts also can enjoy raaga Todi in various film songs such as �Insaan Bano� sung by Mohammad Rafi in �Baiju Bawra.� Lata Mangeshkar�s Krishna bhajan �Nand Nandana� is another melodious sample of raaga Todi. Browsing through YouTube, I was so thrilled to find an old live recording of the melody queen Noorjehan�s ghazal �Jis Din Se Piya Dil Legaye,� which I used to love as a child. The most fantastic YouTube clips of raaga Todi are found in the Jugalbandi (friendly musical duel) between my favorite vocalists Ustad Rashid Khan and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.

My evening listening often gravitates toward lighter melodies such as the attractive raaga Kalavati. I have faint memories as a young child listening to a glorious song �Swagatam Shubha Swagatam� in Kalavati composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar for the inaugural ceremony of the Asian Games held in India in the 1980s. My classical fix for raaga Kalavati is the evergreen composition �Tan Man Dhan Tope Vaaru� sung by Dr. Prabha Atre. Her short and lilting rendition of the melody lifts your spirits. The ebullient and rich quality of this night time melody comes across beautifully. Sanjeev Abhyankar�s sweet and skillful Kalavati vocalization is another favorite of mine. The bandish (composition) �Bansi Ke Bajeya� is imbued with dexterous taans (oscillating phrases). There are some outstanding light numbers in Kalavati as well. �Kahe Tarasaye Jiyara� from the movie �Chitralekha,� �Sanam Tu Bewafa� from Khilona and �Koi Saagar Dil Ko� sung by Rafi are some notable examples. I also enjoy the song from a recent movie �Swades� based on raaga Kalavati called �Yeh Taara Woh Taara�. Raaga Kalavati lends itself to lovely instrumental expositions too.

This raaga sojourn will continue.

Lavanya Dinesh is an accomplished performer and teacher of Hindustani classical vocal music and resides in Tampa. She 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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