all towns are
one, all men our kin.
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Bharatha Natyam - Classical Dance of the Ancient Tamils
Perspective of a Bharatha Natyam Dancer
It is a small room to the common onlooker, hardly twenty feet by fifteen feet. But the eye of this beholder has a field of vision that is narrow. He sees proportion, dimension, and the physical reality of what is before him. He is blind to the other reality, that which only the dancer knows.
Hers is a room that has no boundaries. Walls, floor and ceiling cease to exist, leaving only space, time and music to remain. It happens every time she dances, a transformation from what is concrete to what lives inside her mind. She is indifferent to the people that watch her from their own realm, because she cannot see them from hers. Yet sometimes she, too, can be caught watching. It is a miracle that takes hold of every dancer who has reached the pinnacle of dance. It is the point where she no longer needs to remember the steps.
She has practiced the movements into her body. The force that executes them is not mental anymore; it is a function of her hands, her legs, her feet. The mind and soul become one, and float away from her frame. They are able to watch the body, that moves with a will of its own. The dancer has separated into two, and gazes upon herself. At this peak of practice and climax of devotion, she has succeeded in overtaking the dance. Seeking not to destroy it but to possess it, she becomes it. And it becomes her.
In time the body must plead for rest, though the soul is indignant. Movement stops. The dancer is one. The walls shrink. She slowly lowers herself to the ground and lets her head hang low, her shoulders tight, her ribs tender and throbbing. Letting go of a world where suffering does not exist and enlightenment prevails, she finds a different world. The transition is difficult. She stretches her exhausted feet in front of her and unties the silk beds of bells that wrap around each ankle.
The red dye from the silk and the sweat from the dance has left the familiar stain on her bare feet. They tingle with the honor of having danced before God. Alone in the room, her chest heaves up and down. The familiar smell of incense and sweat fills her nostrils, and her muscles relax. It is the smell of safety.
From her first class when she was six, to this day in her seventeenth year, the room has been her haven. It is her shelter and perspective, something by which she measures everything else. It is the basis for her true education, her teacher of perseverance, self-worth, dedication, and excellence. It has made her strive to be a karma yogin, one whose soul is not satisfied until a task has been mastered, in dance, in school, in life. It is the center of her world.
Dusk caresses her with moonlight and breeze as the sounds of the veena and mridangam float through her mind, still leftover from the dance. The music of the Indian instruments is the most fluid and Divine. This connection with God is the essence of Bharata Natyam, the great Indian Classical Dance style that flows through her. She lets the song play on, identifying the three elements of dance sprouting from Bharat, as her Guru had taught her. They are Bhava, Raga , and Tala or emotion, melody and rhythm. The richness of the music echoes inside her in its three separate parts and makes her want to move again in Natyam: the embodiment of pure and interpretive dance. But once again the body resists the pull of the mind. She is tired.
The dancer rises from the center of the room. As she departs the studio, she cannot be sad. She will return again and again to dance, to honor God, to find her place. The room is her harbor. No matter how far away from it her ship may sail, she will always find her way back.