Did Shiva dance American rock-n-roll? (a response to “Shivaya: An ode to the dancing Lord”)

This article is a response to Shivaya: An ode to the dancing Lord

Priya Raman tells us that Malathi Iyengar’s ‘Shivaya’ an ode to the NRI American Dream, was somehow “so special that it would have in all its true essence reached the Lord at the earliest”. Quite an ambitious statement, isn’t it?

Every now and then I stumble across some imbecile salsa or classical Persian dancer of Kathak either prentending of “offering their dance to Lord Shiva” or, worse still, trying to make us believe that Shiva himself was somehow doing those crappy dance moves while wearing a garb of the medieval Persian shopkeeper that Murali Mohan tries to sell us. In the first case, Shiva, even in his infinite compassion only accepts what is offered with absolute sincerity. Since it is the quality that is almost unheard-of among the “professional” dancers, Shiva simply ignores their “offering”. In the second case, the dancers get cheeky and try to push their imported subhuman vulgarity upon the Divine. They automatically get cursed for millions of years and will surely be reborn as frogs or worms, thus reducing the human over-population on the earth.

So, what kind of dancing does Shiva do, and why?

This is the question that bothered, for instance, two sages, Vyagrapada and Patanjali, who decided to meditate on a hilltop near Chidambaram and were really sincere (and, thus, successful) in their endevour. Priya Raman from Hyderabad took a different approach. As she “did not find an immediate answer”, she came up with a clever and abstract philosophical nonsense that made her “feel Shiva danced so that he could commission blessed messengers like us to dance in life”. Just like a drunk cheri priest in a dirty temple, she wants us to believe that every strip dancer is somehow Shiva’s messenger who wants to “make an eminent living” (which, according to her, includes “yummy breakfast and foreign chocolates”).

Shiva, the lazy Lord who only responds to the devotee’s absolute sincerity and determination, along with Parvati performed free of charge for the sages (certainly not for the intellectual Priya Raman), and they enjoyed watching it with their third eye (which Priya Raman does not have, so she decided to substitute it with some rational speculation). Natya Shastra tells us that these two sages were not the only ones who saw how Shiva actually dances. Shiva was “reminded” of his dance moves for example by his assistant Tandu whom we see in Mahabalipuram. Patanjali went on and installed the 108 karana statues in the Chidambaram temple. Vyagrapada, who became the founder of the South Indian martial arts, made use of certain karanas in a different way.

While a Cuban salsa or Persian Kathak dancer would argue that their moves, like any other moves, fall within the 84 lakhs of the body positions shown by Shiva, they can’t answer why only 108 of these positions are seen in the Chidambaram temple. The reason is very simple: even though Brahman is everywhere, even in a piece of dog poo, there is a difference between dog poo and an avatar. This is the difference that the hierarchy-averse brain-dead western dancers can’t get. They experiment with their bland “abstract choreography” potpourri of meaninglessness, while the dance of Shiva was as concrete as it can be and created the 8 Rasas.

Priya tells us that “The team travelled all the way from Los Angeles to collaborate with dancers from Chennai and Bangalore to pay tribute to the Panchakshara Mantra and to the five elements, to stillness and to movement”. If the Panchakshara Mantra has nothing to do with the five elements it doesn’t matter as long as you can sell it to the dumb American audience who understand what is water or fire but don’t understand what is rajas or tamas. Since akash (ether) was too impalpable, Malathi decided that it should be presented to the American audience as “Sky” (something that every American butcher can see). After all, American butchers don’t read books, do they?

The tamasic Priya informs us “of how group work can be re-defined, of what technical brilliance is all about and what it takes to have intricate, nerve wracking choreography”. Their nerve-wracking choreography, I assume, is partly responsible for the fact that California’s rate of schizophrenia and other mental disorders is the highest in the world, so everybody goes for counselling after a nerve-wracking dose of cocaine that every American artiste sniffs before attempting some “new artistic production”. Their group work fell far below the Pindi formations mentioned in Natya Shastra. Their “technical brilliance” was supposedly demonstrated by Renjith Babu Choorakkad who, according to the photo, was struggling to keep his foot up. For some reasons, the proud “professional” dancers thought they were better than the dancer in the video below (see the passage at 1 minute 11 seconds):

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJczIpsICFg&t=1m11s]

“Attention to detail was something to watch out for” although we are yet to see where that “desired ‘wow factor'” was supposed to be. Malathi Iyengar “brought in a strange discipline adopted from the west to make things as simple as they can get”. In this simplification process, the artistic sophistication and excellence were discarded as unnecessary. The Recakas, which formed an intrinsic part of Shiva’s dance, were discarded by the westernized “dancers” too. While it took our ancestors years of practice before they performed a piece, it took Malathi Iyengar’s team “a whole two days to get into the groove”. McDonalds would be proud of this record achievement.

“Malathi Iyengar had the best people in the business (yes, it is merely business, not art) work together – Rajkumar Bharathi, Embar Kannan, Praveen Rao, Gurumurthy G, Srihari Rangaswamy and other traditional composers”. How traditional these composers are if they can’t compose in the 22 srutis to which Shiva actually dances, and didn’t even read what music can be used with which angahara?

Rukmini Devi in Sudharani Raghupathi’s TV series in 1981 tells us that some songs “were composed by Divine inspiration”, while Malathi’s team decided that it’s better to have “brain storming sessions of ideas” that mutilated Adi Shankaracharya’s Nagendra Haraya beyond recognition. The fact that music used to be (according to Natya Shastra) composed for a particular piece of dance (after it was choreographed!) and not the other way around is something that the debilitated dancers didn’t get. Rukmini Devi says that true composers (not Malathi’s businessmen) “had actually the Pratyaksha, a vision” of the Divine and they “saw everything in a divine form“. Whether a composer really had a true vision or not is debatable, although we can safely say that Adi Shankaracharya did have it. The enlightened and even the not-so-enlightened composers keep confirming that Shiva’s favourite music is Sama Gana, while what the composers offer is of much inferior value (just as Malathi’s dancing is inferior to the dance fully based on the 108 karanas and choreographed in accordance to Natya Shastra). Unfortunately, to render even such inferior songs properly, the music arranger and the musicians too must tune in to this divine vision.

Gradual death of Bharatanatyam competitions in Chennai

It is not a big secret that Bharatanatyam competitions, however faulty they may have been, are very beneficial. Regardless of who wins and who loses, these competitions help the dancers assess their skills on a more objective level. They establish the standards and create the fabric of the dance community.

Few may have noticed that the Indian Fine Arts Society cancelled their Bharatanatyam contest this year, following Natyarangam’s, Music Connoiseurs’s Club’s, Gana Mukindhapriya’s, and others (e.g. ISKCON’s). We know no reasons for their decisions, no explanations or comments are given by these organizations. Perhaps it is a top secret.

What is not a big secret is, for example, the reason for the 2009 abortive straight-jacketed ABHAI competition where the dancers were severely restricted in what and how they can perform, obviously to suit the ABHAI’s president’s own agenda, as if it was some third-grade contest on Rukmini Ramani’s compositions which nobody attends.

Apart from the Music Academy (Spirit of Youth, very closely resembling Indian Fine Arts Society’s style of handpicking just 10 contestants) or National Bal Bhavan, among the other people who keep conducting Bharatanatyam contests it in Chennai are the TTD. These never announce it (perhaps for fear of their tiny space being overcrowded).

Unfortunately, the Bharatanatyam competitions they conduct are hugely inferior to the Kuchipudi competitions featured on their own SVBC TV channel where the judges are required to substantiate in detail their marks and provide comments on each item performed by the contestant.

See for yourself:



The reason the judges there are more or less honest and try to do their best is simple: they are well aware that their very reputation is at stake since tens of thousands of TV viewers watch the programme.

There is no comparison between the professionalism of the SVBC contest (where we can actually watch the entire classical Kuchipudi items performed by the dancers) and such TV contests as Jaya TV’s Thaka Dhimi Tha or Podhigai’s Konjum Salangai where we can at best see some bits of folk or fusion dances. The only thing we have worth watching on TV is Jodi No.1.

A Telugu friend of mine teases me from time to time, saying that excellence in classical dance or life in general quit Tamil Nadu long ago. Even in Kerala they have very well organized (where the dancers have the option of an appeal in case they are not satisfied with the judges) Kalotsav (www.schoolkalolsavam.in) featuring all classical dance styles, while there is nothing like that in Tamil Nadu.

Now, with so many sabha’s in Chennai claiming that they somehow are not responsible for the decline in the standards in Bharatanatyam, why is it that they they cannot organize regular Bharatanatyam contests and broadcast it easily on the biggest TV channel in the world, YouTube, allowing the viewers to discuss it and post their comments there? Of course, then the sabha’s hidden political agendas may suffer.

Perhaps they may be awakened to a new reality when Anita Ratnam decides to do it on Narthaki one day.