Dialogue  July-September, 2006, Volume 8  No. 1


Towards reviewing the History of Art in India: Ancient Dance

Mukund Lath

For the historian, who looks at the descriptions of the various independent arts and their shåstras incorporated in the Nåtya-shåstra, written around 2nd century B.C., what comes through with a great force is an astounding realisation: he can clearly see that the history of the arts in India is a journey quite the opposite of what we know from the west, and what we have almost, perhaps unconsciously, rationalised as the ‘normal’ or ‘paradigmatic’ development of art in the history of all civilizations or ‘civilisation’ as such. Abstraction – or certainly, consciously cultivated abstraction – we believe, comes late in the history of art; it has done so only recently in the west, which, indeed is in the forefront of this movement, spreading it to rest of the world, and other ‘pre-modern’, lagging-behind, ‘traditional’, cultures, such as that of India. In the west – as the west believes – it has come as a result of a long historical development, and especially as a result of the complex new age of ‘modernity’ with its profound, almost ‘axial’ change which have brought about deep-rooted structural changes in the environment of man and, as a result, also in his consciousness.

From Bharata’s text, however, it is plainly evident that this picture needs to be entirely revised, at least in the case of India. Two of the major arts, Bharata was heir to, namely, music and dance, were, unlike his own imitation-oriented art of theatre, quite self-consciously abstract in form and conception. And he was himself quite aware of this. His text is, in a large part, a conscious attempt at transforming the given abstract arts into the figurative, representational or ‘imitative’ art of theatre.

Bharata clearly had deep knowledge of the already existing rich and sophisticated traditions of music and dance, both as to prayoga (practice) and shåstra (theory). The music and dance he knew, and was heir to, aimed at creating autonomous or ‘svaya´-pratiœ»ha’, worlds of their own, to use Abhinavagupta’s term for them. The word, ‘svaya´-pratiœ»ha’ may be translated as ‘established in itself’, or, on other worlds, ‘self-dependent’, or ‘self-contained’, The word is, clearly more appropriate than the current, ‘abstract’ or ‘non-representational’, and captures the artistic impulse that aims at creating significant, evocative, forms; independently of what we see around us, with greater lucidity. Svaya´-pratiœ»ha forms are expressive of a free, pure, creative imagination that is unbound by imitating the known and the familiar.

Abhinava, the famous thinker and philosopher, who lived in Kashmir in the 10th-11th century, uses the term, ‘svaya´-pratiœ»ha’ in the context of dance. And though the term – as he, too, implies – can also be extended to the pure music of Bharata’s (or Abhinava’s) days, it is dance that Abhinava specially marks as svaya´-pratiœ»ha, distinguishing it from abhinaya or play-acting, which is plainly imitative or representational. Indeed, interestingly, Abhinava distinguishes svaya´-pratiœ»ha dance not only from play-acting, but also from such forms of dance that incorporate abhinaya, and are thus representational. It is not difficult for us to appreciate this distinction – that between n¸tta (pure dance) and n¸tya (abhinaya-oriented dance), since they are still present in current practice. This distinction, it may also be noted, parallels the distinction between ‘representational’ and non-representational’ that we find in modern painting and sculpture, though we fail to ‘read’ or understand the significance of the parallelism.

Much of Bharata’s endeavour is geared towards transforming these svaya´-pratiœ»ha arts for his own radically different aesthetic purpose of creating theatre – that is, imaginatively representing the world of experience as drama. This endeavour has been termed anukaraµa – that is ‘imitation’ – by Bharata. Abhinava uses another, more meaningful term for it: anuvyavasåya – that is, ‘re-thinking the world’ or ‘imaginatively reflecting on it while seeking to represent it. But however one characterises it, the endavour here is obviously opposed to the artistic endeavour that seeks to create svaya´-pratiœ»ha world of its own, through non-representational expression such as in n¸tta, or in what we know as ‘abstract’ art. Bharata was not only aware of the distinction, but also of the fact that the self-conscious, learned or ‘high’, more sophisticated arts of his days were, unlike theatre, quite non-representative in form and spirit. Yet he used these arts in his theatre. Therefore, much of his procedures aimed at transforming the non-representative into the representative. What he does is extremely interesting in itself, but it is unnecessary to go into it here. (I have discussed his procedure, formal as well as conceptual, in detail in an article entitled, ‘Bharata and The Fine Art of Mixing Structures’, in my collection of essays, Transformation As Creation).

Bharata, we can thus see, can be made an intellectually significant landmark for stepping into a new way of thinking about the history of the arts in India. His intellectual enterprise can provide a point of entry from where we can get a meaningful view of both what came before and what came after.

Art might be said to be feeling reflecting upon itself through form. But in svaya´-pratiœ»ha arts, unlike drama or literature, the form is everything, its evocative meaning or significance is inalienably immanent in the form. Therefore, the form must dominate also in understanding or analysing such an art. We can see this in the manner in which pure, ‘abstract’, dance or n¸tta was analysed by åchåryas who preceded Bharata.

N¸tta, as we have said, was a pure form (though a meaningfully evocative form, danced by ¯Siva Himself), not seeking to represent anything outside of itself, so its understanding, too, had to have at basically formal orientation, unlike that of the later representative, and rasa-oriented arts of theatre and literature, where content could be separated from form. The concept of rasa used first by Bharata to aesthetically understand theatre, assumes this duality of a form associated with content, representative in spirit. The svaya´-pratiœ»ha art of dance, n¸tta, had no such duality, and was, thus, differently understood and analysed. It was analysed into larger and smaller units; the smallest units of n¸tta, also known by the more familiar word, Tåµæava, were called måt¸kås. The concept of måt¸kå is a very versatile ancient term for exploring and anaylsing a pure form, which is yet a meaningful form. The concept of måt¸kås was significant not only for dance but other disciplines, where a self-contained and thus indissoluble whole is theoretically divided into parts. Such a division, naturally, keeps the whole in view and the parts retain a meaningful relation with the whole. Such is theoretic impulse which led to the concept of the ‘måt¸kås’ (similar somewhat to ‘matrix’). The concept was first used, perhaps, in the tradition of ¯Sikså, the ancient Vedic discipline of language, especially, phonetics, which aimed at teaching and transmitting the word of the Veda in its right pronunciation. ¯Sikså had developed a sophisticated science of phonetics, since the Vedic word was basically an ‘uttered’ word. This ancient science has, indeed, been the inspiration, through Indology, of the modern discipline of phonetics in the west. ¯Sikså analysed speech into syllables, or varnas, the smallest units of speech to which a word can be meaningfully analysed for the purpose of pronouncing it. The varnas were divided into different classes and sub-classes on the basis of their function, the kind of effort that went into their pronunciation, and the anatomy of their production. They were grouped together into what was called the varµa-måt¸kå, a term most of us are quite familiar with. Varµa-måt¸kå was the ‘matrix’ of the spoken word, containing its building – blocks. Later the varna-måt¸kå became the basis for the phonetic formatting of written letters, and still forms the way they are arranged in Indian scripts.

A similar ‘matrix’, or collection of basic building blocks, is to be found also in the ‘vyåkaraµa’ or analysis of ancient dance. This dance, as we said, was also called the Tåµæava, a term we are familiar with. But few are familiar with the fact that Tåµæava is known after a great teacher called Taµæu, whose work on n¸tta is also the earliest known full-fledged treatise on dance anywhere in the world. Taµæu also used the term måt¸kå, and appropriately associating it with dance, he called it, ‘n¸tta-måt¸kå. A n¸tta-måt¸kå is the smallest meaningful structural unit in Tåµæava, a pure abstract form. It has been claimed by some modern scholars that the set of ancient n¸tta-måt¸kå contains a complete set of building blocks not only for Tåµæava, but for all possible dance, or even, all possible human movements. This is not true, though the vocabulary is an extremely rich one. We find that later theorists (such as ¯Sårgadeva in the 13th century) consciously added new building-blocks to the older set. Yet the ancient set of n¸tta-måt¸kå is richer than the set of varµa-måt¸kå, which, as we clearly know, does not contain all possible building blocks for speech. Even in India, new svaras and vyañjanas had to be incorporated by later grammarians for analysing Prakrit, Apabhramsha and De›ð speech.

There is, however, a deep difference between the use and purpose of the måt¸kå in ®Sikså and n¸tta. The varµa-måt¸kå is basically analytic; it is tied down to the speech that is given. The n¸tta-måt¸kå, on the other hand, form a matrix for creativity; they form the basis for innovating and synthesising new forms out of the given through ever new combinations.

Taµæu’s work on n¸tta is now lost as an independent treatise, which it evidently was. It now forms part of the Nå»ya-shåstra, where, however, its contours and contents can be readily discerned (as I have shown in a paper entitled, ‘Taµæu, The First Theoretician of Dance’, also included in Transformation as Creation).

The ancient shåstra of music known as Gåndharva-shåstra, which describes a form of music called Gåndharva, is parallel in its pure abstract intent and content to the dance of Taµæu. This shåstra is also incorporated in the Nå»ya-shåstra. But unlike the shåstra of dance, one of its early treatises, named Dattilam, is extant. The Dattilam, now a well-studied ancient work on Gåndharva, is quite independent of the Nå»ya-shåstra, and perhaps antedates it. It is clear from the Dattilam that it is a work written in a mature tradition with other works pre-dating it. Dattila while making no reference at all to Bharata, names and quotes from writers who had written earlier. (for detailed study of the Dattilam and its place in the history of Sang+ita-shåstra, one may see my A Study of Dattilam: a Treatise on the Sacred Music of Ancient India). There were, evidently, a number of writers who had written on Gåndharva before Bharata wrote his own shåstra, where he used the available works on Gåndharva, as he did with n¸tta and with works on several other disciplines, in order to formulate the composite art of theatre, which orchestrates various disciplines for its own unique purpose.

The early Gåndharva shåstra, unlike the shåstra of Taµæu concerning n¸tta, does not use the concept of måt¸kå. But the notion could have been meaningfully used to analyse its structure, too, which are pure structures such as that Taµæu’s n¸tta. In music, in fact, there is a natural måt¸kå, the smallest unit namely, svara. This måt¸kå is so obvious and self-evident in all musical praxis that it does not need to be separately marked out, as in speech or in dance. Later in the history of sangita-shåstra, a concept, very similar to the concept of måt¸kå, analyzing svara-formations into smallest meaningful clusters, was incorporated in musical analysis. This was the concept of sthåya. The move, it appears was made by musicians, who called it »håya (in their own parlance, called the Bhåµæðra-bhåshå); later it entered the formal discourse of the shåstris in a Sanskritised form as ‘sthåya’. Like the måt¸kås, the sthåyas, too formed the basis of newer formations – they formed the matrix for ålåpa, or creatively reformulating and transforming a råga.

Attention to the ancient writings on dance – and music – in India thus leads to an important realisation for any art historian. He can see that in India the earliest valued arts were the pure arts of music and dance, which were self-consciously abstract or svaya´-pratiœ»ha, and that this happened much before the Nå»ya-shåstra, which was the first self-conscious work that took a turn towards art as representation.

The ancient svaya´-pratiœ»ha arts are what are today called ‘performing’ arts. To use Kalidåsa’s words, they are ‘prayoga-pradhåna’, though one might say that in all art, unlike thought, prayoga or praxis is essentially more central to the realm itself, and so in the distinction, prayoga and shåstra, which is to be found in all traditions of art in India, prayoga assumes a dominant role. Yet music and dance may be said to be more essentially prayoga-pradhåna in that their works have no palpable being outside prayoga. This is the reason that historians have largely neglected these arts, as is obvious from the minor role they are assigned in the portrayals of culture and civilisation. The models for such portrayals have been western portrayals. The west traces the foundation of its self-conscious artistic impulse to Greece, to which it also traces the roots of its civilisation. Things Greek for the west are ‘classical’, which forms the basis for later transformation, leading to the ‘modern’, and the ‘abstract’. But there is a strange spilt in continuity here which, I think, has hardly been paid attention to. In the west, only the plastic arts, sculpture, painting and architecture, besides literature, go back to Greece. But not the performing arts, since they have no Greek roots – and thus no forms, which are truly ‘classical’, that is foundational to the civilisation. Witness the fact that in music, the ‘classical’ in the west is only a few centuries old, and moreover, it hardly has any Greek roots, being very different in its very nature: the western of the so called classical tradition is polyphonic, whereas Greek music was monadic: more like that of India in spirit and form. Historically, Greek music seems to have greater links with the music of Western Asia, perhaps through the influence of Byzantine. No wonder, then, that the plastic arts play such an important role in the self-understanding of the west and its foundational links with Greece.

In India, the picture is quite different. The ancient-most self-conscious arts in India, as we have seen, are the arts of performance: music and dance. They have an extraordinary long continuity coming down to the present, when, indeed, most of the other arts, especially the plastic arts, have become estranged from their own Indian roots, forging focal links with the alien tradition of the west, so mush so, that their recent history may be said to have become more informed by movements in the west, rather than by their own inner flow. They have no ‘classical’ in their own culture in any meaningful sense, since the ‘classical’ is not merely the ‘old’, but is meaningful only when linked to current practice, the ‘modern’. There is, thus, a ‘classical’ for us only in dance and music – areas, where, at the same time, there is no ‘modern’: the ‘classical’ seems for us just another name for the dethroned, devalued, ‘traditional’. This ‘modern’ Indian phenomenon of intellectually distancing itself from its own ‘classical’ by equating the ‘classical’ with the ‘traditional’, is part of larger cultural self-alienation and needs a separate deliberation, which will not be in place here.

Music and dance, indeed, are not only the oldest, the classical-most arts in India, they have also been, and are, culturally more dominant than the plastic arts in India. This should present us with a focus on art in the civilisational history of India that is entirely different from art-history as we know it from the west, where the plastic arts are of central importance in understanding civilisational roots and impulses. Unfortunately, by ‘art-history’ we have, by habit, come to mean the history of the plastic arts. But properly it should mean a history, where art, that is, the whole field of art is viewed as a whole in the perspective of a civilisation. Different arts, one should not forget, have different histories, and if the artistic proclivities of a civilisation are to be understood in any depth, attention ought to be paid to the arts to which the culture itself has been profoundly attentive. No doubt, the plastic arts too have been important in India; they too have their shåstras, but for any one who looks the entire spectrum of the arts, the largely neglected field of dance and music, stands out as more prominent. In the self-image of the west, which is essentially a historically-oriented image, the ‘classical’ ideally goes back to Greece, and so, only those of the arts, which happen to reach back to Greece, namely, the ‘plastic’ arts are really ‘classical’. But for us the field of the ‘classical’ is much wider, and the neglect of dance and music by art-historians is plainly unjustifiable.

The ‘classical’ in dance is practically absent in the west, even in the limited sense of being relatively ‘old’, such as music is. All art-dance in the west is clearly a ‘modern’ phenomenon. Dance, as an independent and sophisticated art-form with a significance and profundity comparable to that of the other arts, is perhaps not more than two centuries old. The history of dance in the west, consequently, has hardly the large foundational perspective and importance in the civilisational self-image of the west, which the plastic arts have. But need we follow suit?

It was the German idealists who gave the importance to art in the concept of a ‘civilisation’ – this concept, too being largely a product of their reflection on man. Civilisation was the supreme creation of man as man. It was seen as having an almost self-sufficient, self-contained, or svaya´-pratiœ»ha, being, since it was not just a creation of man, but something, which also created him. It was, in a deep sense, Man himself. It was distinct, however, from nature, which was seen as the ‘other’: as alien to man. Being Man himself, civilisation was something man could understand from within, unlike ‘alien’ nature. A distinction was thus made between ‘knowledge’ and ‘Understanding’ Understanding was cognition from within, such as man has of himself and his creations, whereas knowledge was cognition from without, as in purely causal knowledge. Understanding, needless to add, was considered superior to mere knowledge. Nature, in this view, cannot be ‘understood’. It cannot, in other words, be truly known, it can only be ‘cognised’ or known from without, through the causal method of the sciences. The knowledge of civilisation, therefore, is self-knowledge. History was thought of a discipline aimed at understanding civilisation. The value and the great ideological force that history has today is a legacy of the German idealists. Art was conceived of as one of the deepest self-expressions of man, and hence the importance of art-history as an integral part of any total history of civilisation today.

The thinkers we have in mind were interested in civilisation in general, with a largeness of perspective and breath of vision history lacked before them. Their vision included all civilisations, not just their own. Historians of other civilisations have never been interested in the study of civilisations other than their own, with the kind of universal vision spanning man and his creativity as a whole, in the manner that the German idealists were. And even when they have placed Man in Time, such as the Purånas do, the vision has been purely mythic, quite different from the empirically oriented discipline we know as history, and which the idealists as students of civilisation espoused. Yet, despite their breadth of vision, the German idealists did not really consider civilisation as a plural enterprise. They were deeply euro-centric. Their own civilisation was for them the centre and the apex of civilisational activity. It was also the civilisation of the future for Man as such. Europe’s discovery of the nature of civilisation was, at the same time, the discovery of a self-image, in which they found themselves at the centre of the civilisational activity of man. Their Greek roots became the roots of civilisation itself. No wonder, then, that as Greece became central to understanding civilisation, those arts of Greece,, which had the most profound influence in their later culture, became the centre of attention for art-historians. Unfortunately, such an attitude was adopted not only by historians of the west, but also by those of other cultures who took Europe as their guru.

But if the ‘classical’ is a form and a phase of an art with the profoundest normative influence and the longest continuity, then, in India unlike the west, music and dance would have to be given place much above the plastic arts. We should not also forget that India is the only civilisation with a ‘revealed’ corpus of music. Såma, the Vedic music, was cherished with the same impulse as the word-bound mantra, and, like the mantra, it, too, was revealed shruti. It was, indeed, shruti in its own right as pure music, and not as liturgy, or music sung to words, which is sacred only by association. There were strong sampradåyas of Såmavedins whose ritual and spiritual sådhanå was based on Såma as shruti. The literature of these Såmavedins reveals an attitude to music, which values it as svaya´-pratiœ»ha, or sufficient in itself, independent of the sung word or the «k-mantra.

Dance, unlike music, seems essentially a post-Vedic art. Attention was hardly paid to it during Vedic times. The Vedic culture has song but no dance or theatre, or even sculpture and painting to speak of. Dance emerged as a great art around the age of Buddha – with whom, however, one can hardly associate dance – during the period when the new cults of Vaishnavism and Shaivism were emerging out of the Vedic fold, partly as reactions to the world-denying, ®Sramaµa sampradåyas of Buddha and others. These cults also imbibed much from the new ®Sramaµa ethos and world-view, and yet they were entirely different in spirit. For us, one remarkable life-asserting difference lies in their positive attitude to the arts, an attitude, which continues down to this day. ®Siva and Viœµu are dancing Gods. They are also the creators of the other arts. This is unimaginable of the Buddha or the Tirthakaras, or the Gods of Christianity and Islam. True, the ®Sramaµa traditions also took to the arts as they grew and spread, and it would be interesting to explore the attitude and thought towards the arts in these traditions, contrasting – as well as interrelating – them with Shaivism and Vaishnavism. But before we do that, we must take the ‘classical’ in all our arts seriously.

The pure dance of Tåµæava, emerged, evidently, among ¯Saiva sampradåyas. ¯Siva himself is said to have created and danced the Tåµæava. Tåµæava is thus ‘divine’ in a sense similar to the music of Såma as revealed shruti. Tåµæava has been the parent and model for many dance forms and traditions in India over the last two and half millennia, and is still a living presence in forms such as the Bharata-na»yam, Oddisi and Mohini Attam. Dance, though somewhat younger than music, still parallels it in the extraordinary continuity that it has as a high-art in our culture.

Dance also exercised a great normative influence upon the plastic arts. Its influence on Indian sculpture and painting is obvious; it was, in fact, a very self-consciously imbibed influence as writings on sculpture and painting show. The very ideal of the human body in the Indian plastic arts, whether male or female, is that of the dancer, and not that of the athlete as in Greek and Greece-influenced European sculpture. In the best of Indian sculptures, the body, sitting, standing or moving – that is, in sthiti or in gati, to use terms from the discourse on dance – does so like a dancer. Even the details of its sthiti or gati seem to be consciously modeled on the dance. Interestingly, this is true not only of Hindu gods and goddesses but also of the Buddha. One difference between the Buddha as carved by the Gandhara artists and their more inland brethren lies in this: the Indian sculptor has dance in mind, whereas the Roman – or the Roman-trained sculptor – does not. It is not that the Mathura or Sarnath Buddha is dancing – that would be inconceivable – but his stillness, the presence of his body as something ‘inner’ and more than physical, has the glow and grace of the dancer in subtle sthiti. Contrast him with the Tirthaµkara and this suggestion might come more alive. The best sculptures of the Tirthaµkaras, in the characteristic kåyotsarga-mudrås (the attitude of giving up the body) are entirely un-dance-like. Their denial of the body seems, indeed, to be conceived as a denial of the dance. This becomes visible in many Jain temples, where all the other figures: of gods and goddesses, kings and queens and soldiers, including musicians and dancers are quite like their Hindu – or Buddhist – counterparts, conceived in the image of the dance.

Needless to repeat, such dominance and continuity of dance and the spread of its influence on the other arts, calls for an art-historical approach very different from the approach dominated by the plastic arts which we have learnt from the west. In the west, as we have noted, it was part of a historical search for self-understanding dictated by the specificities and continuities of European culture, but for us it need not, and, clearly, should not, follow the European model. The notion of civilisation has been, from its inception, a pluralistic notion: European historians have thought of ‘civilisations’ in the plural. And, though, this pluralism has been lost in the equally strong historical monism of western thought, it need do so for us, especially, since the historical monism of the west is deeply associated with European imperialism. If ‘civilisation’ is man himself and is also plural, then this vision commits us to a deeper plurality than the intellectual tradition of the west has shown. We could make art itself our model for understanding the plurality of civilisations: great civilisations can be conceived of as great works of art that have a universal nature expressed through their individuality. The spirit with which to study them should be the Vedic spirit of ‘røpa´ røpa´ pratirøpa´ babhøva’. A student of a civilisation should be committed to study it as an individual and study it in its own terms, viewing it at the same time like a work of art, an instance of the universal. A civilization can be compared to another – such a comparative understanding is part of comprehending civilization – but it should not mean the monistic projection of any civilization as the universal, or the sole ideal.

To come back to the shåstra of Taµæu, we also find that his approach is significantly from that of Påµini, whose shåstra is often considered an Ur shåstra in India, a paradigm for all shåstric thinking. Taµæu’s shåstra departs deeply in spirit from that of Påµini.

Bharata has a story behind the composition of Taµæu’s work, which provides a context, connecting it with Bharata’s own different endeavour. Bharata tells us that when he showed his first play to ®Siva, ®Siva asked him to include the dance as part of theatre. ®Siva then asked Taµæu to teach Bharata the n¸tta, which ®Siva was fond of dancing. Taµæu did this and his teaching became a part of the Nå»ya-shåstra so that Bharata could incorporate Tåµæava within his own nå»ya, or theatre. The story also reveals the fact that Taµæu’ s teaching obviously formed an earlier shåstra.

®Siva’s n¸tta consisted of thirty-two complex dance formations, called aµgahåras. Taµæu, like Påµini, analyses these formations into simpler units, calling them karaµas, which he further analyses into n¸tta-måt¸kås, the smallest units. He then gives us a grammar consisting of simple rules for forming karaµas out of n¸tta-måt¸kås. The angahåras of ®Siva could now, through Taµæu’s analysis, be seen as combinations of certain karaµas. But the analysis also reveals possibilities for forming newer combinations and thus going beyond the limited number of aµgahåras danced by ®Siva. Indeed, with Taµæu’s rules, as he himself asserts, any number of aµgahåras could be formed, limitlessly, beyond the thirty-two created by ®Siva. Now, this is quite unlike Paµini. Paµini’s analysis aimed at arriving at smaller units into which words could be divided, and the then envisioned rules through which these units were combined into words. These rules (utsargas) had exceptions (apavådas), but the ideal remained the utsarga, so that given the smaller units and the rules, all words could be arrived at. It was an approach where the analysis aimed at formulating the given: the corpus of words in a languages. Påµini’s target languages was Sanskrit, but his analytical approach can be meaningful for any languages whatsoever. But his approach is not towards newer possibilities; he was not aiming at forming new words. True, one could use Påµini to form new words, but this was not his intent, nor did the tradition take his work with such intent, even if it were possible to form new words in this manner. Indeed, Patañjali, the great commentator on Påµini, pointedly remarks that a grammarian is not like a potter, you do not go to him for new words.

But one could go to Taµæu for a new dance, and the tradition has been doing so for more than two thousand years. The only extant commentary on Taµæu’s shåstra: by the famous Abhinavagupta (10th -11th centuries), pointedly raises this point. Abhinava remarks that one might be surprised to find that a shåstra apparently designed to describe and teach the sacred aµgahåras danced by ®Siva, ends up by describing a process though which any number of newer gahåras can be created, but such is the aim of the shåstra. What, he asks, is the status for the new aµgahåras? For, though they are plainly inherent as palpable possibilities within the shåstra, and are being realised in actual practise by dancers, they are not those danced by Lord ®Siva. His answer is that any aµgahåra based on Taµæu’s shåstra is Tåndava – that is, ®Siva’s dance. All of them, he further says, are to be considered sacred like the agahåras created by ®Siva, although, he adds, the thirty-two agahåras danced by Siva may be thought of as relatively more divine.

Interestingly, the sense of the sacred was associated by later tradition with Påµini’s shåstra too, and Sanskrit soon became the languages of the gods, the ‘divine’ tongue. Tradition, even now, values Påµini’s grammar as a Sm¸ti, a shåstra for instructing dharma and not just an ordinary lakœaµa (descriptive, analytic) shåstra. Påµini’s own intention perhaps did not have anything to do with dharma. His Aœ»ådhyåy+i has no such signs, but dharma, evidently, entered the Påµinian tradition soon after Påµini as an important prayojana (goal) of his shåstra. Patañjali, as authoritative as Påµini himself in the Påµinian tradition, wrote two or three centuries after him, and he was clearly conscious of the dharma motive underlying the teaching of grammar. Grammar – that is, Påµini’s grammar – he proclaims, teaches the right word, picking it out from among others in common usage, which are ‘apabhra´sha’ (distorted). To use the right word, he declares, is dharma.

Taµæu’s shåstra, we can see, is very different in spirit. Contrary to Påµini, it may be said, that his shåstra extends the arena of dharma or the sacred, rather than limit it; it allows new formations to enter the circle of Dharma, forms, which, without his shåstra, would have remained unrealized. The later history of Taµæu’s n¸tta is not only an unfolding of possibilities inherent in his shåstra, but also the inclusion of new formations taken from loka, or what we would call ‘folk’ – the shåstra calls them Dei – which thus rendered sacred as Tåµæava.


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