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Bronzes and Siva Worship
Sir P. Arunachalam
[This article is part of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam’s celebrated essay: “Polonnaruwa Bronzes and Siva Worship.” Sir P. Arunachalam, the younger brother of Sir P.Ramanathan was the first Ceylonese to join the Civil Service by open competitive examination. He was also the first Ceylonese President of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch) and he wrote on law, religion, history and philosophy. “The significance and value of his contributions” says Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, are enhanced by the circumstance that the author was not a cloistered savant nor a recluse but was one who, as a great lawyer and administrator, exemplified in his own life the possibilities of that combination fo worldly and other – worldly achievement, the supreme exemplar of which was King Janaka of Mithila.”
The article printed here is from “STUDIES AND TRANSLATIONS, Philosophical and Religious” -1937, Ed.]
The images which I shall deal with are those of Siva, the principal member of the Hindu Trinity, of his consort Sivakami or Parvathi, of some of his principal saints, his favourite charger (the bull Nandi) and the Sun-god (Suriya). The bronzes are characterised by the precision that comes of long tradition and practice. But there is inequality in style and finish. Some of the bronzes are heavy, commonplace and conventional, showing the artist struggling with imperfect realization of his ideals, defective knowledge and training and insufficient mastery of the technical difficulties; other are distinguished by consummate power and are “a music to the eye,” as, for example, Sundaramurti in plate VIII., which is unsurpassed in the expression of religious rapture and Chandeswara in plate IX.
The most important are the bronzes of the dancing Siva known as Nata-raja or(in pure Tamil) Ada-vallar. In design and detail the bronzes do not differefrom the bronzes in the temples of to-day, showing that there has been little or no change in the ritual and conventions of worship. The images of Nata-raja in the Brihad-isvara temple in Tanjore or that in the Madras Museum.*
The principal Nata-raja found in Polonnaruwa is shown in plate I. and on a smaller scale in plate II. a and b, the front and back view. Plates III. And IV. show two smaller figures of Nata-raja (Front and back view), but incomplete, as the halo is wanting, and in IV. also the braided locks. The dance represents the cosmic activity, of which Siva is the director and therefore is called King (or Lord) of the dance (Nata-raja or Natesa). “Think of our Lord,” says a devotee “as the peerless dancer and dancing master, who abideth in all bodies as heat in fuel and maketh all creatures dance.”
This for is a favourite symbol of Siva worship in Tamil land of South India and Ceylon but is not, as far as I know, found in Northern India except in temples of Siva established there under Tamil auspices.
*See plates III. And IV. in Gangoly’s South Indian Bronzes
________________________________________pg 85 ______________________
It is in Tamil land that the traditions of the dance had their origin and still have their yearly celebrations.
No Hindu image is deemed suitable for worship until it has been consecrated by elaborate ceremonies designed “to draw to” it (a-vah0anam Lat. Ad-veh-o) the Divine Presence and make it what in Christian language might be called “a vehicle of Divine Grace.” When an image has been deprived of its daily services or defiled by contact of unworthy hands, it must be consecrated anew before worship. The images are daily robed, jewelled and garlanded, and worshippers see scarcely more than face or hands. The almost nude bronzes before you you must imagine to be so robed and adorned order to see them as they are seen in the temples, Dr. Pope, a great missionary and scholar, who spent over half a century in Southern India and has edited, with an excellent translation and commentary, Tiru-vachakam, the ancient and popular Psalms of Tamil-land daily recited in the temples, says (p.xxxv):-
“It is sometimes thought and said that the idols in these temples are mere sign, representing as symbols the Divine Being and some of His works and attributes. This is not altogether an adequate statement of the case. Each image by a peculiar service, which is called avahanam, becomes the adobe of an in-dwelling deity and is itself divine. Devout and enthusiastic worshippers, amid the glare of the lamps and the smoke of the incense, seem to be carried away so as to entirely identify the invisible object of their thought with that which is presented before their eyes. It was certainly so with our poet. If it be remembered that some of these images have been actually worshipped, tended, garlanded and treated as living beings for a thousand years; that each generation has done them service and lavished gifts upon them; that they are connected by association with long lines of saints and sages and that it is earnestly believed that Siva’s method of manifestation is by, through, and in these as what we should call sacraments of his perpetual presence, - we shall understand with what profound awe and enthusiastic affection even images, to us unsightly, can be beheld by multitudes of good and excellent people.”
The orthodox Hindu teaching held it to be irreverent and illogical to found artistic ideals of the Divine upon any strictly human or natural prototype, and recognizing the impossibility of human art realizing the form of God, sanctioned only an allegorical representation, “The artist,” says an ancient Sanskrit writer, ‘Sukrachariya’ in his Sukra Niti Sara or Sukra’s Elements of Polity, a work translated into the Tibetan language in the 7th century A.D., “should attain to the image of the gods by means of spiritual contemplation only. The spiritual vision is the best and truest standard fro him. He should depend on it and not at all upon the visible objects perceived by external senses. It is always commendable for the artist to draw the images of the gods. To make human figures is bad and even irreligious. It is far better to present the figure of a god, though it is not beautiful, than to reproduce a remarkably handsome human figure.” This of course is the antithesis of Greek Art, which glorified physical beauty and strength and made the beautiful man or woman the gype of God.
“Spiritual contemplation,” says Havell, “is the key note of Hindu Art, as it was of the art of Fra Angelico and other great Christian masters: the whole philosophy of Indian Art is in these two words, spiritual contemplation, and they explain a great deal that often seems incomprehensible and even offensive to Europeans.” Regarding all we see in Nature as transitory and illusive phenomena and the Divine Essence as the only reality, Indian Art cared little for the scientific study of facts, for anatomical detail, for the cult of the lay figure or the nude model. A faithful representation or imitation of Nature, though attained by him when he liked, was not to the Indian artist the end or a serious concern of Art. He strove, however imperfectly, to pierce the illusive appearance of things realize something of the Universal, the Eternal and the Infinite. “Whatsoever a thing may be, to see in it the One Reality is true Wisdom,” says Tiruvalluvar Kural, 355).*
Ekodevah sarva bhuteshu gudah sarvavyapi sarvabhutantaratma
Karmadhyakshah, sarvabhutadhivasah sakshi cheta kevalo nirgunascha.
“The one, luminous hidden in all beings, pervading all the innermost self of all, overseer of all acts, dweller in all beings, witness, perceiver, alone, free from all qualities.” (Svetasvatara Upanishad, 6, II.)
Any attempt to represent in art this Being, transcending thought and speech, must necessarily be futile. How inadequate, for instance, are the representations by Michael Angelo in the paintings which adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at Rome and which are generally regarded as the grandest creation of Modern Art?
Mr. Laurence Binyon, poet and art-critic, writes thus of the Indian ideal and its influence in shaping the ideals and imagery of Chinese and Japanese Art claims everywhere its votaries, and the chosen and recurrent theme is the beauty of contemplation, not of action. Not the glory of the naked human form ,to Western Art the noblest and most expressive of symbols; not the proud and conscious assertion of human personality; but instead of these, all thoughts that lead us out from ourselves into the universal life, hints of the infinite whispers from secret sources – mountains, water, mists, flowering trees, whatever tells of powers and presences mightier than ourselves: these are the theme dwelt on, cherished and preferred” (Painting in the Fat East)
A correct judgement of nation’s art is not possible unless the critic divests himself of prepossessions and endeavours to understand the thought of that people and to place himself in their point of view. As a great French savant, Taine, has said: “Quand on veut comprendre un art, il faut regarder I’ame du public auquel il s’addressait.” AS you can only speak to a person in a language which you both know, so you can only appeal to his artistic side by means of some common tradition, feeling, symbolism. Art is, it is true, in one sense a universal language, but every nation’s art is the outward and visible expression of, and intimately associated with, the national culture and sentiment, uses the symbols best understood by the people to whom it is addressed, and requires for its appreciation a familiarity with the national life and thought. This is especially the case with Indian Art, which is essentially idealistic, mystic symbolic and transcendental, and cannot be judged by the canons of Greek Art, the Renaissance or the Art of modern Europe, which are all in greater or less degree naturalistic and realistic.
The symbolism by which Indian Art conveyed its ideas is to the Westerner, almost an insuperable obstacle to aesthetic appreciation. He cannot see a figure possessing more than the usual complement of limbs without uttering a groan of pain at this anatomical monstrosity. The question, whoever, is not one of Anatomy but of Art. The London Times some time ago observed, in a review of Mr. V.A.Smith’s History of Fine Art in India and Ceylon: “The four-armed Siva is not a whit more anatomically impossible than the winged angels or the centaurs which have been represented by the greatest artists of the West-not to mention those cherubs of Italian art whose anatomical deficiencies, from the schoolmaster’s point of view, gave an ever memorable opportunity to the humour of Charles Lamb. The fact is, that no artists of genius, East or West, has ever cared a straw about anatomy when he had anything to gain by disregarding it. Extra limbs can be badly composed, just as the ordinary number can, but each case must be judged on its own merits; nor it is possible, in dealing with a definitely symbolic work of art, bot separate the symbolism from the art so drastically as Mr. Vincent Smith is inclined to do. Nor again, can the symbolism of one section of Hindu mythology be justly separated from the rest and condemned as the product of a diseased imagination because it represents certain terrible aspects of Nature, which undoubtedly form a part of the whole and have to be taken into account in any deep and sincere conception of the universe”
Sukrachariya says in the work from which I have already quoted: “In order that the form of an image may be brought out fully and clearly upon the mind, the image – maker must mediate and his success will be in proportion to his meditation. NO other way, not even seeing the object itself will answer this purpose.”
Something of this impatient refusal to be limited by the outward semblance of things and by the conscious imitation of them something of this striving after the inner and informing Spirit by unlocking the treasures of sub-consciousness, marks the effort of all the new schools of European Art and especially of the Vorticists. Their painting and sculpture, crude as they seem to us, have raised fundamental aesthetic questions, and caused heart searchings as to the sculpture commonly regarded as the greatest, that of Greece. That remarkable Vorticist sculptor, Gaudier Brzeska, * who died last year, ……………………………… pg 91 …………………………………..
*Pronounced Jaersh-ka. The organ of the Vorticists was the Blast
………….pg 92……………….at the early age of 23, fighting for France, uttered regarding Greek sculpture what the Times calls “a profound piece of criticism.” He said: “The fair Greek saw himself only. He petrified his own semblance.” Commenting on this the Times says: “It is the weak point in Greek sculpture, as compared with Egyptian, that it is entirely conscious and sharply limited by the effort to make the statue as like some reality as possible. The Egyptian was freed from his own egotism by his deeper religious feeling. His desire to make his gods more like gods than men delivered him from the trhraldom of mere imitation, and made him more the master of the riches of his own sub-consciousness” The Times adds that it is as absurd to condemn the works of the Vorticists because they are not like any natural thing as it would be to condemn the fugues of Bach because they are not like any natural sounds: it may be that we are puzzled by it only because we have the habit of looking for likeness in sculpture and painting, and if we could free out minds and eyes of that habit, the musical meaning of it would be clear to us.
According, then, to the traditional Hindu view which Sukracharya has expressed, the sculptor of an image of Siva should engage in meditation. To help the artist devotee in his meditations there exists a body of contemplative verses (dhyana slokas), which set forth the distinguishing features of the particular manifestation of God desired and sometimes the spiritual meaning of the conception. The success of the artist would correspond to the extent to which the entered into the spirit of these conceptions and realized them in his own consciousness. The limitations of these conventions need not, except to the mediocre, be a barrier to artistic expression, any more than the high formalism and convention of Greek tragedy hampered with genius of Sophokles of Euripides.*
In the Dhyana Ratnavali the devotee thus meditates on Siva as Nata-raja,
Sayapasmaratorddhva sthitapadavilasad Vamamuddhrityapadam
Jvalamalasamadhye natanaphanisamam vyaghra padadisevyam
Vahnim dolakarabhanam damarukam dhyatva natesambhaje.
*There were also laid down for the apprentice student certain canons of proportion in the ancient technical books on Art, known as the Silpa Sastra, of which the chief are Agastiya Sakaladhikara, Kasyapiya, Sukranitisara, Saravatiya,&c. Some account of them will be found in the recently published work of Mr. O C. Gangoly on ‘South Indian Bronzes,” a valuable work (in spite of defects due to ignorance of Tamil and limited knowledge of Sanskrit) and one which it is not creditable to the English-educated Tamils of India and Ceylon to have left to a Bengali gentleman to write.
Since this paper was printed, I have seen the valuable work on Hindu Iconography by Mr. Gopinatha Rao of Travancore.
“Luminous foot on dormant Apasmara (a Titan) planted left foot raised, in the midst of a garland of flame, with dancing serpents, by Vyaghrapada and others worshipped, with ashes daubed, body of coral hue, tip of hand to tip of foot (pointing), fire, pendent hand, hand of refuge, drum:- (on these) meditating, I worship Natesa ( Lord of Dance).”
In another stanza Siva is meditated on together with hisconsort thus, and is called Sabhesa, the Lord of the (dancing) Hall.
Dhyayet kotiraviprabham trinayanam sitansugangadharam
Dakshanghristhita vamakunchitapadam sardula charmambaram
Vahinim dolakarabhayam damarukam vamesivam syamalam
Kalharam japasraksukam katikaram devim sabhesam bhaje.
“Mediate on Him, resplendent as a million suns, three eyed, wearer of the moon and the Ganges (on his head), right foot planted, left foot bent, in tiger-skin clad –fire pendent hand, hand of refuge, drum, - on the left the Lady Siva, dark of hue, water lily, rosary, parrot, hand on hip- the lady and the Lord of the Hall (Sabhesa) I worship.
Makutamtrigunam nagam prabhamandala manditam
Dakshinamsusthitam padam vanapadan tu kunchitam
Prasritamvamahastan cha, dakshashastabhayapradam
Vmahaste sthitam vahnim dakshine damuram tatha
Vame gaurisamnyukatam trimbh* ……………nchitam;
(bhaje tryambakam ucchritam)
“Like pure crystal, adorned with crown of matted haircrown of the three gunas,
Serpent, circle of flame, right foot planted, left foot bent, left hand stretched, right hand offereing protection, fire in left hand, drum in the right, adorned with all ornaments, standing on Apasmara (the Titan), on the left to Gauri jointed, ……………. (I worship the standing Siva”)
Such meditations as these are materialized in the bronzes Nataraja and Sivakami, and for their correct understanding require some knowledge of Hindu philosophy, religion and traditions, especially of the Saiva Siddhanta School, the basis of the Siva worship introduced into Polonnaruwa by the armies of Chola Kings. The Saiva Siddhanta system is the chief contribution f the Tamils to philosophy and religion, and in the opinion of the learned Dr. Pope is “the most influential and undoubtedly the most intrinsically valuable of the religions of India.” This attempt to solve the problems of God, the soul, humanity, nature, evil, suffering and the unseen world is little known to Eastern scholars.
*The concluding words of the last line are imperfect in the original Ms. And my friend, Dr. Satish Chandra Vidyabhusana, Principal of the Sanskrit College, Calcuta, has suggested the words in brackets instead.
See footnote on gunas. P.27
Dr. Pope, who devoted many years to the study and exposition of this system, Mr. J.M. Nallasami Pillai and others who have laboured in the same field have touched little more than fringe. Only a brief outline, limited to the needs of this lecture, is possible here.
The Saiva Siddhanta postulates three entities, viz., God (pati _________pg96___ literally, Lord or King), the Soul or rather aggregate of souls (pasu, _________, lit, cattle), and Bondage, (pasam ______ ), the sum total of all those elements which fetter the soul and keep it from finding release in union with God. Pasam is, in one of its aspects (malam), the innate taint clinging to the soul from ofold as verdigris to brass and corresponding in a way to the ‘original sin’ of Christianity; in another aspect (maya) it is the material cause of the universe. The scheme of the universe has for its aim the removal of the soul’s impurity and its union with the Lord. This is effected by His energy (Sakti, _____________ or ________ arul, Grace) which bides in Him inseparable from Himself and is the gracious instrument of His operations.
Though God and the soul are eternal entities, the Saiva Siddhanta takes great pains to makes out that they are not two entities nor yet one, and calls itself Pure Non-dualism (Suddhadvaita), being equally removed from the …….. pg 96……………….
For over half a century a missionary in South India and, latter, teacher of Tamil and Telugu at Oxford and chaplain of Balliol College. See especially his translations of the Siva Psalms (Tiuvachakam) with the valuable notes thereon; Nallasami Pillai’s translations of Siva – gnana – Bodham, Siva – gnana – Siddiyar, Etc.
………pg 97…………………… Dualism of such religions as Christianity, Mohammadanism and Vaishnavism and from the Monism of the Vedanta. God is often compared by the Saiva Siddhanta philosophers to the first letter A of the Tam and Sanskrit alphabets, which represents the English sound u in but, the first sound that issues from the mouth when it opens. The sound underlies and energizes every other sound and is also a distinct and the first sound. So God pervades and energizes all souls and nevertheless stands apart, Himself, of all things, the source and the chief.
The Siva – gnana – Bodham, the chief Tamil authority of this school, thus explains what the Vedas mean, when they say ‘Ekam Sat,’ ‘All that is, is one’.
“One” say the Vedas.* Behold, it is said of the One. The One is the Lord, Thou, who sayest ‘One’ art the Soul. Lo, in bondage art thou. If the One were not, -. If vowel A were not, letters there would be none. In this wise way the Vedas “One.”
“Like song and its tune, like fruit and its flavour, the Lord’s energy everywhere pervadeth, non-dual. Therefore say the great Vedas not ‘one’ but ‘not two.”^
*Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti (Rig. Veda, 1, 164-46). “All that is, is one. Poets call it by many names.”
^____________________________________ pg 97______________________
God thus permeates and vitalizes all things, has neither name nor form, is beyond speech and thought, time and space. This conception of the absolute is well brought out in the ordinary Tamil word for God ______ (Kadavul), meaning that which transcends (Kada) all things and is the heart (ul) of all things. When the Absolute becomes manifest, it is as Force (Sakti, _______), of which the universe is the product being from cycle to cycle evolved by Force from cosmic substance (Maya) and again involved. Hindu philosophers do not admit creation and destruction in the sense of production out of nothing and reduction to nothing. Their conception of creation which they call projection (srishti, ______ torram,) and of destruction which they call contraction, involution or withdrawal (samhara, _________, odukkam), is more akin to Huxley;’s: “All the choir of heaven and the furniture of the earth are the transitory forms of parcels of cosmic substance, wending along the road of evolution from nebulous potentiality, through endless growths of sun and satellite, through all varieties of matter, through infinite diversities of life and thought, possibly through modes of being of which we neither have any conception nor are competent to form any, back to the indefinite latency from which they arose.”*
Not brute and blind, however, but full of intelligence and grace is the Power which thus makes and unmakes, and which by the sages of India is accordingly regarded as the Universal Mother and, being inseparably inherent in God, is also called the Consort of God.
*Huxley, “Evolution and Ethics.”
“Mother of millions of world clusters,
Yet Virgin by the Vedas called.”^
This power is addressed by Chidambara Swami in the Panchatikar vilakkam, ‘Exposition of the Five Operations,’ in these words:
“May head I crown with lily feet of Sivakama Sundari,
Who with the Absolute inseparably is blended
As flower and scent, sun and ray, life and body,
As gem and lustre, form and shadow, word and meaning,
Who to the manifested Lord as Consort shines,
Whoever cures the life-hunger ^^ of her children, all living things,
With ceaseless bliss ambrosial feeding and in Freedom’s mansion
The various manifestations of this Power are grouped by the Saiva Siddhanta school under five heads, which are deemed the principal aspects of the great Mother and are called the Five Acts (pancha kritya _____________ pg 99 ______ ain-tolil) of God: (1) or Evolution (Srishti, _____ pg 99______ ; (2) Maintenance…. Pg 99 ………..
^ Tayumanavar, _____ pg 99____
^^ ____ pg 99____ the liability of the soul to reincarnation and further development unit it becomes ripe for union with God.
……………pg 100…………………. Of Preservation (sthiti ________); (3) Withdrawal of Involution (samhara, _______); (4) Veiling or Obscuration (tiro-bhava, ____); (5) Grace (anugraha or arul__________). The evolving energy (Brahma, the Creator) evolves for each soul according to its deserts out of primordial substance a body (tanu), organs ofknowledge and action (karana), pains and pleasures (bhoga) and spheres (bhuvana) to experience them in. The maintaining or preserving energy (Vishnu the Preserver) maintains them for a time for the soul’s experience. The involving or destroying energy (Rudra, the destroyer) withdraws them and makes them disappear to be projected again. The obscuring energy (Mahesa) entangles the soul in them so that, unable to distinguish the real from the unreal, it identifies itself with its transitory envelopements, calling the body and the organs ‘I’ and the experiences and spheres ‘mine.’ When the soul has passed through the discipline of these experiences in many births, the gracious energy (Sadasiva) enlightens the ripened soul, delivers it from its delusion and bondage, establishing it in union with God, which is Freedom (Moksha, ____ vidu), the final goal and fulfilment of every soul.
In this union the soul, set free by the Holy Spirit _____________, the gracious energy of the Lord, from the influence of its innate taint and from the fettering consciousness of the senses, lives eternally in the conscious full enjoyment of His presence, “thrall to the Lord.” (Siva-gnana-bodham,IX.,6.)
“Like crystal pillar that absorbeth light (of sun at zenith) and hath no shadow, so no darkness remains to lay hold of him.” (Tiruvarutpayan, 67)
The earliest manifestations of the Divine Energy are Vibration (Nada) and the word (Vach)* which is the Logos of St. John. Among the later manifestations the most venerated in India is Uma or Sivakami, beloved of Siva. According to an ancient tradition she appeared in response to the prayers of a Himalayan king as an infant floating in a golden lily lake and was thence taken and reared by the king until claimed by Siva. From this tradition she is also called Parvati, the Lady of the Mountain.
She is thus addressed by Tayumanavar in her esoteric and exoteric aspects:-
“Mansion and wealth, children and friends around
Splendour ever and throne, the certainty
That Death’s dark messengers draw not nigh,
Wisdom’s light, purity, wondrous powers-,
All these are mine, so with thy feet my thought be one,^
Q Mother that hast Thy seat beside the dark throated Lord!^
*Etymologically the Latin vox.
^”Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” St. Matthew, VII, 33.
^^Siva, whose throat is said to have been stained dark-blue with a dread poison, which would have destroyed the world if he had, not swallowed it on its production at the churning of the ocean by the celestials for the nectar of immortality.
Light and bliss of knowledge supreme, that swallowest religions as ocians rivers!
O Stillness, the Vedas’ goal,
Thy form seen where Vibration ends,
O Wisdom, consumer of me and thought!**
Lady Uma, beauteous as the moon, Madhu Sudana’s sister,$
Who lovest mountain haunts and was born dear to the Mountain-King as the apple of his eye!#
“From the elements to Vibration Thou showedst
To me as false; myself to me unveildest.
In the core of my intelligence standing,
‘Stand still, free, in spirit-space all filling,
Without beginning, without end’, Thou sadist,
And skilfully establish’dst me, O Mother
Who vouchsafest pure knowledge and bliss,
Yielding all the heart desireth.
Forgetting Three can I, poor wretch, live?
Darling of the three-eyed lord*, of all ills
The panacea, beyond the reach of them
That lack the inner eye which illumineth
The Vedas and excellent Agamas, … pg 102……….
**The sense of I, and thought with its correlative sleep or oblivion, have to be consumed by the Holy Spirit (Sakti), for the union of the soul with God
#Tayumanavar, __ pg 102________
*Siva. See p.98.
…………….pg 103……. Beyond the deaf, who hear not the praise of thy might
Beyond the stricken with the plague of controversy!
Lady Uma, who lovest mountain haunts and wast born
Dear to the Mountain- king as the apple of his eye!”^
Thought Uma or Sivakami is the female manifestation of Siva, she, being his inherent energy, is inseparable part of him and is spoken of exoterically as the left part. Siva is thus both male and female, and one of his names is Ardha-Narisa, ‘the half femal Lord’. This recalled the old Orphic Hymn:-
In token of the dual sex, Siva is represented as wearing in his right ear a man’s ear-ring (makara kundala, _____pg 103_______) and on the left a woman’s (tatanka or todu,___________). In a popular psalm of Manikkavachakar, he sings:-
“The Lady is in Three, and Thou art in the Lady;
Ye both are in me your servant.”
The mystic dance of Siva symbolized in the Nataraja bronzes is said to have been danced in a remote age in the forest of Darukavana after the overthrow of a body of heretics who, puffed up with the pride of learning and of skill in ritual and magic, regarded
___________________________________ pg 103__________________________
…..pg 104……… themselves as independent of Siva’s authority and self-sufficing. The dance was, it is said, repeated for the benefit of two devotees, Patanjali and Vyaghrapada, at Chidambaram or Tillai (in the South Arcot District of the Madras Presidency), which is therefore held in the highest reverence by the worshippers of Siva and is called Koyil, “The Temple” par excellence.
The Skanda Purana relates the legends of the dance in Darukavana (Daksha Kanda, Chapters XIII, and XIV; and in Tamil, Kachchiappa Swami’s Kandapuranam,Daksha Kanda, 30-127). The Koyil Puranam of Umapati Sivachariyar (written in the latter part of the 13th century) relates the legends of the dance at Chidambaram and the inauguration by King Hiranayvarma of a commemoration festival, which continues to be celebrated there every year on the sixth lunar asterism (arudra) of the month of Markali (December-January), and draws immense crowds of pilgrims. It is an important festival in every Siva temple in S.India and Ceylon.
The shrine at Chidamabaram is unique in combining the exoteric and esoteric aspects of Siva worship. The Nataraja dancing the cosmic dance is separated from the Holy of Holies by a veil, which si seldom raised and only as a special boon to favoured individuals. There is then revealed mere space, the ether filling it being the symbol of God. But even this subtle, all-pervading element is deemed and inadequate symbol, for the ether is to the Hindu sages unintelligent matter (jadakasa, “material-space,”) while God is chidakasa. “Spirit Space”-,- pure being (sat, pure intelligence (chit), pure bliss (ananda). Hence the mystic name of the shrine, Chid-ambaram, ‘Spiritspace,” ambaram beinganother word for akasa.
Manikkavachakar, a great Saiva saint and apostle, whose figure in bronze was found at Polonnaruwa (Plate Xd.) and whose spiritual history was largely linked with the shrine, sings thus in one of his psalms (Kirtti tiruvakaval):-
“The holy feet, that danced in the ancient city
Of Tillai, dance in all living things,
In beauty of infinite diversity shining,
Making, unmaking, earth and heaven
And worlds celestial and hosts of sciences,
Driving away may darkness and taking up
Loving abode in the hearts of His servants”
(After an enumeration of His gracious manifestations to them):-
“The mighty Lord of Kailas’ echoing peak
Who graciously maketh thrall of each and all
By contrivance meet, bade me, a dog,
Enter blissful Tillai’s hall of glory,
Crushing the I in me to make me His.”
The redemption of souls is thus regarded as the culmination of God’s operations in the universe; and the dance, while symbolizing these operations, is believed to have its counterpart in the subjective experience of saints:-
“The silent mystics, rid of the three-fold taint,
And drinking deep the bliss that wells
Where self hath ceased, they behold the dance
Of our gracious Lord in the sacred hall.”*
The hall is the devotees’ heart, and the dance beyond speech and thought.
________________________pg 106____________ cries Tayumanavar. “O God, Ocean of Mercy, that dances, the dance of bliss in the Hall of pure Consciousness beyond the plane of thought!”
Often, in the yearly commemorative festival referred to above, you see male devotees dancing in ecstasy in the attitude of the Nataraja. Probably in olden times female devotees too, so danced. Here, e.g, is a hymn put in the mouth of flower-girls in the Tiru-vachakam _____________
“Lord Siva, who weareth on his locks the cassia o’er which the bees dance,
He came in the flesh, seeking me, and within me entered,
That I might dance and dance and shout before all the world
For Him, the eterenal Dancer, King of the heavenly hosts, gather we lilies”.
A hymn sung by Saint Manikkavachakar at Chidambaram and often recited in the temples (__________________) well brings out the view of the Saiva Siddhanta, that temples and churches, usually regarded as Houses of God are but passages to the true House of God which is in man’s heart “made beauteous by the flood of His Grace.” When he has taken his abode there, all distinctions of race, religion, caste, sex, etc., disappear- “who here is my kin? Who is not?”- and there is naught save the splendour of the Lord.
This experience, not beyond the grace but here in this life, is the goal of the devotee. The methods employed to gain it are called Yoga, a word etymologically the same as the English Yoke and meaning the yoking of oneself to God. Bhakti Yoga, the method favoured by the Saiva Siddhanta, seeks realization of God by the way of Love. This Yoga, the worship in the temples, with their service of song and prayer and music, sacraments and fasts and works of mercy, is designed to foster, gradually purifying the heart and making it fit to be the “House of God,” His great holy shrine” (Tirupperunturai), “the City of Siva,” or in the language of Jesus, “the Kingdom of God,” of which he too said: “Behold the Kingdom of God is within you.”
O Supreme Splendour that rises within me welling
forth as ambrosia,
Having blocked the ways of the five traitor senses
that ever delude me,
Graciously show Thyself to me as Thou art,
Clearest of the clear, Lord Siva, Dweller in the
great holy shrine,
O bliss transcending all states without end, O my
With love Thy servant’s body and soul melting
Sweet grace, by me not deserved, Thou didst grant.
For this I have naught to give in return.
O King, Father to me that am the servant of
those that love Three
Light of Truth that, entering body and soul, has
melted all faults and driven away the unreal darkness,
Full, waveless, clear Ocean of Ambrosia, Siva,
Dweller in the great holy shrine,
O Knowledge^ known there where speech and
knowledge^^ are dead,
Make known unto me, how shall I speak of Three?
Perfect Fullness, flawless Ambrosia, Mountain
of endless, flaming Light,
O King that camest unto me as the Vedas and the
meaning of the Vedas and didst fill my mind’
Siva that, like torrent brooking not banks,
rushest into the mouth of my heart, Dweller
in the great holy shrine,
Sovereign Lord, Thou has made thy abode in my
^ Pure Intelligence, the Absolute, where there is no conscious differentiation of subject and object.
^^ Impure Intelligence differentiating consciousness.
………. Pg 109………..
What more can I ask Thee?
O Splendour that rises in my heart as asking,
Asking I melt!
Thou whose lotus-feet grace the crowns of celestials, Siva, Dweller in the great
Who art all-pervading space and water and earth
And fire and air
Who art other than they, Whose form in them is
I rejoice, having seen them this day.
This day in Thy mercy unto me Thou didst drive
away the darkness and stand in my heart as
The rising Sun.
Of this Thy way of rising-there being naught
else, but Thou, - I thought without thought
Nearer and nearer to Thee I drew, wearing away
atom by atom, till I was One with Three,
O Siva, Dweller in the great holy shrine.
Thou art not aught in the universe. Naught is
There save Thou
Who can know thee?
Thou that, sprouting as the earth and all the
spheres, spreadest as matchless expanse of
Fire water laden, Pure One beyond the reach of
Sweetness that wells forth in the heart made
beauteous by the flood of Thy grace,
Siva, Dweller in the great holy shrine,
Who here is my kin? Who is not? O Splendour
That makes me bliss!”
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