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Published on: Nov. 24, 2021, 12:13 p.m.
Sohini and Nataraj
  • My body is your temple

By Swapna Vora

“And when you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance”.

During dark times, artists dance and sing about the rites of living, sometimes about the dark times and sometimes about our hope that the best may still arrive. Across the world, amidst the suffering caused by the pandemic, dancers who could not enter theatres, who had lost colleagues, danced on streets, provided their music and movement and brought cheer to whoever was around. They ‘danced love, they danced joy and they danced dreams’ (Gene Kelly).

This elegant book celebrates dance, emotion and the gorgeous Sohini Roychowdhury. It is a brief reflection of Natyashastra, (dates vary from 500 BC to 500 AD), with its 36 chapters and 6,000 poetic verses.

It depicts dance and the navarasa described by Abhinavagupta, the Kashmiri Shaiva philosopher, (1000 AD), who is among the world’s greatest thinkers. A literary critic, a mystic and aesthetician, he has contributed much to Hindu philosophy, literature and the performing arts and is similar in stature and impact to Plato or Aristotle, the celebrated foundation stones of western civilization. His work on navarasa changed thoughts about emotions and their depiction and hence art itself, as all artists offer emotion and convey it through their art.

Their goal is to transport the audience into another wondrous reality and help us experience their feelings, our own consciousness and reflect on existence. So we too enter ecstasy like Rumi, the master dancing on the streets of Kona, “Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, when you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.”

An American dancer asks: “What can you say to a culture whose deity dances the world into existence and destruction?” We enter the creator’s dance for a second and see Nataraja’s scary, evocative and enthralling story. The book depicts parts of Bharat Natyam, the Devadasi tradition and the reality of the often excluded, despised third gender, like Mahabharat’s Shikhandi. It offers many depictions of harmony and includes ‘the other’ via dance. 

As Nietzsche writes: “Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Thus Sohini has dedicated this book to those often excluded, those with a dance in their heart, the boy dancer branded as  effeminate, the girl forced to choose physics over dance, the body shamed,  the ‘too old’, the transgendered. An ode to India’s classical dance, it is a collector’s item for those who love aesthetics, dance, drama and life itself.

To witness the strange alchemy of a life in the arts, ‘celebrating music, dance and our myths’, visit ‘Sohinimoksha World Dance’. To dance is to go beyond yourself, to be bigger, mightier and just ‘more’, really! From questions of inspiration and authenticity to struggles with money and the bitterness of rejection, Dancing With the Gods offers insight, solace and courage to help artists on the winding road to artistic fulfilment. Tender and joyous, it celebrates art's power to transform experience to grand human hope.

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