The story of a Devadasi and the eternal dance of life

Prelude

Shiva’s dance is the representation of cosmic cycle.  It has five phases;  सृष्टि - Creation, स्थिति  Preservation, संहार  Destruction, तिरोभाव  Illusion, अनुग्रह  Emancipation.

सृष्टि - Creation

1873, Mathura
“Dance… is the most natural expression of divinity within…Vaasu, my child” whispered Suman, the Devdasi to her 12 years old daughter Vasudha.
“When Mahakaal dances, the world trembles like a leaf…” Suman whispered again rectifying the inclination of Vaasu’s pose.
“When Rudra dances, Mahakaal bleats like a goat beneath his toes…” said Suman, giving her waist a little nudge to the left.
“When Kaali indulges in her dance though, even Shiva lays motionless under her dark feet…motionless like a Shava…” said Suman, smiling in contentment, contemplating Vaasu’s perfect Mudra.
Dance is… Dancer is Not! The source of power is the dance, not the dancer. When the dance and the dancer merge, then they attain the zenith. That is the perfect equilibrium, the mahanirvana. When the ‘self’ of the dancer disappears, the real dance manifests. When you can leap like the fangs of fire, when you can spring forth like a spring, when in salutations, you are steady as a mountain, when you transform the limited stage into unbounded ‘aakash’ (sky) with your ethereal motions; only then you become one with your Deva. Only then, Vaasu, you become a Devadasi in the true sense.”


स्थिति Preservation

Janmaashtami, 1885, Vrindaavan
Thakur Sahib has arrived. Go start your dance” said the chief priest of the temple to Vaasu who was about to present her dance in the temple in front of the thousands of men of Vrindavan.
“Alright” said Vasudha and entered the stage.
There she stood- Vasudha, the crown jewel among all the dancers of Vrindavan. She bowed to applauding crowd and aligned her perfectly flexible body to the rhythm of the Sarangi. As the Mridangam adjoined the tune of Sarangi, Vaasu’s body pulsated with every beat. Her body began gyrating with the vocals of the singer reciting a scene from the Bhagvata. Her hands became animate to depict the abstruse emotions that the overtones of Veena conveyed. Her gestures, her eyes and brows showed arrays of feelings; everything from raw infatuation to platonic romance.
Dance is…Dancer is Not!” repeated Vaasu in her heart the words of her mother
That was the moment when she caught a glimpse of Thakur Sahib’s eyes. That glimpse was enough for her to recognize the malignity lingering therein. She suddenly felt as if she were naked. Hapless, she started to look into every direction as the dance progressed, but she found that every gaze that touched her body wanted to rip apart even the last shard of cloth that covered her dignity. Her soul, pierced with the savage stings of lusty gazes was crying a million scarlet tears. She closed her eyes in agony as the dance was about to end. Eyes closed, she thumped her feet forth to the final beats of Mridangam that announced the completion of performance. There she stood, motionless as a plank, accepting the thunderous applause of the crowd, afraid to open her eyes lest she would be defiled by those stares of lust.
But little did she know that a miracle awaited her after this horrendous trial. She, conscious of her vulnerability, opened her trembling eyes to meet another set of eyes just below the dais. There was a young man whose appearance was embodiment of the simple joy which is the emblem of the liberated. Vaasu felt a surge of trust and a found a refuge from the malaise lurking in the vicinity. She found a hope.
This congenial meeting of two souls was abruptly ended by the shrill like nasal voice of high priest of temple-
“Come quickly you” said the high priest from behind the curtains. Startled, Vaasu headed back to her chamber at the back stage followed by the high priest.
Thakur Sahib has desired the pleasure of your company tonight” said the high priest with a grin that exposed the sinister meaning of those plain words.
Tears rolled down her cheeks. “Pandit ji! I am a Devdasi. Don’t make me an object of carnal pleasure of these hounds.” retorted Vaasu with a choked voice.
“Devdasi! Huh!” said high priest with an unsheathed disgust that cut very deep in Vaasu’s heart.
You know, what is the difference between you and a prostitute?  Those poor girls dance for the pleasure of commoners and are called nautch girls and you dance for Deva and to your sweet pretensions call yourself Devdasi. But make no mistakes here silly girl. You have a Deva to dance for because there is a luxurious Devalaya. And it is to the splurging generosity of ‘these hounds’ that this Devalaya owes its sustenance. So stop being ungrateful, try to look your best and please Thakur Sahib otherwise one day and that day may come very soon, you shall be presenting your dances in the open streets” howled the chief priest.
“Talk some sense into the rotten head of this wretched kukurjaayi (born of a bitch).”  Priest ordered Champa, one of Devdasis of the temple and a friend of Vasudha.
“Kama was burnt to ashes by a mere look of my Rudra, but it is his pleasure to trample Kama’s underlings to pulp just as a leech is squashed” murmured enraged and teary eyed Vaasu.
Champa came forth and tried to console Vaasu.

संहारDestruction

Vijaya Dashmi, 1885, Vrindaavan
Vijaya Dashmi, the festival of Kshatriyas, the festival of display of the strength, the festival of celebration of virtuous might. Gigantic effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkarn and Meghnada were erected in the wide ground in front of the temple. A huge crowd had gathered to watch the burning of the effigies and to watch Vasudha dance.
There would be no space for softness in Vaasu’s dance tonight. Tonight she would portray the fierce and all destructive form of Shiva in her Rudra Tandava performance.
Vasudha entered the stage wearing a bright red sari, holding clay lamps in both her palms. In blazing yellow background she stood motionless-just like meditative Shiva. As the mridangam produced its first beat joined by tense note of Taanpura, she opened her red fiery eyes. She bent her left palm downwards, granting immortality to devotees. She raised her right forearm in benediction to all that is untainted. Her left leg became airborne, kicking and abjuring the Yama, while balancing her body on right foot, crushing the demon Kaala. To all those who could see, she was the Shiva’s true Kalantaka form itself. As the dance progressed she performed all the acts of Tandava with a dexterity that transcended the limitations of a female body.
As the beats of Mridangam reached their penultimate tempo and intricacy, Vaasu started to twist her limbs aggressively, the fire of anger started to peek in her fiery looking eyes, her body became taut as the Shiva’s bow Pinaka. And then came the final act; she adjusted her body on her right tow, her left leg perpendicular across the torso, her arms flailing like snakes dancing in frenzy. She became the animate Nataraaj!
Puranas say when Shiva was about to destroy the world completely as the final act of Tandava, goddess Gauri came forth and refrained Shiva from doing so with her love and devotion. Vasudha too, just like Shiva wanted to tear the whole unholy world down, but her desire to do so was worn by the calm gaze emanating from that magnificent pair of eyes of young Sanyasin. Vaasu’s gaze locked with that of Sanyasin just like the last time and she could clearly listen to the call of the Sanyasin’s heart. Vaasu descended the stage and started to head in the direction where Sanyasin was standing. Sanyasin crossed the barricades slowly and started heading out of the tent with fast and steady feet. Vasudha kept following his Sanyasin. Struck by the bizarre looking phenomenon, the whole crowd stood breathless.
Chief priest had already traded Vasudha for a few more gold coins with another Thakur. As he saw Vasudha descending stage, following the young Sanyasin, he could see his golden hen walking away, he emerged from the backstage and went after her through the aghast crowd. He saw both of them getting out of his reach and shouted, spewing his venom at the top of his voice- “that vermin is taking your Vaasu away. Whosoever gets her back can have her for lifetime.”
As the crowd heard those words of priest, a murmur ensued, which gradually erupted in a sort of mishmash of jumbled words. Confusion, crowd and command of preacher; presence of these three together can so easily transform a human gathering into pigs. Crowd turned into a mob, blinded by suppressed lust and led by frenzy. A sudden movement in every direction created confusion and the inevitable stampede. Many hundreds died, thousands were injured. Thakur Sahib lost his eyesight and the body of the high priest was found beneath a stash of other bodies, rotten and ‘squashed like a sordid leech.’
Vasudha and Sanyasin had successfully escaped the blood thirsty crowd and were not seen in Vrindavan ever after.
The effigy of Ravana witnessed this dance of death with eyes full of a lunatic content.

तिरोभावIllusion  

Tripurari purnima, 1885, Barsana.
It’s been 4 days of continuous walking for Vasudha. In a display of unquestioning faith she has been following the young Sanyasin into the deep forests surrounding Vrindavan. The sun was in retreat when they reached an old temple located in the heart of jungle.
“We should rest here.” declared Sanyasin who seemed quite familiar with the place.
Vasudha sat under a banyan tree adjusting the fold of her sari that was full of dust and had developed a few holes after days of arduous journeying.
“I must go and fetch some water” said Sanyasin and entered the dense canopy.
As Vasudha became alone, her mind started contemplating on her state. She was tired, undernourished and seemingly lost, yet her heart was untouched by these hardships. She felt as if she has reclaimed a lost joy from the darkest depths of temple’s luxurious inferno. A self respect was rising in her being that she has never tasted before. It was clear to her that she wouldn’t return to that place where the soul of the dance had been chained to carnal sensations of morbid senses.
So lost she became in her thoughts that she didn’t realize that Sanyasin had returned and was offering her water. She silently drank some water and returned the pot to Sanyasin.
“You don’t seem concerned or worried about where I have brought you” said Sanyasin in his usual sweet voice.
“Yes, you are right. I am not” responded Vasudha.
“But you should” said Sanyasin.
“Well, tell me then. Where have I brought me? What is so special about this place?” asked Vasudha with a childlike twinkle in her eyes.
“I have brought you here for I want you to meet someone, someone, who visits this place every Purnima, to enjoy the dance of his lovers. When the moon shines in its full glory and the jungle basks in gentle moonlight, he dances with many consorts of his for dance is what he loves and values the most” said Sanyasin with eyes full of reverence.
“Who is he” asked Vasudha with trembling heart.
My Thakur. Who else in this world other than my Thakur is so enamoured with dance and love to leave the comfort of luxurious abodes and to reside here in these barren lands?  ” replied Sanyasin with a simple smile.
Words of the Sanyasin hit Vasudha like a thunderbolt and it all became apparent in a flash. So Sanyasin too belonged to the kind of the high priest? Who she held to be a messenger of God was just another pimp in saffron robes?
Unable to bear the ferocity of the apparent cruel implications of Sanyasin’s words Vasudha’s fatigued mind started to spin and the gloomy dimness of twilight engulfed her.

अनुग्रह : the Emancipation

Vasudha opened her eyes to feel Sanyasin’s pointy fingers touching her lips. As if stung by a cobra, she startled and staggered back.
“Don’t touch me” said Vasudha in a broken voice.
“Please do not get upset mother! I am just trying to give you a few water drops as my Thakur is present here and is longing to see you dance” said Sanyasin in a pleading voice.
Perplexed by Sanyasin’s addressing her as ‘mother’ she tried to grasp the surroundings she was in. She saw a line of moss stained stone columns worn by the rain and sunshine. She was sitting on bare floor that seemed to be a hallway with absent roof. Right across the hallway there was a closed chamber. A stream of dim flickering light was emanating from the cracks of tattered wooden doors of closed chamber.
It was undoubtedly a temple; though it was ancient, dilapidated, abandoned yet perfectly the kind of place that is untouched by the shallow pomp of wealthy god men and the kind that is reserved by the Mother Nature for those who are true in their quest of divine.
“Mother, this is the abode of my Thakur. It is a shame you have been unconscious while he has been waiting intently for you” said Sanyasin walking towards the closed chamber.
 “Behold mother! Behold my beloved Thakur the one true lord of whole world!” proclaimed Sanyasin, flung opened the gates of the closed chamber and unveiled the sight of a ‘Vigraha’ of Krishna!
With a heart utterly astounded by the beauty of Krishna and completely besieged by the Sanyasin’s transcendental excitement, she rose gently with folded hands while the tears of love sprang from the corner of both her eyes.
“Mother, wont you show your dance to my Thakur” asked sanyasi in an impatient pleading tone of a child.
“Yes..Yes..Yes” Vasudha repeated again and again in a choked voice.
“Alright mother” chuckled Sanyasin and retrieved a Dholak from inside of sanctum sanctorum.
Sanyasin broke into a bhajan:

घूंघट  के पट  खोल री , तोहे  पीया मिलेंगे !
घूंघट  के पट  खोल री , तोहे  साईं  मिलेंगे !

Vasudha sprang forth and broke into an effortless dance that happens when you dancer completely surrenders himself to the dance. Just as the Mother Nature expresses herself in the blooming of a lily, Vasudha’s devotion was manifesting itself in the form of dance.


घट घट में तोरे साईं बसत हैं
घट घट में तोरे साईं रमत  हैं
कटु बचन मत बोल री
रे तोहे पीया मिलेंगे !        

Vasudha was leaping like the fangs of a bright burning fire.

धन जोबन का गर्ब ना कीजे
धन जोबन का गर्ब ना कीजे
झूठा इनका मोल रे !
तोहे पीया मिलेंगे !
 Vasudha was springing forth like the water of a mountain spring.

जाके  जतन से रंग महल में ,
जाके  जतन  से रंग महल में ,
पीया पायो अनमोल रे !
तोहे पीया मिलेंगे !
With the charming execution of most complexes of dance steps, Vasudha transformed the constrained hallway into stage as wide as the ‘aakash’ itself.

सूने मंदिर दिया जला के
सूने मंदिर दिया जला के
आसान से मत डोल रे ,
तोहे पीया मिलेंगे !
Sanyasin started thumping the dholak with a celebratory verve and Vasudha started to spin like a mad whirl wind.

घूंघट  के पट  खोल री , तोहे  पीया मिलेंगे !
घूंघट  के पट  खोल री , तोहे  साईं  मिलेंगे !

Vasudha raised both her hands, clasped together in a ‘pranaam’.
Dancer had vanished completely and only dance remained…
Dance is… Dancer is Not!
Sanyasin was silent, a beatific smile dancing on his face, tears of joy ready to roll down from the corner of his eyes.
Vasudha sat on the floor, looking intently at the radiant figure of Krishna. This was the dance after which nothing was to be done. She witnessed the unceasing dance of lord going around and closed her eyes.
The dancer had become one with the dance. The devotee had become one with the lord and the drop was one with the endless ocean. On the horizon, the Sun was about to rise. Cool, fragrant breeze was blowing. The stars in the sky were going to sleep, smiling after witnessing this ethereal dance. And the lamps were burning bright in temple.
And the lamps were burning bright in the temple..




Attribution: The painting above is "Bharatanatyam" by Shahul Hameed and has been modified from the uploaded one at http://www.pinterest.com/pin/188236459397890769/

[This story is inspired by a legend associated with Ramakrishna Paramhamsa who was fondly addressed by his disciples as 'Thakur' ]

[ Stories of a Seeker are a series of posts by an author who wants to be known as "Seeker". From what we know, Seeker is a genuine and strong individual, who seeks answers to the conundrum of ethics and existence and prefers anonymity and unhindered solitude. Also Read Stories of a Seeker: The Lost Hope]

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{ 7 comments ... read them below or Comment }

  1. This story is set in the last years of 19th century when an intellectual uprising of bourgeois class and sinful pacts between aristrocratic Jamindars and brahmins have denigrated the status of Devadasis to common nauth girls.'

    -The Seeker

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    1. Get yourself a social profile man!
      -Theblueeyedson

      Delete
  2. People watch dance and then fall in love (sic) with the dancer. Irony. Dance hence suffers.

    Excellent story telling.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank You sir. Your words have always been the guide.
      Also thanking you on behalf of the original author

      Delete
    2. Readers like you help me evolve with valuable support and suggestions.
      Muchas gracias!

      Delete
  3. testing my stylus. love it. Cool Stuff

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