A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words, except in the case of Shiva Nataraja, the "Lord of Dance," whose form is beyond any price that human speech can pay. By expressing through His image the point where the manifest and the unmanifest intersect, Nataraja blazes forth as the divine symbol of nada, the "soundless sound." Nataraja stands, goldly resplendent, illumined eternally by the lamps that flare in the garbhagriha ("womb room") of the temple at Chidambaram, in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Poised forever on one leg, encircled by a halo of bright flame, forever crushing beneath him the demon of ego-ignorance, Nataraja smiles gently as numberless universes pulse to the beat of His damaru (twin-headed drum). The ancient Tamils assigned each one of the Five Elements (pancha mahabhutas) that make up earthly existence to a separate temple. Earth is worshipped at Kanchi, Water at Jambukeshwara, Fire at Tiruvannamalai, and Air at Sri Kalahasti. Space (akasha or ambara), the primal Element, the source of the other four Elements and the font of awareness, is worshipped at Chidambaram. Traditional Indian philosophy speaks of three different "levels" of space: ghata akasha, matha akasha and chid akasha. Ghata akasha (literally, the space inside a clay pot) is effectively represents every space that humans can effectively control. Matha akasha, the "space inside a building," represents those environmental spaces that, being larger than us, force us to respond to and cooperate with it. Chid akasha, or Chid-ambaram, is "awareness space," the subtle space that hosts consciousness. Actually all space is alive and aware; chid-ambaram is merely space that is awake and alert to an exceptional degree, space that mainly houses consciousness. Nataraja dwells calmly immobile within "awareness space," His attitude, posture, and gestures all testifying to motion. His profoundly dynamic stasis displays most excellently His perfect aplomb, situated precisely between zero and infinity, in the region where action and inaction, form and formlessness, matter and energy meet. Nataraja shines with the reality of Unqualified Awareness at the instant it takes on qualification, the moment that the Sound of the Unutterable is uttered. The Element of Space evolves from shabda tanmatra, the "subtle element" of sound, and Nataraja is "frozen music," his static form revealing to us a mellifluous rhythm that redolent of nada. Viewed from the perspective of creation, nada is "that which expresses," the sound current from which manifestation occurs. From the perspective of dissolution, however, nada is the resonance that follows bindu, the last point that the experiencer holds to before relinquishing all sense of time and space. The transcendent bruit that is nada begins to reverberate through one's self-awareness as soon as all differentiating thought disappears. Nataraja straddles the bindu fence between creation and destruction, everlastingly awash in the nada tide that He Himself engenders. Nothing in the universe moves but Nataraja; all else that shifts position, form or condition does so solely through His whirl. Nataraja is the perfect embodiment of a Vedic formula for compressing Reality into words: satyam, rtam, brhat ("the true, the harmonious, the vast"). Reality exists (it displays truth, satyam), it has a natural order or rhythm (rtam) which is self-perpetuating and self-correcting (it is harmonious), and it is all-pervasive, extending beyond the farthest reaches of the human imagination (it is vast, brhat). Nataraja's form expresses the solidification of resonance, the congealing of music and dance into form. The word ambara can also mean "garment," and chid-ambaram thus also means "clad in consciousness," in the same way that a naked sadhu is sometimes spoken of as being dig-ambara, "sky-clad, clothed in the ten directions." Awareness covers the Lord of Dance, it surrounds Him as it emerges from Him. Alone at the center of the cosmos, He is the embodiment of the consciousness that gave the cosmos birth. Within the human microcosm Nataraja relentlessly dances a tarantella of blood and lymph at the heart-center, thumping out the rhythm of heartbeats endlessly disseminating oxygen and prana, the life force. Like the heart, which sits at the core of the chest, the center of any space or image, in or out of the body, should be relatively empty of matter but full of prana. Any central area is a "heart," a chid-ambaram that should reflect and express ultimate nature, ultimate sound and rhythm by concentrating prana there. Prana, mind and breath all work together, in the internal and the external universe alike. Turned outward, Nataraja's nada generates the four levels of speech, beginning with para, continuing with pashyanti and madhyama, concluding with vaikhari. Turned inward, that same nada evolves in reverse, from vaikhari to madhyama and pashyanti, then para. In para, the highest form of speech, there is absolutely no thought of "this, thus, here or now," of any particularized entity, form, space, or time. Para reflects the total absence of any object whatsoever. In pashyanti sound becomes more perceptible, without being yet particularized. Phonemes are present, but only faintly differentiated, unable to be isolated from the overall energy. In madhyama the sound becomes particularized; madhyama is the "inner speech" of thought. Only at the stage of vaikhari does the full, outward manifestation of speech take place. The revealed word manifests the Godhead, in this context as Nataraja. In the body or out of it, at the subatomic level or in a galactic cluster, wherever we become able to locate that tangential space where the "zeroness" of silence and the infinity of sounds meet, we find ourselves in the presence of the Great Dance Lord, the primal image of that articulation of energy and effort that, by using bindu to generate nada, returns its viewers back to the Ultimate.
Published with the kind permission of Dr. Robert Svoboda
Robert E. Svoboda, B.A.M.S. is the first Westerner ever to graduate from a college of Ayurveda and be licensed to practice Ayurveda in India. He graduated in 1980 from Tilak Ayurveda Mahavidyalaya in Pune, where world-renowned author and Ayurvedic Physician, Dr. Vasant Lad, B.A.M.S., M.A.Sc., was one of his professors. Since that time he has traveled extensively around the world, lecturing and conducting workshops on Ayurveda. Dr. Svoboda has traveled to more than fifty countries in the world, understands six languages and has authored several books. Dr. Svoboda consults with people privately.
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Copyright © 2006, Robert Edwin Svoboda. All rights reserved.