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Importance Of Dance In Hinduism

In Hinduism, the concept of dance enters a core of metaphysical understanding of the universe. From time immemorial dance has been an essential part of Hindu religion. The dances have not been arts forms with only aesthetic purpose, but have been revered as an aspect of divine expression or manifestation of the Ultimate Reality.

Briefly it might be said that according to Hinduism, the Ultimate Reality, which is in a subtle form, expresses itself in the various material forms of the universe. This reality is ever alive and is eternally luminous. The transformation of the subtle into gross takes place through laya (temporal rhythm) which may be analogically likened to the heartbeat of a living form. It is this pulsating rhythm that develops an atomic form of life into a full grown body. This biological rhythm may be likened to laya (musical rhythm) which is a sound vibration growing into music. Space is saturated with rhythm and consequently with sound vibrations. This belief dominates Vedic thought which seeks to reach out to this vibration through chandas (Vedic language) which are primarily patterns of sounds.

In Hindu religion, the rhythm of the reality is symbolized as the dance of creation.  It is concretized as the dance of Shiva and Shakti. The subtle and the gross are expressed through iconography as the linga and the yoni which are the symbolic representations of the subtle reality. The more graphic forms of Shiva images are connected to the dancing form of Nataraja, which is a concrete expression of the primeval sound and rhythm of universe. From the metaphysical thought of rhythm arises the concept of dance in a more concrete manner. Thus, dance came into the temples and with it came the statues and figurines in the mode of dance, even if they were not dancing. So, there is a close connection in the representation of deities in dance and iconography.

In Vishnudharmottara Purana (Part 3.2.1-9), it is said through a story that, to be a good sculptor, one has to be good at painting, and to be good at painting it is essential to know dance, to excel in which one should know music. In each art there is the pulsation of rhythm, the vibration, the movement of the body or the mind that creates.

In Hinduism, art is one of the energized forms of religious impulse. A religious or divine concept, when concretized, is expressed as a representation of iconography in plastic or performing visual art forms. This representation is giving a concrete body to a concept (murtam). The process of energy transmission is a subtle one. In the case of dance, the divine concept is transfused into the soul of the artist who is ‘enlightened’ and through his artistic impulse he transfers the energy into the image which he has created concretely. Also in creating a form, a yantra (an energy cycle) may be set in motion.

Source - notes taken from Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume III page 289 - 90 - Rupa - IHRF 2011