Bharata Natyam: Classical Indian Dance: A Hindu Fractal

Article excerpt

The term, fractal, coined by Benoit B. Mandelbrot describes a shape or pattern within a greater pattern of which it is a scaling piece identical to the greater pattern and in which are reproduced an infinite number of parts or fragments which are also identical to it, thus, identical to the whole at all scales. In this paper, the author describes Hindu cosmology as it is replicated in the elements of the Bharata Natyam, drawing the analogy to fractal patterning.

The oldest sacred dance of India, Bharata Natyam, is not only a concise, living and liveable representative of Hinduism, but a holographic snapshot of all the most revered ideals in Hindu culture. The objectives of this paper are to describe the art of Bharata Natyam and show how it is a many layered, experiential "road map" to a greater experience or perception of reality as prescribed by Hindu theological principles. This will be done by describing the source tenets of Hinduism and by describing their symbolic reflection in Bharata Natyam, its design ornamentation, and in the basic aesthetic ideals of Hindu culture in general.

In the West there is a tendency to assume that religious systems are belief systems. This assumption is more often than not coupled with or governed by an underlying or blatant questioning of the existence of divinity, God, or spiritual nature. In order to understand Hinduism and Bharata Natyam one must gain an understanding of the stark contrast in Hinduism to this persistent questioning. In Hinduism, Hindu practitioners do not consider their faith a mere belief system, but rather, an empirical process enabling one to perceive the spiritual nature of reality which, without question not only exists, but is the undeniable substance of all of life whether seen, unseen, heard, or felt. As such, the existence of God. is such a pervasive assumption, that is it never even addressed as something questionable. 'The Hindu assumes the true nature of reality to be God or divinity and the aims of Hinduism and Hindu art are the realization of this (Vatsyayan 1968:3).

The paradoxical nature of such an assumption is not only appropriate to the Hindu practitioner but is of use in directing attention away from mental understanding which paradox precludes, to another important tenet of Hinduism: that the ultimate nature of the ultimate reality is beyond mind and thought. In the Hindu experience, God or spiritual nature is something which can only be directly experienced. To this end, Bharata Natyam--and all of Hindu culture-can be seen in a myriad of poetic, paradoxical and participatory descriptions manifested into visible icons and pujas (rituals of participation and sacrifice) in order to heighten or avail this greater experience to its participants.

The Hindu mythological description of such a perception of reality deals in the personification of this all-pervading principle of divinity. It is described in terms of a great being, the great being of Purusha who sacrificed himself into the world, and as the world, divides himself into various parts to give rise to the universe and all beings (Fenton 1988:7).

The implications this myth of creation has for the Hindu's fundamental assumptions relative to the meaning by which he or she governs her existence are critical to understand in contrast to Western, Christian assumptions. These are that both creation and creator are the same, and the means by which existence has come to be is sacrifice rather than an externalized source of power or creator-God to be reckoned with.

Following the Purusha myth with more symbolic description, Hinduism describes the universe in further detail as a dynamic play between the two poles created by Purusha's sacrificial act. Creation is thought of as "the result and expression of the symbiotic interaction of male and female, Siva and Sakti, the quiescent and the dynamic, and all polar opposites that in interaction produce a creative tension (Kinsley 1986:122). …