Dance, Mudrá and Tantra

Dance, Mudrá and Tantra

by P.R. Sarkar

You know that even before Sada’shiva there was dance, there was music; people used to sing, also; but everything was in a disorderly manner. The dexterous hands of Sada’shiva made it a science — rather, an artistic science.

It is not an easy job to dance properly and correctly. The fundamental requirements, or the fundamental spirit, of dance, instrumental music, and song were brought within the framework of science by Sada’shiva, and that is why He is also known as “Nat’ara’ja”: “Nat’ara’ja” means “King of the Dancers”. (And another name of Sada’shiva is “Na’datanu”, that is, “music personified”.)

Dance is a highly-developed art. In the Oriental variety of music, you know, three items come within the fold of sam’giita, or music: dance, song, and instrumental music. The collective name in Sanskrit is sam’giita. Lord Sada’shiva brought everything within the framework of science, and just now I called it “artistic science”.

In the Oriental variety of dance there are several mudra’s, that is, postures. When giving something to a living being, the mudra’ is like this [demonstrates]. When giving something to something past, not present in the world, the mudra’ is like this [demonstrates]. The “don’t fear” mudra’ is like this. The “take what you want” mudra’ is like this. The “come forward” mudra’ is like this. The “be serpentine” mudra’ is like this. “Be subtle, maintain a link with the earth” is like this. There are so many mudra’s used in the Oriental variety of dance. It is not an easy job to learn it, but rather a very difficult job.

Now the fundamentality, or rather the primordial phase of Oriental dance, is ta’n’d’ava. It is not a very easy job either. The knees must cross the navel. When they cross the navel it is called Brahma ta’n’d’ava. When they cross the ana’hata [mid-point of the chest] it is called Vis’n’u ta’n’d’ava. When they cross this portion [indicates the throat], it is called Rudra ta’n’d’ava. It is very difficult to dance Rudra ta’n’d’ava. It requires long practice.

That is why Lord Sada’shiva is known as Nat’ara’ja. And when these boys [indicates them] were dancing, it was just like a picture of Nat’ara’ja in ta’n’d’ava mudra’. It is called ta’n’d’ava; ta’n’d’ava is a mudra’.

Why is it called ta’n’d’ava? In Sanskrit tan’d’ means “to jump”. Tan’d’u means “of jumping habit”. Ta’n’d’ava means “having the use of tan’d’u, the use of jumping”. But jumping in the proper style, not in a disorderly manner. You should learn it properly in a disciplined way.

And ta’n’d’ava represents life; you know Tantra is a cult of life, it is not a cult of death. For Tantra you should be strong physically, mentally and spiritually. First in the present tense; Lord Shiva says all your expressions, all your manifestations, must be based on the present tense. So this ta’n’d’ava is the starting phase of Tantra.

This ta’n’d’ava I said represents life, it represents vitality. There are so many forces that want to destroy you, so many forces forces that are inimical to you by nature. Say a snake — a snake is a born enemy. There are many such born enemies. As Tantra represents life, ta’n’d’ava says that one’s spirit should be based on vitality, based on the principle of survival.

This human skull represents death. You are surrounded by death, but you must not be defeated, you must not develop the psychology of fear or defeatism. So the knife is with you to fight against death.* Yours is a fight for survival. In the daytime one may also use a snake to represent death — not an ordinary snake, but a venomous snake. In India our boys dance with a snake. But at nighttime neither a skull nor a snake will be visible. Here there is light, they will be visible, but in a burial ground, in a cremation ground, where there is darkness, a snake or skull will not be visible. There you may use fire to represent death.

* Ta’n’dava is performed with a skull, a snake, or a torch in the left hand, and a knife in the right hand.


This is the spirit of Tantra. To fight, to fight for survival. It is normal life moving towards the supreme state of abnormality.

Lord Shiva started this ta’n’d’ava dance, and His spouse, Pa’rvatii, started the lalita dance, lalita ma’rmika. What you did just at present while singing kiirtana, that is called lalita. Lalita represents that now we are enjoying bliss, we are in a happy mood. We are in a happy mood, and the hands should be above ninety degrees. Do you follow? I think you followed me. Lalita represents a happy mood, and it was invented by Pa’rvatii, Lord Shiva’s spouse. Lalita helps people in their spiritual progress and psychic expansion.

Now the devas, the Tantrics of that era, about seven thousand years ago, learned ta’n’d’ava and lalita and wanted there to be a musical expression for the general public. That is your RAWA.

For the general public there was the middle course. This middle course is called madhyama ma’rga in Sanskrit, majhjhima’ ma’gga in Buddhist scriptures. And that path, where the subtle aspects of spirituality combined with the subtle aspects of vitality, was represented by [ta’la].

A middle course was invented, and in Oriental music it is called ta’la. Oriental music is based on ta’la. Ta’la means — the first sound of ta’n’d’ava is ta’, and the first sound of lalita is la — ta’ plus la.

Yes, this was the origin. And on the basis of ta’la, Oriental music invented so many ra’gas and ra’giniis, so many tunes and sub- tunes, in the hoary past.

Now in all of South Asia and Southeast Asia the music is based on this ta’la. It is the happy blending of ta’n’d’ava and lalita, and in it there are two main offshoots. One is known as the Árya’varta offshoot, from Persia to Vietnam, and the other is the Da’ks’in’a’tya offshoot of all South India, Ceylon, Indonesia, Malaysia and up to Australia.

This is the science, and this science was invented by Sada’shiva. It is to be learned with proper care and proper respect. These boys displayed excellently what I am trying to say. I am extremely pleased with the sweetness they displayed.

10 May 1979, Fiesch, Switzerland


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