Towards the end of our dance practice today, while preparing once again the item, Shivanu Kruti, “the masterpiece of Lord Shiva”, Guruji spoke about Guru Sambhunath Jena, the best exponent of Mahadev dance. “It takes a lot of practice to embody the energy of Lord Shiva, in fact a whole lifetime, at least”, he said as he demonstrated one more chamac (thrilling movement of the shoulders that I am supposed to incorporate from now on) while doing the walk of eight steps, finishing in dharan. As he was walking he was grinning, as if remembering something, and with a chuckle he started saying, “Sambhunath Jena would stand on one toe and do Urdhasana…”
“ON ONE TOE! ON ONE TOE, GURUJI!!??” I interrupted, completely amazed at the possibility. He continued laughing and added, ” in our time, such gurus, ek dance karne ke liye peda hue the.” They came into this world to do just one dance, to embody one energy, to BE chhau, to BE Lord Shiva, Krishna…. “The king used to give them everything of course, they had good food, ghee, mutton, chicken, all the rice they could have. They were completely under his care, and he gave them the best because he expected the best from them. The dancers were his pride and possession, his most precious offering to beloved Ambika Devi.” As a result, the best dancers believed in their calling, they accepted their fate of becoming Gods on stage, following a long process of training and initiation into one character. So how did they know, who was fit for such greatness?
The olden Gurus would study their disciples to see what kind of energies moved through them. This way, they would know what style to train them in, and hopefully what character they could one day come to be. In Chhau there are three ways in which the energy and therefore movement expresses itself. They correspond to three states in nature. The Kalibhanga, is the softest quality, and literally means to bend the softest end of a spring. It corresponds to the Lasya Bhava mentioned in the Natya Shastra. The Hathiyardhara is the hardest quality that originates from the intention of holding a weapon to strike. It is compared to the thickest part of the trunk of a tree. In the Natya Shastra it is described as the Tandava bhava. The Kalikata Hathiyardhara, unites the latter two qualities. It means to cut the softest end of a spring with a weapon. A dancer fit for the kalibhanga style would have to be extremely supple, and flexible with the capacity to bend and twist gracefully. He would also be trained in the female movements, to embody the female characters. The hathiyardhara dancer would be the warrior par excellence, able to wield agilely the sword and to hold a 6 kilo shield with no distress. They could take on characters such as Parashuram, Ekalavya, Ranga Panda or Hanuman. The Kalikata Hathiyardhara dancer endured the challenge of being as supple as a grass stem, and as strong as a sequoia tree trunk. Only these kind of dancers had the honor of imbibing Lord Shiva.
…This tradition goes on in theory… It is very hard to understand what it means to give your life to the force of one “character”. What Guru, what student is ready to accept that nowadays?
On one toe…. I tried standing on all my toes as in a ballet demi-point…. I couldn’t get my leg all the way up before loosing my balance. GREAT! A new challenge! At least to achieve a demi-point in this lifetime.
It’s been around eight years since I first learnt the complete Nataraj item by Guru Trilochan Mohanto, who had learned this from Sri Hari Naik, one of the best Nataraj exponents. Before this, Guruji had already composed a version of the dance for me, but he wanted me to learn the traditional item which was performed in Mayurbhanj. So he sent me on my first trip to the homeland of Chhau in the village of Rairangpur…. and my journey with Him began. https://youtu.be/cs_g094_-Dc
How many times have I worn my tiger kamar band, decked in Rudraksham with trilochan on my forehead? …Not enough…one lifetime. Am I worthy of it? Only he will know.
So while coming back home on my scooty, traversing through the long D.N.D Flyway coming back from Noida, a prayer came into my mind:
Dance me once again my Lord and as many more times as you want… Dance me as a soloist and dance me in a group; dance me in world famous theaters and in school annual day programs; dance me for the rasikas and for the oblivious; dance me my Lord, for the connoisseurs and for the layman; in this land and other lands; inside and outside…Dance me. Dance until I can’t remember my name; dance until these ghungroos echo on the slopes of Himalaya; dance….until Devi herself looks lovingly at me through the corner of her eye and knows that I am her beloved.