Nataraja as a theme represents life force itself. The ancients visualised Nataraja as a manifestation of the cosmic energy symbolising the three aspects of creation, preservation and destruction. The dance of Nataraja has always been synony- mously viewed with truth and beauty, force and rhythm, movement and change, realisation and dissolution. Nataraja has been visualised in a variety of forms by seers, poets and artists-chiselled, painted, described and sung about in many parts of India and countries in the neighbourhood since long. This itself is a testimony to the twin aspects of time and timelessness of Nataraja, both as a per- sonality and as a theme.
This book highlights Nataraja as the pre- siding deity of fine arts whether it be music, dance, painting, sculpture or epig- raphy. The Vedic roots of the cosmic dancer and the blend of tradition and modernity is woven as a thread through- out the book describing vividly the ex- ploits of the great dancer on world stage. It also contains interesting infor- mation on famous spots of the Nataraja theme and the concept of Nataraja be- yond Indian frontiers.
Dr Sivaramamurthy has been one of the most acclaimed art historians of this coun- try. He had devoted an entire life time to iconography, especially to the Nataraja theme. This book is an outcome of his research as part of the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship awarded to him in 1968. Some of the other books of the author include South Indian Paintings, Some Aspects of Indian Culture, Indian Sculpture and San- skrit Literature and Art.
Towards the end of 1968, I was very kindly offered a Fellowship by the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund. Nothing could have made me happier than to associate myself in a dedicated work with the name of the greatest beacon of light in India in our times. This in itself I considered an augury indeed of accomplishment of the best in research on any chosen theme. I can neither forget the encouraging exhortation of Miss. Padmaja Naidu to do my very best on a chosen theme, nor the delightful choice of theme so kindly suggested by Dr. Karan Singh, both of which constituted the initial blessing for godspeed as I started on my subject of research. Nataraja has always been a favourite theme of mine. As long ago as when I was a research student in the Madras University I had my own peculiar musings on Nataraja. "How would have Nataraja been depicted in the time of Bhaqavan Patanjali?" would be my query, and I would fancy him dancing with a single pair of arms (bahubhyam uta te nemeh). wearing his locks in ushnisha fashion (namah) kapardine, UShniShine) in the dance hall of the universe (namas sabhabhyas sabhapatibhyascha) holding the snakes (ehimscha sarvan jambhayan), himself lit up with a glow (tvisbimate), sounding the drum (namo dundubhyaya chahananyaya cha). I
would then wonder how wonderful he would have looked in the hey day of South Indian art, during the time of the Pallavas with the peculiar make up of his jatas, the yajnopavita flowing over his right arm, all his four arms in natyahastas or carrying attributes, a host of carvings from the Rajasimhesvara temple in Kanchipuram fleeting before my minds's eye. I would pause and sketch the pictures of my fancy in the appropriate style of the period, the second century B.C. and the eight century A.D. respectively. My fancy would next imagine my favourite sivatandavastotra to which I was always attracted by its remarkable alliteration, resonance and dance rhythm, not precluding its possible composition by a genius not inferior to Havana to whom it is traditionally attributed, and wonder how it would have been written by a scribe of Patanjali's time or by a contemporary of the Pallavas. I would then scribble it out with all the fervour and enthusiasm of a youngster fervently studying Indian palaeography. The result is in the two sketches on p. ix and the first three verses transcribed in Brahmi of the second century B.C. and in Pallava Grantha of the eighth century A.D.
Nataraja has always been a favourite theme of mine. I had discussed some aspects of Nataraja. the Lord of Dance, in appropriate context in several of my books but I could never imagine, until I took up this theme as a complete unit in itself for elaborate study, how vast was its scope. The material that I have collected is no doubt vast, but as I worked I realised that the theme is inexhaustible. Nataraja was no longer just in the golden hall at Chidambaram. His dance halls appeared all over our vast country. Nataraja ceased to be a theme mainly for sculptures in stone and metal in South India, and became manifest as a great concept spread allover the country-to the south, west, north and east. It did not stop at that. A magnificent theme like this, the very symbol of Indian art, thought and culture, undoubtedly cannot be confined to a limited sphere and I rightly found it everywhere, beyond the Indian frontiers, nearly allover Asia.
Finally, when I recall how Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the scholar, statesman, with a heart as wide as the ocean for appreciation of all that was good and worthy of encouragement, called for my tiny little book, the first to see the light of day, and showered his blessings on a young and unknown scholar, I feel that this great honour conferred on me, almost towards the end of my career, is indeed a supreme satisfaction for me as an author. This call asking me to conduct research on a noble theme with a fellowship instituted in the name of the noblest son of India, so that I could have his blessings again, is almost a fulfilment of all the writing in which I have been engaged all these years. I have done my best in preparing this volume on Nataraia. for which I have gathered material both literary and artistic from all over India, nay Asia and the rest of the world. My satisfaction would be complete if this book could be, as I hope, an adequate offering to the memory of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in whose name, this fellowship has held out for me an almost impossible ideal to accomplish.
On the third of January 1969, I bowed to the Dancing Lord at Chidambaram after witnessing his sandal bath in cold mid-winter on the sacred day of the constellation of Ardra, just as did, on the selfsame day, my ancestor of the seventeenth remote, in the sixteenth century, and composed a significant verse (given on page vi) and I commenced my study of this theme, and again on the same occasion on January 10, 1971 I completed it with the satisfaction that it has been possible to elucidate to an extent the import of the Lord's dance.
I am thankful to the Ministry of Education for permission accorded to me to take up this fellowship from the day I went on leave preparatory to relinquishing charge of the Directorship of the National Museum. It is my great pleasure to thank my colleagues in the Archaeological Survey of India and from the different Museums allover India, the Archaeological Departments in different States in India, and colleagues from Museums in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Pakistan and Ceylon. In addition to help that I have received from all these colleagues, other individuals and institutions have also extended their hand of cooperation and help. I must thank here Monsieur J. Daridan, the former French Ambassador in India, the Academy of the American Institute of Indian Studies, Banaras, and the French Academy at Pondicherry for very kindly supplying me a number of photographs as an encouraging gift for helping me in this work.
For personally acquainting myself with the famous Polonnaruva bronzes, studied in the early years of this century by Dr. Coomaraswamy and Sir P. Ramanathan, as also the ones discovered just a decade ago and discussed by Dr. Godakumbura, I had requested help from Dr. D. H. P. H. de Silva, Director of the National Museum, Colombo, who very readily responded. I cannot be adequately thankful to him and to his colleagues and to Dr. R. H. de Silva, Commissioner of the Archaeological Department in Ceylon, for all the help that was accorded to me when I was there. I was specially taken to Anuradhapura at short notice, where I could study the bronzes from Polonnaruva unearthed in 1960. Mr. Haque, the Director of the Dacca Museum very kindly provided me with photographs of the dancing Siva, described by Dr. N. K. Bhattasali, and two additional ones he had collected recently for the Museum.
The very first photograph to start my study of Nataraja was kindly supplied by Mrs. Pupul Jayakar who has one of the earliest and the most magnificent of Nataraja sculptures in her own collection, a Gupta one from Nachna. I am most grateful to her for this aid.
Recently, when Mr. Khandalavala visited the Cleveland Museum of Art in the United States of America, he noticed a dancing figure of Siva of the Basohli school and thoughtfully arranged for a photograph of it to help me in my study. To him and to Mrs. Margaret Marcus of the Cleveland Museum I am most grateful for helping me with the photograph.
Photographs most difficult to obtain were those required from Vietnam. These were very kindly procured and sent by Professor M. Jean Filliozat to whom I am most beholden.
Dr. Grace Morley, Head of the ICOM Regional Agency in Asia, has not only with infinite patience gone through this large volume of text and offered many valuable suggestions, but also, whenever out touring in South East Asia, had always my 'Nataraja' in mind to obtain, if possible, rare photographs that I might require. She thus procured some photos from Vietnam and Indonesia through the kindness of her friends Mr. Carl Heffley and Mr. Lee Fickle from Vietnam and Indonesia respectively. To both of them I offer my thanks, but I know not how to adequately thank Dr. Morley for all this kindness that she has bestowed on me.
A photograph of the most beautiful Gurjara Pratihara image of Ardhanarisvara was kindly made available by Rajamata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur to whom I am most grateful.
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