The sun’s rays are gold with a tinge of reddish-orange, much like the mango hues of the five-piece cloth that swathe me. Gold with green, like the grass tinted with blindingly-brilliant sunlight. You see, this is more than just a dance. It is a representation of our natural world in all its splendour and the immense power of the universe.
सप्ताश्व रथमारूढं प्रचण्डं कश्यपात्मजम् ।
श्वेत पद्माधरं देवं तं सूर्यं प्रणमाम्यहम् |
The Sun God (Sūrya) seated on a chariot drawn by seven horses,
The Suryashtakam is an invocatory piece praising Lord Surya, the Hindu sun god, and hails from the ancient Hindu text, the Samba Purana. And we, the chosen girls, eight of us, were transformed into living sparks on that wooden stage, setting fire with the electric footwork and spinning through tendrils of smoke (literally, thanks to the enthusiastic smoke machines on stage).
A guru’s blessings can take you far in the world of Indian classical dance, and this performance was no exception to that rule. Harikishan Nair, the Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam exponent from Canada who choreographed the Suryashtakam, poured his faith, love, and guidance into each of us as we struggled to master the quick footwork, the quirky taal, the precise leaps, the deep aramandi (half-sitting position that is the basic stance in Bharatanatyam). He watered our souls with encouragement, weeded out our fears methodically, and, when the time came to set us free on the stage, did so with a smile on his face that spoke of nothing but a deep trust that we would make him proud.
This is what I love most about Bharatanatyam. The agonizing hours of pain, the warm-ups, the splinters and cracked feet, the numbness in the arms after hours of holding them stiff and straight – these all melt away once the music fills the room and the lights blaze on around the stage. A strange heat starts in the pit of your stomach, radiating down to each toe, each finger, each hair on your head. This warmth sets your blood pulsing in your arteries and veins, sends a tingling sensation through your extremities even as you hold the beginning pose, silent and as refined as a marble statue. But there is nothing marble about you. For you are a living, breathing prayer, your body sketching the words of ancient songs for your audience to admire and absorb.
The experience of performing on the stage is special and like a drug – once you have tasted the excitement of bright lights, rapt attentive faces in the audience, and costumes as brilliant as a peacock’s plumage, you cannot forget it. It lives within you, fueling you back towards the stage, urging you to practice, practice, practice until the limelight falls upon you again.
The grace of the Suryashtakam is much like the grace of the sun – powerful, remote, and precise. Each pose speaks of grandeur. Every extension of the limbs is a reminder of the rays that leave the sun to bring light and warmth to our planet. Each leap is the reminder of the energy that we are fed by the largest star in our solar system.
Dance is a mode of conveying our deep respect for our planet and its awesome power. It reminds both the dancer and the audience of how tiny we are in the grander scheme of the universe. We are tiny clusters of atoms that rely upon our universe for our energy, for our conscience, for every particle of our beings.
Just as yoga has its Surya Namaskara (sun salutation), classical Indian dance hails the Sun lord and his divine power with the Suryashtakam.