A Command Performance

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Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

The Scripture tells us that we all are but puppets, dancing to the tunes of the Eternal Puppeteer. The Cosmic Dance of the Jeevatmas is choreographed and controlled by the Lord, without whose will none can move a finger or a foot. All of us are thus dancers, directed by the Paramatma, exhibiting appropriate emotions and actions as desired by Him. However, would you be surprised to learn that even the Master Puppeteer Himself was made to dance, not once but repeatedly? And the person who made Him dance was no great colossus, but an ordinary one distinguished by neither birth nor attainments. If you are curious to find out more, please read on.

If we were to associate any of the Lord’s avataras with dancing, which one would come to our mind automatically and unprompted? It would be extremely difficult to imagine the stately and staid Sri Rama dancing—nothing would be farther from reality. Nor are we able to picturise the angry Parasurama or the ferocious Nrsimha engaging in this pastime. Because of His role as a Brahmachari, to whom such indulgences are taboo, the Vamanavatara too is out of the question. Nor can the Matsya, Koorma and Varaha moorties, due the very nature of their physiques, be expected to participate in dancing: nor are we able to visualise Balarama as a dancer. The one and only avatara left, for whom all fun, frolic and games would be quite in tune with character, would be Sri Krishna. Any form of pleasurable activity, whether it is singing, dancing, playing or others, we are immediately able to associate the Boy Wonder with it. It is perhaps thus that, among the innumerable avataras of the Lord, we hear of only Sri Krishna indulging in song and dance.

All movements of the Kutti Krishna were so beautiful, graceful and elegant, that His very walk could be termed a dance. The way His hips moved, His feet pranced in anything but a straight line, His eyes darted hither and thither in search of mischief to perpetrate, His long and beautiful hands swung with charm, the kaleidoscope of emotions that darted across His face with admirable facility—all these showed Him up to be an expert dancer, even in infancy. Everyone knows that the art of dancing has to be acquired with extreme diligence and hard work, with innumerable hours of practice having to be put in, before one can even approach the semblance of being a fair dancer. However, to Sri Krishna, dancing was second nature, every movement of His essaying an abhinayam. He could move everyone by the mere way He walked, displaying the elegant, graceful and flowing movements that are the hallmark of a professional artiste. Even when He came with a crowd, His fluid movements and impeccable style were distinct from the thousand others accompanying Him. Listen to Sri Periazhwar exclaiming about this—

“tan nEr Ayiram piLLaigaLOdu taLar nadai ittu varuvAn”.

The Gopis of Nandagokulam were extremely enamoured of Sri Krishna’s talents in this regard and would beseech the incomparable infant to dance a few steps for them. However, our Krishna would never oblige—He had better things to do than to stage a command performance for a few Gopis. These Gopis, thirsty for the experience of seeing the enchanting infant in fluid movement, used to lure Krishna with promises of fresh butter and curds. And when the enthralling infant came to collect, they used to lay down a precondition for delivering the delicacies—that He should dance for them. This sort of bargain our Krishna was not averse to, as it resulted in dairy products being available without the trouble of having to steal them with considerable difficulty. And He used to prance a few steps with His tender feet, all the while holding out His palm for the promised butter. The heartless Gopis were however unsatisfied with a token performance and insisted on a full-scale dance. And spurred on by the promised pot of butter awaiting Him at the end of the “concert”, Krishna too used to oblige, with His abundant locks swinging with His movements and falling on His broad and beautiful forehead, pearly beads of sweat, resulting from the exercise, adorning His upper lip, His beautiful eyes displaying a variety of instantly-changing emotions and His feet hardly touching the ground, in a whirlwind of movement.

Swami Desikan paints an enthralling picture of the mercenary dance the Lord staged, all for a palmful of butter. One beautiful foot was placed steadily on the ground, with the other crossed over at the ankles. The feet alternated in being steady and in movement, with the result that Yasoda was able to perceive only a whirl of feet. His _expression_ was beseeching. The numerous garlands of flowers and of gold that He was wearing and His tiny earrings moved and shook with His graceful steps. And keeping perfect time was the sound of butter being churned by the Gopis, providing a steady and even-paced “TALam”.

Here is the beautiful slokam from Sri Gopala Vimsati—

“Avirbhavatu anibhruta AbharaNam purastAt
Akunchita Eka charaNam nibhruta anya pAdam
DadhnA nimantha mukharENa nibaddha tALam
NAthasya nanda bhavanE navaneeta nAtyam”

It is thus the “Navaneeta Natyam” or the dance for butter that earned Sri Krishna fame as a dancer par excellence. It is noteworthy that one of the Poorvacharyas, Sri Tirumalai Nambi, had christened the Krishna vigraham in his daily worship as “VeNNaikku Adum piLLai”. Even today, the idol of Sri Krishna worshipped at Sri Ahobila Mutt, who graces the homes of devotees resplendent in His “DOlai”, can be seen with an outstretched palm holding a blob of butter, His feet and body gracefully portraying a dance posture.

It is the ardent craving of every devotee that the Lord’s holy feet should adorn his head. We hear Sri Alavandar inquiring Emperuman with ardour as to when His tiruvadi would be placed on his (Alavandar’s) head-

“Trivikrama! Tvat charaNAmbuja dvayam madeeya moordhAnam (kadA) alankarishyati”.

Sri Ramanuja too, in his Gadyam, seeks this incredible good fortune. Predictably, such yearning on the part of Acharyas stems from that of the Azhwars. It is thus the dream of every votary of the Lord to have the latter’s holy feet placed on his or her head. However, we would be surprised to find that there are cases of people totally opposed to the Lord, in fact battling with Him valiantly for all they are worth, being blessed with the coveted catch of these tiruvadis, with absolutely no desire therefor. Not only did the Lord’s feet merely touch the foe’s head, but stayed there for considerable time. Incredible as it may sound, this is indeed true.

A big pond by the side of the Yamuna was inhabited by a venomous serpent by name KALiya, who had made the waters so bitter and poisonous with his toxic secretions, that several of Sri Krishna’s friends lost their lives after drinking the water. After rejuvenating them with His mere nectarine glances, the Lord decided to cleanse the Yamuna and its environs of such an unwelcome inhabitant. We are told that the waters of this pond were so lethal, that even birds flying over it dropped down dead after inhaling the toxic fumes emanating therefrom and the waters of the pond were boiling hot with the serpent’s fuming breaths.

Despite His friends’ entreaty not to, Sri Krishna girded up His loins and dropped into the pond from the branch of an overhanging Kadamba tree. Once inside the pond, He made as much noise and commotion as possible to bring the snake out, beating the water with His hands and feet. KALiyA emerged in a rage, and finding that the intruder was a mere infant, immediately bit the boy at several places and encircled Him with his long tail. Witnessing their leader immobilised by the snake and rendered motionless, the Gopa lads were panic-stricken and brought all the elders of Nandagokulam to the banks of the Yamuna, for rescue. Those who came, however, could think of no strategy to rescue the boy, who was being well and truly crushed by the serpent and stood on the banks, tears flowing freely from their eyes at the danger that had befallen their beloved Krishna and at their own helplessness in the matter.

Seeing the distress of His mother and relatives, Sri Krishna decided that it was time to take matters in hand. He enlarged His body manifold, ridding Himself of the serpent’s embrace in a trice. And He started circling the hissing snake, in the fashion of an expert wrestler trying to tire out his opponent.

Enraged at the escape of the prey from his coils, the serpent KALiyA, his fury increasing by the second, started hissing threateningly, spewing out a venomous draft from his nostrils, his hood spread out and held high, eyes resembling orbs of fire, the split tongue in each head licking the lips in eager anticipation of its human prey. Made to circle constantly by the elusive Krishna, KALiyA started tiring and lowered all his hoods in an effort to sink his lethal fangs into the daring boy. Sri Krishna was awaiting just this moment, when the snake’s hoods were lowered. Immediately He darted on top of the broad and wide hoods and began pounding them with His strong and capable feet. Though they resembled soft red lotuses and felt the same to touch, KALiyA found out that day that these feet could be tough as nails and heavy as a pounding hammer, when the occasion so warranted.

And the artistic Lord, with His penchant for drama, made a song and dance out of the issue, trotting out a beautiful dance performance, putting to shame even acknowledged experts like Ramba, Tilottama, Urvasi etc.

On the pretext of putting down KALiyA, the infantile Emperuman exhibited all His artistry and agility, dancing with élan on the hoods of the serpent. The gems (“nAga ratnam”) decorating the hoods of the snake provided footlights for the Lord’s performance, showing up His whirling tiruvadi in all its glory. The already red soles of His feet were turned more reddish by the glow of these ratnams. In this context, the Bhagavata Purana uses the word “Adi Guru” or the Primordial Preceptor, to describe the Lord, perhaps to indicate that as in the case of any vidyA, dance too owes its origins to Him.

And this dance performance was so enthralling that the entire universe gathered at Gokulam to witness the rare sight. The cheering celestials burst spontaneously into accompaniment, with GandharvAs, SiddhAs, ChAraNAs and the divine damsels singing, playing the Mridangam and other percussion/ wind instruments, making for an unprecedented and unparalleled artistic performance. The faithful chronicler of Sri Krishna’s deeds, Sri Periazhwar, records this event thus—

“KALiyan poigai kalanga pAindittu –avan
neeNmudi aiyndilum nindru nadam seidu”

Another superlative performance was staged by the Lord for the benefit of His bosom friends, the cowherds. The Bhagavata Purana tells us that in order to entertain them, Sri Krishna imitated the song of the swans, the drone of the bees and also the graceful dance of the peacock—

“abhinrityati nrityantam barhiNam hAsayan kvachit”

The Lord appears to have been an expert at not only conventional dance forms, but also at extremely difficult ones like dancing with pots balanced one atop the other. This is popularly known as “Kuda kootthu” and is attempted only by the lion-hearted among artistes, due to the difficulty of its performance. A moment of inattention or a faltering step would send the pots balanced carefully on the head, crashing down, with the resultant ignominy. Sri Krishna had perfected this art form and used to regale audiences at Nandagokulam by dancing with speed and splendour, with a pyramid of pots of various sizes carefully balanced on His beautiful head. Azhwars delight in calling Him “Kuda Koothan”, in commemoration of these sterling performances staged before adulating audiences of Gopis and Gopas—

“Kuravai kOttha kuzhaganai MaNivaNNanai Kuda Koottanai”

“KOvalan kuda koothan endru endrE kunitthu” (Sri Nammazhwar).

Another incredible form of dance the Lord appears to have engaged in, is the “Kuravai”, where He took as many forms as there were Gopis and danced with them individually. The Bhagavata Purana waxes eloquent in describing this “RAsa kreedA”. Deciding to afford the Gopis the unforgettable experience of dancing with their idol on a one-to-one basis, Sri Krishna took multiple forms and delighted them beyond measure. This is perhaps why He is called “MAya kootthan” by many an Azhwar.

To bring the concert to a close, while all of us would consider itan incredible good fortune to witness the Lord’s dance, a modern poet asks Him not to dance, but just to walk sedately—

“AdAdu asangAdu vA KaNNA!”.

When we investigate, we find that the poet fears that if the Lord were to dance, the entire universe would become unstable and be thrown into disarray, as it forms the body of the Paramatma—

“un Adalil eerEzhu bhavanamum asaindu asaindu AdudE
enavE AdAdu asangAdu vA KaNNA!”

The poet goes on to say that Emperuman’s artistry is so delightful that even an expert dancer like Sri Nataraja comes rushing from Chidambaram, to watch with undisguised admiration, forsaking his own performance.

We thus find that whatever the Lord does, He does with élan. If He sings, the entire world drops what it is doing and listens with rapt attention, down to the grazing deer calf which stands motionless like a picture, with the half-chewed grass dribbling out of its mouth with saliva. If He dances, the entire universe turns up to watch, mesmerised by the magnificent movements, the incredible bhAvam and the unforgettable abhinayam.

Would you like to witness the Lord’s delightful performance not once, but repeatedly? Would you like to immerse yourself in the incredible bliss that only an accomplished professional like the Lord can afford the audience?

Well, you can. The ticket for the show is pretty cheap and, for a single season ticket, you become entitled to watch the concert forever. This ticket is nothing but Prapatthi. Once you perform the simple but effective Sharanagati or Absolute Surrender, the Lord is so delighted that He takes you to the best of theatres, viz., Sri Vaikuntam and puts on a command performance, just for you, forever.

Article by : Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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