Monday, October 8, 2007
Jesus the Divine Drummer
Tribal Jesus. Part of a tryptich on "Tribal Spirituality". Oil on Canvas. Collection of the artist.
Theme IV: The Transfiguring Vision
The transfiguring of a beloved, revered person, with that divine glory spreading out to transfigure the world and its life, is a wonderfully uplifting theme in a number of religious faiths. It is certainly crucial to the Christ-story, with the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain prefiguring the mysterious glory of his resurrection. Each healing act was also something of a foretaste of the greater transfiguring to come, a ‘sign’ of Christ’s glory, to use John’s language. But John saw even the coming of Jesus in human form as an epiphany of the Light: ‘He made his home among us, and we saw his glory….. full of grace and truth’ (1:14)
The climax of the Song (Gita), that re-interprets the ancient tribal figure of Krishna, is similarly a glorious transfiguring. Ten spiralling chapters lead up to the moment when the dejected and then confused warrior Arjuna pleads with Krishna that he might have the inner eyes with which to see Krishna’s true being. Up to that point, Krishna had seemingly been just a charioteer skilful in controlling the war-horses – though also clearly skilful in guiding the soul so that it can control the reins of the senses that threaten to lead us astray.
Then in the Gita, as a prelude to the transfiguring, comes a chapter in which Krishna describes just the ‘most fundamental’ of his countless ‘glories’. He is the potent, shining essence within all beings. At Arjuna’s request, Krishna is then wonderfully transfigured, so that the whole universe and all its creatures are seen to be vibrant within his now glorious form (the famous ‘visva-rupa-darsana’).
Transfigurable he may be, but in this scripture generally Krishna is a rather restrained figure. There are long sections of metaphysical and moral teaching right there on the battlefield, just as the opposing armies are to go into action.
A Dancing God
Not so in the songs, dramas and texts that reflect actual folk-worship of Krishna: there are the huge number of devotional (bhakti) love-poems about or to Krishna in the various vernaculars of India, especially Tamil; then too there is the text that is a classic for Hare Krishna disciples, the Bhagavad-Purana. There, this dark-faced folk-hero is portrayed again and again as a dancing God - sometimes rather mischievous too - and always as a great Lover. More usually, of course, it is Siva, as Nataraj (Lord/King of dance) who is the great Dancer – creating and destroying through his fierce Tandava dance, but then moving into his elegantly serene lasya dance.
A visit to Belur and Halebid, and so to the Hoysala temples (11th century CE) not far from Jyoti’s home in South India, makes very clear the central place of dance in Indian religious faith. The outer walls of the temple are alive with the many exuberantly dancing figures carved deep in stone. Though a temple primarily of Vishnu/Krishna-faith, Siva is there dancing within the skin of an elephant sent to destroy him. The vigour of the dance flayed the great beast’s skin from his body. Krishna holds up the top of mount Meru, lifted high to protect all the animals threatened by excessive rain and flooding. He sways gently in dance-mode. Elsewhere the child Krishna dances on the head of the destructive serpent he had conquered – and this is the subject of Jyoti’s cover-painting for his early book, The Child and the Serpent.
Dance is at the heart of almost all culture in India - folk, tribal, classical, Hindu, Buddhist (Tibetan), Sufi. And some classical forms of Indian dance very clearly have their origins in simpler folk and tribal forms. There may be differing themes and aims, dance may be performed in differing contexts, and be of very different styles – line, circle, solo. It may imitate divine beings, animals and nature. If may have a magical intent. It may be an offering to the Divine Lover. But a common factor is the dancer’s sense of moving between this world and the other world, poised between earth and the higher realm, aspiring to move into that other, higher, transfigured realm of being.
In the more reflective spiritualities of India, this transfiguration is described as a dawning inner awareness, a blossoming of new discernment, an enhanced consciousness. Illumination within is the most frequently used metaphor. The Guru, who leads the seeker into this new realm of understanding, this new visioning, is ‘the remover of darkness’ (the meaning often given of gu-ru). A veil is often said to hide the true nature of things from those not yet enlightened. The Guru is to remove the obscuring veil and reveal the Light.
No wonder Indian Christians have often spoken of Jesus as their illuminating ‘Guru’. Some have given great stress to an inner illumining, a new consciousness. Their key texts make it clear, however, that the healing, saving, but painfully strenuous acts of Jesus, are essential to that process of illumining. The longed-for transfiguring is by way of a sharing in these strenuously heroic acts. The suffering of Passion and Cross – even though tinged with resurrection glory – remains central for Indian Christian art, including that of Jyoti Sahi.
Dance in Indian - & Sufi - tradition
a. Light (The Illuminating Guru)
e. Resurrection /Life