The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon

Ravi Kumar

WorldVoices: Ravi Kumar, Host

It is my pleasure to introduce a book of l4 essays by a highly respected master of two worlds, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. In these essays he offers insight into the meeting of East and West through ancient and modern thought and throws extraordinary light on India's metaphysics, art, social institutions, and attitudes.

Each race contributes something essential to the world's civilization in the course of its own self-expression and self-realization. The character built up in solving its own problems, in the experience of its own misfortunes, is itself a gift which each offers to the world. The essential contribution of India, then, is simply her Indianness....

If now we ask what is most distinctive in this essential contribution, we must first make it clear that there cannot be anything absolutely unique in the experience of any race. Its peculiarities will be chiefly a matter of selection and emphasis, certainly not a difference in specific humanity....The heart and essence of the Indian experience is to be found in a constant intuition of the unity of all life, and the instinctive and ineradicable conviction that the recognition of this unity is the highest good and the uttermost freedom. All that India can offer to the world proceeds from her philosophy. This philosophy is not, indeed, unknown to others--it is equally the gospel of Jesus and of Blake, Lao Tze, and Rumi--but nowhere else has it been made the essential basis of sociology and education.

...Where the Indian mind differs most from the average mind of modern Europe is in its view of the value of philosophy. In Europe and America the study of philosophy is regarded as an end in itself, and as such it seems of but little importance to the ordinary man. In India, on the contrary, philosophy is not regarded primarily as a mental gymnastic, but rather, and with deep religious conviction, as our salvation (moksha) from the ignorance (avidya) which for ever hides from our eyes the vision of reality. Philosophy is the key to the map of life, by which are set forth the meaning of life and the means of attaining its goal. It is no wonder, then, that the Indians have pursued the study of philosophy with enthusiasm, for these are matters that concern all.

from Ananda K. Coomaraswamy's The Dance of Siva: Essays on Indian Art and Culture (New York: Dover, 1985, 1-2; originally published 1924).

Ananda Coomaraswamy is one of those great Hindus who, nourished like Tagore on the culture of Europe and Asia, and justifiably proud of their splendid civilisation, have conceived the task of working for the union of Eastern and Western thought for the good of humanity.

Romain Rolland, foreword to Coomaraswamy's book.

The Essential Significance of Siva's Dance is threefold: First, it is the image of his Rhythmic Play as the Source of all Movement within the Cosmos...: Secondly, the Purpose of his Dance is to Release the Countless souls of men from the Snare of Illusion: Thirdly, the Place of the Dance, Chidambaram, the Centre of the Universe, is within the Heart.

Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Siva

And here are the lyrics to a song popular during the 1960's in the United States. Barbara Knott tells me that Jesus is not known primarily for dancing, but that there is a reference in an apocryphal book (the Book of Thomas) to Jesus engaging in a circle dance with his disciples.

Lord of the Dance

I danced in the morning when the world was begun
I danced in the Moon & the Stars & the Sun
I came down from Heaven & I danced on Earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth:

(Chorus: ) Dance then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He!

I danced for the scribe & the pharisee
But they would not dance & they wouldn't follow me
I danced for fishermen, for James & John
They came with me & the Dance went on:


I danced on the Sabbath & I cured the lame
The holy people said it was a shame!
They whipped & they stripped & they hung me high
And they left me there on a cross to die!


I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body & they thought I'd gone
But I am the Dance & I still go on!


They cut me down and I leapt up high
I am the Life that'll never, never die!
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me -
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!


...Words by Sydney Carter

Copyright 2007 Barbara Knott. All Rights Reserved.
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