Indian classical dance. Kuchipudi style.

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Main deities and the cosmogonical theory

Hinduism is one of the most extraordinary religions of the world where polytheism reaches the unbelievable degree. The innumerous number of gods and goddesses decorate niches of the pantheon.Hinduism

There are three supreme deities: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

They constitute the concept of Trimurti i.e. the triple image which unites Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Almighty and Shiva the Destroyer.


Besides the three Supreme Deities the Hindus also worship a great number of other gods, the most known of them are the following:

Indra: the god of war, the king of demigods, the ruler of Amaravati, one of the lower skies. He is considered to guard the Eastern part of the world.

Varuna: the all-seeing god of the Vedas who descended from his celestial palace to become the god of waters. At the same time he is the keeper of the Western part of the Universe.

Yama: the guardian of the Southern part of the world, the god of death who reigns in the Purgatory where sinners suffer until the next birth.

Kubera: the god of precious metals, stones, minerals and wealth in general, the lord of the Northern part of the world. His residence is the wonderful town of Alaka not far from the mountain Kaylasa. GaneshaInnumerous armies of dwarves (guhyakas) and mountain spirits (yakshas) are subordinate to him.

Ganesha (Ganapati): the god with the elephant head, Shiva and Parvati's second son, the leader of ganas (demigods, Shiva's servants). He is The Obstacles Remover and the patron of all who goes in for different studies. He is the most favorite deity among the Hindus and is frequently portrayed dancing. His attributes are one broken tusk and a fat abdomen; he solemnly sits upon a rat.

Hanuman:the monkey god, son of Vayu (the god of wind), friend and true servant of Rama. In his honor monkeys are considered sacred.

Kama: the Indian god of love. Just like his European colleague he is portrayed as a handsome youth armed with a bow and arrows with a slight difference that his bow is made of sugarcane and flowers are his arrows. He has apsaras (nymphs) in his service.

Besides, all gods and demigods had wives who as a rule wore the names similar to the male names only with female endings, for instance Indrani.Lakshmi

Similar to the three Supreme Deities, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva's wives are the Supreme among the great number of female deities of the Indian pantheon and are highly revered by the Hindus.

Sarasvati: Lord Brahma's wife, the patroness of art, music and literature. She is portrayed as a young beautiful white-skinned woman with a vina (an Indian lute) and a book in her hand; she is escorted by a swan. According to a legend it was Sarasvati who invented Sanskrit.

Lakshmi: the goddess of luck and prosperity, Lord Vishnu's wife. According to a legend she appeared from the waters of the churned Causal Ocean. She is usually portrayed as a wonderful woman in her prime who sits or stands on a lotus, often with a lotus in her hand. They believe that as Vishnu's wife she becomes a wife of his every incarnation. Thus she is worshipped as Goddess Sita, Rama's spouse (see below); Rukmini, the first Krishna's queen, and Radha, Lord Krishna's eternal sweetheart.

Parvati: Lord Shiva's wife in her benevolent aspect. In her awesome aspect she is worshipped as Durga or Kali. In her hostile aspect Parvati is portrayed as a terrible multi-handed witch armed with various weapons, with her fangs bared, with a bloody tongue and a necklace of skulls around her neck.


Vishnu is usually portrayed as a four-handed man with dark blue skin and a crown on his head who holds symbolical attributes in his hands: a shell, a disc sudarshanu, a rod and a lotus. There is a sacred Vishnuprecious stone kaustubha on his neck. He rides Garuda, a gigantic eagle with a semi-human face. The Hindus worship Vishnu as "an all-embracing deity" meaning that all other gods are either his emanations or reflect his separate aspects.

According to a Hindu cosmogonical myth Vishnu is the eternal ruler on the planets of "the spiritual sky" - Vaikunthah (here he is called Narayana). A spiritual cloud sometimes darkens the edge of the spiritual sky brahmajiyoti. The darkened part is called mahat-tattva.

Then Lord Narayana assumes the shape of Maha-Vishnu and lies on the waters of the Causal Ocean. At the same time he stays in a meditation sleep yoga-nidra. The moment he exhales the innumerous numbers ofVishnu universes come out of the pores of his body. They float on the surface of the Causal Ocean like bubbles in foam. All these universes only exist during a single Visnu's exhalation.

The same Maha-Vishnu enters each of these universes as Garbhodakashayi-Visnu and in Garbha Ocean he lies upon serpent Shesha who is also one of the Narayana's aspects.

Out of Garbhodakashayi-Visnu's omphalos a stem of lotus grows up and on this lotus Brahma, the Lord of the specific Universe, is born. Out of his mind and body Brahma creates various forms of living creatures which give the Individual Souls (atme) the opportunity to become apparent in the material world. He also creates the Sun, the Moon and all the planets of Vishnu"the material sky" and all the demigods who rule these planets i.e. in fact he creates his own Universe.

The life time of a universe equals Brahma's life period and makes up 100 "Brahma years" that exactly equals Maha-Vishnu's length of exhalation. When Maha-Vishnu inhales, all the myriads of universes each one with its own Brahma, return into the non-developed state and wait for the new Maha-Vishnu's exhalation.

In Hinduism the main cosmological cycle is kalpa, "a day of Brahma" that consists of 14 manvantaras or secondary cycles with duration of 306 720 thousand years each with big intervals between them. 360 of such days and nights make up "a year of Brahma". Every "cosmic day" Brahma creates the Universe and every "cosmic night" he absorbs it; and while he sleeps the whole universe stays in his body as a pure potency. Every manvantara contains 71 mahayugas and each mahayuga in its turn is divided into four yugas (eras): Krita (other name Satya), Treta, Dvapara and Kali. Their duration equals respectively:

Satya Yuga - 1 728 thousand human years

Treta Yuga - 1 296 thousand years

Dvapara Yuga - 864 thousand years

Kali Yuga - 432 thousand years


Every Yuga is the further decline of religiousness, morals, power, growth and duration of human lifeBrahma and his happiness in comparison with the previous Yugas. It is believed we live in the era of Kali Yuga that began 5000 years ago.

Thus if one counts up the whole life time of a single Universe it will equal 311 040 000 million of human years.

While the whole multitude of universes stays revealed, the Initial Vishnu watches how the things go in each of them and from time to time he incarnates in this or that form entirely or partially to introduce the proper order. According to the most spread classification there has been 10 Vishnu's avatars (incarnations) on the Earth.

1. Fish (matsya). When the Earth was under the waters of the Flood, Vishnu assumed the aspect of a fish which was the first to warn Manu (the forefather of the mankind, Brahma's son) of the coming danger. Then it took Manu, his family and seven sages (rishis) out of the Flood on a ship tied to a horn on its head.

2. Turtle(kurma). Many divine treasures were lost during the flood including ambrosia (amrita) that helped gods to preserve their eternal youth. Vishnu assumed the aspect of a gigantic turtle and went to the bottom of the cosmic ocean. The gods placed mountain Mandara on its back and wrapped the divine serpent Vasuka around the mountain. Then they pulled the serpent and thus untwisted the mountain shaking the ocean up the way an ordinary Indian milkman churns butter. Amrita and many other treasures including goddess Lakshmi came to the surface of the foamed ocean.

3. Wild boar(varaha). Demon Hiranyaksha again immersed the Earth into the depths of the cosmic ocean. Vishnu assumed the image of a gigantic wild boar, killed the demon and put the Earth back in its place by raising it on its fang.

4. Lion Man(narasimha). Another demon Hiranyakashipu received the magic ability to become invulnerable as a gift from Brahma. Neither animal nor man, nor god could kill him neither by day nor by night. Using his safety he started to pursue gods and men and even his pious son Prahlada. Then Prahlada turned to Vishnu for help. At sunset i.e. neither by day nor by night the god suddenly appeared out of a column in the demon's palace and killed the demon in the image of half-man and half-lion.

5. Dwarf (vamana). Demon Bali seized power over the world and after performing a number of ascetic feats he acquired the supernatural might and even started to threaten gods. Vishnu appeared before him in the image of a dwarf and asked to give him as a present as much land as he could measure in three steps. When the present was promised the god turned into a giant and made two steps which covered the earth, the sky and the space between them. But he generously abstained from the third step leaving the underworld in the demon's domain.

6. Parashurama ("Rama with an axe"). Vishnu assumed a human image as a Brahman Jamadagni's son.Rama When wicked tsar Kartavirya robbed his father, Parashurama killed him. Kartavirya's sons in their turn killed Jamadagni, after that angry Parashurama 21 times exterminated all the men from the kshatriy(warriors) estate.

7. Rama, the prince of Ayodhy, a hero of the epic drama "Ramayana". Vishna assumed his image to save the world from the oppressions of demon Ravana. Rama is usually portrayed as a man with dark skin often armed with a bow and arrows. He is followed by his loving spouse Sita, the embodiment of feminine loyalty, his three devoted brothers: Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrughna, and by Hanuman, the king of monkeys, his loyal friend and companion-in-arms. Rama is revered as the embodiment of an ideal husband, commander and a monarch.

8. Krishna, the most significant of Vishnu's incarnations. The stories from the life of this deity are Krishnamost often referred to in dance. The most favorite scenes are his child's roguery as for instance stealing butter from Yashoda (his foster mother) or his love affairs withgopis (shepherdesses) among whom the beauty Radha was the most beloved.

The more detailed description of Krishna's life can be found in the most famous epic work Mahabharata.

In short his story is the following. Krishna was born in Mathur in the tribe of yadavas. His father was Vasudeva, his mother - Devaki, the cousin sister of king Kansa who reigned at that time. There was a prophecy that Kansa would perish from the hand of Devaki's eighth son, that's why heKrishna intended to destroy all her children. But Krishna and his elder brother Balarama escaped the massacre. They were adopted and brought up by a shepherd Nanda and his wife Yashoda from Vrindavana. On knowing that the brothers escaped the death prepared for them, Kansa made multiple attempts to destroy the children. But as the incarnation of the God, Krishna worked a great number of wonders and performed feats: he would kill demons sent by Kansa, would cover the dwellers of Vrindavana from the storm by raising the mountain Govardhana on his little finger over their heads etc. When he was free from performing feats he grazed cows, played the flute for gopies and gave himself to his child's roguery.

When he grew up and bid farewell to his idyllic shepherd life he headed for Mathura to fight the malevolent cousin of his mother. He killed Kansa and became the ruler of the kingdom of Mathura; but being pressed Krishnaby the ruler Magadhi, Kansa's father-in-law from the one side, and from the other side by the nameless king of yavanas from the north-west, he left the kingdom and established a new capital in Dvarak in Saurashtra. There he married Rukmini and made her his main wife among his 16,108 wives who gave birth to his 180,000 sons. In the main "Mahabharata" story throughout the whole history of the fight among royal clans he appears as a devoted friend and councilor of the five Pandavas brothers and before the battle at Kurukshetra which is the culmination of "Mahabharata" while addressing to one of his brothers Arjuna, he pronounced his great sermon stated in "Bhagavadgita".

9. Buddha, the latest Vishnu's incarnation in the past. According to "Gitagovinda" written by the great poet Jayadeva, Vishnu assumed the image of Buddha out of compassion to animals in order to put an end to the bloody offerings.

10. Kalki - the future incarnation. The Hindus believe that in the end of our morbid era Vishnu will appear as a man riding on a white horse with a blazing sword in his hand. He will condemn sinners, reward the virtuous ones and revive Satya Yuga ("the golden age").


In the Hindus' view all classical arts are inseparably linked with the divinity. They believe that Shiva is the source of dance - Nataraja. He dances and destroys the Universe when the due time comes. But Shiva is also a great ascetic. He sits immersed in meditation on the mountain Kaylasa in the Himalayas. There is a legend that Parvati had to follow Shiva's example and became a hermit so that Shiva took notice of her and married her.

In his Nataraja aspect Shiva is usually portrayed four-handed. In his upper left hand he holds Damara, a small drum which he uses while dancing Tandava. Vibrations of vital force come from Damara that puts the first step towards the Evolution of the Universe. Besides, the birth of the initial sound "OM" is identified with this drum. The other left hand lowered in the direction of the toes of a raised legShiva embodies liberation and deliverance.

The upper right hand holds a plate with fire or a trident, the symbol of purification and destruction, and the lower right hand with stretched fingers and omkara on the palm symbolizes protection.

The right foot that treads on a dwarf breaks the chains which embrace a soul and lead it into the world of ignorance and illusion. The raised left leg is the symbol of liberation from Samsara (chain of reincarnations).

There is an image of Shiva with loose and flying hair decorated with stars. This is the example of Rhythm in space. Two eyes of Shiva are the Sun and the Moon, and "the third eye" is the symbol of his supreme wisdom and insight. The three eyes altogether embody the Past, the Present and the Future.

Shiva is sometimes portrayed as Ardhanarishvara with one part of the figure being the male aspect the other is the female aspect. This is the symbol of the god's unity with his shakti (inner energy).

The river Ganga streaming out of his head confirms his immortality. And, finally, Shiva's dance over the prostrate dwarf symbolizes the complete victory over the evil in the whole world.

Generally speaking Shiva's dance is known as Tandava and takes one of the main places in Indian mythology. They believe that Shiva performed 108 kinds of Tandava though only 64 of them have a detailed description in literature.

The seven basic types of Tandava are called respectively: Kalika, Gauri, Sandhya, Samhara, Tripura, Urdhava and Ananda.

Shiva performed the most famous Ananda Tandava in the place Tillai (modern Chitambaram, 150 miles far from Madras).

The story is the following. Shiva learned that several thousands of heretics settled down in the forest not far from Tillai. Having decided to finish with them he headed there followed by Vishnu who assumed the image of a beautiful woman as a blind. But rishis (sages) sensed the danger and immediately prepared for defense. They lit sacrificial bonfires and started to read magic spells that resulted in the appearance of a tiger, a serpent and a dwarf.

Shiva neutralized the tiger and the serpent by putting them on as ornaments and started to dance on the dwarf. The heretics realized the uselessness of their efforts and when Shiva opened his third eye they prostrated themselves as one before him. Among those who saw dancing Shiva was Adi Shesha, a thousand-headed serpent upon which Vishnu lies. He was so enchanted by what he saw that he appealed to Shiva with a prayer to give him the opportunity of admiring the dance once more. Shiva told him to stay in Tillai until his next arrival. Transforming himself into half-man, half-serpent Adi Shesha stayed in Tillai for many thousands of years and was known there as Patanjali.

The second Shiva's visit to Tillai happened under the following circumstances.

At that time there were two sacred places in Tillai: one was a place of worshipping Shiva, the other belonged to Kali. When Shiva decided to head for Tillai to make his devoted people happy, Kali opposed to it and refused to let him pass. Shiva got into difficulties. In order to solve this problem he offered Kali to hold a dance contest, according to the rules the defeated would have to abandon the sacred place and the town forever.

In the presence of many disciples and demigods Shiva performed a lot of dances but Kali was very accurate in imitating and was not inferior to Shiva in this respect. The confrontation lasted for a long time. Shiva felt more and more irritating. In his persistence to win he resorted to cunning: he raised his right leg up to the head level and started to dance in this position. Perhaps Kali would be able to give her rival the adequate response but the feminine intuition gave her a hint that she was to yield. Leaving the place of contest Kali abandoned the town for good and settled down in its outskirts. This Shiva's dance is known as Urdhava.

Two divine dances in Tillai became a very important event for his worshippers. As a result of their belief and in honor of Shiva as the Supreme Dancer they erected a wonderful Nataraja statue in a temple in Chitambaram.

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