The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

by M. A. Dorai Rangaswamy | 1958 | 410,072 words

This page describes “the pantaranka or pantarankam dance” from the part dealing with Nampi Arurar (Sundarar) and Mythology, viz. Puranic stories and philosophy. The 7th-century Thevaram (or Tevaram) contains devotional poems sung in praise of Shiva. These hymns form an important part of the Tamil tradition of Shaivism

The Pantaranka or Pantarankam dance

[Note: for the context of this text, see chapter 3.8 section VI]


Arurar mentions Shiva as the dancer of Pantaranka, when he mentions him as going round with the kapala to the houses of damsels. This pantarankam has been referred to in connection with the burning of the three castles. Probably it means the white hall of dance and derivatively a dance performed there, which therefore came to be called the white dance. The white dance hall is the place of ashes, the place where the castles were burnt to ashes. It is because of the white ashes, the dance came to be called the white dance or Pantaranka. Atiyarkkunallar explains by saying that God smeared the ashes white in colour and danced this dance. Therefore, any dance on the ashes—or the burning ghat—may be called the Pantaranka without reference to Tripura. It is in this sense that Arurar speaks of God with a kapala as the dancer, Pantarankan—“Talaiyir kataitarum pali panniyal menmoliyar itam kontulal pantarankan”—‘The Dancer of Pantaranka roaming about the places of the ladies of soft words and sweet tunes and receiving alms at every door in His (bowl of a skull) ‘.


But the interpretation given by Atiyarkkunallar may, to a ceitain extent, stand in the way of this interpretation. The words in Cilappatikaram are, “Termun ninra ticaimukan kana........ Parati atiya viyan pantarankam”. It is the ‘great expansive white dance’ because he danced all round the place of the ashes. ‘It was seen by Brahma standing in front of the chariot of the Lord. It was a Bharati dance . The commentator interprets, “the Bharati dance”, in view of the preceding line, “in the presence of Brahma as a dance which Shiva danced in the form of Bharati, the wife of Brahman, probably to please Brahma and egg him on to drive the chariot fearlessly”. It is not clear wherefrom this idea was got by Atiyarkkunallar. Bharati has the meaning of Bhairam or Durga and her hall of dance is the burning ghat or burning pyre. Parati in the phrase “Parati atiya” as distinguished from “Parati arankam” refers to one of the vrttis—modes of dramatic style. Atiyarkkunallar himself mentions the four modes—Cattuvati (Satvati), Arapati (Arabhati), Kaiciki (Kaisikhi) and Parati (Bharati). In Cattuvati, the subject matter is virtue, and the heroes are Devas and men. In Arapati, the subject matter is artha, the heroes are men. In Kaiciki, the subject matter is love, and lustful persons are the important characters. In Bharati, the subject matter is about the actors and the actor is the hero. A note in Tandava Laksana explains these. “Kaisikhi is the most polished performance without any bustle or tumult. The dancer of Kaisikhi should be neatly and modestly dressed; women alone are fit to expound this type of dance. Bharati is characterised by rhetorical flourish. Satvati expresses emotion; and Arabhati is used to indicate tumultous situations.

It will be seen from the explanations given by Atiyarkkunallar, that in the modes other than Bharati, the actors enact the drama or an episode from some hero’s life, past or present. In Bharati alone there is no enactment of other’s life; it is his own life that the dancer dances. In actual life when a man or a woman expresses his or her activity, according to Natya Sastra, it is to be looked upon as a dance in the Bharati mode. In actual life we are slaves to our passions; in a drama or dance when the actor enacts the same episode of ours he is no slave; he is a master of the situation; his performance becomes art. So, when even in trying situations one has complete control of oneself and one’s passions, and acts one’s part in real life, one is a saint like Yajnavalkya and every one of his activities is a dance of the Bharati mode.

Atiyarkkunallar himself makes this distinction patent and clear: “In these four modes described here, unlike the other three modes, Bharati does not give expression to some other subject matter or the acts of some other heroes. If Kotukotti dnd Pantarankam are considered the hero, Shiva is not enacting any other past story of any other hero. It is His own act, where He is the subject matter, the hero and actor. It is not even a representation of His act elsewhere. This shows His divine self control. Therefore, these two dances belong to the Bharat! vrtti and Ilanko, the author, draws our pointed attention to this by stating ‘Parati dtiya kotu kotti’ and ‘Parati atiya, pantarankam’. Similarly this Kapala dance or Pantarankam should also belong to Bharat! vrtti. The mystic and saintly non-entanglement and mastery over the passions are expressed by our poets and sculptors of the Tamil land when they represent every feat of the Lord as a memorable dance”.

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