‘The body is a temple, the dance is a prayer’

Anjali Jhangiani
Friday, 21 September 2018

Sacred danseuse and whirling expert Zia Nath, who set up Realms of Dance to present ancient sacred dances of India and Central Asia, talks about her art.

In the early ’90s, when Zia Nath watched dancers perform Gurdjieff sacred dances and Sufi whirling (originating from ancient Sufi traditions), at the Osho International Meditation Resort (OIMR), she felt transformed. “It was magical. I felt like I was a part of the dance, the dancers and their meditation. And I had done nothing, except watch! It took me a year before I could arrange my life and devote myself to the study of these sacred dances,” recalls Nath, who spent about a decade learning these dance forms from teachers at OIMR who were guided by Osho, and travelling to New Mexico and USA to learn from second generation students of George Gurdjieff, a mystic, philosopher, composer and spiritual teacher from the 19th century. 

But she absorbed the art by practising back home. “In my free time, often at night, with the bamboo grove enveloping the space around, moonlight filtering through, I would practise whirling. Sometimes I had the gift of live Sufi music, other times I practised to the naturally available sounds — chirping of crickets, croaking of the frogs, and the whistle of the wind against the silence of darkness surrounding me,” she remembers, adding, “All these elements have been my teachers in my practice, contributing to my sustained presence in the whirling and the momentum of the whirling skirt holding me in my centre, as I am filled with a sweet emptiness. The learning and practice is an ongoing, never ending journey. In this work, one can’t ever have learnt or experienced enough.”

Realms of Dance
Nath points out that none of these dance forms is performance-oriented as it is practised for spiritual growth, exploring states of consciousness, and meditation. But her inner performer compelled her to take these dances to the stage for an audience. “Before I got into sacred dance, I was working with Shiamak Davar’s company as a dancer. The performer in me wanted to share the essence of sacred dances with audiences and bring in a new dimension to the world of performing dance,” she says. 

After immersing herself into sacred dance for 15 years, she felt a strong calling to explore Indian temple dances. “While Odissi is very feminine and lyrical, Gurdjieff dances are very linear and masculine. Whirling is a dimension that belongs to the beyond, when polarities meet in a mystical realm. It felt complete to put these dances in my first show in 2008 called ‘Sufi Splendour’, for the prestigious Kartik Poornima Festival by Maharana of Mewar in Udaipur,” she says, continuing, “There were so many layers to it — my spiritual studies with Sufism, Zen Buddhism, Tantra Sutras of Shiva, Osho’s discourses on meditation, and dance inspired my creativity. I had started to bring in more than just Sufism into the performance.” 

Over the years, Nath has created different productions including ‘Sacred Architecture’, ‘Body is a Temple’ and many more shows sharing ancient sacred heritage, spiritual texts, and sutras in the language of dance under her banner — Realms of Dance. 

Sacred sway
“In sacred dances, we approach the movement from within. This changes the quality of the movement on the outside as well as the experience of the dancer inside. It’s not about the dance steps, but about the energy moving within my body,” says Nath, explaining that the dance is a bridge to higher consciousness. She talks about how she opens up to deeper dimensions of awareness as she moves freely to circulate the energy within her. “I surrender my heart to devotion. The grace of the dancer’s movements spreads to every facet of their life. You see this quality in people who have integrated meditation into their daily life, as opposed to sitting in meditation for one hour. You see this grace among practitioners of yoga and even martial arts because they all work with the quality of energy within as it affects the movement outside,” says she. 

Crescendos of Rumi & Shiva
Talking about her performance titled ‘Crescendos of Rumi & Shiva’, which will be presented at the Global Festival of Spiritual Sciences 2018, Nath says, “It is a one-hour solo performance, a reflection of our ethnic and spiritual heritage — the tantra yoga sutras of Shiva with mystical poetry of Mevlana Rumi, laced with lyrical Persian and Indian music to create a tapestry of mystique and magic. Inspired by ancient stories sculpted on the temples of Odisha and the spinning gypsies of Central Asia, the dances are tales of love suspended in the realms of spirituality and sensuality.”

She recalls a talk by Osho to explain how her performance will not only benefit her, but also her audience. “Osho said that there are three dimensions to the performance of a sacred dance — firstly, the dancer is in meditation. Secondly, the meditation of the dancer is experienced by the watcher (the audience) which takes them into meditation as well. And thirdly, when dancer and audience are both in meditation, the area around them becomes a meditative field, which in other words can be called a sacred temple. It is my endeavour to bring this experience for myself, for the audience as well as for the space around us,” she says. 

ST Reader Service:
Zia Nath will be performing at the Global Festival of Spiritual Sciences (GFSS) 2018 to be held  at Pyramid Valley, Bengaluru from September 29 to October 2

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