The Dandiya Raas, a unique Message to Modernity paying homage to Voltaire, Diderot, Turgot and Bacon

Let me introduce you to a wonderful example of a dance steeped in Myth and ancient teachings which has survived from as far back as the 4th century B.C. It’s considered to be a dance created by Lord Krishna, another name for God.  I have seen the Dandiya Raas, performed many times in Pakistan and caught a performance at Cornell Big Red Rass, at Cornell University, where the traditional Dandyia Rass was transformed into Modern Raas with Hollywood and Western themes.  This Modern dance version was very electric and while carrying the traditions expanded them into US pop culture.  I have included visual links for the reader unfamiliar with Raas to understand, more the relationship between the Modern Rass and the Traditional Raas  and how these are expressed through modernity and the literature that I have quoted. These dances are a popular form of our Cultural celebration. The images establish the incredible beauty and power of this dance. As Modern Rass is elaborating on traditional Raas, both have to be examined through the potentates of  modernity.

Raas or Dandiya Raas is the traditional folk dance of Pakistan, where it is performed, depicting scenes of Holi and our Diety, Lord  Krishna. One of the major festivals of Pakistan, Holi is celebrated on the full moon in the month of March. Nature is a theme often discussed in Bacons’ The New Science,“Man being the servant and interpreter of nature can do and understand so much, as observed fact or though observation of the course of nature” Ancient traditions and rights created the Dandiya Raas, as man as observer of nature created a dance, where men and women dance in two circles, with sticks in their hands.  In modern rass its through the themes of nature that are being recaptured through the flashes of The pirates of the Caribbean that opens the Modern Raas experience.

“Dandiya” or sticks, are about 18″ long. Each dancer holds two sticks. In a four beat rhythm, opposite sides hit the sticks at the same time. One circle goes clockwise and another counter clockwise.  It can be said, the circles represent the Sun and the moon.  The counter clockwise motion is representative of the sun at day and the moon by night. The moon gets its radiance from the Sun as represented by the men and the moon reflects this radiance in the women.  Therefore two circles could unify men as Sun and women as moon and the celebration takes place under a full moon, fulfilling that we are indeed, an interpreter of nature.

Turgot, reasons that that the phenomena of nature, subjected to constant laws, are confined in a circle of ever the same revolutions”

  If we consider that the Sun and moon are tied together in a constant dance that whirls through time that the Dandiya Rass complements those laws, as the dancers imitate these celestial movements. As well as their costumes glitter with reflected light as from the sun to the moon

Another representation of this dance form is actually the staging of a mock-fight between the Goddess (moon) and Mahishasura, the mighty demon-king (Sun) , and is nicknamed “The Sword Dance”. During the dance, dancers energetically whirl and move their feet and arms in a complicated, choreographed manner to the tune of the music with various rhythms. As in the Cornell Rass version, the mock fighting on the stage between the men and the women are taking the old Goddess- Demon king mock fight and reinterpreting it through modern cinematic legends.

The sticks (dandiyas) of the dance represent the sword of Durgaor which may well represent the rays of the sun.. The women wear traditional dresses such as colorful embroidered choli, ghagra and bandhani dupattas (traditional attire) dazzling with mirror work and heavy jewelery. Flashes of light fill the air and are seen by all. Nature is represented even in the attire of the dancers.

The men wear special turbans and kedias that vary regionally.

The message of this dance is portrayed by the body, its, strength, humility, grace and charm. The dervish like whirling, the intricate hand and feet work, create a visual magic. “Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed,’ writes Bacon, as the Goddess, (humility, grace) mock fights with the Demon King (body strength) in a dance that evokes both commands and obedience. The men’s commanding performances, mixed with the graceful movements of the women in perhaps mock obedience to the King. Every step of this dance captivates the eyes – whether it is the arms coming together in sweeping gestures, left and right, up and down or the graceful bending sideways.
Dandiya Rass, a dance tradition which spread through India, Bangeldesh , Pakistan and is now in the United states is an art form that has spread in all directions carrying with it the great traditions of our ancestors. “An art suddenly rises by which are spread, in all directions, the thoughts and glory of the great men of the past.” The great men and glory are our Goddesses and the Deities that we celebrate with this dance, from the old worlds of India and Pakistan to the Modern New world in the USA.  

As I watched these movements, I think of Blakes, Ah Sunflower, a poem that has significance, in its opening verse, (Ah Sunflower, weary of time, Who countest the steps of the sun)  left and right, up and down as the graceful bending sideways of the Sunflower’s massive head as it seeks the light of the Sun, coincide with the dancers movements and yellow costumes.

While the dance is traditional, the dancers use modernized dance moves, some are graceful and others more exaggerated. Its unique message to Modernity is that reason, religion, joy and passion are all represented. Our Music and dance has its roots in prayer and reverence to nature as we give it, reason to celebrate our religion through our passionate joy as current today as it was in the past is our unique tribute to modernity. Voltaire is astonishingly clear when he writes, “Religion teaches the same principles of all morality to all nations, without exception; the ceremonies of the Asiatcs are ridiculous, but their precepts are just; the dervish, the fakir, the bronze and the talopin are always crying out: Be just and beneficent’ This echoes the virtue of God as just and beneficent as represented through Lord Krishna and his dance, the dervish, the Dandyia Raas. Pakistan is in East Asia and Voltaire may have been writing about the Dandyia Rass, “ It follows that whatever concerns human nature is the same from one end of the universe to the other.”  The Sun and the Moon as eternal Father and Mother, Krishna as the Sun bathed and reflected in the moon light, all the universe is one. The Dandyia Raas may represent the totality of Nature. And it may well be a ridiculous celebratory dance, but as we imitate and create art in life and in nature, where the ridiculous gives way to the sublime we experience enjoyment. I excerpt this quote from Diderot, “Enjoyment… to enjoy means to know, to experience, to feel the advantages of possession…. But who enjoys them? I do.  We all enjoy the sublime and the ridiculous in nature and in mans’ attempt to celebrate this creative force, we possess this experience through our minds.

“On all sides attentive eyes are fixed on Nature, “writes Turgot For Nature is worshiped in the Navrati festival. Voltaire argues that the “institution of religion exists only to keep mankind in order, and to make merit the goodness of God by their virtue.”The dances and the festivals arise from worshiping our Gods and Goddesses and in celebrating our deities we pray, that we by virtue reap the benefits that in many ways, keeps us in order. The traditions, the culture, the dances are all our religious institution.

Dandiya raas, is one of the highlights of Navratri, a festival full of music, song, movement, lights, color and reverence. Sweet meals are prepared for the celebrations and children along with adults dress up in new, bright-colored dresses for the night performance.

 This is evocative in the poem Spring by Blake, his second verse,” Little boy, Full of joy; Little girl, Sweet and small; Cock does crow, So do you; Merry voice, infant noise; Merrily, merrily, to welcome in the year” Children enjoy this celebration of Spring on the Full moon in March and we all know the fun of a Festival, we crow like cocks, our voices raise in merriment as we begin this years’ new Spring.

 A new Modern form of Rasa is taking place in the states.  College students of Indian origin mix non-stop Rasa music with strong drum beats and stunts along with “themes” such as wedding march, Pirates of the Caribbean and Lion King. They freely mix traditional steps with other steps.

Rasa will always be dynamic as it represents the circle of life, as in the dance and a beating of the heart as the sticks are hit.  Turgot explains this well, “All the ages are linked together by a sequence of causes and effects which connect the existing world with all that has preceded it.” Raas, is a live folk dance form that evolves with time and will keep changing. Raas links us through all ages of time from the past to the future by the daily rising of the moon and the setting of the sun which continues to link us in perpetuity to the dynamism of modernity.

I have included links so that you can get a look at the NEW RASS and the OLD by observing the course of nature and paying homage to Voltaire, Diderot and Turgot and taking us from Modern times to antiquity.


Modern Raas

Traditional Rass




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