Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Pompatus of Dance

        Divine Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

So if I may begin,” said Kris. “Someone misunderstood me to have said my name is Krishna, which it is not. In fact what I said, because I am here with all this kit and caboodle, enough supplies, it seems, for several people, or it would be, were we not going to go up and up the mountainside––because of that, I jokingly said my name was ‘Kris and Co.,’ meaning ‘Kris and Company,’ which––sorry, I do tend to mumble at times––struck some of you as my having said ‘Krishna.’ But since, unfortunately, I have to disappoint all of you in telling you that I am not a deity of any sort, I shall make it up to you. I shall tell a few less well-known tales of that Supreme Being, Lord Krishna himself.”

“Well that is not everyone’s religion,” said Paterno.

“We are open to offerings from all types of faiths here, and we are open to hearing all sorts of spiritual narratives,” said the priest.

“Ah, narratives! Well, to my mind ‘Kris and Co.’ does not sound very much like ‘Krishna’–– but I do welcome the opportunity to hear stories about that supreme Hindu spirit. For the Lord Krishna is not necessarily an avatar of the Patriarchy; indeed, rather than shunning the religion of the Goddess, he borrowed many aspects of her greatness––so let us hear these few stories you have to tell.”  {This rather obscure statement from the lady with the wide-brimmed hat.}

That wide-brimmed hat, in the event, she had at some point quietly removed, along with a dark mesh-like veil which, draped in folds over the brim, had made it impossible to study, or really even to discern, the features of her face. Yes, and it was impossible to determine, now, when she had removed hat and veil, impossible to tell––either from her shadowy presence or her gravelly voice––what the lady’s age might be, impossible to tell from what one could see in the eerily lingering gloaming of that small county of many mountains (eerily lingering because, after all, the sun had set). What one could see was that she had the abundant hair of a much younger woman than, I believe, we had collectively taken her for, based on her characteristic demeanor and posture and way of speaking. And based on our impression of her in association with a strange kind of authority she had. Authority, yes, that’s the right word. She had a kind of authority that lingered about her person like a colorful but timeworn cloak. There was about her that faint aura of  grandeur, despite the irrelevant-sounding, sometimes rather foolish nature of her remarks.

“Aren’t we each supposed to tell only one story?” said Carl. “We do need to get a good night’s rest.”

“Well,” said Serena, “then perhaps we should let our lordling over here, our teller of cosmic tales, get on with it. For the sooner he begins, the sooner he will be done with it.”

“You are right of course, Serena,” sad Carl. “But I do hope, Kris, that you will not be too long about it, as I have been waiting to tell my heart-rending tale to a gathering of pilgrims just such as we are, for a very long time.”

“Well, and I hope that at some point we shall hear more original or even personal stories,” said Kris. “Like the story about the little actress. But these stories, like “God Sees the Truth but Waits” and Serena’s tale of the dragon at the bottom of the well, are traditional tales.”

“Oh, not more of these gloomy tales by Tolstoy,” said a chaffing voice.

“No Madam. These are stories from Hindu tradition. The first, a story of divine love, the love of Lord Krishna for the Gopis, is from the Harivarnsa. And pieces of this tale of the Gopis––meaning cowherd girls––can be found in the Vishnu Purana, the Bhagvata Purana, in the classic Sanskrit poem Gitagovinda, and in the Christian era, poems in the  Pankrit and Tamil languages––“/

“You recited those verses in Tamil, about wives missing their husbands––”

“Yes Father. And the second, a tale of divine caring and responsibility, the tale of the 16,000 wives, is from the Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva, Section XIV––“

“And 16,000 husbands too, I hope?” said Paterno.

“We shall see.”

“Oh, do let him get on with it, or we’ll never get to bed.”

“Carl is right. So let me begin,” said Krishna, looking around him at the tiny group of pilgrims, huddled now closer to the fire that was eating its way through the cindered logs in the fire pit, so that tiny flames, yellow-orange, red and blue, were just now beginning to leap up from the pit. And Lord Krishna could see the features of the pilgrims, reading now their hopes, now their fears ever more clearly in the firelight, than he had been able to read them in the direct white light of day. And so he read all that was in their hearts, all, that is, except what was in the heart of the lady whom we shall call ‘the lady with the chaffing voice,’ for she has removed her hat and veil, but turned her face away from the fire.

“A flower is often beautiful. A man or a woman can be beautiful. We enjoy their beauty. We admire it, imbibe it, use it to fill our idleness with everything from base sensation to surpassing grace; we tether it to the wild, headstrong stallion of our desires, to the lighthearted yearling of our dreams and harness it to the prancing ponies of our ambitions. Krishna, a god, the Supreme Being, had a mortal carapace: as a man, he was beautiful yet always godlike, with blue skin, and eyes that filtered the universe. He could hold the universe in his mouth, and he could diminish himself out of love for just one person, to become apparently merely human.

"How did the godhead become so beautiful? Did some inchoate Being create his beauty, as a painter with a fine brush traces a landscape onto a porcelain cup, or as the finest craftsman weaves cloth, threads of which are saturated with intense, vivid color, dense tonalities radiating the purity of the elements from which they were extracted, and mixing and melding color and fixatives to embody all of the human scene, from the elegance of the lady eternally raised up on a garden swing, to the purposefulness of the hunter with his deadly weapon, his drama unfolding on the tapestry created at les Gobelins, and the drama of his creatures both quick and dead, either trembling with sentient vitality or torn and emanating cadmium orange, red, and alizarin crimson; or again with a chisel .did the god cut beauty from Parthian marble, from pure white stone, massive and hard, that under the hand of a Rodin, under the knife of a Camille Claudel, could froth and foam, becoming as liquid as the passion of Rodin, the monstrosity of his genius blessed by the persecuted artistry of Camille, both of them, together, lovers of stone?

"No, not so.  His beauty did not begin as Art.

"Or again, was his beauty born in the act of drawing the golden bow, holding perfect tension while eying his human targets, his posture alert and mobile, his strong right arm extended, tense, poised for the rapid  sweeping of arrows across the bowstring, his left hand holding the bow steadily, holding the deadly weapon about to inflict pain quickly followed by extinction? Was that beauty manifest as he then ran amok with the bow fast-spewing hail-storms of arrows, now at the front of the battle, now in the rearguard, amassing piles of bodies: the enemy, dark foes of the Pandavas, slaughtering them heavily as he animated the body of the warrior Arjuna, as he showed the reluctant Arjuna how he must fight in a war, how slay like a killing machine; was Krishna’s beauty born thus of triumph in war, was it exhibited in the battle-cry, displayed in the bellicose shout of victory?

Ah no, for war begets only ugliness.

"That breath-taking beauty came from fierce passions of the flesh, from the couplings of his ancestors both human and divine. From generation to generation, the couplings of men driven to posses beautiful women, of women yielding to the painful pleasure of love, of men pleased to inflict pleasure while they looked on dispassionately, thinking not of love, but of the planting of seed; and again of the love of lovers who gazed too deeply into one  another’s souls, while in succeeding generations, males of the line took their wives by their haunches and rode them to glory, cresting finally like a wave flat-lining on a hot sandy beach; and again a pair of lovers would emerge, human, making love face to face, their eyes looking at one anothers' eyes, procreating in that love posture especially favored by our kind. And as the generations gave birth to one another, the very passion of the ancestral line––expressing itself now as prosperity and triumph in battle, now as perfidy and betrayal, now as scandal, now in a perfect pair of lovers contented and eternally faithful–– that very passion began to alter the family DNA, molding its fanning creases and crenellations, and folded into it were the elusive charm of the women, the gallantry and manliness of the men; in both sexes always this surplus of beauty––until finally, elevated, lifted, lofted, levitatng high above the little scenes of earthly life, this infinite regress of lovers lost connection to the human nature that had  became wholly divine, and all of the surplus love and passion accumulated over the eons.

"This resulted in a godhead who radiated extreme beauty and attractiveness, as well as infinite compassion and kindness. As a man he was beautiful, and a model lover."

“He does sound rather grand,” Serena conceded.

“What you’re saying,” (in a chaffing voice) “is that he was sexy.”

“Yes, but shouldn’t we rather say, “Procul, O procul este, profani­––” interjected Paterno.

“Withdraw oh profane ones! This is the sacred place of love,” the priest translated.

Only Carl said nothing.

“Well, if you wish me to withdraw,” said Kris, “then I will do so.”

“Oh no!” gasped Serena.

“I believe the women are keen to hear this tale,” sighed Carl.

“It just doesn’t sound like a religion. That’s the thing,” sighed Paterno.

“Father?” said Kris.

“Well let us hear it then,” said the priest. “In case we need to combat it. For we cannot oppose what we do not know.”

“Indeed. But I want to say one more thing about beauty. Beauty shimmers quietly, calming our being. Beauty speaks in harmonies, bringing peace. Or again, beauty acts upon us like a magnet to our soul, drawing us forward, ever in search of its source. We are driven by beauty, and pulled onward by beauty. We are attracted, charmed, incited, possessive, greedy, awed, breathless, chilled, chagrined, chafed. But because beauty is the appearance which the Supreme Being chose as the standard for what we behold on earth, and as the chief aspect of the form he himself would assume when he becomes human––because of this, I remind you that beauty also and always deserves our respect.

Now the tale of Krishna and the Gopis—is a rather unusual one. So imagine if you will,  human civilization in its earliest stages, at a time when every heart rejoices at the birth of a child, to make the clan larger, healthier, stronger: literally to people the earth rather than to go about hindered by wild animals, marauding carnivores, beasts. Imagine the cowherd girls, robust and spirited, but having to spend weeks at a time away from home as they take their herds further and further afield in search of good grazing.

Lonely, with time on their hands, they think of entertainments, they pray to the gods for inner peace, and they pray for the brothers who fight interminable battles to protect the clan. When the cowherd girls think of their deity, the Supreme God, Lord Krishna, who has told them many times of his love for them, they imagine dancing a dance to express how much they miss him, and dancing another dance to greet him and welcome him home. And Lord Krishna loves the cowgirls, and because he is a god, the cowgirls love Krishna with a surpassing love. The girls accept destiny and their individual fates, but because they are simple herding girls, they also love the dance of religious ecstasy, in which they forget their individual selves and become One with Krishna and the universe. And the longer Lord Krishna stays away, the more they miss him! The more they long for his presence, the more wrung out they become, disoriented and lovelorn, and able to think of nothing but the god and the pleasure of the dance.

Now remember that Krishna is a god of Joy. God of the Old Testament, the deity in the Hebrew Bible, is said to be an angry God. He is though a deity of many qualities. God of the New Testament is a forgiving deity, though He can still be angry. Just so, Krishna as Supreme Being has many facets. He plays the flute­­­­––“

“Now your dancing child with his Chinese suit he
Spoke to me, I took his flute––”


“No, I wasn’t very cute to him, was I?”

“What’s this? Why are you interrupting me with this singing?” Had it not been dark, Carl might have seen, for what seemed like a nano-second, a flash of anger in Krishna’s eyes.

“I thought what if someone stole Krishna’s flute.”

“Then the thief would have stolen man, for the Lord Krishna fills his instrument with the breath of life. What sort of person would steal his flute? We should rather pray to be made the instrument of His will. Whom does the flute signify, if not man, waiting to be animated by the breath of God?”

“But I did it because he lied,
Because he took you for a ride,
Because time is on his side––”

“Must you sing this song? You say he lied. It is true that the Supreme Deity practices deception of a sort. But what is the deception of the Lord, if not the enactment of all those things that we, mere mortals, cannot understand? And true, it might be said that he took the Gopis for a ride, simple cowgirls that they were; but this ride was also a ride to the gates of heaven. This ride was intimate contact with the Divine."

“Because time was on his side.”

“Yes, Time is always on his side, not yours. If you want to dance a secret dance and teach it to your followers–– or perhaps it’s only one that you want to dance with–– in either case you have only so much time, only so many years. But let me finish the story of Krishna and the Gopis. This is the story of how a sacred dance was born of the love between a timeless deity and his ecstatic female followers. Worshipers,indeed.

“May I go on?”

“This, then, is the story of the creation of the Dance of Divine Love. One night in autumn, when the Gopis heard the sound of Krishna’s flute, they stopped whatever  they were doing––so powerful was his music––and falling into a trance, they ran to his side. It was a new moon, and as Krishna played, he bewitched the Gopis, so that they ran away from their parents and their husbands in search of the  deity–”

“So Krishna was––is––some kind of rock star––”

“He is the Supreme Being of Hinduism, Carl,” said the priest.

“To continue, then, having enticed them, the Divine Lord told the Gopis to return to their families, but the girls expressed their love for him so passionately that he allowed them to stay, hundreds of beautiful girls from all about the countryside. And because he was about to teach them a dance so sacred it would make all of creation stand still, the Lord magically extended the night to become as long as one Night of Brahma––”

“How long is that?” Serena wondered.

“It is a Hindu unit of time lasting longer than 4 billion years––“

“You know the Indians are very good at math,” said Paterno. “That’s why so many of them go into Computer science. It probably isn’t hard for them to imagine a number like a billion, whereas the children from my village struggle––’

“It’s the British educational system,” said the priest.  “That, rather than anything intrinsic. It’s not that the subcontinent boasts some special DNA, Advanced Math DNA, it’s the British system: math under the Raj; that’s three hundred years of rigorous math instruction––taught in city and village alike.”

“But in that case, my dear man,” said the lady with the chaffing voice, (formerly she of the wide-brimmed hat), “Wouldn’t the British themselves be far better in math than they are? Is Silicon Valley flooded with green-card carrying Electrical Engineers from Britain? Hardly.”

“I want to hear the story,” wailed Serena. “What has mathematics to do  that with Krishna and the Gopis?”

Not unlike two schoolboys squirming in their seats during a particularly excruciating lesson in what is sometimes called  “Health,” Paterno and the priest giggled nervously and conspiratorially as Krishna took up the thread.

“So now, as any reader of Mary Poppins knows, the sacred dance, the cosmic dance, is danced in a circle. One night the Banks children sneak out to spy on Mary Poppins, and what do they see? Mary surrounded by animals dancing the Grand Chain.

"In the West there are many round dances danced for celebration. And there are somber round dances, like the dance that it is told the Savior danced with his followers when he was about to be arrested. They danced in a circle, chanting:

I will be saved
And I will save. Amen
I will be released
And I will release. Amen
I will be wounded
And I will wound. Amen
I will be born
And I will bear. Amen
I will eat
And I will be eaten. Amen

“You see, we Indians also have a familiarity with the, shall we say, more personal side of the British culture. It’s not only the math that we remember since the time of the Raj. We now know the British more intimately than we did when they ruled India. We know them through and through because we first met them in their nursery.

"In the nursery we knew them. And because we first met them there, and witnessed the early formation of their Harry Potters and their Christopher Robins, we understand them quite well. But now it is their turn, and the turn of you others in the West, to try and understand us a little better.

“So Krishna tried to get the Gopis to form a circle, but none of them wanted to stand apart from their Lord; to the contrary, they still clung to him with soft longing and sensuous devotion. So he told them to close their eyes, and by the magic of his touch, did he make each one believe that he was standing beside her. 

"And so he formed the circle of the dance. "

“A little magic. Not unusual for these archaic religions.”

“Yes, Father.

“Many were the nights that Krishna summoned the Gopis with his flute. When Krishna, who was himself sweetness and grace, played the flute, he was so bewitching that all of the women rushed to be with him, for none could resist–not even the wives of the gods.

Krishna’s flute playing truly moved the universe. Clouds drifted lower to be closer to him, plants swayed to his rhythms. All creation stopped and listened.

“It does sound a bit like Mary Poppins,” Serena said. “I mean the later books, when the children see the zoo animals dancing round her in a circle.”

“Wait for it,” said Carl.

“Magically Krishna stretched his arms out to all of the Gopis––“

“He sounds like Inspector Gadget,” ventured the priest.

“–––and stroked and embraced them, loosened their clothing, playfully fought them with his fingernails—”

“Fingernails! Oh my!” exclaimed she of the chaffing voice, beginning to laugh.

“And having roused them to the peak of anticipation, Krishna made love to each and every one of his followers, hundreds upon hundreds of women.

“So you see,” Krishna smiled. “There is some connection between Krishna and mathematics. For the question arises, whether one should try to quantify his amorous activities, or simply understand them as part of the infinite loving-kindness of the god.”

But if this last remark had been directed at Serena, she had fallen completely silent and did not respond.

“This is hard for mere mortals to understand,” said Chaffing Voice. “For mortals are defined by their limitations. How can they understand infinite kindness?”

“Well this isn’t exactly philanthropy as we know it,” said Carl.

“Philanthropy!” exclaimed Paterno. “This is an out and out orgy, plain and simple. Moreover it would be impossible for one male to satisfy so many females.”

“Not if he’s the Supreme Being,” sighed he priest. “I take it that’s the theological purpose of these scenes. But what a misguided––”

"Remember," said Krishna. "This is a tradition with which most of you are unfamiliar. Try to be open-minded, and think what the overall message of these scenes may be about."


No comments: