Priestesses of God
What is dance?
For many in this world, dance is a way to get rid of unnecessary stress, to
reveal oneself and to be in touch with one’s body. The quality of this skill can grow over time
and move to a new level. When an amateur turns into a professional and gets the status of a
master who is capable of surprising and teaching, they become recognized by society. This is
where the socialization and monetization of creativity takes place and in addition to a source of
inspiration, dance becomes a source of income.
Have you ever wondered what dance was for our ancestors? For ancient and syncretic tribes
and communities who had no idea about capitalism and new technologies? Living in one single
collective consciousness, one breath, believing in one, even if invisible and inaccessible - God.
Carl Jung is a famous psychologist, philosopher and experimenter who has devoted his entire
life to the study of the human psyche and the “transcendental abyss”, which according to his
anthropological research manifests itself only for true God-seekers and charmers. He believed
that behind any person and their inner self, there is a deity who speaks another language.
What language do they speak? Have you ever been able to hear them or be heard by them?
Each of us speaks this language, but to a different degree. Unfortunately, some people do not
even know about their abilities and remain dumb strangers on earth.
This language is symbolic and mythological. It is often unknown to us due to its
unconsciousness. The speaker of this language is the human body.
The tool that analyses what is happening around and inside us is our brain. Our body is its
continuation or its appendage. Having evolved into the second signalling system, we stepped
from the sphere of sensations to the sphere of semiotics - we began to speak, attach meaning,
generalize, however, we forgot that our body is able to speak without words. Our body can have
its own individual language that tells more than a word – it is able to speak by sensations and
about sensations ...
The female body and the male body are 2 different conversations. And first of all 2
different conversations with the body.
If we consider the physiology of the female body, we will notice the following features:If we consider the physiology of the female body, we will notice the following features:
- the female body has more curves
- the female body is androgynous (it has 2 genitals)
- the female body is reproductive, it is the repository and birthplace for another body
- the female body is soft
- the female body is flexible
- the female body is sensual and multifaceted
- ovum is the largest cell in the human body. And usually spermatozoids run towards the ovum and not vice versa.
These are, of course, not the only facts. An important difference is that the woman's body,
clearly superior in aesthetic design, is both attractive and charming: it beckons and drives
others/those around it crazy with its sexuality, while its ability to bear children endows the
female body with an aura of protection and peace: it is safe here.
For example, women in Indian culture are the one who shines (Skt. - devi), adorns, she is
a goddess who brings light, knowledge and feelings about the world. The woman who transmits
the beauty of the world through the arts, especially through the skill of dance, was called
Being "here and now" both masculine and feminine at the same time (Ardhanarishvara) helped
devi to get rid of her earthly identity. Her body became a vessel where, through special ritual
acts and passes, energy of a higher order was invited, the energy of a completely different
frequency - the divine aspect. Depending on which aspect was invited into the body - the body
itself, and the cult and the recitation were selected. Also clothing, jewellery and body positions
during the dance.
For instance, in Egyptian culture, such devis were called "spouses of God". Chosen women
devoted almost all their life to comprehend the arts: playing musical instruments and singing.
The dancers were called "ibaat", they were Egyptian acrobats who entertained the pharaoh and
worshiped the Gods through body games.
When such a special woman danced, the dance became sacred.
A woman in Hinduism is also the bearer of "anangu" - a special kind of energy, which in
Western culture is similar to libido: female sexual energy that is resting in the breast and also
the ability to give birth to a child. Anangu is both dangerous and blissful at the same time.
Whenever it is under control, it gives the object a special sacred meaning. The potential
diversity of female sacred energy determines the changeability of a woman and her psychic
nature. There are various aspects of female essence that are manifested not only during her
dance, but also her daily life. Each state of her essence presupposes a certain behaviour, which
means a ritual, and therefore a movement.
Ananga is also associated with places of orgasmic, sacred dances.
The perception of a woman as a carrier of sacred energy is characteristic of Indian culture in
general. Her body is a symbol, her dance is the language of symbols. In addition to it, the
female body also acts as an erotic gnosis.
By improvising, the dancer creates her own aesthetic sphere of space and time due to internal
dynamics and complex performativity, while staying on the verge between perception and
action. The movement-posture is a denotation that helps to penetrate into the sphere of new
sensations or states, enter into a trance, experience a transcendental mystical experience and
exaltation and eventually to change your consciousness. In the current act both the dancer and
the spectator wins.
In dance - as a creative act of birth - there are no firm boundaries between the human and the divine (demonic a priori).
Hindu mythology is replete with legends about gods transforming into humans, and vice versa. It
resembles a space game or the game of relay races - from start to finish, from finish to start.
The metaphor of uprooting the demonic within oneself and cultivating light is more than just a
metaphor in the scriptures. Gods, demons and people are constantly changing places: demons
disguise themselves as people to wreak havoc, and the gods descend to earth to save
humanity. Fairy tales, but not completely ...
Drama, that is, dance, is a means of self-knowledge, an intense religious experience. The
movements in such a dance not only depict a deity, but rather than embody them/it. And this is
a big difference between "dance now" and "dance then".
For example, in Hindu ritual dramas, gods and demons are forced, called upon to actually be
present on the stage.
The human body is the ideal instrument for music and dance. While moving, it can evoke an
ideal aesthetic experience of beauty. The central meaning of a moving body in the concepts of
beauty in Hinduism is evidenced by the etymology of the word theatre, which comes from the
word dance: natya, nrtya, nrtta - all these words are associated with the word “dance”
"Natyashastra" - the so-called Indian "5th Veda", being an addition to the 4 existing ones, is the
sacred book, which, according to legend in the era of Kali-yuga, was given to people by the
gods so they could go beyond their ego through creativity – through dance; while watching,
performing it and learning the craft. A certain position of the arms, legs and the combination of
steps gives the body and soul a taste - an aesthetic emotion (rasa) - which causes
"chamatkara" - aesthetic delight or ecstasy.
The art and ability of the body in a state of IP (altered consciousness) elevates us above
practical interests. And thus, castes that did not have time to engage in their spiritual
development could make up for this loss by coming to temples and being saturated with
spirituality through the bodies of such dancers-guides, who were called devadasis in India. This
experience, which was given to people by devadasis and similar priestesses of God in other
cultures, is unparalleled and their dance was not performed anywhere except on a special stage
in temples and palaces.
The image of apsaras (hymn "Rigveda") had a great influence on the emergence of devadasi.
Apsaras are dancers at the court of King Indra, who delight the inhabitants of heaven. According
to legends such apsaras were sent to earth by King Indra to seduce ascetics. Apsaras in
Sanskrit literature are often described in terms connecting them to temple dancers -
devaganika, devavesya, which means "divine courtesan", "heavenly courtesan."
Many devadasis associated their origin with the apsaras, calling themselves "earthly
courtesans", or "martya veshya". The theme of apsaras is present in the Assamese dance
"Apsara-sabah", which is performed by women with loose hair in a circle and invoke apsaras.
The mythological image of the apsara had a strong influence on the temple dance culture in
Hinduism. In a number of plots, the dance of the apsara in front of the ascetic even causes rain,
being a cult of fertility.
Temple feminine staff went to their king at certain times of the year to praise him and enhance
his strength through dancing and singing. And that was the social duty of the devadasi. Such
consolidation was encouraged by rich gifts, even chariots and gold.
Glorification with body language contributed to the abundance of the ruler and success in his
Over time, under the influence of the patriarchy, the activities of devadasi gradually lost their
status of highly qualified, and the service began to take on an additional character. If at the
beginning of the Chol period (from the 11th century) the devadasis were still daughters of God,
then later they received the status of wives. Probably, this was due to the fact of the synthesis of
the palace and the temple, as a ritual locus.
From the 16th century, devadasis are perceived as the wives of a deity, which was influenced
by tantra. At that time, Vaishnuism consolidated the Shakta’s concepts of the feminine principle
by the fact that according to Vaishnuism, its adherents, regardless of gender, are considered his
Some Europeans wrote that there were 2 classes of Devadasis. The first ones belonged to the
temples of Vishnu and Shiva and had a solitary way of life, the second ones had a free lifestyle
and were associated with deities of a lower rank. Both of them owned the art of abhinaya (facial
expression). The devadasi dance was also a way of releasing the dancer's special energy that
was needed by society. For Europeans and Christians at that time, it was easier to call such
enchantresses prostitutes. Western conservative culture never understood the close
relationship between dance and sex. Within the framework of Shaktism, the Devadasi dance
symbolized "maithuna" - ritual sex.
With the colonization and strengthening of the power of Europeans in India, patronage of the
temple arts weakened and were desecrated, and the palace-temple itself became an armoury.
Initiation in the form of marriage to a temple deity is a characteristic feature of devadasis. This is
what made her a dancer. Symbolic marriage made a woman "nityasumangali": she could no
longer become a widow and became the goddess Shakti. She, unlike women from other castes
(non-dancers) was allowed a full sexual life: having several partners, having children outside of
marriage was not condemned.
In the Chola period, the devadasis adopted many elements of the brahmana way of life. You
could say they were creative "sannyasins in the skirt". Over the silk sari they wore a cord -
yajnopavitam, which the brahmanas wore under their clothes. Devadasi-Shivaites, unlike others,
were credited with wearing only Rudraksha.
In terms of practicing it was forbidden for devadasi to rehearse in front of the mirror. The
dancer's task is to learn to feel the dance from the inside with her whole body; to see her dance
without a mirror. The dancer was also required to know several ancient languages so that she
could understand the lyrics, as well as knowledge of mythology and religious texts. But,
surprisingly, the dancers have never studied Natyashastra itself.
In addition, devadasi decorated the temple worship (chitra) with her presence and dance. Over
time, her service took on a decorative character. Devadasi’s main goal was to appear beautiful
before God and to become a "column of suleyar".
Usually the status of devadasi was inherited. Otherwise, getting into this caste was considered a
very prestigious and revered event for the girl herself and her family.
An astrologer was invented during the selection of the "newcomers" in order to look at the girls
and to determine the predisposition to the skill of being "a dancer for God."
The temple dancers entertained the statue-like God (his earthly gross forms) with their dances.
While living in large and wealthy temples in pre-colonial India, dancers did not need provision,
as these priestesses were highly respected and supported by society. During the colonial
period, temple dancing began to be reviled and associated with debauchery. In the end, they
were transformed into the well-known classical types of dance - odissi, bharatanatyam and
others. Odissi is the most ancient of them.
And here the question arises - if then dance served as a means for comprehending God, then
what is it now?
Bhakti means unconditional love of a person for God, devotional service in Hinduism. The
dance here is darshan or mutual contemplation - you are watching God, and God is watching
you and himself. Devotion is exactly what happens to people when they come with faith in God
and to God. Dancing is a way to remember where you came from, it helps to make God present
in the literal sense of the word. Making a "descent" (avatar) into the body - He begins to be
visible on Earth - He dances.
"Devata nacana" or "possession" ritual was practiced in the central Himalayas. It helped spirits
to enter people’s bodies and was a kind of compulsion of the gods to dance.
An important technical skill in temple dance is "stasis" - a state of calmness, freeze, immobility.
It reflects the idea that everything in the world moves, but only the Absolute that is playing the
role of the foundation remains in place. Only due to Absolute further dynamics can occur. No
stasis - no movement. This is the starting point from where the march takes place through
attention. Therefore, an important technical skill in the dancer's body is the acquisition of the
correct form without movement: the position of the spine, pelvis, feet - the pose from which the
dancer lives, from which the dancer starts to move. If this is a correct position, it will not let you
slip into anxiety and imbalance. The strength of the body also plays an important role here.
Stillness is an effective way of depicting the Absolute. Everything necessary can be found in
Dance in its sacred concept was also associated with a good harvest, financial success and the
fulfillment of all sorts of intentions. In addition to the body itself, the dancer also used objects
symbolizing the character of the deity - "wakhana", weapon, plant, decoration ... For example, in
the Indian ritual that is called “saraddh” - the dancer used an arrow with an iron tip that shown
the bravery and boldness of the Pandava. The same item also helped to enter into a trance. The
moment of possession could also occur when the dancer looked at her own face in the mirror
and the face was disguised as God’s.
The dance in a mask is considered a divine dance because it is believed that masks are
vessels of divine power.
Of course, social space is an important part of the show. The readiness and preparedness of
the consciousness of society to perceive dance at the level of ritual is important. Thus, the
reification (materialization of the abstract) of God through the skill of movement and the human
the body is not only aesthetic but also religious and sociocultural in nature - not every person today is ready to consider and perceive dance from this point of view.
The ritual means that "it has always been done this way", however, what is more interesting -
the ritual itself is quite contradictory in its nature. It ultimately serves as a powerful means for
transformation (creation/preservation/destruction) of your own self, relationships, and
communities, requiring participants to publicly agree with the cultural concept. Ritual
performances integrally create identities, feelings of your own self, and a sense of community.
Through the dance, the dancer's body is capable of conveying a state, a common memory not only of her generation but also of all mankind. Being an embodied practice some ritual movements can be quite accessible for everyone to perform. Why? Because the body itself is a priori created for movement, which means dance. Certain movements have become common to all cultures by being used by the human body over and over again. The same applies to mythology and cosmology.
And here's an interesting fact: ritual is not a matter of routine operation or habit, however, it still
can be spontaneous. And spontaneity in dance is improvisation. This function presents the body
as "the locus of coordination of bodily, social and cosmological experience." Thus, the body that
is most predisposed to conduction, which produces a certain socio-cultural situation, can
dominate in comparison with other bodies. And here, while talking about gender, it is the female
body that again dominates.
Through the practice of the ritual, bodies are willing to form and change. The ritual helps to
In the Indian tradition, the arts helped to form social support of religion. A comprehensive
system of movement preservation took place. For example, temples in India are a visual aid for
learning dance and comprehending the sacred design. Art was practiced as a profession.