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Editorial Comments

Too often, written works about sacred spaces and well-known classical dance forms are presented carte blanche without the aid of theoretical support or explanation of any kind. Either devotees of these subjects seem to be expected to be schooled previously in relevant theorizing, or it is believed that the object under consideration (whether a garden, a dance, a temple ground, or a ritual) will be sufficiently impressive that it will override the necessity for explanation.

     These misconceptions blunt—even distort—a reader's participation in a dance form or a religious ritual, denying him or her the fullness of aesthetic and religious understanding that is available. Even seeing a danced performance of North Indian Kathak or South Indian Bharata Natyam does not provide the understanding of what is seen because to a large extent (whether we are aware of it or not), we see what we have been taught to see or what we have been told to see. Visiting a religious shrine or site does not itself provide sufficient understanding of what is there because we bring our preconditioning and our prejudices with us. How, then, can we come to know what 'sacred space' really means or how we might relate to it? How, for example, can we understand what guides and shapes the performances of a classical Indian dancer? This is the reason this issue of JASHM opens with Brenda Farnell's admirable essay "Metaphors We Move By."1

     Farnell's argument against George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's "kinesthetic image schema"2 is that it "restricts body movement to the role of an experiential, preconceptual precursor to spoken concepts" (italics added), leading to "the building of a conceptual system from which physical action is subsequently excluded." Farnell contends that in Lakoff and Johnson's theoretical constructs, "physical being and bodily actions have been denied the status of signifying acts and embodied forms of knowledge." She clearly states an alternative:

I maintain that if physical being and bodily movement are viewed as signifying acts or action signs instead of "basic physical experience," "motor programs" (Johnson 1987: xiv) or "motor movement" (Lakoff 1987: xiv), they can be seen to provide a medium other than speech that shares the conceptual stage and systematically employs metaphoric and metonymic conceptions. This implies that our imaginative capacity is not merely indirectly embodied, "since the [spoken] metaphors, metonymies and images are based on . . . bodily experience" (Lakoff 1987: xiv), but that our imaginative capacity is directly embodied because action signs themselves can be imaginative tropes, only some of which integrate with or are taken up in spoken language forms.

     In the second article, Gina Lalli discusses North Indian Kathak dancing and South Indian Bharata Natyam from the standpoint of her own personal quest, then as significant acts and embodied forms of knowledge. Although born in Binghamton, New York, Lalli is a classical Indian dancer who has spent her lifetime working on how emotion is embodied in two major Indian dance forms. She speaks of two great Bharata Natyam dancers—Gowri Ma and Balasaraswati—as embodiments of idealized aesthetic forms of classical Indian dancing. In writing about them, the author attempts to capture in words the identifying nature of the concepts of rasa and bhava: rasa being that which is the quality or the intrinsic feature of something that makes it what it is; bhava being the mood of devotion generated by the dancer to ensure the aesthetic experience of the audience. Lalli describes the components of two classical forms of Indian dancing, without which both dance forms are little more than a set of colorful, complicated calisthenics.

     Richard Stanley-Baker in his illuminating work on sacred space is unambiguous about signification and embodiment:

Here semiosis is invalidated by the nondual, nonempirical Subject state, the Buddha state. This is normally characteristic of all advaita or nondual traditions, since, in these expressions of truth, the immanent and nonempirical nature of the Subject state is understood to be beyond reification or a need to prove its existence.

He uses the phrase "nondual traditions" many times throughout his paper, drawing attention to the fact (as indeed, Farnell does) that in many Western philosophical traditions, dualisms of the mind, body, and spirit are either in-built or assumed.

     Both dancer (Lalli) and art historian (Stanley-Baker) emphasize the realities of 'sacred space': of the dancer's creating it (this is what classical Indian dancing is all about) and the objects (including bells, incense, flowers, flags, icons, and mandalas) and suitable actions that are meant to purify and sanctify the spaces into which the objects are placed. Both dancer and participants (audiences or devotees) are meant to experience the heightened fields of energy that are generated by the devotional activities involved.

     This is why a 'sacred space' is not the same as an 'ordinary space' and why it is not adequately defined simply by its geographical location. It is not a sacred space until it is invested by the increased energies of the activities that takes place within it—hence, Lalli's distinction between "the deva-dasi, the servant of God" and "the raja-dasi, the servant of the king." Stanley-Baker focuses on "the appeal to the senses in rites of various kinds because the earliest historical records of rituals have laid much emphasis on this aspect as a route to establishing the presence of the sacred." He also says,

In Kshemarāja's text, these "powers" which are manifested in the quotidian jīva (the individualized soul)3 are seen as the ritual means by which the quotidian state of the jīva is transformed into a sacred state or a higher level of consciousness (Kshemarāja 19904 and Shantananda 2003.5 Kshemarāja also identifies five elements of perception (tanmatras)—namely, sound (śabda), touch (sparśa), form (rūpa) (as that seen), taste (rasa), and smell (gandha)—as "abstract qualities which become perceptible only in material objects. Through these, the perfect formless Self makes known to itself a material world."

     The aim of this issue, then, is to make 'theory' as real to readers of this journal as it is to practitioners of classical dance forms and to scholars of religious traditions—not an easy task, as, for example, the accepted definition of 'theory' in many Western traditions of philosophy, linguistics, and the social sciences consists of (1) "the body of rules, ideas, principles and techniques that applies to a particular subject, especially when seen as distinct from actual practice"; (2) "abstract thought or contemplation"; or (3) "an idea or belief about something arrived at through speculation or conjecture" (compiled from several dictionary sources).

     The practices and performances that take place in the sacred and secular spaces described here by Farnell, Lalli, and Stanley-Baker challenge definitions that separate theory from practice in this way. The authors illustrate through ethnographic example how practitioners of movement systems and creators of sacred spaces are already and always working theoretically—that is, from a body of rules and principles specific to the genre and/or idiom they practice. Such embodied knowledge generates the dynamic forms that seem to appear and disappear within the movement practices we want to understand. These forms of knowledge and the creative processes that generate them are not usually visible, however, a fact that has serious implications for ethnographic observation and description (see essays in Farnell 1995 on the "visible and invisible" in movement and the dance).6 Adding to the complexity for audiences, devotees, and anthropologists alike, such embodied knowledge may not normally be articulated in words because it is created by means of spatial concepts, movement dynamics, sound, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic understandings; but these are, nevertheless, carefully delimited and understood by skilled practitioners and those who take the trouble to learn. Farnell, Lalli, and Stanley-Baker succeed in providing necessary and sufficient theoretical support and explanation of the sacred spaces and dancing they describe. We cannot fail to come away with fuller aesthetic and religious understanding.

The Editors


1 Originally published under the same name in Visual Anthropology 8 (2–4) (1996): 311–36, the essay is reproduced here with permission.

2 George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). Also see Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reasoning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) and George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

3 The term jīva refers simply to the state of being of the unenlightened 'soul' in this tradition, and this individuation, or deliberate descent from the Absolute, is attributed to the spontaneous will of the Self, a far cry from post-eighteenth-century Enlightenment definitions of the individual in Western tradition.

4 Kshemarāja, The Doctrine of Recognition: A Translation of

Pratyabijñā-hṛdayam with an Introduction and Notes by Jaideva Singh, foreword by Paul Muller-Ortega (New York: State University of New York, 1990).

5 Swami Shantananda, with Peggy Bendet, The Splendor of Recognition: An Exploration of the Pratyabhijna-hrdayam, a Text on the Ancient Science of the Soul (South Fallsburg, NY: SYDA Foundation, 2003).

6 Brenda Farnell, ed., Human Action Signs in Cultural Context: The Visible and the Invisible in Movement and Dance (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1995).



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