Why Should We Learn a Cultural Art?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 66


Become an accomplished human being; soar into the fourth dimension. Artists experience mountaintop consciousness. Having their source in humble devotion to the Lord, Saiva cultural arts: singing, drama, dance, playing musical instruments and creative skills strengthen concentration and are a form of worship. Religious art is an expression of the soul nature, bringing the beauty of the within into manifestation.

Saiva Dharma Sastras, Chapter 24. Twelve Shum Meditations, Part 5. Seven Dimensions of the Mind.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone.

This morning we're reading from Path to Siva, Lesson 66.

"Why Should We Learn a Cultural Art?

"It is a great joy to listen to a fine singer or musician, or watch a gifted dancer perform. It is uplifting to see beautiful paintings by a devoted Saiva artist. It is enchanting to hear someone tell a story well. Each song, each art piece or performance is a gift to every devotee who experiences it. Gurudeva encouraged devotees to perfect a form of Saiva art, singing, drama, dance or a musical instrument. The ideal time to start is in childhood. He also praised the merits of learning a creative skill requiring the use of one's hands, such as pottery, sewing, weaving, painting, gardening, baking and the building arts. All these talents manifest creative benefits for family and community. There are so many options for each of us. You could learn a form of classical Indian dance. You could learn music, such as voice, vina, flute or drum. You may learn Sanskrit chanting or dramatic storytelling. You could become an expert at weaving flower garlands, writing poems, sculpting or carpentry. You can create kolam floor designs and other handmade decorations. You can perfect the art of cooking and prepare delicious prasadam dishes for festivals. Learning an art or skill takes hard work, willpower and dedication. These are strengths you can apply to everything you do. Each skill or art gives you new ways of uplifting your friends, family and community. These cultural and creative expressions are fulfilling to you as well. You become an accomplished human being. And if you learn something well, you can teach that skill to others. There are 64 cultural arts, or kalas, in Hindu tradition. In Saiva Dharma Shastras Gurudeva offered two contemporary lists, one for girls and one for boys."

And Gurudeva's quote:

"The Hindu enjoys all the facets of life as transmuted into a religious expression in art. The Hindu's art is a religious art--drawing, painting and sculpture of the Gods, the devas, and the saints of our religion. The music is devotional and depicts the tones of the higher chakras, echoes the voices of the Gods; and the dance emulates the movements of the Gods."

So, bring out a few points here.

First one is: "Learning an art or skill takes hard work, willpower and dedication. These are strengths you can apply to everything you do."

Said another way, it's easier to concentrate the mind when you're doing something than when you're sitting and meditating. It's much harder to concentrate it when you're sitting and meditating, therefore, focus on improving your concentration and the things that you do. That's a logical thing; you get your concentration as good as you can in what you're doing. So definitely, these type of activities, dancing, music, you have to be so precise for every step or every musical note, it strengthens concentration quite a lot.

Sixty-four cultural arts or kalas. Tell a story about kala. There's a kala mandapam in Kuala Lumpur at the Murugan Temple. Scott Road Murugan Temple in Kuala Lumpur. Their cultural hall is called Kala Mandapam so quite often we give presentations there and so I tried a joke once. Not very many people understood it. I said: "This is the kala mandapam. But if you find my talk boring it'll become the kaala mandapam." So kaala is time, right? and kala is culture. So, if my talk is boring instead of kala it'll be kaala, right? It'll seem like it's taking a long time to get through the talk. Become the kaala, kala mandapam from kaala. So a few people got it but making a joke to a group whose first language isn't English is very difficult. Then you have the American accent to deal with too.

This is some, Gurudeva's introduction to the 64 kalas in the "Saiva Dharma Sastras" that's made reference there.

"The 64 kalas are a classical curriculum of sacred sciences, studies, arts and skills of cultured living listed in various Hindu sastras. These are among the skills traditionally taught to both genders, while emphasizing masculinity in men and femininity in women. And here are the 64 kalas for girls, as presented in Himalayan Academy followed by kalas for boys. (Gurudeva says:) I have updated several of the kalas for our times. This too is a process of culture, for culture is not unchanging. It does shape itself to the present conditions of life..."

An important point. The first five kalas are the same for girls and boys.

"1) Understanding the Nandinatha Sutras and living up to them, 2) studying the Tirukural to acquire the qualities (in this case) of the noble woman, 3) perfecting hatha yoga, 4) singing, 5) playing the tambura and cymbals."

Then we, not going to read all 64, that would be too tedious but gonna do seven more.

For girls:

"...Dancing (is 6), 7) art work, painting, 8) decorating the forehead with religious insignia, 9) jewelry crafting, 10) decorating the bed with flowers, 11) application of perfume to the body, 12) art of bedmaking..."

And we have some for the boys:

"...6) atmartha puja performance, 7) art work, painting, 8) decorating the forehead with religious insignia, 9) pottery crafting, 10) structuring an office, 11) office management, 12) art of negotiation..."

Gives the sense of how Gurudeva updated them for current times.

Yet in terms of culture we have a nice definition in our Himalayan Academy Lexicon to contrast it, the opposite of culture is:

Crude: "Raw. Not prepared or refined. Lacking grace, tact or taste. Uncultured."

[Culture:] "Development or refinement of intellect, emotions, interests, manners, and tastes. The ideals, customs, skills and arts of a people or group that are transmitted from one generation to another. Culture is refined living that arises in a peaceful, stable society. Hindu culture arises directly out of worship in the temples. The music, the dance, the art, the subtleties of mannerism and interaction between people all have their source in the humble devotion to the Lord, living in the higher, spiritual nature, grounded in the security of the immortal Self within."

And then Gurudeva makes a statement about culture:

"Sadhana allows us to live in the refined and cultured soul nature rather than in the outer instinctive or intellectual spheres."

So that's the deepest way of looking at culture, for a Hindu is it's an expression of the soul nature. Whereas crudeness would be an expression of instinct coupled with some intellect. So the more we refine it, the more we express our soul natrure in our actions, the more cultured we are from a Hindu point of view.

One of the types of articles I enjoy reading are when we put in articles from dancers in Hinduism Today. They always talk about how they've been practicing dance for so many years, probably ten years or more, how it brought them closer to the Deity. It's a very interesting idea that dance, it's not an expression of emotion, it's a form of worship really. Just like performing puja but it's done in a different way. So through the practice of dance over the years they've gotten closer to God. Oh, very, very interesting to read about that in the lives of people cause they weren't that religious when they started and that just kind of drew them to a sense of being closer to God.

So that's my first point here: Dancing, singing, musical instruments can take you closer to the Deity. And then said another way: Bring you temporarily into the consciousness of the higher chakras. That's another way of saying the same thing. So, it's a temporary way of uplifting yourself up into the higher chakras.

So in our teachings we call this first higher chakra: Experiencing the fourth dimensions. So I'll read about the fourth dimension. Says the last topic here:

"From the vantage point of the fourth dimension we can view the building of emotional involvements within the third dimension, observing the workings of the emotional and intellectual units of ourselves and others. From this detachment we gain the ability to dissolve confusions, conflicts and the various and varied entanglements that are encountered daily.

"In the fourth dimension, the first glimmer of inner light within the head is seen. It is usually a pale, moon-like glow seen at the top of the head. This dimension gives us a 'mountaintop consciousness' that looks over, in and through everything and gives the facility to enjoy and participate fully in the world while knowing at all times exactly where we are in the mind. (Then it gets more, closer to what we were talking about.) Artists are in the fourth dimension. Each time you designed or created anything, you were bringing the beauty of the within through your nerve system into manifestation. It is a beautiful place to be, and you can be there all of the time by feeling the power of your spine. The minute you feel that radiant energy in the spine you are disconnected from the third dimension and soar into the fourth."

Thank you very much.

Have a wonderful day.

Photo of  Gurudeva
Ahimsa is the first and foremost virtue, presiding over truthfulness, nonstealing, sexual purity, patience, steadfastness, compassion, honesty and moderate appetite.
—Gurudeva