In the early 1900’s the world-famous sculptor Auguste Rodin was observed at a museum in Madras, India performing various yogic poses as he stood in front of a statue of Nataraja (Shiva performing a cosmic dance – shown here). In fact, Rodin was nearly arrested for performing his strange contortions as the local Indian patrons and the museum guards looked on in horror, at the strange foreign man – who was moved to tears by the statue – deforming himself publicly.
This is the story told by V. S. Ramachandran in chapter 8 of his book, The Tell-Tale Brain. In this chapter, Ramachandran explores the brain systems that underlie our aesthetic experiences – the aesthetic jolt – as experienced by an enraptured Rodin, at the sight of the dancing Shiva. There is much brain science and biology at work here (more posts to come).
For the moment though, just consider how deeply moved was Rodin by Shiva’s physical forms. He wrote a poem, “The Dance of Shiva“ (covered here). A master sculptor, and expert on human anatomy, Rodin’s poem reveals his deep sense of bones and musculature and is even echoed today by yoga instructors who prompt students to remain strong and poised while softening the face and emotions. He declared the dancing Shiva, “the perfect embodiment of rhythmic movement”!
Wow! Who would have thought that one’s ongoing voyage into yoga – often practiced as a slow rhythmic dance of shifting postures – could end up, not just in better physical and mental health, but as a living, breathing form of “high art”! These are my favorite lines:
The human body attained divinity in that age, not because
we were closer to our origins … but because we believed in freeing ourselves completely
from the constraints of now, and we spun away into the
heavens. It is a pleasure sorely missed…
Ramachandran explores the brain circuitry that we use when we feel the ecstasy of an aesthetic jolt – the kind that leaves us “spinning away into the heavens”. Its an ability we all have – to feel free – & I hope I can learn to tap into it. Yoga – with its bizarre and exotic forms – and meditation may provide a means to explore this aspect of life.