Monday, Jan. 27, 1958


SIVA, the Creator-Destroyer of Hinduism's trinity, once stood on a demon and with one of his four arms began to shake a little hand drum. To the beat of this rhythm Siva moved his body, and with his movement the world took shape; he danced on and on until creation was completed.

Always and almost everywhere, dancing has accompanied religion. The Egyptians danced for their sacred bull, and the Babylonians danced in their temples and processions. King David "danced before the Lord with all his might" (11 Samuel 6:14), and the Old Testament Hebrews danced in their vineyards on the Day of Atonement. The Greeks danced in honor of Apollo, of Pan, of Artemis, and in the ecstatic mysteries of Dionysus. In Islam, the Mevlevi dervishes still dance in patterns designed to expound cosmic laws as well as to achieve a state of inner peace.

Religious dancing has all but died out in the Christian West—probably the last to use it regularly are the all-but-extinct Shakers. But, as shown on these pages, among the peoples of Asia dancing is still an organic and important part of religion; each step and gesture, even a finger's tilt, may be loaded with metaphysical meaning. Costumes are designed according to ancient and elaborate convention: in a classic Indian dance drama called Kathakali, the makeup alone often takes from early morning until late in the afternoon. The music accompanying dancers in the East ranges from the Kathakali's ceaseless thunder of drums (the drummers work in relays) to the Burmese Zat Pwé orchestra of a dozen varied instruments—teakwood xylophones, ivory horns, cymbals, Whether the dances tell stories of the gods, as do the Kathakali, seek to divine answers, like Burma's spirit dancers, or combat evil, like Ceylon's Devil dancers, the worshipers of the East continue Siva's sacred swaying.