In Rajasthan, an ancient spiritual and cultural tradition of fire dancing continues to draw huge crowds to hundreds of private family events, fairs and festivals with the Rajasthan Tourism Department, Jasnathi Peeth (spiritual centers) including its headquarters in Jasnath’s home town of Katriyasar, and to Shri Jasnath Asan for its bi annual mela in October and February. The famous Siddha fire dance began in the 15th century when founder and vitarag (enlightened human, Boddhisattva) Shridev Jasnath was alive. His yoga was for the welfare of the world, advocating for a continued connection to Nature. His messages about non-violence and protection of the environment spread through the Siddha and Nath sects giving rise to many faery groups (roaming musicians), who traveled throughout the region singing sabad (spiritual verses from Jasnath) and dancing, to transmit the wisdom of environmentalism.
Rajasthan was rich in its cultural wealth, though the lifestyle was and continues to be difficult in and around the Thar Desert. Despite that, the inhabitants incorporated and protected song, music, and dance in their daily life as did many other traditions throughout India. The Rajasthani sainted Mira Bai used dance as a form of worship and meditation on Krishna, attaining enlightenment and ultimately absorption into the Christ-mind or bodh field of cosmic love. In Buddhism there were 84 siddhas who danced their prayers, as mentioned in the Tibetan Bodh tradition. We can speculate that Jasnath, seeing and understanding dance as a form of art and expression linking inner spirit with community and cosmos, devised an experience that brought communities together to hear important, healing words of wisdom, while being transfixed on whirling dancers and deep drumming so their minds could be carried by a new climate, momentarily drawing them away from their own memories and worries, and into the flickering flames, into the odor of burning coconut, fire, and sugar.
Unlike contemporary dance forms which focus more on expression and entertainment, ancient dance was used as a tool to celebrate, or to preserve cultural knowledge and traditions, or to emulate the powers of destruction and creation. Erika Di Crescenzo, Artistic Director of Centre Daiva Jyoti in Turin, a space dedicated to the intersection of theatre, arts, and yoga, sympathizes with the need of purposeful, spiritual art experiences. “In Italy today the emphasis on the sacred character of art is considered outdated. Dance has been commodified by a society that consumes entertainment. The consequence of this reduction is the manufacturing of works lacking vital charge, a soul, and purpose. These works are incomprehensible to those seeking nourishment for their soul, a reflection of themselves on the stage, or an avenue of self-expression. Most consumers of entertainment seek to distract themselves, to numb the cravings of existential questions. The fire dance I witnessed at Shri Jasnath Asan is art in the truest sense. It has been safeguarded for centuries so the history and memories of the Siddhas and their followers could live and heal again indefinitely. It is a treasure chest of symbols and magical formulas used to transform reality, even for a few hours. My wish is that it is protected from any form of corruption, commercial or otherwise.”
Scientists today are beginning to study and prove the sight and sound techniques that Shridev Jasnath brought together in one event to heal his followers and their environment. He mesmerized the audience with a focused attention meditation (FAM) on the flames as the primary focal point, while dancers spun around in close periphery. The design of the dance was not arbitrary, it mimicks the anatomy of the eye. The pupil captures the flame in sharp focus in its sight line, while the iris dilates the pupil to accommodate the image of the flame in the darkness of the night. Light cannot pass through the iris. While one gazes at the flame, everything but the white clad dancers in the periphery disappears.
Come to Shri Jasnath Asan and experience the healing effects of the sacred Siddha Fire Dance.
Excerpted from the upcoming publication ‘Yogecology: Spirit in the Soil’ by Surajnath Siddh & Shreejan Sita, due out Spring 2022