Liesbeth Pankaja, Bharata Natyam Dancer and historian
When I was twelve years old I fell in love with Indian dance. It has turned out to be a life-long love, still going strong today. My class went to a museum for a school trip and they screened the documentary movie Lord Shiva Danced (1948 UK), featuring Ram Gopal and his dancers. Seeing the hands of the dancer grow the lotus flower from the deep water of the pond, bringing alive bees hovering and circling to land and drink the nectar, was unforgettable.
Around the same time Indira Gandhi came to my country for a state visit. She also made a deep impression. As I saw her coming down the staircase from the airplane on the 8 o’clock news I also fell in love with the sari, with India and its beautiful culture.
At that moment I had been attending ballet class for many years already, ever since my mother enrolled me at age four. I loved to dance, but I was not build to be a ballerina. And it was only ten years later that I got the opportunity to learn Indian Dance. A friend told me about this Indian lady Rajamani who was living in Amsterdam and was teaching Bharata Natyam. From where I was living at the time, as a history major at Utrecht University, going to Amsterdam on a weekly basis was a huge investment and commitment at the time. To me it was worth it.
This was almost forty years ago. My life has been dedicated to India, Bharata Natyam, its history, its culture, its people. Why? Because I love, and my love is returned. India has given me so much. And I am longing to share what I have received.
My name is Liesbeth Pankaja Bennink. I am a Bharata Natyam dancer as well as historian. My father was a born yogi, and a great intellectual and master. He lived his life seeking knowledge and realisation. He was a truth seeker. My mother was a Theosophist and a dedicated social worker. She played a significant role in the development of Social and H&R work after the second world war. Without using words she taught me Dharma.
Like my parents I am a spiritual seeker. I have spend my life learning and living with many teachers. And studying and researching the many branches of Indian traditions and its ancient sciences. These are immeasurable treasures. There is so much they have to offer us. Just open our eyes and learn to see. There is no superstition in it, as we have been told in our schoolbooks and in academic publications. They are an ancient code for which we have lost the key.
As a Western, academically educated person I have come to understand the great rishis of the past were not superstitious and ignorant cave men and women. They were great visionaries and they created a treasure trove in the form of Veda and Vedanga. This they left for us to help us solve the mystery of life and the cosmos. If only we could see. Because it is all in code. This is what my gurus Raja Deekshithar and Smt Rajamani showed me. We have forgotten the key to the code. But it is all still around us. In the art, the architecture, the mythology, the ritual. Through understanding we can solve the many challenges humanity is facing.
I was privileged to learn to see all this. From the moment my mother took me to ballet class, all through the many years, till today, as I am sharing this with you. I experience the Nataraja energy through all my life, directing me, guiding me. It is not just for me, it has been given to me to share with all the world. For all.
It is also for Indian people to realise the value and beauty of their culture, after hundreds of years of attack and insult. And it is also for all the citizens of the planet. India offers us the only remaining unbroken connection to the ancient civilisations through living tradition of the past. I am grateful to India and its people, its saint and masters, for preserving this ancient knowledge. For resisting centuries of pressure and historical misfortune. Without all of you my life would have been empty and without purpose.
It has been a long and winding road. I first learned patience. Ten years it took from my first encounter with Indian dance to finding my first teacher. I had almost forgotten about this first love. Had long before shelved my search.
I also for a while was confused by the picture sketched by the news media and in documentaries. India as poor, ignorant, undeveloped, a mess. In academic literature it was a backward and superstitious land where all civilizing forces had come from outside. Aryans, Greeks, Moghuls, Britons. To my shame I have to tell you that as a trainee history teacher I even taught the Aryan Invasion Theory as a project for my class.
Listening to my dance guru Rajamani akka and at the same time reading the books from the Indological library it seemed as though they were talking about two completely different worlds that had nothing in common.
Later, spending valuable time with my guru Raja Deekshithar and his family in Chidambaram gave me another perspective and the confusing puzzle started falling into place. From the way I experienced life in India I realised there was no invasion at the roots of this amazing culture. The Aryan Invasion Theory was a hoax. I understood this from my intuition, but we needed hard evidence to refute this deeply established preconception. This set us out on several research projects. In those days it was slow going. No internet, no email, nobody else yet making this point.
Raja Deekshithar researched the history, theology and art of the Chidambaram Nataraja temple. What it means and what it stands for. The meaning of Shiva’s Cosmic Dance, the Akasha, the Indian Sphinx, astro-archeology and much more. I assisted and supported him throughout and learned everything I could. He showed me how everything is symbolically representing metaphysical concepts and is a code for higher knowledge and understanding.
Raja Deekshithar left his body in 2010. As I share his passion for the temple and the living tradition as a resource to understand and solve the challenges of today, now I carry forward his commitment to share his wealth of knowledge and wisdom. I have devoted myself to revealing, researching and teaching the amazing Indian heritage. I do this in collaboration with Raja’s three sons, Kandhan Raja Deekshithar, Jayakumar Raja Deekshithar and Sankar Raja Deekshithar.
What I learned from my teachers, from Raja Deekshithar, Rajamani, and the many others I had the privilege to learn with is meant to be shared. It is meant for you. The living traditions of India are an immeasurable resource to understand and solve the many challenges in our lives. And also to make our life meaningful through realisation and growth.
Among our many projects there is one which has great priority. It is the translation and publication of several significant texts relating to the doctrine of the Chidambaram temple.
I invite you to join me. Please support me and my team to make this ancient treasure accessible to all, devotees and scholars alike.
If you have any questions or requests, never hesitate. You can find me on Facebook.
You can read my articles HERE.
Or you can email me liesbethpankaja [at] gmail [dot] com