“Wisdom and compassion are our birthright,” says Prema Dasara. The worldrenowned creator and teacher of sacred dance will guide participants in reclaiming this birthright at her weekend workshop, Dance in the Mandala of Tara, 7 to 9 p.m. March 14, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., March 15 and 16, at the Zen Shinji Centre, in Austin. She will teach the unique form of transformational dance, which she offers worldwide as a prayer for peace, protection and empowerment.
Dasara’s journey into the Divine Feminine began at an early age. “As a small child, I offered to serve the Divine,” she says. “I had no idea of the circuitous path upon which I would be led, but nonetheless, my wish has been granted.”
Parallel to these aspirations, Dasara trained in ballet, later abandoning its formalities to dance on her own as a personal expression in nature, just like her idol, Isadora Duncan, did. In the 1970s, she devoted herself for six years to the study of classical Indian temple dancing, learning Sanscrit and classical Indian music to deepen her understanding of the Hindu culture. “At the Theosophical Headquarters where I lived, I was able to fully engage in the study of comparative religions, universal brotherhood and the powers latent in the human mind,” Dasara says.
The melding of spirituality and dance continued when she settled in Hawaii and became a student of the Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, Lama Sonam Tenzin. He encouraged her to deepen her sacred dance work, which culmi-nated in the creation of the Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara, a group ritual based on the profound mind training practices from the Tibetan tradition. “This is not an ordinary dance. It is a true dharma practice capable of generating blessing, merit and wisdom,” said Lama Tenzin at the time.
Dasara has offered this dance to many revered teachers around the world, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who called it wonderful and encouraged her to share the practice more and more widely as a powerful vehicle for inner transformation. Dasara continued to enrich her practice by studying Nepalese Charya dance studies, Tibetan Lama dancing at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and sacred Balinese dances from the Queen of Peliatan in Bali. As hers is a living tradition, Dasara continually develops the practice to reflect new insights and inspirations. Each workshop gives her an opportunity to refine and deepen the dances.
In the Austin workshop, Dasara will be teaching two dances centered around the goddess Tara. In Sanskrit, Tara means star, and we find her name echoed in a variety of mythologies. The Tarahumara, a tribe of indigenous people in the South America Jungles, call to the Great Goddess. Ishtar and Astarte also echo her name, as well as Terra, the Latin for Mother Earth. The Druids called their mother goddess Tara, and an ancient sage of Finland refers to women of wisdom as Tar. Still today, Tara is a great Mother Goddess for the Hindus. For the Tibetans, Tara is not only a Goddess with many powers but a fully enlightened being, or Buddha, that is no longer caught in the cycle of birth and death.
Tara’s enlightened qualities and activities serve in these practices as an inspiration and catalyst to awaken our own enlightened nature. In the Tibetan tradition, a devotional practice is not idol worship of an external entity, but an homage to our own enlightened potential. The purpose of embodying the deity in the dance is to connect with our innate wisdom, compassion and power in the here and now, and to connect with each other in a more authentic way in the sacred space of a dance circle. Visualizing others as the goddess is a skillful means of recognizing the Divine in every being.
The Dances in the Mandala of Tara also include environmental awareness through a healing of the elements of earth, air, fire, water and space. Dasara offers a remote retreat center on the island of Maui where she lives in the heart of the elemental world, and her work reflects her own physical environment. She is connected not only to the natural world and to her students and teachers, but is also the founder of Tara Dhatu which, in addition to sponsoring dance rituals, engages in pilgrimages, citizen diplomacy and online educational programs, as well as a number of humanitarian projects in Nepal.