Mystics and saints in India have sought through song and dance to help ordinary people to sense the presence of the soul within, over the centuries. They did not utilize theological dialectic, esoteric philosophical conundrum, demanding yogic meditative practice or incomprehensible discourses to do so. They sought simply to move the heart of peasant and king alike, to feel and sense mystically what was for ordinary folk something beyond their understanding.

The Bhakti (worship through devotion and love) movement of the sixteenth century became the vehicle for passing on such difficult concepts to every hearth and home, taking the land by spiritual storm. The songs of the great mystic poet-saints of the period – Tulsi ( philosopher – poet), Sur (blind musician), Raidas (cobbler), Kabir ( weaver, muslim mystic), Mira (princess turned mendicant), Guru Nanak (founder of the Sikh faith), Bulle Shah ( Sufi poet), Shankaracharya ( Vedantic scholar and sage), Ramanujan (Philosopher poet) and a host of others, carried the concepts through poetry and devotional songs to the masses. The songs became as popular as  Bollywood hits are today and are widely sung and heard morning and evening right to this day. Difficult concepts, carried on the wings of faith and emotion, became a part of popular folk music through soul-stirring renditions in verse.

A song for instance spoke of a man searching for the divine, looking everywhere in places of worship and pilgrimage centres but found Him nowhere, till he sat quietly dejected at home and suddenly found Him glowing in his heart. Another song speaks of a musk deer roaming the forest relentlessly in search of the heady aroma, wondering where it was coming from, little knowing that the musk was indeed within him. Kabir in his poem sang of his great amusement that the fish was thirsty though immersed in water. Raidas in his songs tells God that He is the sandalwood paste and Rai is the water, together fragrant or that Rai is the wick on which the lord is the flame, that Rai is the thread on which the Lord as a pearl is strung. All similes and metaphors conveying that the Universal spirit, through the soul, was within the individual and all he needed to do was to  seek him there.

Like the poet saints, temple and court dancers in the classical traditions of Bharatnatyam (Tamil), Kuschpudi (Orrisa), Kathakali (Kerala), and the Mughal Kathak (entire north India) sought to convey the same message through movement, gesture (Mudra) and stylized eye movements. Folk dancers, village theatre, pantomime. puppetry and bardic couplets conveyed the same esoteric message simplified through the means of entertainment. Today Gurus, seers, yogis and Swamis address vast congregations assisted by television and the media to convey the same message of the presence of the soul within through analogy and metaphor.

This concludes our first exercise in exploring the concept of the soul, albeit as understood in India, the land of the spirit. We shall now retrace our steps and take another path to discover what it signifies in other traditions and for New Age thinkers.