Nataraja or Shiva as Lord of the Dance is a very popular representation of Shiva in Hinduism. Personally, my favourite representation of life between all the symbols I’ve ever encountered.
Shiva appears mainly in two forms, two different dances; Lasya and Tandava. Lasya is the gentle form associated with the creation of the Universe, while the Tandava is the violent dance associated with its destruction. In reality, both are two aspects of Shiva’s nature, and also of the Universe. Nothing is ever complete or balanced without the existence of its opposite.
The symbolism of the Tandava, can be interpreted in many ways. It may show Shiva as the moving force of the universe and his five acts of creation, preservation, destruction, embodiment and release (of illusions).
The images are dynamic, Shiva dances in a ring of flames, the fire of existence; the hair in thin layers depicting the eternal movement and changes of life.In the image, Shiva is caught in the middle of the dance with one foot on the figure below (Apasmara or Mulayaka, the demon/dwarf) and one foot in the air. It is said that the figure is the embodiment of ignorance, the destruction of which is a pre-requisite to true wisdom and freedom.
Each of the objects he holds, or that are represented have their own meaning and might vary form image to image depending on the text used or interpretation.
Nataraja commonly appears holding Agni (fire) in his left hand; the front hand in dandahasta mudra (mudras are specific positions or gesture of the hands and body); the front right hand is in abhaya mudra (fear-not mudra) with a snake wrapped around it (a snake, again, as the representation of death and rebirth) while pointing to a Sutra text; and the back hand holding a musical instrument, usually a damaru (little drum) that with it’s rhythm reminds us of the incessant passing of time.
What remains constant is Nataraja as a representation of the creation and destruction that occurs in life, in the universe; where one cannot exist without the other. Polarities within ourselves that keep the pendulum swaying, that keep reality in motion. Birth, death, rebirth. The eternal cycle.
Nataraja reminds me about balance, about flowing with an open heart and mind, always keeping illusion, darkness and shadows as close to me as I want the light to shine on them.
This symbol gives me a sense of peace and stillness in the middle of chaos and movement, the wild dance of life.
It is my personal reminder that my real yearning and only purpose in this life and all others is true wisdom, the knowledge of the Self.
Art: A statue of Shiva engaging in the Nataraja dance at CERN (the European Center for Research in Particle Physics), Geneva, Switzerland. I think particle physics and Shiva Nataraja have a lot in common. 💜