Nataraj Express

Journey to the Self

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Seahorses are extraordinary creatures. The only animal in the world whose male counterpart gives birth. They have always been associated with good fortune, and even sailors since immemorial times have used their symbol as a lucky charm to wear or decorate their vessels.

The Greeks called this creature Hippocampus (horse-sea-monster). They were the companions of the God Neptune, they pulled his chariot. They also accompanied Poseidon for the Romans, and were said to be the fastest animals in the ocean. Mythical creatures, half horse, half fish, that accompanied the Great Sea Gods.

Seahorses mate for life, so they are also a symbol of companionship, loyalty and honour.

The name Hippocampus is also how we call the part of our brains that store memory, therefore, seahorses have long been associated with History, as keepers of the past, of the mysteries, of the knowledge of all times.

Some of the oldest myths tell the stories of sailors being saved by seahorses, mermaids and other submarine creatures. This gives them symbolically the meaning of guides and also, they represent the intuition that lets us navigate the deep waters of our subconscious minds.

Seahorses are able to move each eye independently, they are able to see clearly in every direction and that’s why we also relate them to the symbology of foresight and wisdom. Intuition, perspective, seeing all sides of a situation are other symbolic meanings of seahorses. 

In the Far East, they carry the same meaning as sea dragons. For Chinese and Eastern mythology, they symbolise power, fortitude, regeneration.

In Scandinavian folklore they mention the Havhest (sea-horse), a giant Sea Serpent with the head of a horse and a double lobe tail of a fish. It was known to breathe fire and get into battles with other sea-creatures, giving it a strong meaning of protection and fighting for one’s own truth.

These small animals move very slowly. Using only their tail both as a navigation tool and as an anchor, they must be careful and patient while navigating the vastness of the ocean. Patience, persistence and calmness are also other symbolic meanings associated with them.

Seahorses are mysterious, beautiful creatures. To be able to see one in the wild is one of the greatest experiences one could ever have; face to face with Nature and how perfectly everything exists for a reason.

Image: National Geographic

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Shiva Nataraja

Image result for shiva nataraja CERN

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. 💜

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Snakes represent in many myths, religions and stories, death, rebirth and transformation, due to the casting of its skin. It is continually renewed, shifting a layer of its physical self in order to adapt. 

The Ouroboros, the snake or dragon eating its own tail, is one of the oldest ancient symbols. It represents many things, all of which are based in the idea of the cyclical and eternal return. Something re-creating itself over and over again.

In Egypt it represents the world’s periodic renewal and the cyclical nature of the year, along with other myths involving Ra and Osiris.

For ancient antiquity and Greece it is the representation of the perfection of the cosmos and it’s eternal return. All the individual parts of the whole that participate in the creation of existence.

In Gnosticism it represents eternity and the soul of the world. The same as in alchemy, it symbolises too the duality of reality. The Western symbol for the Eastern Yin-Yang. The polarity that keeps chaos balanced.

In Indian thought it has been linked to the Kundalini, the primal energy manifesting from the bottom of our spines up to our crown.

It is birth, death and rebirth. The Whole. The All is One. The Eternal. The Cyclical nature of existence. The beginning, middle and end.

There are so many interpretations, so many stories yet to be told, from many different traditions. This tells us we are all connected at least in one point; in the search for meaning.

The unknown has always been a source of inspiration. Knowledge is the ultimate step towards Wisdom.

For me, it is one of my favourite symbols along with the spiral. I have always felt an intrinsic connection to the ephemeral nature of reality, but also, to the sense that everything repeats itself in different layers.

The lessons we need to learn are always playing themselves like a dramatisation of our lives ready to be observed and understood from different angles and levels.

We always come back to the centre even after playing a while in the limits and seeing the abyss from within. The road home is the road to oneself. The external experiences can only be understood from one’s own perspective. No matter what we do, we will always come back to ourselves. We are the beginning and the end. The snake eating its own tail.

Art: Ouroboros from the Codex Parisinus Graecus 2327, copied by Theodoros Pelecanos in 1478, from an alchemical tract attributed to Synesius. Now in the Bibliothèque National de France.

As a curiosity, this image appears in the movie based on Umberto Eco’s book ‘The Name of the Rose’ that is set in 1327. So it might be an anachronism, as the copy that we have is the one mentioned above from 1478, or it might indicate the existence of an older copy somewhere. 😍

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Japanese Dragons, like most Asian dragons, symbolise water deities and are associated to rainfall and bodies of water.

Chinese dragons, Nagas of India and of Southeastern Asia, etc. There are innumerable examples of stories and legends that intertwine Chinese, Japanese and Indian mythologies.

One thing is common though, the connection to the water element is always present.

Water symbolise emotions too. Dragons may symbolise the flow of our deepest longings and desires. They might represent parts of us that we might want to keep secret because of fear of being rejected.

Dragons are also associated with Fire. Dragons can be dangerous creatures, they produce fear, respect. They will act instinctively and intuitively, and they might burn everything down before they stop to analyse what has disappeared.

I believe there is a dragon inside all of us. I also believe we can learn a lot from them if we listen closely. But if we lock them up and try to stop their true nature from advancing in their own cycles and paths, they will make themselves noticed through Water (emotions), or Fire (rage, anger or instinctual destruction).

Balance of elements. Water. Fire. Air. Earth. Ether. That is the only secret. Giving space for all of them to coexist.

Art: Dragon by Hokusai.