The Graceful Nataraja, Triumphant Over Apasmara

The Graceful Nataraja, Triumphant Over Apasmara

Nataraja or Nataraj, the dancing form of Lord Shiva, is a symbolic synthesis of the most important aspects of Hinduism, and the summary of the central tenets of this Vedic religion. The term 'Nataraj' means 'King of Dancers' (Sanskrit nata = dance; raja = king).

The origins of Nataraja, and of the Hindu god Shiva himself, lie thousands of years ago. However, the form we recognise best today may have reached its apex around the 9th or 10th century in southern India: The Ananda Tandava, or blissful dance

In it, Shiva is in the Bhujangatrasita karana pose—literally “frightened by a snake “—with his left leg held across his body at hip level, and every element contains a deep meaning. Roughly, Shiva is here at once seen creating and destroying existence; offering the escape hatch from this constant chaos; and, finally, revealing the clue to that escape hatch, which is to subdue ignorance.

The Nataraja’s rear left arm carries the hourglass-shaped drum, damuru, the vibrations of which create the universe. Some conflate this with the Big Bang of cosmic creation.

The raised, rear right-hand carries the fire that atrophies matter to a formless state, only for regeneration. In that sense, it is the fire of transformation, not destruction. It implies constant change, echoing the Buddhist precept of “There’s no being, only becoming.”

The open palm of the forehand indicates an assurance: There is nothing to fear about constant cosmic overhaul; change is normal and I’m here to protect you.

The hidden lower-left palm pointing downwards says he’s the creator of maya, illusion or the veil of ignorance.

The raised left foot, combined with the closed hand, signifies the option available before the seeker: moksha or liberation from ignorance and, by implication, from the cycle of birth and death.

This dwarf demon at the Nataraja’s feet represents the evils of ignorance and ego, to be trampled upon if one must rise to a higher plane of self-actualisation.

The frame around Nataraja is maya, illusion, as experienced through the cyclical phenomenon of birth & death.

This cosmic dance of Shiva is called 'Anandatandava,' meaning the Dance of Bliss, and symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death. The dance is a pictorial allegory of the five principal manifestations of eternal energy—creation, destruction, preservation, salvation, and illusion.

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