NatarajaNataraja, ( Sanskrit: “Lord of the Dance”) the Hindu god Shiva in his form as the cosmic dancer, represented in metal or stone in most Shaiva temples of South India.
In the most common type of image, Shiva is shown with four arms and flying locks dancing on the figure of a dwarf, Apasmara (a symbol of human ignorance; apasmara means “forgetfulness,” or “heedlessness”). Shiva’s back right hand holds the damaru (hourglass-shaped drum); the front right hand is in the abhaya mudra (the “fear-not” gesture, made by holding the palm outward with fingers pointing up); the back left hand carries Agni (fire) in a vessel or in the palm of the hand; and the front left hand is held across his chest in the gajahasta (elephant-trunk) pose, with wrist limp and fingers pointed downward toward the uplifted left foot. The locks of Shiva’s hair stand out in several strands interspersed with the figures of Ganga (the Ganges River personified as a goddess), flowers, a skull, and the crescent moon. His figure is encircled by a ring of flames, the prabhamandala. In classic Sanskrit treatises on dance, this form, the most common representation of Nataraja, is called the bhujamgatrasa (“trembling of the snake”).
Nataraja, Lord Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer represents the source of all movement within the cosmos, represented by the arch of flames rhythmic movement of the entire cosmos. The symbolism of Siva Nataraja is religion, art and science merged as one.
Nataraja’s dance is not just a symbol. It is taking place within each of us, at the atomic level, this very moment. The Agamas proclaim, “The birth of the world, its maintenance, its destruction, the soul’s obscuration and liberation are the five acts of His dance.”
Nataraja is Shiva in the form of the Lord of the Dance. He represents the combined might of the dynamic universal energy and the awakened Soul. He is the source of all life, activity and vibration. His dance is the dance of creation. The circle of fire that surrounds Him is His primal energy that flows out of Him and again into Him. The being lying at His feet is the embodied or the deluded soul whom he shapes through a painful process of karma and suffering and liberates Him in the end from bondage. His dance is rhythmic, regular and perfect. It is the rhythm of divine perfection, which is hidden in the entire universe as an underlying current or subtle vibration. It manifests itself in many things, in the regularity of the seasons, the movement of the planets, the cyclical nature of creation, the physical, chemical and biological laws of our universe, the biorhythms of our bodies and the constitution of our cells, molecules and atoms.
The duality or multiplicity of objects in the image is for the beholder but in truth it is one complete image of the supreme Shiva. Whatever that may appear to us as separate parts of one image is but an illusion that arises because of our experience of duality. The energy or Shakti that manifests out of Him as a ring of fire is not separate from Him because it cannot hold itself or survive without Him. So is the apasmaramurthy under His feet. If you look carefully, the being is not separate from Shiva. It is connected with Him as well as with the rest of the creation. The idea that he is suffering being crushed by the feet of Siva is an illusion of our minds, a projection of our thought and an idea that exists in our minds because when we look at the image of Nataraja we, as limited beings, identify ourselves with the apasmaramurthy lying at His feet, but not with Shiva, the dancer. The circle of His energy starts from there and also ends there. There in lies the mystery. The whole of the image is an assurance to us that creation is not a chaotic and accidental phenomena but a guided and rhythmic movement under the mastery and control of the eternal self and that we too can become masters of our own movements and action by liberating ourselves from the limitations of smallness (ego) and delusion (apasmara).
The symbolism and meaning hidden in the Nataraja Idol: The upper right hand Shiva holds the a small drum shaped like an hourglass. It symbolizes the sound that originates creation and perpetuates the universe. The upper left hand contains fire, which signifies final destruction, the dissolution of form, out of which a new world will arise. The below right hand: The second right hand shows the Abhaya mudra (fearlessness gesture), giving freedom from fear and bestowing protection from both evil and ignorance. The below left hand: The second left hand points towards the raised foot which signifies upliftment and salvation. It also follows the form of an elephant trunk, alluding to wisdom.
The Dwarf on which Shiva Dances: The dwarf on which Nataraja dances is the demon Apasmara, symbolizing Shiva’s victory over ignorance, which can never be completely eliminated, but it can be overcome. The surrounding flames represent the manifest Universe. The snake swirling around his waist is kundalini, the Shakti or divine force thought to reside within everything. His dance is so vigorous that his hair, usually in matted locks piled on his head, becomes loose and flies about him. Seated within his hair is the diminutive figure of Mother Ganga, the river goddess, with her hands folded. When the river descended from heaven to earth, Shiva broke its fall with his hair, thereby keeping the earth from being crushed by its force. As he dances the world in and out of existence, Shiva maintains a stoic face, representing his neutrality of being in complete balance.
Ancient and modern shilpins are creative architects who give concrete expression to the cosmos. Pranava Veda outlines the very nature of Primal Existence then Vastu Shastra shows us how to mirror that primal existence in something called built space. We take various building materials and manifest a direct mirror of Nataraja in the material world. This is the essence of Mayonic Science and Technology. This form of Nataraja, seen in several places, in a visual representation, developed by Mayan to encode this Cosmic Dance. Every detail of the form is scientifically significant.
“Within this cubical atom there is a luminous thread, like a filament in a bulb and it is always dancing there…To this light thread…the tradition of Vastu science has given a significant name – Brahma Sutra! (the thread of light or consciousness) Vastu science has rendered another …name also to the luminous thread which is dancing rhythmically within the cubical atom. The name is ‘Luminous Nataraja’…the dance of Light… This luminous thread is the basic source of cosmic effulgence. The cubical effulgence of the atom is called ‘luminous atom’…know as ‘microbode’ (cubical cell). It is described as OM-light.”
Nataraja or Luminous thread is the Cosmic Dancer who dances or vibrates by its own volition as it arouses itself to manifest within itself. This vibration or frequency gives rise to the entire material world as individuated frequencies or wave forms.
A Scientific Metaphor
Fritzof Capra in his article “The Dance of Shiva: The Hindu View of Matter in the Light of Modern Physics,” and later in the The Tao of Physics beautifully relates Nataraja’s dance with modern physics. He says that “every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction…without end…For the modern physicists, then Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena.”
The Nataraja Statue at CERN, Geneva:
In 2004, a 2m statue of the dancing Shiva was unveiled at CERN, the European Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva. A special plaque next to the Shiva statue explains the significance of the metaphor of Shiva’s cosmic dance with quotations from Capra: “Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shiva’s in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics.“