Shiva Natraj: Creator of Great good and Destroyer of All Evil



Lord Shiva – Who is Shiva Natraj

Om Namah Shivaya-The universe bows to Lord Shiva, I bow to Lord Shiva.

Mahadev, the other name of Lord Shiva which means the god amongst gods. He is also known to be the father of the whole universe. People worship him in an effort to achieve peace of mind and stability in life. He is seen as a supreme entity and lord of divine energy. Shiva Natraj is revered with the title of the ‘Lord of dance’ also known as Tandav. Tandav is a form of divine dance attributed to the power of Shiva.

In the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, Shiva is known to be “The Destroyer”. Shiva Natraj has the power to create, protect and transform all life and workings of the universe. Shiva carries a serpent around his neck, the crescent moon and the holy river Ganga in his Jattas. The third eye on the forehead is his foremost weapon along with damaru, the drum vibrating along with the beat of his steps.

The Nataraja story reveals his family, consisting of his wife Parvati and their two children Ganesha and Kartikeya. They together lived in Mount Kailash. His life was an ideal example of discipline and austerity. His wife Parvati is the reason behind the equanimity of Lord Nataraja. She is the one who can calm him and his divine children.

As he is the god of yoga, meditation, and arts thus, bestowing him the title of Adiyogi Shiva. Worshipped in the form of a Lingam, he is looked up to by Hindus in India, Nepal, and Sri-Lanka.

Lord Shiva is also known as Parabhrahman which means magnanimous. The god himself said that he is infinite and eternal as he is always there in everyone’s heart. Tamil literature has been enriched with the words of his devotees known as the 63 Nayanmars. Panchabootha is the 5 temples in Tamil Nadu which are dedicated to Shiva.

Shaivism is a major part of Hinduism, across the Indian subcontinent. The term Shiva has also been found in the Rigveda. The word Rudra is used for Shiva in the oldest surviving text of Hinduism that dates between 1100 BC and 1700 BC. Some of the texts in the Upanishads also mention Rudra.

Shiva is considered to be a great yogi. He is the only one who teaches the profundity of silence in order to realize your innermost self.

Shiva Natraj- Art, Culture, History and Celebration

A major Hindu festival Shivratri is celebrated to overcome the ignorance and darkness that ruins man and the world around him.

Dancing Shiva as an ‘Art’

Shiva is portrayed in different forms based on the myriad cultures that thrive in this world. He is well-known as an entity with multiple arms and a knot in his hair, not to mention the three horizontal stripes on his forehead.

FIRE IS HIS HEAD, THE SUN AND THE MOON HIS EYES, SPACE HIS EARS, THE VEDAS HIS SPEECH, THE WIND HIS BREATH, THE UNIVERSE HIS HEART.   FROM HIS FEET THE EARTH HAS ORIGINATED. VERILY, HE IS THE INNER SELF OF ALL BEINGS                                                                                                                                

The essence of Shiva Natraj

Shiva Natraj gracefully performs the ‘dance of bliss’ or ‘Ananda Tandavam’, creating and destroying the cosmic world in an endless cycle of regeneration. It demonstrates those physical qualities of his dance within the cosmic fire which is a constant sign of formation and elimination in the universe.

Nata– means act or dance, raja means king or lord. Shiva Nataraja- lord of the dance represents a combined role of being a creator, preserver, and destroyer. Shiva as lord of dance first appeared in an Indian stone temple sculpture dating around the 5th or 6th century. Slowly, this creation of art became a symbol of royalty in Tamil Nadu, around which festivities and rich customs evolved.

In the contemporary Hindu culture of Bali in Indonesia, Shiva Natraj is seen as a conqueror who conquered the world with his dance. Hinduism, as evident from Indonesia’s culture, once flourished in the land. He was also referred to as Nrittesvara in Cambodia. Lord Nataraja is actually the medium or shape through which the power of Shiva can be experienced.

The Beauty of the Nataraja dance

He performed the dance in Chidambaram forest after defeating Narasimha. His dance reflects cosmic principles, Tamil identity, and the intricacies of classical Indian dance imbued deep within the Indian tradition.  It is one of the most enchanting forms of Shiva.

Every feature of the Nataraja statue unfolds important details. The dance is held in the midst of a flaming halo which symbolizes time and represents its cyclic and never-ending nature. Bent knees and billowing of his long hair shows energy and vigour in his dance. Often, he is shown dancing on his vahana (Nandi) the bull.

After this, he is known as Narteshvara. Later, the artwork was also found in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Gujarat. Queen Sembiyan Mahadevi of Chola built the oldest free-standing stone sculpture of Nataraja.

Nataraja dance consists of 108 poses of Bharatnatyam with Sanskrit engravings from Natya shastra at Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. In the Hindu religion, Lord Shiva is considered to be one of the most important deities. The revered names of Shiva that are at the tip of everyone’s tongues are Mahadeva, Neelkantha,  Rudra, and Nataraja. Shiva Natraj is also the symbol of religion, art, and science in one form.

Description of Shiva Natraj

The first Nataraja statue was cast in bronze during the reign of the Chola dynasty in the 10th century. Shiva Natraj gives a vivid description of the dancing Shiva with four hands, braided and jewelled hair. There are a coiling cobra, a skull and the mermaid figure of Ganga with the crescent moon shining on the tip of his jatta.

He is wearing a woman’s earing in the left ear, and a man’s earing in the right. His body shines with jewellery- necklace, armlets, belt, rings, anklets, and bracelets.  A ring in one hand and the other hand uplifted which indicates fearlessness as per the Hindu tradition. The Statue of Shiva Natraj is surrounded by the richness of glowing lights which symbolizes the vast unending cycle of time.

The dwarf on which Shiva Natraj is dancing is the demon APAMARA PURUSHA which embodies the universal principle of victory of good over evil. We can see the stone reliefs in the classification form of Nataraja in numerous cave temples in India such as Ellora Caves, Elephanta Caves, and Badami caves in the early century.

Spanning from 9th to 10th century, archaeologists have discovered a Nataraja statue made purely of red sandstone from Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. It is now showcased at the Gwalior Archeological Museum. Some artwork has also been found in Kashmir. Artworks and texts on the dancing Shiva were found in Bengal, Nepal and Assam. The most astounding fact is that the largest statue is situated in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu.

Ring of cosmic fire

The Cosmic Dance of Shiva symbolizes the unified and dynamic composition of destruction and creation.The Shiva Natraj statue is surrounded by an oval ring which depicts the cosmic fire. Lord Shiva uses this fire to annihilate in the universe. The flame of this ring has three points. But the flame of five points came into light in the 11thand 12th centuries.

Third eye

Lord Shiva also mentioned as “Tryambaka” for the third eye. It is the symbol of wisdom and free from the illusion and duality of life. It reflects his cosmic knowledge. Shiva created this eye to bring light back to the universe.

The face has two eyes and slightly opens the third eye on the forehead, epitomizing the triune in Shaivism. The two eyes represent the sun and the moon and the third eye is the symbol of knowledge or self-realization. These three eyes illustrate the three Gunas- Sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Base

The lotus flower in the base represents purity in Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu philosophies. The pedestal is a double lotus with petals pointing upwards and downwards.

Drum

Ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum. His drum plays a vital role in the cycle of the universe.

Snake

Shiva, a powerful deity whose sentinel is a snake that coils around his neck. It acts as a weapon for the Lord himself.

Flame of destruction

Shiva’s one hand has the flame of cosmic fire which he uses for destruction in the cycle of formation and elimination.

Matted locks or jatas

His jata (hair) reflects his merit as a yogi (who meditates for hundreds of years in the mountains of Himalayas). Ma Ganga flows from Shiva’s hair.

Feet

The statue has been shown balancing on the right leg as the left foot is lifted up and raised in the position as if an invincible conqueror.

History

Tamil Nadu is famous for the ‘Nataraja’ representation of Shiva. The Bronze figure is a symbol of Shiva as lord of dance and dramatic arts.  In the early tenth century, artists in Tamil Nadu began to sketch the figure with their knowledge of the crafts; patronized by kings and wealthy admirers.

It lived in the temple after it was brought to life through the many customs. Devotees prostrated before the Natraja statue every day religiously, and during festivals, towns shook with songs and dance performances.

Nowadays, he is worshipped in many historic temples and is integral to public life. According to Alice Boher, the artwork of historic Shiva Nataraja found in different parts of our country are actually in a geometric pattern with symmetric lines which form a hexagon(satkone mandalas). This depicts the interdependence and blending of manly and effeminate ethics.

The Wonder of the CERN Shiva statue

CERN is a multicultural organization where scientists from more than 100 countries and 680 institutions work for the advancement of knowledge and forces that link them to the Nataraja statue.

On June 18, 2004, a 2 m tall Nataraja statue in front of CERN was unveiled as an astonishing new milestone for the European Center for research in particle physics in Geneva. The Indian government celebrated its long association with Geneva since 1960, in honour of the Nataraja statue.

In choosing the image of Shiva Natraj, the Indian government acknowledged the significance of the cosmic dance of Shiva in relation to the workings of subatomic particles. This CERN statue was made in India. It was actually a wax model sculpted with soil.

On melting the wax, it left an empty space in which liquid was poured after that the mould was rifted and polished to give an antique finish to the statue.

The mighty figure of Shiva Natraj has become a household icon of Hinduism and the science behind Nataraja statue is maintaining the symmetry and equilibrium. The statue has been finely carved keeping in mind the centre of gravity. The distance between the third eye to the heart is exactly that of between the Sun and the Earth.

Nataraja dance has captured the curiosity of scientists too. CERN Shiva statue has been analyzed and observed by physicists to understand the science behind Shiva’s dance or cosmic dance of subatomic particles. Here is what the physicists have to say about the Nataraja:

Ananda k. Coomaraswamy- seeing beyond the unsurpassed rhythm, beauty, power, and grace of the Nataraja, once wrote of it “it is the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of.”

Fritjof Capra- “modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is not only manifest in the turn of the seasons and in the birth and death of all living creatures, but is also the very essence of inorganic matter, “ and that “for the modern physicists, then, Shiva’s dance of subatomic matter.”

He also concluded: “Hundreds of years back, Indian artist has created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the pattern of the cosmic dance. The cosmic dance of Shiva unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics”.

Thus, the Shiva Natraj statue brings out the physical embodiment of beauty which stands as one of the finest illustrations of Hindu art and Indian culture.

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