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Exploring the Symbolism and Significance of Lord Nataraja, the Form of Lord Shiva
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Exploring the Symbolism and Significance of Lord Nataraja, the Form of Lord Shiva

Nataraja Meaning

The word Nataraja is a Sanskrit term, from नट Nata meaning "act, drama, dance" and राज Raja meaning "king, lord"; it can be roughly translated as Lord of the dance or King of the dance

The Hindu god Shiva is known for his many forms and representations in art, but perhaps none is as iconic as that of Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance. This depiction of Shiva dancing within a circle of fire is not just a striking image; it is also rich in symbolism and meaning, representing the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction. Let's delve deeper into the secret behind the Nataraja form of Lord Shiva.

Origins and Evolution of the Nataraja Iconography

nataraja story

The Nataraja iconography first appeared in Indian stone temple sculptures in the 5th and 6th centuries CE. However, it was not until the 10th century CE that the now-familiar free-standing sculptural representation of Nataraja, typically in bronze, became standardized. In this form, Shiva is depicted as a dancing figure within a flaming halo, symbolizing Time as both cyclical and endless.

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Symbolism in the Nataraja Form

Symbolism in the Nataraja Form

- The Dance of Tandava: The dance that Shiva performs as Nataraja is known as the Tandava, the cosmic dance that both creates and destroys the universe. The energy and wildness of the dance are evident in the posture of Shiva, with his bent knees and extravagant spreading of his hair.

- Symbolic Elements: Shiva's hair contains a skull, a datura blossom, and a crescent moon, symbolizing his omnipresence. The river Ganga, personified as a goddess, flows gently from the heavens down to earth in Shiva's hair, symbolizing the flow of divine grace.

- Musical Instruments: Shiva provides his own music for the dance, holding a small drum (damaru) in his upper right hand. The drum represents the rhythm of creation and reminds us that it was the sound of the drum that initiated the creation of the universe.

- Destruction and Blessing: In his upper left hand, Shiva holds agni, the divine fire, symbolizing the destruction of the universe. His lower right hand makes the abhaya mudra gesture of blessing, calming all fear.

Popularity and Spread of the Nataraja Icon

Nataraja Anand Tandava

The image of Shiva as Nataraja was particularly popular during the Chola period in South India, when large quantities of bronze sculptures of the deity were produced. Today, the image of Shiva as Nataraja remains one of the most widespread icons of Hinduism, with bronze sculptures still produced in parts of southern India, especially around Chidambaram.

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Fascinating Facts About Nataraja

cosmic dance of shiva
  1. The earliest known representation of Nataraja was discovered in the territory of the Chola Empire, which held power in southern India between the 9th and 13th centuries.
  1. The world's tallest statue of Nataraja is located in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, India. The statue stands at over 23 feet and was completed by artist Varadaraj over 10 years ago. The installation took place in 2022.
  1. A statue of Nataraja was gifted from India to CERN to celebrate the association with the organization.
  1. The Nataraja temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, is one of the five holiest Shiva temples in South India and has 9 entrances, which are considered to represent the 9 orifices of the human body.

Nataraja Anand Tandava

Nataraja Rudra Tandava

The legend of Nataraj's Anand Tandava, or the Dance of Bliss, is steeped in Hindu mythology and symbolism, reflecting the divine play between Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati, in her form as Goddess Kali. According to Hindu texts, there was a joyous debate between Shiva and Parvati about who could perform the most pleasing and captivating dance, with Lord Vishnu serving as the judge. Both deities danced their heart out, each showcasing their best moves.

Lord Shiva's dance was particularly soothing and exuded a sense of tranquility and soulful harmony. The rhythmic vibrations created by his steps were said to be incredibly soothing, and capable of transcending material limitations. During the dance, Shiva placed his kumkum-dipped feet on Goddess Kali's forehead. However, being his consort, Kali could not reciprocate this gesture. She then understood the intent behind Shiva's actions and all willingly stopped dancing.

Impressed by Shiva's performance, Lord Vishnu declared him the winner and bestowed upon him the title of Nataraj, meaning "King of Dance." This dance came to be known as Anand Tandava, or the Dance of Bliss, symbolizing the joyous divine play enacted by Lord Shiva.

Nataraja Rudra Tandava

On the other hand, the tale of Nataraj's Rudra Tandava, or the Dance of Destruction, is also significant in Hindu mythology. In this narrative, Shiva takes on his fierce form as Rudra, representing his wrathful aspect. The Rudra Tandava is said to have been performed to destroy the dwarf demon Apasmara, who symbolizes spiritual ignorance, forgetfulness, and epilepsy.

According to the Skand Puran, Apasmara had been granted immortality and the power to cause trouble to others. He became arrogant and began to harass others, causing chaos and confusion. In one instance, a group of arrogant sages failed to recognize Shiva and Parvati, disguised as beggars and attacked them with poisonous snakes. Shiva, in his anger, destroyed the snakes and then called upon Apasmara to confront him.

In a fit of rage, Shiva began the Rudra Tandava, a dance of immense power and intensity. The sound of his damru, a small drum, was said to be so loud that it shattered the demon's arrogance and pride. Finally, Shiva crushed Apasmara under his feet, symbolizing the triumph of divine wisdom over spiritual ignorance.

Both the Anand Tandava and Rudra Tandava are revered in Hindu mythology for their profound symbolism and spiritual significance and showcase the duality of creation and destruction inherent in the cosmic dance of the universe.

Who is under the feet of Lord Shiva in the Nataraja Murti?

Lord Shiva is shown in the Nataraja Murti with a dwarf-like monster under his feet. This demon symbolizes spiritual ignorance and goes by the names Apasmara and Muyalaka.

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In conclusion, the Nataraja form of Lord Shiva is a powerful symbol of the cyclical nature of the universe and the eternal dance of creation and destruction. Its iconography is rich in symbolism and hidden meanings, which help us contemplate the deeper mysteries of life and existence. Nataraja - his story, iconography, and message hold a timeless relevance that transcends the boundaries of religion, culture, and history.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is the demon under Nataraja?
The demon Apasmara purusha, also known as Muyalaka is the demon under the foot of Nataraja.
Q. Who is the wife of Nataraja?
Nataraja is just another form of Lord Shiva, hence the wife of Nataraja is Goddess Parvati.
Q. Can we keep Nataraja at home?
Yes, you can keep the Nataraja statue at home. Just make sure to place it in the northeast corner of your home.
Q. Is Nataraja male or female?
The Nataraja form of Lord Shiva depicts both his half-male and half-female (Ardhanarishwara) identity.
Q. What are the benefits of the Nataraja statue?
Placing the Nataraja statue at your home or any personal space allows for a fresh flow of positive energy and helps facilitate a productive and creative environment.
Q. What are the elements of Nataraja?
The Nataraja is an amalgamation of three elements i.e., the dancer, the drum, and the fire.
Q. Can we gift a Nataraja statue?
Yes. A Nataraja statue makes for an excellent gift to present to your family or friends.

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