At first glance, this statue could be a little disturbing -I mean, really, this figure appears to be standing on a baby. Luckily, I know that this is Nataraja – the lord of the dance – Lord Shiva – and that the “baby” is really a demon. He is stomping out evil and preparing the universe for creation. And I how do I know this? Wikipedia of course. Here is more about the statue from my good friend Mr. Wiki (the rest of it is quoted directly) …..
- First, it is seen as the image of his rhythmic play which is the source of all movement within the universe. This is represented by the circular or elliptical frame surrounding the Lord.
- Secondly, the purpose of his dance is to release the souls of all men from the snare of illusion.
- Lastly, the place of the dance, Chidambaram, which is portrayed as the center of the universe, is actually within the heart.
To understand the concept of Nataraja we have to understand the idea of dance itself in Hinduism. Like yoga, dance is used to induce trance, ecstasy and the experience of the divine. In India, consequently, dance has flourished side by side with the austerities of meditation (as fasting, absolute introversion etc.). Shiva, therefore, the arch-yogi of the Gods, is necessarily also the Lord of the dance. Dancing is seen as an art in which the artist and the art s/he creates are one the same, thought to evoke the oneness of God and creation.
Shiva Nataraja was first represented thus in a beautiful series of South Indian bronzes dating from the tenth and twelfth centuries A.D. In these images, Nataraja dances with his right foot supported by a crouching figure and his left foot elegantly raised. A mirrored posture, where his right foot is raised, represents Moksha.
In the compact spiritual texts of divine knowledge, the holy Geeta, there are three basic guna: Satvic, Tamsic and Rajsic. These combine with each other, and the life forms are created as a result of this divine activity. These life forms remain devoid of prana (breath), until the Divine entity infuses them with life. The Geeta says the division of the Divine entity is ninefold, of which eight can be known by humans, but the ninth is eternally unexplainable and hidden and secret. These eight divisions are the elements, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Akash, Mana, Buddhi, Ahamkara.
Nataraj is a visual interpretation of Brahm and a dance posture of Lord Shiv. It is the representation of reality at the time of cosmic destruction. We being life forms, cosmic destruction would mean the disappearance of all life. Our solar system remains in perfect balance at all point on the axis of time and space. The half moon shown in the hand of Nataraj is a symbol only. The fall of the moon would result in cosmic destruction.
The third eye on the forehead of the Lord is a symbol. The serpent wrapped around the neck is a cosmic entity, just as Shiv. Other vedic texts mention a cosmic serpent called Kundalini, present in every living form at the base of the spinal cord. Numerous myths confirm Kundalini’s presence and Cosmic Dangers Associated with its arousal. More abstract and invisible divine energy centres, called Chakras, are associated with its Rise.