The Dance of Shiva
Fritjof Capra sums up the essence of the Dancing Shiva in The Tao of Physics by writing that 'the dancing Shiva is the dancing universe, the ceaseless flow of energy going through an infinite variety of patterns that melt into one another’.
These paintings are rooted in the mystique surrounding the image of Shiva as ‘Natraja- the Lord of Dance’ indulging in various forms of Tandava Dance and also Shiva’s Nrityamurtis-the dancing figures found in various parts of India . Shiva’s dance is hailed as symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death manifested through eternal energy-creation, destruction, preservation, salvation, and illusion. Various scholars have written about the cosmic dance of Shiva. Coomerswamy says that the dance of Shiva also represents his five activities namely,
The iconic figure of ‘Natraja’ is the expression of Shiva’s ‘Ananadtandav’- the Dance of Bliss. There are various forms of ‘tandavas’. The iconography and mythology behind Shiva’s dances can be seen in the various ancient stone sculptures known as ‘Nrityamurtis’- the dancing figures. These paintings seek to connect the audience to the sublime art of Indian Dance and the divinity associated with it.
The overall temper of the image of Dancing Shiva in ‘Anandtandava’ is paradoxical, uniting the inner tranquillity and the outside activity of Shiva. Shiva embodies in Him and simultaneously gives manifestation to Eternal Energy. The forces gathered and projected in his frantic, ever-enduring gyration, are the powers of the evolution, maintenance, and dissolution of the world.
The dance of Shiva is said to be the dancing universe, the ceaseless flow of energy that mingles and meanders into the infinite cosmic soul. It is the dance of sub-atomic particles—the building blocks of creation, as said by Capra. Nataraja symbolizes the ultimate reality that is eternally moulding this world of maya or illusion, creating myriad nebulae with the beat of a drum and destroying a mega-universe with a graceful turn of the finger.
This pictorial allegory of the five principal manifestations of eternal energy is conveyed through the use of various symbols. God Siva's THIRD EYE is the eye of fire and symbolizes higher perception, extending throughout past, present and future.
A ring of flames and light (prabha-mandala) issues from and encompasses the god which represents the Cosmos. This is also said to signify the vital processes of the universe and its creatures, nature’s dance as moved by the dancing god within.
In the upper right hand there is a drumming instrument called Dhakka or Damaru. This drum is the symbol for the entire creation. Nataraja sounded it for fourteen times resulting in creation of roaring and thundering sonic boom in the skies, which in turn created the Universe. In this sonic boom, dhwani, there emerged root sounds of aa, ii, uu etc., wherefrom the first letter a of Sanskrit is taken by mankind. Thus Nataraja is called naada brahma.
The left upper hand holds Eternal Fire. This handheld fire is the essentail principle of life, with which everything transforms, either biological bodies to ashes, or seawater to raincloud etc. The process called Five-Fire Process, pancha agni vidya stems from this fire alone.
The lower right hand is called abhaya hasta, the blessing hand, symboling safe existence. The creation shall exist till its sojourn is complete, which is blessed with this hand.
The dance-gesture, mudra of left lower hand is called Dola hasta, a munificent hand. This gesture indicates that benefits of living are bestowed as well as the benefit of dying, i.e. moksha, final liberation, from the cycle of birth and death, if the seeker is a correct knower of
The Serpent coiled around his waist is a symbol of His identity with the kundalini power, the normally dormant spiritual force within man coiled at the base of the spine.
His right EARRING, made of a snake, is masculine. His left, a large discus, is feminine. Together they symbolize the fact that Shiva is neither male nor female, but transcends both-Ardhnarishwara Shiva.
God Shiva's THIRD EYE is the eye of fire and symbolizes higher perception, extending throughout past, present and future.
In the midst of His agitated dance, God Shiva's HEAD is balanced and still, His EXPRESSION serene and calm, in perfect equipoise as the unmoved Mover.
Another allegorical meaning associated with the halo of flames is that of the holy syllable of AUM or OM. This mystical utterance stemming from the sacred language of Vedic praise and incantation, is understood as an expression and affirmation of the totality of creation.
These paintings seek to draw from these attributes of Shiva as manifested in various dance figures- ‘Nirityamurtis’ and 108 ‘karnas’ of dance detailed in Natyashahstra – the Treatise on Classical Indian Dance and Drama . The mystique surrounding The richness of symbolism associated with Shiva is expressed in colour on canvas: Creation arises from the drum-the source of primordial sound; protection proceeds from the hand of hope (the abhaya pose in the front right one): from fire proceeds destruction: the foot held aloft gives mukti-salvation. The root idea behind all of these dances is more or less one and the same, the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy. These paintings attempt a pictorial representation of the manifestations of eternal energy expressed through Cosmic Dance of Shiva as known to the most of the world-‘Natraja- the Lord of Dance’.
Katisama Dance - The dancing Shiva here has the two legs crossing as in the Swastika shape. Shiva represents both the evolution and involution embodying creation and dissolution in both the movements of Swastika juxtaposed in a blissful equilibrium.
Shiva in Chatura Mode is represented here as Ardhanarishwar which together symbolize and express the belief that Shiva embodies both the male and female principle – Shiva and Shakti as the Supreme creator and at the same time transcends both.
Shiva appeared as ‘Jyotirlinga’ – a pillar of light with no end in sight. Lord Vishnu and LordBrahma were baffled by the phenomena and sought to measure it by acquiring the shapes of a wild boar and a swan and going earth and skyward respectively. They found the pillar unfathomable and at this stage showed his real self before them both. ‘Jyotirlinga’ here is an abstraction of endless Eternal energy uniting with Shakti. Shiva here is seen dancing in one of the 108 –poses-( Karnas ) of Natyashastra.
Shiva in Talasamaphotita Mode is shown beating the drum, representing the primordial sound - the Logos, from which all the creation springs; the big bang from which time and space both flash into being. The drum beaten for 14 times produced the ‘Nada’ -the sound as the source of all creation by Shiva as ‘Nadanta’ -
Who becomes primordial sound (nada)
Life within flesh
And the living lamp of wisdom –
(quoted from David Smith.)
Yet another allegorical meaning for the halo of flames is that of the holy syllable of AUM or OM-the mystical utterance as an expression and affirmation of the totality of creation embodying the holy triad –Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Shiva here is in eight handed Tandava dancing pose.
The Serpent named Jahnuwi adorns Shiva’s body as symbol of His identity with the kundalini. The serpent coiled around Nataraja's waist is ‘kundalini shakti’ the soul-impelling cosmic power, the normally dormant spiritual force within man coiled at the base of the spine. Shiva here dances in one of the108 poses – Karnas with Kundalini awakened.
The iconic figure of ‘Natraja’ is the expression of Shiva’s ‘Ananadtandav’- the Dance of Bliss. Shiva’s dance symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death manifested through eternal energy-creation, destruction, preservation, salvation, and illusion. Shiva embodies and gives manifestation to Eternal Energy. The overall temper of the image is paradoxical, uniting the inner tranquillity, and outside activity of Shiva.