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Tandava is the divine dance performed by Lord Shiva. It is considered to be the source of the cosmic cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. The word Tandava comes from Tandu, the attendant of Lord Shiva, who at Lord Shiva’s orders, instructed Bharat muni, the author of Natya Shastra, the usage of Angaharas and Karanas, which together constitute this cosmic dance.

Pumnrityam tandavam, prahu: stree nrityam lasyamuchyate

Tandava the masculine form of dance is attributed to Lord Shiva which is forceful and full of vigour often manifesting anger and fear while lasya anga attributed to Godess Parvathi is the feminine form where the movements are gentle and graceful often depicting love and affection.

The deep significance underlying this dance form is the personification of Lord Shiva as Nataraja or Nritya Murti. His dance is supposed to represent the five manifestations of eternal energy- Srishti (creation), Sthiti (preservation), Samhara (destruction), Tirobhava (illusion) and Anugraha (emancipation).

The various Tandavas are described in Bhavaprakash and in the Abhinaya Darpanam of Nandikeswara.

In the Bhavaprakash five forms of Tandava are described:

  • Ucchanda: This includes the forceful and quick Angaharas, Akaashacharis and Bhramaris. Raudra, Bhibhatsa and Bhayanaka are the rasa associated with this.
  • Chanda: This is represented by Bhumichari karanas and angaharas and evokes Veera and Raudra rasa.
  • Prachanda: This tandava involves jumping forceful karanas and bhramari. Rasas associated with this are Raudra and Bibhatsa.
  • Prerana and Prapana: These two are considered to be of tepid and are less forceful and masculine.

Nandikeswara in his Abhinaya Darpanam describes seven types of Tandava which are believed to have been performed by Lord Shiva.

  • Sandhya Tandava: A form of tandava performed by Lord Shiva at the time when the world was poised between lingering day and the oncoming darkness of the night. It was the dance of creation and scriptures. It is believed that Sandhya Tandava protects one and all.
  • Ananda Tandava: This form of Tandava was performed by Lord Shiva for protecting his disciples. In Chidambaram temple, the deity is represented in this pose. The image is depicted with four hands holding the drum, fire, the right hand in the Abhaya Hasta, the left hand with the Danda Hasta bestowing boons. The left leg is in Kunchita pada and the right tramples upon the sole. This posture is also known as the Sada Tandava.
  • Kali or Shakti Tandava: This Tandava is the type performed by Shiva and Kali. It is believed that Kali or Shakti is the energy that cannot be separated from Shiva. Shiva has the power to create only when he is united with Shakti.
  • Tripura Tandava: This is the Tandava performed by Shiva after killing the three rakshasas, Tarakakasha, Kamalaksha and Vidyun mali. He fought the rakshasas driving the earth as his chariot, Meru as the bow, Sun and Moon as the wheels, Adishesha as the rope, Lord Vishnu as the arrows, four vedas as horses and Lord Brahma as the charioteer. By destroying these rakshasas he freed the three worlds from evil.
  • Sati and Shiva Tandava: This Tandava is believed to have been performed by Shiva and Sati. This represents the eternal dance of the Man and Woman, depicting the unity of Purush and Prakriti. This item also depicts both forms of dancing, Tandava as well as Lasya.
  • Ardhanaari Tandava: This type of Tandava was performed to show the unity between Nature and God. Shiva took Parvati as a part of himself and assumed the form of Ardhanareeswara – one half man the other half woman.
  • Samhara tandava: This is the dance of annihilation and release. Shiva is believed to have performed this when Sati burned herself in ashes. Shiva in anger danced so vigorously that lords feared destruction of the three worlds. Only when Lord Bramha, Lord Vishnu and Devas appealed to him did he return to normalcy.

The concepts of Tandava and Lasya represented Shiva and Parvati have been the source of inspiration for most dancers across classical dance forms and across generations as it encompasses the entire cycle of cosmic evolution and stands for the dual personification of the Absolute.

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