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Lord Shiva also known as the Natraj or Nateshwar, the lord of dance, as cosmic ecstatic dancer is one of the central figures in the classical dance tradition of India. His divine dance is considered the source of creation, preservation and dissolution of the universe. However, contrary to popular belief, Shiva not only dances the vigorous and fierce Rudra Tandav but also the Lasya, Yogic and Ananda Tandav. As such, fury and bliss are considered the two aspect of the same being. Thus depending upon the context and the mood, the forms of lord Shiva’s dance vary and so the depictions.

  1. DESTRUCTIVE DANCE: This is the Tandavam, the Tamasic aspect. As Bhairava, he dances his awe- inspiring dance on the burning ground. He is ten handed, denoting great power, celestial and miraculous. Shiva dances as the Destroyer, who destroys the chains that hold each soul to the fleeting world of illusions (Maya). The burning ground or the crematorium is symbolic of the hearts of men (followers) cleansed by the fire of the ego and signifying the state of mind where all illusions and deeds are burnt away. Freed of the ego and unhindered, the souls gain eternal liberation (Moksha).
  2. YOGIC DANCE: This is the Lord’s divine Yogic evening dance, performed on Mount Kailasha. He is two-armed and the dance is one of calm and beauty. It is described in the Shiva Pradosha Stotra. He is surrounded and accompanied by all the other Gods and other heavenly beings. This is Shiva’s noble and graceful dance, signifying the granting of spiritual bliss, to those who seek to realise Him, known as the Sandhya Nritya.
  3. GIFT GIVING DANCE: In the Koyil Puranam, the story of the Patanjali Myth ( of the Yoga Sutra) is as follows:
    Vishnu goes to Shiva in the Himalayas and tells him that a group of Rishis (sages), living in the forest of Tarangam do not recognise the existence of God. Shiva as mendicant, Vishnu as wife and Adidesha go to the forest. The Rishis together create sacrificial fire to destroy the intruders. A tiger comes out of it, but Shiva tears it apart and wears it as a mantle. A huge serpent emerges from the fire but Shiva wears it around his neck. He begins the mystic dance. The black dwarf, Muyalagan, comes out of the fire. He crushes him under His feet, and continues to dance. The rishis, overcome with awe, recognise Him and become his devotees. Adishesha worships him and requests him to perform the mystic dance once again. He promises to do it at the sacred Tillai – The centre of the Universe, signifying the Heart of Man.

The dance of Nataraja at the Golden Hall of Chidambaram is called Nadanta dance. He has four hands. One right hand sounds the drum, the other is in Abhay Hasta, giving protection to devotees. One left hand holds the sacred fire or flame , representing the fire of Sacrifice and the other is in Danda Hasta stretched across the body and pointing to the upraised foot, signifying blissful refuge to those who seek love and grace. The right foot tramples Muyalagan, signifying the stamping down of evil. The left foot is raised in Kunchita Pada, showing that he showers grace to all seekers.

The poses and artwork of the various forms of Tandav are seen in many ancient Hindu temples as well as stone reliefs in the caves of Ellora and Badami. The Chola Bronzes of 10th century are the finest examples of this expression. In fact the depiction of the dancing Shiva is found as far as Bali, Cambodia as well as Central Asia. Natraj is perhaps the most popular and best known sculptural symbol of India and the finest illustration of Hindu art, in all its depictions.

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