- Nataraja, or Lord of the Dance (nata, dance; raja, king or lord), is one of the most popular iconic forms of SHIVA (the most common is the LINGAM). In his cosmic dance he creates, sustains, and even-tually destroys the universe. When Shiva’s dance is seen as symbolizing only the end of time, it is called the Tandava dance.Nataraja is depicted in a pose from the BHARATA NATYAM dance, with his left leg raised and his right leg resting on a dwarflike being representing igno-rance and delusion, sometimes called Apasmara (forgetfulness [of the truth of the divine]). He has four arms. In his upper right hand he holds the “shake-drum” (damaru) that can be sounded with one hand, a tethered ball striking either end of a small two-sided drum. His lower right hand is formed into the ABHAYA MUDRA, a gesture that removes fear. His upper left hand holds the flame that symbolizes the end of creation. His lower left hand points toward his upraised left foot. Around his head and in the circular frame to which he is attached is a halo of flames that show his divine energy.Among Shiva’s many celebrated dances: he danced in the sky with VISHNU; once he danced in the cremation ground to please KALI, his female counterpart; once he danced as a beggar for PARVATI’S hand; once he danced a mad, erotic dance in the deodar forest for the wives of the RISHIS there; and he danced after the destruction of DAKSHA’S sacrifice. The great shrine at CHIDAM-BARAMI in South India is perhaps the most famous one depicting Shiva’s Nataraja form. There is also an awe-inspiring 20-foot-high Nataraja in black stone in the Meenakshi Temple at Madurai.Further reading: Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Siva: Essays on Indian Art and Culture. Foreword by Romain Rolland (New York: Dover, 1985); Cornelia Dimmitt and J. A. van Buitenen, eds. and trans., Clas-sical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978); Stella Kramrisch, The Presence of Siva (Princeton, N.J.: Prince-ton University Press, 1981); Margaret Stutley, The Illustrated Dictionary of Hindu Iconography (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.