Saturday, January 23, 2021


( Copper Alloy ,11th century sculpture created during Chola period in South India on display at MET Museum ,New York.)
" The whole thing is there, you see. The world of space and time, and matter and energy, the world of creation and destruction, the world of psychology. We (the West) don’t have anything remotely approaching such a comprehensive symbol, which is both cosmic and psychological, and spiritual."……………..( Aldous Huxley on Shiva Nataraja sculpture)
Shiva happens to be one of the most important Hindu deity. He is also known as Mahesha , Hara , Shankara , Pashupatinatha , Ishana ,Mahadeva ,Shashishekhara, Gangadhara ,Dighambara ,Mrityunjaya, Vyomkesha , Girisha , Bhujangbushana ,Prajapati ,Veerbhadra , Vishveshwara ,Krativasa ,Pinaki ,Srikantha ,Trilokinatha Tribhuvaneshwara, Mahesha, Kapali, Shitikantha , Maheshvara, Shambhu, Rudra, Trilochana, Devendra , Neelakanta, Subhankara ,Natesha , Nataraja and by many other names .As Nataraja , he is considered as the Lord of the Dance . As Nataraja (Sanskrit: Lord of Dance) Shiva represents apocalypse and creation as he dances away the illusory world of Maya transforming it into power and enlightenment. The cosmic dance of Shiva symbolises the interplay of dynamic and static divine energy flow, containing the five principles of eternal energy — creation, preservation, destruction, illusion and emancipation. 
As Natraja , Shiva’s cosmic dance sets in motion the rhythm of life and death; it pervades the universe, as symbolised by the ring of fire that is filled with the loose, snakelike locks of the god’s hair. One pair of his arms balances the flame of destruction and the hand drum (damaru) that beats the rhythm of life while another performs symbolic gestures: the raised right hand means “fear not,” and the left hand (gajahasta) pointing down toward his raised left foot signifies release from the ignorance that obstructs realization of the ultimate reality. Shiva is shown perfectly balanced, with his right leg planted on the demon of darkness (Apasmara), stamping out ignorance. The tiny figure of the personified river goddess, Ganga, is caught up in his matted, flowing locks. 
Chola Kings (ca. 907—1279) of South India were perhaps the greatest patrons of art and sculpture . The image of Shiva as Nataraja was especially popular in the Chola period, when craftsmen produced large quantities of the figure sculpture in bronze and, measuring up to 1.4 metres in height, they were often carried in religious processions and festivals to represent the god. The well-known dancing figure of Shiva as Nataraja was evolved and fully developed during the Chola period and since then many variations of this complex bronze image have been modelled. Chola Nataraja is often said to be the supreme statement of Hindu Art. In Nataraja sculptures, Lord Shiva is shown performing Tandava with a flaming halo. He holds a Damru and Agni in his two hands and makes an Abhayamudra gesture with another hand. This gesture is done to dispel all fears while he tramples the Apasmara Purusha (illusion, which leads mankind astray) under his right foot. The energy of his dance makes his hair fly to the sides.
The dance of Shiva symbolizes not only the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction but also the daily rhythm which is seen in Indian mysticism as the basis of all existence. At the same time, Shiva reminds us that the manifold forms in the world are Maya- not fundamental, but illusory and ever-changing.
The Nataraja dance poses also the five acts of Shiva known as Srishti or creation ( the Damru vibrations representing creation of the universe ), Samhara or destruction ( for regeneration ), Sthithi or maintenance( Shiva as protector ), Tirobhava or concealment( creator of Maya ) and Anugraha or blessings ( leading to Moksha or liberation ). Some of Shiva’s dancing poses are now codified in classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kucchipudi, and Mohiniyattam. The artist who conceived and fashioned the form of Nataraja has undoubtedly created the greatest masterpiece in Indian art. The renowned art historian, A K Coomarasamy writes this:-
“A great motif in religion or art or any great symbol becomes all things to all men, age after age, it yields to men such treasure as .they find in their own hearts.”
French sculptor, Auguste Rodin ( 1840-1917) was a great admirer of Nataraja sculptures. Auguste Rodin, considered the ‘father of modern sculpture', was widely respected for his works such as ‘Thinker' (1904). I saw 'Thinker' at the MET Museum, New York. Housed in a hall on the first floor, I saw many Rodin sculptures in the MET Museum, in New York and also came to know what Rodin has said about Shiva Nataraja sculptures. I quote Rodin:-
"Shiva Nataraja is a perfect expression of rhythmic movement in the world. I saw the cascades of energy coming down from outer space in which particles were created and destroyed in a rhythmic pulse. Shiva Nataraja has what many people cannot see—the unknown depths, the core of life. There is grace in elegance, but beyond grace there is perfection."
One of the world’s premier institute known as CERN, has the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – fundamental particles. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is one of the world's largest and most respected centres for scientific research. It houses the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Interestingly, the scientists at this premier institute in Geneva have installed a 2-metre tall statue of Shiva Nataraja in the premises.The plaque to this sculpture reads this:-
“Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics.”
For modern physicists, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics. Dance, whether the cosmic dance of Shiva or human dance, if we understand them righty, we see they lead to freedom. Shiva’s dance lies in his own nature, all his gestures are his own, spontaneous and purposeless- for his being is beyond the realm of purposes. Noted Physicist Fritjof Capra, in his book Tao of Physics, says this:-
“ Modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is not only manifest in the turn of the seasons and in the birth and death of all living creatures but is also the very essence of inorganic matter, For the modern physicists, then, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shiva in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art, and modern physics.”
This insight of Capra’s is what catapulted Nataraja into the status of a global icon in the 1970s. But he credits his ability to make these connections to his familiarity with works on mysticism by eastern and western scholars—like Coomaraswamy’s Shiva essay. “I immediately saw parallels to some ideas in quantum physics,” Capra says. This idea of the eternal universal dancer has so deeply caught on among physicists and cosmologists that in 1993, an abstract sculpture called Cosmic Dancer, was launched into the Russian Mir space station.
According to Ian Crawford, professor of planetary science at the University of London, the cosmic dance of Shiva as Nataraja represents particle physics, entropy and the dissolution of the universe.
The grandeur of the conception of Shiva as a cosmic dancer is a synthesis of science, religion and art with Nataraja, the "Lord of Dance "as its greatest exponent. An ancient Chola poem describes the symbolism of Nataraja as under:-
“The sound of his sacred drum awakens the cosmos into being;
his uplifted hand of hope sustains and protects it;
with his purifying fire, the ego is destroyed;
his foot planted on the ground is an abode of rest for the tired soul, caught in the binds of illusion;
and his lifted foot promises release.”
( Avtar Mota)

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CHINAR SHADE by Autarmota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
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