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Jyothi Venkatachalam

Shiva the Hindu god of destruction also is known as Nataraja.

There is an interesting story behind the conception of Shiva as Nataraja: Once upon a time, many sages or Rishis lived in the forests of South India. One day, Shiva accompanied by Vishnu disguised as a beautiful Mohini (woman) came to the forest. On seeing the beautiful lady, the sages wanted to win her.

They first fought among themselves but then they decided to get rid of Shiva by using their Vedic powers. First, they created a fierce tiger in the sacrificial fires. The tiger rushed at Shiva, but Shiva caught it and with the nail of his little finger, stripped off its skin, and wrapped it around himself like a cloth.

The sages then produced a venomous snake, which Shiva happily wrapped around his neck like a garland of flowers. Finally, they rushed a dwarf sized monster at him. Shiva crushed him with his toe and continued to dance. Thus, evolved the cosmic form of Nataraja.

Lord Shiva is praised as the embodiment of dance in the following shlokam

Angikam bhuvanam yasya
Vachicam sarva vangmayam
Aharyam chandra taradi
tam vande satvikam shivam.

We bow to Him the benevolent One
Whose limbs are the world,
Whose song and poetry are the essence of all language,
Whose costume is the moon and the stars..."

In Lord Shiva's well-known pose of Nataraja, (the four arms and the left leg raised across toward the right foot), each hand either holds an object or a mudra.

The Right:

In his upper right hand, he holds the hourglass-shaped drum called the Damaru, which symbolizes creation. Each unit of the Damaru symbolizes the male and female principals of the universe. When the two triangles cross each other, they form a hexagon creating the Universe and when they separate, the universe also dissolves. It symbolizes a new awakening.

The creation of sound by the drum symbolizes the beating pulse of the Universe. It also provides music for his dance, which is most pervasive of all elements. It is believed that when Panini, the great Sanskrit scholar, was granted the boon of wisdom to end his ignorance, the sound of the drum encapsulated the whole Sanskrit grammar.

His second right hand rests Abhaya (fearlessness). Fearlessness against everything portrays Shiva as a reliable protector of the universe.

The right then symbolizes, not just the completion of the universe by a life-giving pulse, but also protecting such a creation. It ultimately symbolizes creation and protection.

The Left

On his left hand, he holds the fire. Fire is an element of destruction.

The second left hand that swings across the body pointing toward the left raised foot has the shape of an elephant's trunk. This symbolizes the removing of obstacles.

The Feet

The left foot raised and stretched across toward the right foot depicts the cycle of birth and death. The right foot set firmly on the dwarf sized demon depicts the destruction of ignorance.

Thus, we see not only a diachronic relationship between the left and right, a relationship between destruction and protection, but also a hint of the cyclic nature of such dichotomies.

Having known the symbolic interpretation of Nataraja, I feel that just one look at the Lord of Dance constantly gives us a message that our body is just inert without dance. Every move defines and anchors us to a freedom which is not granted by real life. Nataraja is not just an event of a particular deity in our mythological story but a universal view in which the forces of nature and aspirations, hope and limitations of man confront each other and are woven together.

So, let us dance with passion, beauty, courage and focused energy. Let us use dance as a healer and bring people together globally. Putting aside competing social influences let us educate the young generation of today to become committed dancers and an interested audience of tomorrow.

The curator of the Indian collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has rightly written that: "If one had to select a single icon to represent the extraordinarily rich and complex cultural heritage of India, the Shiva Nataraja might well be the most remunerative candidate."

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at











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