Lord Shiva is one of the most prominent deities in the Hindu mythology. Let us discuss about a very common form of Lord Shiva and that is Natraj. It is very common to find the idols of Natraj in India and is associated with the native culture invariably. You must have definitely seen an idol of Lord Shiva in Natraj form which is a beautiful form of Hindu art. However, you may not know the significance and the story behind this form.
Dancing Shiva in Hindu Art & Tradition
Lord Shiva as Nataraj form is also called the dancing Shiva. If you go by the meaning of the word Natraj it means the king of dancers. This is why Bharatnatyam that is a form of Indian dance uses the Nataraj as a symbol of this dance form. The first Nataraj idol is dated back to the chola dynasty which dates back as far as 1200 CE.
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The Nataraj was so beautiful that artisans all over the country made it in different ways and styles. The Nataraj is perhaps the best unification of Indian and Hindu art and religion. Different deities are supposed to have different talents and Lord Shiva was a very talented singer and dancer. However, it was not very often that he danced. It was only some special occasions when he took the form of Nataraj.
The Nataraj Form Explored
The Nataraj has four hands like the four directions. One foot of the Nataraj is always in the air. This figure is called apasmara purusha. The Nataraj is standing with one foot on the demon of illusion and ignorance.
- One hand of the Nataraj holds a flame.
- The second hand faces downwards towards the demon under the feet of the Lord Shiva. The demon is seen holding a cobra.
- The third hand of the Nataraj holds a dumroo (it is a musical instrument). In Hindu religion the dumroo stands for the male and female forces coming together.
- The fourth hand is in a position that is blessing the devotees and tells them to be without fear.
The hair of the Nataraj is loose and it is flowing. This makes the Nataraj look more majestic and heroic in this form. The cobra stands for egoism that the Nataraj is trying to destroy. Unless you are without ego you cannot reach spiritual success. The flames represent the cycle of birth and death that is endless and eternal like the Nataraj himself.
The Nataraj has a skull on his head. This is to show that the Nataraj has conquered death. You can also see the Ganga River sitting on the top of the head of Nataraj. The third eye of the Nataraj is open and it is the symbol of omniscience, insight and enlightenment. You will see that the idol of the Nataraj is placed on a lotus. The lotus is the symbol of all the creative forces that make the universe.
The Cosmic Dance
The cosmic dance of the Lord Shiva was called anandatandava. This means the dance of bliss when translated into Sanskrit. The dance is symbolic of the cycles of creation and destruction. It also is a symbol of life and death cycle that we see on a daily basis. The anandatandava includes all the five activities of the universe and they are creation, prevention, destruction, illusion and release.
These five activities are eternal to life and to all that we see around us. These activities are called shristi, sthiti, samhara, tirobhava and anugraha. The Natraj is the unification of the inner peace and the external activities of lord Shiva. The face of the Natraj is calm and neutral this show that he is in balance. There is a crescent moon on the head of the Natraj. It is basically a symbol and nothing much. If the moon was not there it would mean cosmic destruction. A serpent can be seen wrapped around the neck of the Lord Shiva.
The Scientific View
The physicists say that the Natraj is a very symbolic part of Hinduism and it does have a lot of scientific significance too. All the particles that we see or cannot see have a rhythm and they dance around. The Natraj is a significant of this. There is a famous book written on Natraj it is called “the dance of Shiva”. Strange to see how Natraj can be connected so well to modern physics. The book is a must read and we recommend it to the readers. The Natraj has been a thing of fascination for both the science as well as art. Perhaps this is the biggest achievement of the idol of Natraj that it brings together two diverse aspects of knowledge. The Natraj is a very attractive idol and it is equally fascinating.
The Mythological Tale
It is said that once the demon of ignorance became too proud and he was creating trouble for all. He was also very egoistic and proud of himself. He thought that no one could destroy him. The Lord Shiva appeared to the demon and he tried to make him change his ways. However, the demon in his arrogance did not bother to take Lord Shiva seriously. This is when the Lord Shiva had to take the form of Natraj in order to kill the demon of ignorance and illusion. He also killed the ego of the demon. This is how the Lord Shiva got the form of Natraj and protected the world from ignorance.
The Traditional Dance Form of Hindu Art
There is a dance form in Bharatnatyam where the dancers become Natraj. The form that we have mentioned above is the original form of Natraj. However, artsists have added their imagination and you can get different versions of Natraj. In some cases you can see Natraj with ten hands too. Well all these are imagination as artists can imagine anything as he creates. Many Indians keep the Natraj in their homes. It is a good symbol to keep the Natraj in the house. It ensures that the negative vibes are removed from the house. If you are an artist or a dancer you must worship the Natraj for strength and inspiration.
This is all about the Lord Shiva as Nataraj. We hope that this will help you to understand each and every aspect of this fascinating form of lord Shiva. If you see a Nataraj next time perhaps you will look more closely into all the details that we have mentioned in here.