The classic Nataraja iconography has an interesting story behind it. It is said that Shiva decided one day to grace the kanakasabha (golden assembly) at Chidambram. The deities and sages gathered there told Him of the heresies of the Mimansaka sages inhabiting the surrounding woods. In keeping with His dharmic greatness, Shiva confronted them in the clearing where burnt their sacrificial fire. A blazing tiger emerged from the flames and attacked Shiva, but He overpowered it in a flash and made its skin His loincloth. Then a superlatively venomous snake rose from the firepit, but Shiva overpowered it and made its kind His adornment such that they sit with great docility on His limbs and tresses. Finally, the apasmara was born from the fire of the heretics, whose back was snapped against the weight of His powerful physique motioning in tandava.
The most unusual aspect of Shiva-Nataraja are His madly flowing locks that flank His handsome countenance. It indicates that the deity's power is five-fold. He projects the entirety of existence as we know it (srishti), preserves it (sthiti), causes its cyclical destruction (samhara), withdraws His energies inward (tirobhava), and reveals Himself to His devotees in all His grace (anugraha). It is this panchakritya (five functions) that the Nataraja embodies. The inverted-lotus pedestal He is placed on in all His shringar, in complementary colours in case of each finish, is typical of the murtis of Indian deities.