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The Ananda-Tandava iconography focuses on all three aspects that rendered creation possible : it incorporates ‘damaru’, the initial tool of ordaining sound, his surging hair styled as containing waves, and the form of dance seeking to regulate movement and measure pace. As illustrates its iconographic-anatomical vision the statue represents Lord Shiva as engaged in Ananda-Tandava, the dance that reveals great cosmic energy symbolised in the statue by the flames of fire rising from the palm of his upper-most left hand, and in his waves-like unfurling hair. Though the number of arms in his Ananda-Tandava iconography sometimes varies as four, six or eight, in the upper most right he is represented as carrying a ‘damaru’ – double-drum, and the upper most left, as holding on it flames of fire. Alike, the normal right hand is held in the posture granting ‘abhaya’ – freedom from fear, while the normal left, as signaling dissolution. The symbolism of Ananda-Tandava is obvious. While dissolution is its essence, the process of re-creation is as essential to follow : the fire of life to emerge right from the ashes of destruction. Hence while the left hand symbolises destruction – the end, the right assures that the creation shall simultaneously emerge – a beginning.
In Ananda-Tandava imagery this interplay of dissolution and re-creation is as powerfully revealed also in subordinate imagery : Apasamarapurusha – demon of inertia or forgetfulness, on the body of which Shiva performs Ananda-Tandava, another essential feature of Ananda-Tandava iconography, and the images of two female attendants. Apasamarapurusha represents pre and post dissolution phases, one symbolising the shape of things rendering dissolution inevitable, and other, the state after dissolution has taken place when nothing but forgetfulness or inertness prevails. Apasamarapurusha carries in one of its hands a bud or flower which is yet to bloom suggesting that it is still the long time when the creation shall begin its course. The witness to and the tool of the great act, Apasamarapurusha is well contended to lay in complete passivity under the feet of Nataraja. Shiva’s attendants, not a regular feature of the Nataraja imagery, are spirits representing two essential cosmic elements : the time and the space, and the flowers in their hands, the life or creation they accommodate and uphold.
As is the convention, the normal right and left hands have been cast to denote on one hand the moves of dance in perfect harmony to the rest of the body-movements, and on the other, dissolution and assurance. Alike, in the uppermost right and left hands the image carries a ‘damaru’ – double drum, and flames of fire symbolic of explosion of the ultimate cosmic energy that Tandava generates. Sometimes ‘prabhavali’ – fire-arch, is also conceived with flames of fire, greater emphasis being on energy dynamics. However, the artist of this statue has preferred a lotus arch, creation, not dissolution, being its crux. Consisting of lotuses, the microcosmic manifestation of cosmos, and topped by Shri-mukha motif, the symbol of auspices, ‘prabhavali’ seems to suggest that creation has begun taking effect simultaneous to Ananda-Tandava itself conforming the view that composition and decomposition are simultaneous phenomena. In two of his right hands Nataraja is carrying a noose and a rod, the instruments that commands disruptive forces, again an aspect assisting creation. As the Nataraja images are sometimes conceived, in one of his left hands Lord Shiva is carrying a seed or seed-containing fruit, and in another, a bell, one symbolising fertility and growth, and other, the sound that dispels inertia and vibrates the void with life. Overall anatomy of the figure creates a unique sense of rhythm and dramatizes the ambience by pervading it in its entirety, something which his four-armed figures do not effect so powerfully.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.