An example of rare skill, just a single leg and that too bent at sixty
degree angle holds the entire weight and volume of a figure quite tall
and wide and full of movement with various parts passionately
gesticulated and flung into space with great force. Besides, it does
not have a level base under it but just an uneven back of a tiny
humanized figure identified in Nataraja iconography as
Apasamarapurusha – the demon of inertia. The movement of the left leg
raised almost at hundred-twenty degree angle, all four arms thrown
into space with great force and locks of hair waving straight and
unsupported, could be simply unmanageable but for the great skill of
the artist. Usually Nataraja icons have around them a strong
‘prabhavali’ – fire-arch, consisting of flames of fire, that besides
framing and supporting the image has significant symbolic dimensions.
This image does not have even a fire-arch around, and the entire
figure stands unsupported all parts just mutually balanced.
Full of divine lustre the image of Lord Shiva, mythically conceived
and realistically cast, with its right leg placed on the figure of
Apasamarapurusha, and left, turned to the right and shot into space,
has been installed on a lotus pedestal. On figure’s face enshrines a
divine bearing and in the anatomy – unfurling locks of hair and
various body parts, the ecstasy of dance. Though all four arms of the
figure are gesticulated corresponding to moves of dance, each also has
a role, different from other, as also different significance. The
upper right hand is holding a ‘damaru’ – double drum, the source of
‘nada’ – sound, in Nataraja iconography, cosmic sound, the upper left,
the flame of fire symbolic of divine energy that Tandava generates,
the lower right reveals the gesture of ’abhaya’ – redeeming from fear
assuring that creation would follow dissolution, and the lower left,
the gesture of dissolution. Excellent anatomical proportions,
well-defined features, elaborate ornamentation with most distinctive
forms of various bands, especially those on arms and belly and an
elaborately crested crown define the image of the great Lord.
Nataraja – king of ‘natas’, stage-performers to include dance, Natesh
– the supreme ‘nata’, and Nratya-Dakshina-murti – the most
accomplished dancer, are epithets of Shiva, the ever first master of
dance. Dance was Shiva’s divine act he used to destroy as also to
delight, his mode of creation; he created in delight and through it.
The tradition classified his dance for dissolution as ‘Tandava’, more
often as ‘Ananda-Tandava’ for he performed it with divine rapture
knowing that creation was awaiting to succeed and emerge. His dance to
delight has been classified as ‘lasya’, the dance that revealed great
aesthetic beauty, though no regular form has been attributed to it.
More popular in South and most powerfully sculpted or cast by South
Indian artists/artisans Nataraja iconography is often attributed to
South as one of Shiva forms in South Indian tradition and the
distinction of South Indian artists; however, whatever their source
Nataraja statues of Shiva, not so much as a votive image but for its
rare form and aesthetic beauty, beautify chambers of millions of
art-lovers world over beyond sectarian line.
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.
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