No pose of Lord Siva better captures the unity of the functions of creation, preservation and destruction and the whole cycle of existence than Nataraja-the Dancing Shiva. The large circle of flames in which Siva dances represents rhythmic play, the source of all motion in the universe. It is this to which we will return as we blend with the flow of cosmic energy.
With one foot Shiva balances on the dwarf of ignorance or forgetfulness which separates us from contact with the true reality. The other foot is raised in a dancing pose which, according to Heinrich Zimmer, symbolizes “The continuous circulation of consciousness into and out of the condition of ignorance.” This foot tells us there is a way out; we are not bound to ignorance. This foot means release from the bonds of illusion or Maya.
In Shiva’s upper right hand we find a “Damaru” or small drum which represents sound as the first step in the manifestation of the universe and also symbolizes the rhythm of creation. In his upper left hand is a ball of flame, symbolizing the world’s final destruction as a corollary to the act of creation. Forms are continually created and destroyed but the essential energy of the Universe goes on.
The lower right hand is held in a teaching pose saying to us, “Do not be afraid; there is a way out and that way out is through me.” This hand leads in a rhythmic line directly to the lower left hand which points us to the way out. That way out is the raised foot of release from the chains of ignorance. In Siva’s dishevelled hair we see the Ganga, the goddess of the great river, and the moon. They too are less than the whole and are a part of the larger universe. The serpents on Siva’s body symbolize the life force that underlies all being.
B. Rajan, in his novel The Dark Dancer speaks of the dancing Siva in these words:
[At the wedding feast a girl sings.] “She sang of Siva dancing in the great temple of Chidambaram, the timeless dance in which each gesture is eternity, with every movement of that mighty form expressing and exhausing the history of a universe. ‘You who danced with your limbs held high, the moon in your forehead and the river Ganga on your matted locks, lift me great Siva as your limbs are lifted.’ In the beginning was rhythm, not the word. Not darkness, but moonlight and the radiance of creation. Never was there nothing, without form and void; but always form of its essence everlastingly changing. He [the hero] heard, half heard the drums and the accompanying tamboura—throbbing, civilised, sophisticated frenzy. He saw the great figure of the Nataraja, one leg arched in that supreme expression of energy, the dying smile of the demon beneath the other’s lightness, all that infinite power of destruction drawn back into the bronze circle of repose.
‘Neither flesh nor fleshless neither from nor towards, at the still point there the dance is.’
…Creation, Destruction. Two concepts but one dance, the trampling leg, the outthrust arms asserting the law invincibly, ascetically, the drums beating, the strings plucked in supplicating monotony, raise me, raise me into the mystery’s centre; for something to be born something must die.”
This bronze sculpture was created in the village of Swamimalai (Tamil Nadu), using the lost wax process.