As Nataraja, Shiva holds a drum in his upper right hand: this beats steadily as the heartbeat of life, representing the rhythm of creation. In his upper left hand, he holds a flame from which the destruction of the world by fire begins. The circle of flames that envelops Shiva portrays the continual cycle of destruction and renewal of life, which is activated by the creative energy of Shiva: when Shiva's cosmic dance comes to an end, so too does the world. However, the dance always begins again, initiating the process of recreation. Shiva's dance also symbolizes the destruction of evil, denoted by the dwarf whom he tramples underfoot.
Despite his power to destroy, Shiva also seeks to protect the world and his devotees. His forward right hand is raised in a gesture (mudra) that means "Do not fear", while his forward left hand points down to his raised foot, signaling that all who approach him with devotion may find protection at his feet. The Nataraja image brilliantly illustrates both calm and the flux that exist in the world. The face of this cosmic dancer is impassive, serene and at peace, while the rest of his body twirls and swirls in response to the flow of energy that moves the world.