There are two principal and antagonistic kinds of dance, corresponding to the benign and wrathful manifestations of Lord Shiva. Tandava, the fierce, violent dance, fired by an explosive, sweeping energy, is a delirious outburst, precipitating havoc. On the other hand, lasya, the gentle, lyric dance, is full of sweetness and represents the emotions of tenderness and love. Shiva indeed is the perfect master of the two.
But here represented is Shiva performing the terrible dance Tandava. The Tandava-dance, the violent, phrenetic effusion of divine energies, bears traits suggesting some cosmic war dance, designed to arouse destructive energies and to work havoc on the foe; at the same time, it is the triumphant dance of the victor. In a poem by Kalidasa (Meghaduta), it is told that even the Goddess-spouse Parvati, who watched the dance of her beloved husband felt alarm at this terrible sight. It sent the shivers up and down her spine. Against the sinister background of floral-flames, however, there flash the divine, youthful limbs, agile, delicate, and graceful, moving with their measured solemnity; and in these is the beautiful innocence of the first athletic powers of young manhood.
This dance, like life itself, is a mixture of the terrific and the auspicious, a juxtaposition and unification of destruction, death, and vital triumph, the volcanic bursting-forth of the lavas of life. Here is a blending familiar to the Hindu mind, everywhere documented in Hindu art. It is understood as expressive of the Divine, which in its totality comprises all the goods and evils, beauties and horrors, joys and agonies, of our phenomenal life.
Zimmer, Heinrich, Edited by Joseph Campbell. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization: Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1990.