Nataraja – the dance of Infinity, Unity and Inclusivity
One of the most celebrated sculptures in the Indian civilisation is the lithe, elegant, exquisite vigraha of Nataraja, the divine lord of dancers.
About Nataraja –
- Nataraja is the most brilliant symbolic manifestation of one of the Trinity Gods of Hinduism – Shiva. One of India’s greatest philosophers, historian and metaphysician Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, wrote on the power and grace of the Nataraja, “it is the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of”.
- The very form depicts the joyous dance of life – of creation, sustenance and destruction, all three represented in a single image. Nata meaning dance, Raja meaning the King, Nataraja, the cosmic dancer is thus the King of Dance.
- The divine dance is balanced between the opposing concepts of nature of life – joy of creation and dissolution of self. The lotus upon which he dances is the human heart. The demon Apsamara or Muyalaka, on whom he dances embodies the ignorance of the individual.
- His lower right hand of benediction is in the gesture of the Abhaya mudra which says to the individual – “Do not fear, I shall protect & bless those who follow the path of righteousness withlove & devotion”.
- Nataraja’s front left hand, pointing to his raised left foot, signifies freedom of the individual from the cycle of birth & death and all problems in-between. With every rhythm in his dance, he steps on the dwarfish demon who personifies the trap of worldly existence and his victory over it.
Dance of Five Elements –
The iconography of Nataraja shows that the Cosmic Dancer is set inside a halo of flames. The divine lord dances within the circular ring called the Prabha Mandala, indicating the cycle of life, death and continuity. Some texts have also interpreted this fire as denoting the many colours of human life, fear, joy, sorrows, hope, all dissolving in the illusion of existence.
Nataraja’s face radiates knowledge & serenity, and his four arms indicate the four cardinal directions.
- The hour-glass like instrument he holds is the damaru representing the space & sound (sabda) of creation. Empty space enclosed in the damaru enabling it to generate sound (sabda) symbolises Akasha.
- The tresses jata of Nataraja are horizontal, flying out, revealing motion and the headdress ties them in place against the wind representing Vayu
- The fire Nataraja holds in his left-hand represents Agni
- Water flows from his head, signifying the life-giving water of Ganga- Apaha
- His majestic form represents the Earth – Prithvi
Scientific symbolism –
- The scientific symbolism that the Nataraja enshrines has not been lost on the global scientific community. Switzerland based European Organization for Nuclear Research, popularly known as CERN, that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world has a Nataraja statue at its entrance. CERN is known for the discovery of the God-particle (Higgs Boson elementary particle) in 2012. The cosmic dance of the Nataraja and the modern study of the ‘cosmic dance’ of subatomic particles both are attempts to unravel the mysteries of the universe and to understand the real nature of our existence.
- The plaque on the statue at CERN reads “Modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is not only manifest in the turn of the seasons and in the birth and death of all living creatures, but is also the very essence of inorganic matter”.
For the modern physicists, then, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics.
Source – India Foundation
QUESTION – Discuss the scientific symbolism behind the statue of Nataraja.