Lord Shiva is one of the most peculiar God of the Indian Philosophy. He is a Destroyer and a transformer, a Passionate lover, a Ferocious warrior, the Lord of the Cosmic Dance and the very personification of the dynamism of our universe!
At the same time, Shiva is also regarded as formless, limitless and unchanging absolute Brahman (Ultimate Reality) and the primal Atman (soul, self) of the universe. Shiva is the name given to consciousness that dwells in us all, our true identity, our soul!
गलेऽवलम्ब्य लम्बितां भुजङ्गतुङ्गमालिकाम् ।
चकार चण्डताण्डवं तनोतु नः शिवः शिवम् ॥१॥
“Flowing down from His Huge Matted Hair is the Sacred Water of the River Ganges, making the Ground Holy on which Shiva is dancing His Great Tandava;
Hanging down is the Lofty Serpents which are Adorning His Neck like Lofty Garlands,
The continuous ‘Damad, Damad, Damad, Damad’ sounds of his Damaru are filling the atmosphere all around,
Shiva is engrossed in such a Passionate Tandava; O my Lord Shiva, Please Extend the Auspicious Tandava Dance within our beings also.”
The Shiva Tandava Stotra: Composed by Ravana (The antagonist of the Epic Ramayana) consists of 15 verses in total which beautifully illustrate the main iconographical attributes of Shiva.
Shiva is generally depicted with a third eye on his forehead, a serpent around his neck, adorning a crescent moon and the holy river Ganga on his Natty dreadlocks, wearing an elephant skin or a tiger skin, smeared with ashes from the burial ground, begging from a bowl made of skull, the trishula (Trident) as his weapon and the damaru (a two-headed drum).
This Mahadev (God of the gods) who known by so many names: Adiyogi, Mahakaal, Rudra, Neelkanth, Bholenath, Shankara etc, is usually worshiped in the aniconic form of Lingam (a phallic symbol).
Each of his forms has different depictions in iconography. For eg. as Bhairava (fearful) Shiva is depicted as a fierce warrior, as Shankara (house-holder) he is depicted with Parvati and their children Ganesh and Kartikeya, as Adiyogi he is depicted in his ascetic form meditating.
Of all the various iconographical depictions, Nataraja (the lord of the cosmic dance) is the most famous! The Tandava that Shiva dances is the dance of joy and ecstasy. It symbolically represents the creation and the destruction of the universe.
Nataraja at CERN
Shiva, as Nataraj is shown with four hands which represent the four cardinal directions. He is dancing the Tandava, with his left foot raised and the right foot on the ‘Apasmara Purusha’, the personification of illusion and ignorance, over whom Lord Shiva triumphs. The upper left-hand holds a flame, the lower left-hand points down to the dwarf, who is shown holding a cobra. The upper right-hand holds the damaru that stands for the vital masculine and the feminine principles of the universe, the lower shows the Abhayamudra, gesture of assertion: “Be without fear.”
Snakes that are seen uncoiling from his arms and legs stand for egotism. His matted dreadlocks that are braided and bejeweled are whirling as he dances within a circle of flames which represents the endless cycle of birth and death.
On his head is a skull, which symbolizes his conquest over death. The Goddess Ganga also sits on his head with a crescent moon besides. His third eye is symbolic of his omniscience, insight, and enlightenment. The whole idol rests on a lotus pedestal, the symbol of the creative forces of the universe.
Today scientists are seeing this Dancing Shiva as a metaphor for the pulsating process of creation and destruction that every subatomic particle goes through. Further in 2004, a 2m statue of the Nataraja was unveiled at CERN, the European Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva.
“For the modern physicists, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter.” ~ Fritzof Capra
For me, Shiva and his cosmic dance symbolize the mysteries of life and death. It is the rhythm of the universe and a representation of Hindy philosophy, mythology, and art. The entire image of Nataraja is paradoxical for me, it depicts the inner tranquility of a self and the outer chaos.
(PS: Though natty means stylish or smart, it also is a Rastafarian term meaning natural or denoting uncombed matted hair.)
© Ashwini Nawathe, Kaleidoscope of My Life
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