Nataraja is a unique imagery of the Indian God Shiva engaged in “aananda taandav” or the dance of heavenly bliss. In Hindu tradition, God Shiva is the archetype of the boundless, pure and unmanifested Universal energy, “the Prana”. His dancing form has been surmised by Indian mystics as the flow of Cosmic energy that changes into multiple patterns with unique grace and beauty.
The symbolic depiction of Universal truth through the dancing Nataraja:
The figure of Nataraja bears a countenance of Shiva engaged in a graceful dance. But his face is devoid of any emotions. The image bears four hands radiating in four cardinal directions with his left foot lifted, hinting at progression of a wild dance of liberation and final bliss.
During his ‘ananda tandava’ dance, Lord Nataraja holds a drum in his right hand signifying the primal sound vibration from which Universe had emerged into existence. It is believed that our Universe began with vibrations of the sound ‘Om’ that connects all living beings with the cosmic consciousness. In his left hand, he holds fire, one of the five elements that bring destruction to initiate the process of transformation. His raised left leg indicates the ultimate goal of elevating ourselves to higher levels of consciousness. With his right foot, he stands on the demon who represent ‘Ego’. Ego manifests as human arrogance and creates illusions that restrict us. His other right hand is held in “abhaya mudra” that signifies that you should be fearless always and the other left hand points to his raised foot emphasizing the need to liberate yourself and raise your consciousness. The snake around his waist indicates the kundalini Shakti or creative energy in our psychic body.
The statue of dancing Shiva at CERN:
The 2 meter tall statue of dancing Nataraja at CERN, the European Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva symbolizes the rhythm of changing forms of particles. Fritz of Capra in his book The Tao of Physics explains that the Dance of Shiva symbolizes not only the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, but also the daily rhythm of birth and death which is seen in Indian mysticism as the basis of all existence. He also says that Shiva reminds us that the manifold forms in the world are maya-not fundamental, but illusory and ever-changing – as he keeps creating and dissolving them in the ceaseless flow of his dance.
Nataraja’s dance and behavior of sub-atomic particles
Fritz of Capra trying to explain the “dance of creation and destruction” (a phrase coined by the physicist Kenneth Ford) says that the ideas of rhythm and dance naturally come into mind when one tries to imagine the flow of energy going through the patterns that make up the particle world. Aptly in Hindu religion, Nataraja does represent this inevitable phenomenon of change or transformation as a beautiful act of nature. His dance is a great insight into the universal truth – that life is an eternal cycle of changing patterns.
Hindus believe, when change is inevitable, let us seek the music and beauty in it; we ourselves can evolve gracefully only if we merge with the changing phases of life.
Nataraja temple of Chidambaram
In temples of India, Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of Lord Nataraja because it is believed that understanding him intrinsically will liberate one from all the limitations that one creates through ego and strong emotions attached to this ego. The Nataraja temple in Chidambaram represents the space and temple is considered to be at the heart of Universe – the focal point of all changes and transformations. Here, Nataraja delivers an important message: “Be fearless and face the changes in life”. He awakens his devotees to seek higher consciousness through transformation and evolve so as to find harmony with the cosmic void – from where all creations emerge and finally end.