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Shiva Nataraja Form Sculpture – Symbolism And Meaning Hidden In Nataraja Murti

In Hinduism, Lord Shiva as Nataraja (Lord of the Dance) performs the Tandava – the dance in which the universe is created, maintained, and resolved. The idol, sculpture and picture of Nataraja, or Natraj, that is famous throughout the world today achieved canonical form in bronze sculpture cast during the rule of Chola dynasty in South India by the 10th century. The Chola Nataraja is often considered to be the quintessential statement of Indian sculpture, incomparable in its merging of symbol and form.

To fulfill his complementing roles, Shiva holds various attributes. Here are the symbolism and meaning hidden in the Nataraja Idol -

Upper Right Hand: In his upper right hand Shiva holds the damaru – a small drum shaped like an hourglass. It symbolizes the sound that originates creation and perpetuates the universe.

Upper Left Hand: The upper left hand contains Agni or fire, which signifies final destruction, the dissolution of form, out of which a new world will arise.

Below Right Hand: The second right hand shows the Abhaya mudra (meaning fearlessness in Sanskrit), giving freedom from fear and bestowing protection from both evil and ignorance.

The Below Left Hand: The second left hand points towards the raised foot which signifies upliftment and salvation. It also follows the form of an elephant trunk, alluding to wisdom.

The Dwarf on which Shiva Dances: The dwarf on which Nataraja dances is the demon Apasmara, symbolizing Shiva's victory over ignorance, which can never be completely eliminated, but it can be overcome.

Flame: The surrounding flames represent the manifest Universe.

Snake Around Waist: The snake swirling around his waist is kundalini, the Shakti or divine force thought to reside within everything. His dance is so vigorous that his hair, usually in matted locks piled on his head, becomes loose and flies about him.

Ganga on Hair: Seated within his hair is the diminutive figure of Mother Ganga, the river goddess, with her hands folded. When the river descended from heaven to earth, Shiva broke its fall with his hair, thereby keeping the earth from being crushed by its force.

Face of Shiva: As he dances the world in and out of existence, Shiva maintains a stoic face, representing his neutrality of being in complete balance.

Tiger Skin: Nataraja wears the skin of a tiger, standing for Ahankara or egoism.

The Deer: The deer on the one side is the mind that jumps from one thing to another.

The Moon: Represents the ethereal light.

The dance takes place in the cremation ground, the place where all passions and the names and forms and everything associated with the world and the outward looking mind has been burnt away. All that is left is pure consciousness devoid of attachment and there is no second.

Prayer Dedicated To Nataraja Form Of Shiva

Angikam bhuvanam yasya
Vachikam sarva vangmayam
Aharyam chandra taradi
Tam namah satvikam Shivam.

(Whose limbs are the universe, Whose word is the essence of all language, Whose ornaments are the moon and stars — To that Virtuous Shivam, we bow down!)

In the holy month of Margazhi (December-January) in Tamil Nadu, on the day with the asterism Thiruvathira, the Arudra festival dedicated to Nataraja form of Shiva is observed.

The Arudra Naivedyam made for Nataraja on this day is made of rice, jaggery, moong dal, coconut, cardamom and ghee to go with thalagam or ezhu curry kootu made out of seven vegetables mostly including root vegetables.