The Science of Shiva (Sri Nataraja) Thandava

Hari Om

Nataraja (Lord Shiva),The Tandavamurthy

Nataraja is Siva who is hidden in all the rhythmic movements of the manifest creation, the so called cosmic dance that ensures the orderliness (Rta) of the universe, the movement of the earth and the heavens, the arrangement of the galaxies and the inter stellar spaces, on which depends precariously the whole balance.

His dance is a divine activity that suffers no conflicts. It entertains our suffering minds and dispels our ignorance. It destroys our illusions and burns the worlds of demons and darkness. Finally, at the end of creation it dissolves the entire universe into a mysterious period of ekanda, a suspended activity.

Lord Siva is a master of dance forms. He is the author of all dance forms. The science of dance ( Natya sasthra) dealing with the 108 types of classical Indian dance forms said to have originated from him just as all the yogic postures.

In case of Lord Siva all dance is a form of expression, which he uses either to destroy the evil or alleviate the sufferings of his devotees.

About nine forms of Siva in dancing mode are described, of which the most popular form is Nataraja (the king of dance). Though we have a number of icons of Siva as Nataraja, he is rarely worshipped in this form either in the temples or in the households.

His other dance forms include, Ananda-tandava-murhty, dancing in a pleasant and cheerful mood, Uma-tandava-murhty, dancing in the company of Parvathi, Tripura-tandava-murthy, dancing while slaying Tripurasura and Urdhva-tandava-murhty, dancing in the air.

The Apsmarapurusha (the forgotten and deluded self), on whose body he rests his feet in the image of Nataraja symbolizes this fact. And for Siva this whole wide world of apasmarapurushas is a stage on which he enacts his dance drama.

The Thandava by Lord Shiva (Sri Nataraja), is a dance of energy. It is also the ‘dance’ of the Universe which is dynamic and symbolic – showing the interplay between the greater cosmic forces around us – the dance of Nature. In this larger dance, we see birth and death, creation and destruction. In Lord Shiva’s Thandava, we see the same – but are reminded that all is Maya, dynamic and ever changing. Nothing is permanent – all dissolves with time.

Physics then has a large part to play here – rhythm and movement (dance) combine to create patterns in energy distribution. Rhythm and movement are intrinsic to the Universe, to the ebb and flow of matter in Time.

Another parallel is the understanding that all matter, whether here on Earth or in outer space, is participating in a continual cosmic dance.

Dr. Fritjof Capra in his book, ‘The Tao of Physics’ explained that… “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,” and that Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter.”

Every subatomic particle not only does an energy dance, but is also an energy dance; a pulsating and cyclic process of creation and destruction…without an end…For the modern Physicists, Shiva’s dance is the (cosmic) dance of subatomic matter.

Dr. Capra also concluded:

“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.”

So we are not surprised that this recognition of the figurative and creative representation of physics, a tall Nataraja in CERN in Geneva, pays tribute to Shiva’s cosmic dance. The text of the plaque placed near the Nataraja, says, “Seeing beyond the unsurpassed rhythm, beauty, power and grace of the Nataraja, It is the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of.” Lord Shiva’s dance takes two forms – the ‘Lasya’ or the gentle form (creation); and the ‘Tandava’ or the violent form that is associated with the destruction of the world. This, while is a representation of Lord Shiva’s nature; it is also an allegory to the cyclic nature of the world. What is created, is destroyed, only to be created again.

So let us look at what Lord Shiva as Nataraja, represents:

1. The upper right hand holds the damaru, an hourglass shaped drum, in a specific hand gesture or mudra called the damaru-hasta. This is the sound beat of origin or creation.

2. The upper left hand holds Agni or fire, which signifies destruction. Thus, the two upper hands hold creation and destruction, setting a balance.

3. The second right hand shows the Abhaya mudra (meaning fearlessness), bestowing protection from both evil and ignorance to those who follow the righteousness of dharma.

4. The second left hand points towards the raised foot, which signifies upliftment and liberation.

5. One foot of Nataraja is placed on the demon Apasmara, who represents ignorance.

6. In the throes of the Thandav, Lord Shiva’s matted hair which is in a top knot, loosens and whips out at the heavenly bodies, disturbing their movement or even causing their destruction.

7. Sinuously wrapped around his waist is the snake that represents the Kundalini, or the Shakti that lives within all things.

8. Lord Shiva’s face is calm – his lack of emotion denotes the balance of all things.

9. The flames around the cosmic dancer represent the Universe.

Today on this Arudra Dharshan day let us remember these concepts and praise Lord Nataraja and receive His choicest Blessings for the upliftment, peace and bliss of the entire humanity and all living beings.

Shiva Thandava Stotram:

GF’ Blessings.