meaning “the lord of dance” is a depiction of the Shaivism Supreme God Shiva as the cosmic ecstatic dancer. His dance is called Tandavam or Nadanta, depending on the context of the dance.
Postures and their meanings
- He dances within an circular or cyclically closed arch of flames (prabha mandala), which symbolically represent the cosmic fire that in Hindu cosmology creates everything and consumes everything, in cyclic existence or cycle of life. The fire also represents the evils, dangers, heat, warmth, light and joys of daily life. The arch of fire emerges from two makara on each end, which are water creatures of water and part of Hindu mythologies.
- His legs are bent, which suggests an energetic dance. His long, matted tresses, are shown to be loose and flying out in thin strands during the dance, spread into a fan behind his head, because of the wildness and ecstasy of the dance.
- On his right side, meshed in with one of the flying strands of his hair near his forehead, is typically the river Gangespersonified as a goddess, from the Hindu mythology where the danger of a mighty river is creatively tied to a calm river for the regeneration of life.
- The upper right hand holds a small drum shaped like an hourglass that is called a ḍamaru in Sanskrit. A specific hand gesture (mudra) called ḍamaru-hasta(Sanskrit for “ḍamaru-hand”) is used to hold the drum.It symbolizes rhythm and time.
- The upper left hand contains Agni or fire, which signifies forces of creation and destruction. The opposing concepts show the counterpoise nature of life.
- A cobra uncoils from his lower right forearm, while his palm shows the Abhaya mudra (meaning fearlessness in Sanskrit), suggesting not to fear nearby evil, as well as evil and ignorance surrounding the devotee as he or she follows the righteousness of dharma.
- The second left hand points towards the raised foot which suggests the viewer to be active and dance despite the circumstances, or alternatively as a sign of upliftment and liberation.
- The face shows two eyes plus a slightly open third on the forehead, which symbolize the triune in Shaivism. The eyes represent the sun, the moon and the third has been interpreted as the inner eye, or symbol of knowledge (jnana), urging the viewer to seek the inner wisdom, self-realization. The three eyes alternatively symbolize an equilibrium of the three Guṇa: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.
- The dwarf on which Nataraja dances is the demon Apasmara purusha (Muyalaka, as it is known in Tamil), and which symbolises action and dance that leads to victory over demonic evil and ignorance.
- The slightly smiling face of Shiva represents his calmness despite being immersed in the contrasting forces of universe and his energetic dance