Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Nataraja: Siva as the Divine Dancer of the Cosmos

10th century Chola Statue

of Nataraja

“Amongst the greatest of the names of Siva is Nataraja, Lord of Dancers, or King of Actors. The cosmos is His theatre, there are many different steps in His repertory, He Himself is actor and audience… How many various dances of Siva are known to His worshippers I cannot say. No doubt the root idea behind all of these dances is more or less one and the same, the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy.” ~ Ananda Coomaraswamy in his 1918 essay, “The Dance of Siva.” 

The divine dances of Lord Siva are infinite and eternal—we know of a very small number of his dances. In his essay, Coomaraswamy talks about three of the most well known Siva dances: the Siva Pradosha Stotra, the Tandava, and the Nadanta.  He offers verses from several ancient texts which dwell upon Siva’s attribute of sustaining and regulating the cosmos through the divine energy that gets generated from his music and dances. Here’s his translation of a verse from Chidambara Mummani Kovai

“O my Lord, Thy hand holding the sacred drum has made and ordered the heavens and earth and other worlds and innumerable souls. Thy lifted hand protects both the conscious and unconscious order of thy creation. All these worlds are transformed by Thy hand bearing fire. Thy sacred foot, planted on the ground, gives an abode to the tired soul struggling in the toils of causality. It is Thy lifted foot that grants eternal bliss to those that approach Thee. These Five-Actions are indeed Thy Handiwork.”

Coomaraswamy summarizes his discussion of Siva’s dances with these words: “The Essential Significance of Siva's Dance is threefold: First, it is the image of his Rhythmic Play as the Source of all Movement within the Cosmos, which is Represented by the Arch: Secondly, the Purpose of his Dance is to Release the Countless souls of men from the Snare of Illusion: Thirdly the Place of the Dance, Chidambaram, the Centre of the Universe, is within the Heart.”

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