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Epic for children | Nataraja: The king of dance

People who watched the images from the G20 conference in Delhi might have noticed a huge idol of Lord Shiva at the venue, Bharat Mandapam. A similar idol graces the CERN or the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. In these idols, Shiva is frozen mid-dance within the Prabhamandala (cosmic circle of fire), representing the never-ending cycle of creation and destruction of the universe, which moves in sync with Shiva’s dance rhythm. The Shiva idol has four arms. In the upper right hand, he holds a damaru (hourglass-shaped drum) that represents creation, while the lower right hand is in the abhaya mudra (a gesture that allays the fears of righteous people). In the upper left hand, he holds Agni (fire), which signifies destruction, and the lower left hand is held across the chest in the gajahasta (elephant-trunk pose). Shiva’s long locks of hair are flying around him.

This dancing form of Lord Shiva is called Nataraja (the king of dance). The dance performed by Shiva is called Tandava. When it is performed with joy, it is called Ananda Tandava. Performed in a violent mood, it is called Rudra Tandava. When the first wife of Shiva, Sati, gave up her life because her father had insulted her husband, Shiva performed the Rudra Tandava. Shiva, sometimes, performed the gentle Sandhya Tandava, in which other gods, like Brahma, Vishnu, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Indra, played various musical instruments. Sati reincarnated as Parvati. She performs a dance called Lasya with Shiva, characterised by gentle and graceful movements.

Trampled beneath Nataraja’s feet lies the demon Apasmara. According to legend, Apasmara was a demon who oppressed people by causing seizures and memory loss in them. When he dared to use his powers against Parvati, Shiva took the Nataraja form to dance on top of him and subdue him. Interestingly, in Ayurveda, Apasmara refers to epilepsy in which the patient usually suffers from seizures and memory loss.

The Nataraja form evolved during the rule of the Chola dynasty, the longest-lasting empire of Southern India. Nataraja became a symbol of Chola power. The most famous Nataraja bronze statue is at the Chola capital, Chidambaram, in Tamil Nadu. The 108 poses carved on the walls of this temple form a foundation of the classical dance Bharatanatyam. With its moderate size and circular base, the idol was easily carried around in processions in South India in the Eleventh and later centuries. Western sculptors like Auguste Rodin, and philosophers like Aldous Huxley have expressed their admiration for the perfection evident in Nataraja idols. Eat your hearts out, Hrithik Roshan, Prabhu Deva, and other dancing heroes, for the title of the king of dance firmly belongs to Lord Shiva.

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