By M.S.N Menon
The dance of Shiva is the dance of the universe. It is the artist'sconcept of the cosmic process, and the most fascinating symbol of the process of creation and destruction, of birth and death. In one hand, the Lord holds the drum, the symbol of creation; in the other He holds fire, the symbol of destruction. Is man then a plaything in this inexorable process of birth and death? No. Not so, assures the Lord with one hand; with another He invites men to take refuge in Him. But man must become pure before he can be one with the Lord. But how? Says the Lord: Overcome your weaknesses, give up kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, matsara (desire, anger, greed, attachment, conceit, jealousy), the six enemies of enlightenment. They are represented by the demon Muyalaka, on whom the Lord has put his right foot, thus subduing him. The left foot, raised aloft, signifies release (anugrah) of soul from the coils of birth and death. Here is a synthesis of religion, art and science.
And the most imaginative artistic expression of the cosmic process. In its deep insight and sweep of imagination, the figure of Nataraja, the Lord of Chidambaram, has no equal. It is the greatest masterpiece of Indian art. Chidambaram (chit: mind, ambaram: sky) is the centre of Saivism and Vaishnavism, where the Dravidian and Aryan cults merged to form a synthesis. It is also a centre of Shankara'sAdvaita. The Lord is said to have given a demonstration of the Ananda Tandava dance here. What has attracted the great minds to this figure of Nataraja is the mystic vision of the universe as seen by our saint-artists. Here is a vision of the universe in its elemental state with its ceaseless dance of energy. The lotus pedestal on which the Lord stands symbolises the hrdaya kamal (lotus heart) of man, with sixteen petals, representing the sixteen rays of consciousness from which springs an encircling glory, fringed with a flame.
The arch represents prakriti (nature) and the aerole (prabha) the Sun'sdisc, which explains the flaring rays. The crescent on the matted hair stands for eternity, the Ganga for life-giving water, the jata (matted hair) symbolises knowledge (jnana) and the snake for death. The three eyes represent Sun, Moon and Fire. Shiva (auspicious) is the most complex and sophisticated deity of the Hindu patheon. He was Pasupati in Harappa, Rudra in the Vedas and Shiva in the Puranas. Movement and change are intrinsic to the universe. Brahm (Brh: to move) is the ultimate reality. The Upanishads tell us that it means ?the unformed, immortal, moving?. The Rig Veda uses the term Rta to describe the regulatory principle of the universe (Ri: to move) Applied to Nature, ?to move? means to change. The Buddhists call it ?the impermanence of things?. Not long ago, these Eastern beliefs were ridiculed by the West. It talked of the eternal conflict between spirit and matter. Not any more.
Not after Einstein. Today they know that matter and energy are the same. According to the quantum theory, matter is in constant motion. There is a fundamental ?restlessness? in all subatomic particles. The West called it inert! ?The dance of Shiva is thus the dancing universe, the ceaseless flow of energy,? says Fritjof Capra, the scientist, in his book the The Tao of Physics. He says: ?The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies physics, mythology, religious art and modern physics.? Capra attributes the present crisis of Western civilisation to the way it is conceived?as an eternal conflict of the spirit and matter. This fundamental error in Judaism, Islam and Christianity has distorted every department of their thoughts.
It is also a centre of Shankara'sAdvaita. The Lord is said to have given a demonstration of the Ananda Tandava dance here. What has attracted the great minds to this figure of Nataraja is the mystic vision of the universe as seen by our saint-artists. Here is a vision of the universe in its elemental state with its ceaseless dance of energy.