Nataraja: Sculpture With Depiction of Lord Shiva As Divine Dancer

Nataraja is a well popular sculptural symbol in India and popularly use as a symbol of Indian culture. In particular as one of the finest illustrations of Hindu art. It’s a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the divine dancer. His dance name as Tandavam or Nadanta, depending on the context of the dance. As the Lord of Dance, Nataraja, Shiva performs the Ananda Tandava (dance of bliss). The dance in which the universe is created, maintained, and dissolved.

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The word Nataraja is a Sanskrit term, from नट Nata meaning “act, drama, dance” and राज Raja meaning “king, lord”. It can be roughly translate as Lord of dance or King of dance. According to Ananda Coomaraswamy, the name is related to Shiva’s fame as the “Lord of Dancers” or “King of Actors”.

The pose and artwork is describe in many Hindu texts such as the Anshumadbhed agama and Uttarakamika agama. The dance relief or idol featured in all major Hindu temples of Shaivism. This classical form of the depiction also appears in stone reliefs. As at the Ellora Caves and the Badami Caves, by around the 6th century. The Nataraja reliefs have been identify in historic artwork from many parts of South Asia, in southeast Asia such as in Bali, Cambodia, and in central Asia.

Nataraja: Sculpture The Depiction of Lord Shiva As Divine Dancer

The sculpture is basically symbolic of Shiva as the lord of dance and dramatic arts. With its style and proportions made according to Hindu texts on arts. It typically overall shows Shiva dancing in one of the Natya Shastra poses, holding Agni (fire) in his left back hand. The front hand in gajahasta (elephant hand) or dandahasta (stick hand) mudra. The front right hand with a wrapped snake that is in abhaya (fear not) mudra while pointing to a Sutra text. And the back hand holding a musical instrument, usually a damaru.

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His body, fingers, ankles, neck, face, head, ear lobes and dress are shown decorated with symbolic items. Further which vary with historic period and region. He is surrounded by a ring of flames, standing on a lotus pedestal, lifting his left leg (or in rare cases, the right leg). And balancing / trampling upon a demon shown as a dwarf who symbolizes ignorance. The dynamism of the energetic dance depicts with the whirling hair which spread out in thin strands as a fan behind his head. The details in the Nataraja artwork have been variously interpret by Indian scholars since the 12th century for its symbolic meaning and theological essence.

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