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The Lord of Dance

'He destroys in order to create, tearing down to build again.'

Nataraja is a representation of the Hindu God Shiva, performing his cosmic dance of creation and destruction.

The widely spread bronze sculptures usually show the pose of Lord Shiva in a dance in which the Universe - shown as a an arch of flames (sometimes an oval) - is created, maintained and dissolved. When he dances, his mated tresses, initially thighed to a not, unfold and hit the celestial bodies, rearranging their trajectory or destroying them.

His dance gives rhythm to the world and releases the human souls from illusion. It takes place in the centre of the Universe, which is in the heart.  

The statue overlooking my household is performing a dance of bliss. It is a four-armed representation of Lord Shiva, with a cobra curling on his upper right arm.

Nataraja balances on one leg, usually the right one, trampling on a dwarf-like figure: the demon he defeated – Apasmara, the demon of ignorance.

On his crest there are a crescent, a skull and a small image of Ganges, 'the river-goddess whose precipitous fall from heaven to earth and are broken by Siva's matted locks.' As long as the moon stays there, the Universe is in balance.

His stoic, yet aloof expression is meant to show that he is balanced and neutral.

The upper right hand holds a small drum, shaped like an hour-glass, the beat of it symbolizing the passage of time.

In his left upper hand he is holding a flame – agni, in Sanskrit – the power of destruction, but also the fire of life.

The lower right hand is held in a gesture of “fear-not”, benedicting his followers and protecting them from ignorance and evil.

The second left hand points to the left raised foot. This gesture is an allegory for the elephant leading the way through a jungle of ignorance. 


'His left front arm crosses his chest, the hand pointing in "elephant trunk" position (gaja hasta) to his upraised left foot, which signifies liberation.'

Kundalini the snake is said to be wrapped around his waist, representing the divine force that resides in everything. Some Vedic texts say that Kundalini is present in every living being (vertebrates), at the base of the spinal chord.

Chola bronzes are said to be the first sculptures of this genre, appearing in the province Tamil Nadu, in South India, around the year 850. This concept of representing Lord Shiva, though, probably dates back 200 years earlier.

'It should be noted that when in worship, these images are covered in silk cloths, garlands, and jewels, and would not appear as they do outside a religious context. Decorating the bronzes in this way is a tradition at least a thousand years old as such decorations are referred to in 10th-century Chola inscriptions.'


'Chola period bronzes were created using the lost wax technique. It is known in artistic terms as "Cire Perdue". The Sanskrit Shilpa texts call it the Madhu Uchchishtta Vidhana.

Beeswax and kungilium (a type of camphor) are mixed with a little oil and kneaded well. The figure is sculpted from this mixture fashioning all the minute details. This is the wax model original.

The entire figure is then coated with clay made from termite hills until the mould is of a necessary thickness. Then the whole thing is dried and fired in an oven with cow-dung cakes. The wax model melts and flows out, while some of it vapourises.

The metal alloy of bronze is melted and poured into the empty clay-mould. This particular bronze alloy is known as Pancha Loham. When the metal has filled all crevices and has settled and hardened and cooled, the mould is broken off. The bronze figure thus obtained is then cleaned, finer details are added, blemishes are removed, smoothened, and polished well. Hence each bronze icon is unique and the mould cannot be used to create copies.'


'In 2004, a 2m statue of the dancing Shiva was unveiled at CERN, the European Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva. A special plaque next to the Shiva statue explains the significance of the metaphor of Shiva's cosmic dance with quotations from Fritjof Capra: "Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics."'

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