Path to Siva: A Catechism for Youth

15 What Is the Meaning of Siva’s Dance?§


This exquisite bronze is a beautiful sculpture of Siva Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer. This form is worshiped at the famous Chidambaram temple, the center of the universe within the heart of all.§


Lord Nataraja is an inspired portrayal of Siva in action as the Divine Dancer in His Ananda Tandava dance. This is His dance of creation, preservation and dissolution, a performance constantly taking place within each of us and within every atom of the universe at every moment in time. The Nataraja form has dozens of meaningful symbols. The most important represent His five powers. Creation (shrishti) is symbolized by His back right hand. It holds the small rattle drum, damaru, whose sound signals the start of creation. Preservation (sthiti) is symbolized by His front right hand, held in the gesture abhaya, “fear not.” His back left hand holds a blazing flame. This is the Fire God, Agni, symbol of dissolution (samhara). His right foot rests on a small person representing the ego and known as Apasmara, “forgetful” or “heedless.” This represents concealing grace (tirodhana), the power by which the soul sees itself separate from God. Siva’s front left hand is held in “elephant trunk pose,” pointing toward His raised left foot, symbol of revealing grace (anugraha), the power by which the soul comes to know its oneness with God. On His forehead is the third eye, which sees everything, past, present and future. While the dance is incredibly powerful, indicated by the strands of hair flailing out in all directions, Siva remains poised and peaceful. The ring of flames, tiruvasi, symbolizes universal consciousness, the “hall” in which Siva dances. Siva’s left earring is feminine; the right earring is masculine. These remind us that God embraces both male and female. At the top of the tiruvasi is Mahakala, “Great Time,” another form of God Siva, who creates, transcends and devours time. The snake adorning Siva’s body symbolizes kundalini, the spiritual force within the spine.§


GURUDEVA: The Cosmic Dance describes the Hindu view of existence, from the first thunder of the drum in His right hand announcing the Beginning, to the final all-consuming flames in His left hand pronouncing the End, which but heralds a new Beginning.§