SIVA-NATARAJA: THE LORD OF THE DANCE, DRAMA AND MUSIC SIVA – the Cosmic Dancer, Transformer, Liberator
Vasant V. Merchant, Ph.D., LL.B., Professor (Emeritus) Humanities-Religious Studies, Northern Arizona University
Siva as the cosmic dancer, as transformer, the liberator of energy from the spiraling and coiling nature, primordial, mysterious, symbol of spiritual ardor and passion for accomplishment and continuity of life, as the regenerator of the universe is the most classic and revered, well-known icon of Hinduism. The movements of Siva’s dance orders the rhythms and melodies of the universe, at once a dance into meditative states of transcendence. His dance is the dance of cosmic evolution of matter which knows no beginning, no middle, and no end, and is entwined and engulfed in spirit – from cell to spirituality.
In consonance with the new age science and theoretical energy-physics, matter has transcended the process of showing connectedness with the whole and its interconnectedness within and without, with spirit, consciousness and energy moving in continual dance of transformation. Many parallels are found in Siva’s dance representing the endless cycles of life, as they move from state to state, from morphose to metamorphoses. A new world view is emergent – one that is related closely to the views of mystics of all ages and traditions, and subtle energy medicine and science.
Siva is known as the destroyer of evil and ignorance, not destroyer for the sake of destruction, but for the sake of regeneration; transformation, transmutation, for recreating, cleansing out and eliminating the debris, the dross and the gross, transforming into strength, power, force (Shiva tramples the dwarf of ignorance and destroys Muyalakan, demons).
OM NAMO SIVAYAH as mantra represents fearlessness and protection against evil, accident, and death. Its philosophy of involution and evolution of energy and spirit leaves its imprint in every material, physical, fiber, nerve, cell, atom, molecule, proton, photon – the power to transcend – from the individual to the collectivity. In the words of Lama Angarika Govinda “to the enlightened man (human) whose consciousness embraces the universe, to him (her) the universe becomes his/her body”.
In the yoga of the ida and pingala nadi blending into Sushumna from the physical, vital, mental and supramental, to infusing and permeating power of the spirit into matter, in the dynamic Tandava Nritya – dance of bliss – the body becomes the spirit, and explicates the ultimate principle of Beauty – Sundaram – in bhakti yoga, in devotion, purity, piety (in puja ritual) in integrating it with the Eternal Moral Order i.e. applying the principle of Ultimate Goodness – in the movement of the wheel of Karma and Dharma – Truth and Righteousness as applied to individual and collective life and order of humanity.
Siva depicted as Ardhanarishvara – half man and half woman represents the union and differentiation of the Yin and Yang principle, the eternal feminine and masculine principle, complementing, supplementing, initiating and completing and fulfilling the divine play of the Transcendent Reality with the manifest reality in the phenomenal world of myriad changes of names and forms in lila (diverse, divine play) and unique rhythms and melodies of Siva’s energies in the cosmos. Thus manifesting Satyam – Truth, Shivam – Goodness and Righteousness, and Sundaram – Beauty as the supportive and connecting principle in the universe, spelling out the principle of Love that integrates, unites and yet transcends all threads, beads and deeds into dynamic action for realization of the Supreme.
Siva’s counterparts or divine consorts are known as Shakti, Parvati, Bhavani, Uma, Maheshevari, et al. represent the unity of the male and female divine principle and the union and oneness of the being and psyche, as also the two hemispheres of the brain, intuition and intellect and their synthesis in higher knowledge and wisdom. Shiva wearing the garland of skulls and necklace of snakes, ashes on his forehead and body, represent detachment. It symbolizes overcoming of fear – including fear of death and attachments of worldly existence, falsehoods, obsessions, delusions, and conquering desires – and transforming sexual energy to creative expressions, not fearing desires but able to work with them making them a “thalic” energy, like in botany, not necessarily “phallic” in Freudian terms, where ojas are transmuted into rajas and tejas – purifed energy and light. Thereby developing the ability and the power like the seed to become the tree itself, for the flower to blossom, and yet have the detachment of the lotus flower to dedicate itself into fragrance and beauty. The world will give you pain, but you have to offer your song in return.
Siva mantra (as Science of sacred words) – known as bija mantra, as seed mantra, its seed syllables/elemental sounds invoke the power from blessing and protection to turn destiny, to obviate, alleviate negative karma, to empower with abundance, prosperity, and to attract health, love and fulfillment, and impart balance and harmony and healing into pranic energy. Since Siva is trayambakkam – the three-eyed lord and seer of all the universes and galaxies –earth, prithvi, beneath the earth - patala, and heaven – svarga, his mantra has power to have victory over death and bring liberation and immortality (amritam) from the bondage, temporality and limitation of the earthly life. The power of OM-AUM – the Divine Word and Sound in speech and music are pivotal in understanding and experiencing divinity and psycho-spiritual rebirth and regeneration.
Siva’s trident – trisula – represents the multiple dimensions of his personality and the many facets of his magical powers. Also represents the triple function of Siva – creation, protection, destruction and regeneration related to the microcosm and macrocosm of the five elements of nature – air, water, fire, earth and space. It connotes the three gunas – the building blocks of energy and action which represent the principle of light, movement/propulsion and inertia.
In Siva as Nataraja, all of Hinduism’s principles can be found in Shiva/Brahman/Purusha who are represented as Nataraja, who is danced as Bharat Natyam, who shines as Surya – Sun, and Chandra – moon, who plays as man and woman, appear as the manifest awakening to its transcendental nature. Each layer is truly a representation of the whole, as it unfolds infinity, cascading into multivariegated patterns of paisley – full of colour and vibrancy – that India is famous for. This inspired Benoit B. Mandebrot to recognize in the mathematics of forms of nature – irregular, asymmetric patterns which he named fractals (1983) which have assumed great significance in our understanding and knowledge. This symmetry in asymmetry, a paradox, is known in Indian and Japanese ideas of beauty – color and design – since very ancient times.
Hindu cosmology as it is replicated in the elements of the Bharat Natyam draws upon the analogy to fractal patterning. The paradoxical nature of this constitutes the nature of the ultimate reality as beyond mind and thought, can only be directly experienced – expressed in visible icons, images in rituals of working participation, sacrifice, (making the act sacred) – a way of transforming and transcending, all limits of realization of one’s nature and to energize and transform into a rapturous, artful sacred experience, the performance of which is not merely entertainment but something much more profound.
The dance of life and other metaphors and symbols again, are primarily spiritual metaphors of interconnectedness within interconnectedness, all appearances of names and forms. Siva’s dance as archetype of alchemical design – as healer – surrounded by rim of fire – for light to enter into matter to bring guidance and transformation of different levels of Prana from physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual crisis are used for leading, awakening and uniting back to the source, to the One great and beyond all pervading source, the initiation of universe – realization of the Ultimate Truth beyond the symbols, beyond the mind, fascination of all fascinations.
In this process is reflected the profundity of jnana (knowledge) and bhakti (devotion) – two facets of the same source, expressing apparently very different dispositions. The dancer in her dance, living is devotion, she is Prakriti by the sacrifice of her energy and attention to and for the One (Supreme) Purusha which is actually her own source. She becomes the Purusha and icon for the audience and offers sacrifice of their attention. Metaphorically, she is Shakti bowing to Shiva. She is both the offering and the blessing – union of Bhakti and Jnana Yoga, and her dance that of Karma yoga (will to work and dynamic, detached action). She represents the splendour and form of performance – reminding the obvious fact that it is temporary and transitional. Its temporality, mortality depicted through chosen symbols such as mudras – gestures, costumes, colors, decorations, ornaments, - bangles, bells, anklets, garlands and flowers. These are used to honor beauty and joy, perfection, love, and to invoke divine memory of the supreme, against the backdrop of the canvass of eternity as a consecration. Flowers occupy a very special place in this process and experience in the Hindu life – worship, dance, drama, music et al
. “Spiritual beauty squanders eternity on a beat of time” as Sri Aurobindo points out in Savitri, the modern epic, a Legend and a Symbol – How Love Conquers Death. The energy of Shakti is the flower for Purusha/Siva, Prakriti/Parvati is the flower for Purusha.
Shiva is also referred and known by his thousand and one names – from Pashupati, Pushkar, Nilakantha, Vishvanath, Siva, Sambhu, Shankar, Pinakin, Mahadeva, Maheshwar, Gangadhar (as embodying Ganges, the beautiful mermaid and goddess of all rivers in his jatta (matted hairlocks) etc. The Ganges as river symbolizes fertility, health, abundance and dynamic life force -- the waters of life – nourisher. healer and beauty. Siva is capable of destroying and transmuting enemies of the physical (pashu) nature, vital (rakshas) nature, mental (asuric), demonic, diabolic, egoistic obstructions in the path.
Siva as Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, is therefore a quintessential symbol for the meaning of life itself – and the dance and its rhythms and melodies the universe itself. In Siva’s dance, the body becomes the spirit.
Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra (Victory over Death) from the Vedas and Upanishads is ubiquitous – a mantra of power and prosperity, blessing and liberation. It is stated in Sanskrit, the great, great grandmother of all Indo-Aryan languages.
OM Trayambakkam Yajamahe Sugandhim pushti vardhanam Urva rukemiva bandhanaat Mrityor muksheya maamritat.