This cosmic dance of Shiva is called 'Anandatandava,' meaning the Dance of Bliss, and symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death. The dance is a pictorial allegory of the five principle manifestations of eternal energy — creation, destruction, preservation, salvation, and illusion. According to Coomerswamy, the dance of Shiva also represents his five activities: 'Shrishti' (creation, evolution); 'Sthiti' (preservation, support); 'Samhara' (destruction, evolution); 'Tirobhava' (illusion); and 'Anugraha' (release, emancipation, grace).The overall temper of the image is paradoxical, uniting the inner tranquility, and outside activity of Shiva.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
In a marvelously unified and dynamic composition expressing the rhythm and harmony of life, Nataraj is shown with four hands represent the cardinal directions. He is dancing, with his left foot elegantly raised and the right foot on a prostrate figure — 'Apasmara Purusha', the personification of illusion and ignorance over whom Shiva triumphs. The upper left hand holds a flame, the lower left hand points down to the dwarf, who is shown holding a cobra. The upper right hand holds an hourglass drum or 'dumroo' that stands for the male-female vital principle, the lower shows the gesture of assertion: "Be without fear."Snakes that stand for egotism, are seen uncoiling from his arms, legs, and hair, which is braided and bejeweled. His matted locks are whirling as he dances within an arch of flames representing the endless cycle of birth and death. On his head is a skull, which symbolizes his conquest over death. Goddess Ganga, the epitome of the holy river Ganges, also sits on his hairdo. His third eye is symbolic of his omniscience, insight, and enlightenment. The whole idol rests on a lotus pedestal, the symbol of the creative forces of the universe.
An extraordinary iconographic representation of the rich and diverse cultural heritage of India, it was developed in southern India by 9th and 10th century artists during the Chola period (880-1279 CE) in a series of beautiful bronze sculptures. By the 12th century AD, it achieved canonical stature and soon the Chola Nataraja became the supreme statement of Hindu art.
Nataraj, the dancing form of Lord Shiva is a symbolic synthesis of the most important aspects of Hinduism, and the summary of the central tenets of this Vedic religion. The term 'Nataraj' means 'King of Dancers' (Sanskrit nata = dance; raja = king). In the words of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Nataraj is the "clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of…A more fluid and energetic representation of a moving figure than the dancing figure of Shiva can scarcely be found anywhere,
According to another legend, once Brahma and Vishnu, two other deities of the holy Trinity, had an argument as to their supremacy. Brahma being the Creator declared himself to be more revered, while Vishnu, the Preserver, pronounced that he commanded more respect. Just then a colossal lingam, known as Jyotirlinga, blanketed in flames, appeared before them. Both Brahma and Vishnu were awestruck by its rapidly increasing size. They forgot their quarrel and decided to determine its size. Vishnu assuming the form of a boar went to the netherworld and Brahma as a swan flew to the skies. But both of them failed to accomplish the self- assumed tasks. Then, Shiva appeared out of the lingam and stated that he was the progenitor of them both and that henceforth he should be worshipped in his phallic form, the lingam, and not in his anthropomorphic form.
Once a hunter while chasing a deer wandered into a dense forest and found himself on the banks of river Kolidum when he heard the growl of a tiger. To protect himself from the beast he climbed up a tree nearby. The tiger pitched itself on the ground below the tree fostering no intention to leave. The hunter stayed up in the tree all night and to keep himself from falling asleep, he gently plucked one leaf after another from the tree and threw it down. Under the tree was a Shiva Linga and the tree blessedly turned out to be a bilva tree. Unknowingly the man had pleased the deity with bilva leaves. At sunrise, the hunter looked down to find the tiger gone, and in its place stood Lord Shiva. He prostrated before the Lord and attained salvation from the cycle of birth and death.
All through the day the devotees keep severe fast, chant the sacred Panchakshara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya", make offerings of flowers and incense to the Lord amidst ringing of temple bells. They maintain long vigils during the night, keeping awake to listen to stories, hymns and songs. The fast is broken only the next morning, after the nightlong worship. In Kashmir, the festival is held for 15 days. The 13th day is observed as a day of fast followed by a family feast.
The phallus symbol representing Shiva is called the lingam. It is usually made of granite, soapstone, quartz, marble or metal, and has a yoni or vagina as its base representing the union of the male and female sexual organs. Devotees circumambulate the lingam and worship it throughout the night. It is bathed every three hours with the five sacred offerings of a cow, called the panchagavya - milk, sour milk, urine, butter and dung. Then the five foods of immortality - milk, clarified butter, curd, honey and sugar are placed before the lingam. Dhatura and jati, though poisonous fruits, are believed to be sacred to Shiva and thus offered to him.
On the day of Shivratri, a three-tiered platform is built around a fire. The topmost plank represents swargaloka (heaven), the middle one antarikshaloka (space) and the bottom one bhuloka (earth). Eleven urns or kalash, are kept on the swargaloka plank symbolising the eleven manifestations of the Rudra Shiva. These are decorated with bilva (woodapple leaves) and mango leaves atop a coconut representing the head of Shiva. The uncut shank of the coconut symbolises his tangled hair and the three spots on the fruit Shiva's three eyes.
Shivratri is considered especially auspicious for women. Married women pray for the well being of their husbands and sons, while unmarried women pray for an ideal husband like Shiva, who is the spouse of Kali, Parvati and Durga. But generally it is believed that anyone who utters the name of Shiva during Shivratri with pure devotion is freed from all sins. He or she reaches the abode of Shiva and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death.
According to the Puranas, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, a pot of poison emerged from the ocean. The gods and the demons were terrified as it could destroy the entire world. When they ran to Shiva for help, he in order to protect the world, drank the deadly poison but held it in his throat instead of swallowing it. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as Nilkantha, the blue-throated one. Shivratri celebrates this event by which Shiva saved the world.
Maha Shivratri, the night of the worship of Shiva, occurs on the 14th night of the new moon during the dark half of the month of Phalguna. It falls on a moonless February night, when Hindus offer special prayer to the lord of destruction. Shivratri (Sanskrit 'ratri' = night) is the night when he is said to have performed the Tandava Nritya or the dance of primordial creation, preservation and destruction. The festival is observed for one day and one night only.
Since Shiva is regarded as a mighty destructive power, to numb his negative potentials he is fed with opium and is also termed as Bhole Shankar, one who is oblivious of the world. Therefore, on Maha Shivratri, the night of Shiva worship, devotees, especially the menfolk, prepare an intoxicating drink called Thandai (made from cannabis, almonds, and milk) sing songs in praise of the Lord and dance to the rhythm of the drums.
Shiva is believed to be at the core of the centrifugal force of the universe, because of his responsibility for death and destruction. Unlike the godhead Brahma, the Creator, Shiva is the dissolving force in life. But Shiva dissolves in order to create, since death is the medium for rebirth into a new life. So the opposites of life and death and creation and destruction both reside in his character.
The actual image of Shiva is also distinct from other deities: his hair piled high on the top of his head, with a crescent tucked into it and the river Ganges tumbling from his hairs. Around his neck is a coiled serpent representing Kundalini or the spiritual energy within life. He holds a trident in his left hand in which is bound the 'damroo' (small leather drum). He sits on a tiger skin and on his right is a water pot. He wears the 'Rudraksha' beads and his whole body is smeared with ash.
Shiva, in temples is usually found as a phallic symbol of the linga, which represents the energies necessary for life on both the microcosmic and the macrocosmic levels, that is, the world in which we live and the world which constitutes the whole of the universe. In a Shaivite temple, the linga is placed in the centre underneath the spire, where it symbolises the naval of the earth.
Shiva is 'Shakti', Shiva is power, Shiva is the destroyer, the most powerful god of the Hindu pantheon and one of the godheads in the Hindu Trinity. Known by many names - Mahadeva, Mahayogi, Pashupati, Nataraja, Bhairava, Vishwanath, Bhava, Bhole Nath - Lord Shiva is perhaps the most complex of Hindu deities. Hindus recognise this by putting his shrine in the temple separate from those of other deities.