Saturday, 2 July 2011

Shiva As Nataraja

Tandav Murthy : Lord Shiva is a master of dance forms. He is the author of all dance forms. The science of dance (Natyasasthra) dealing with the 108 types of classical Indian dance forms said to have originated from him along with all the yogic postures. For Lord Shiva, all dance is a form of expression, which he uses either to relieve the tensions in the world or alleviate the sufferings of his devotees. Sometimes he entertains the gods or his wife or his devotees with his dance. About nine forms of Shiva in dancing mode are described, of which the most popular form is Nataraja (the king of dance). Though we have a number of icons of Shiva as Nataraja, he is rarely worshipped in this form. His other dance forms include Ananda-tandava-murhty, dancing in a pleasant and cheerful mood, Uma-tandava-murhty, dancing in the company of Parvathi, Tripura-tandava-murthy, dancing while slaying Tripurasura and Urdhva-tandava-murhty, dancing in the air.

Symbolism of Nataraja: For Shiva dance is a kind of entertainment, or just an activity that is spontaneous and without any purpose. Just as the entire creation is said to be an activity of God for His own entertainment and does not seem to have a definite purpose, so is the dance of Shiva. It is not a specific artistic activity. It is not some kind of a sport with a particular aim. It is a spontaneous movement of rhythm and harmony, that bursts out like a flower from the bud, a smile from a baby or a rainbow from the sky, without a flaw and pleasing to the mind and the senses. Everything he does, each and every movement of his body, is a spontaneous expression of beauty and rhythm.

Nataraja is Shiva who is hidden in all the rhythmic movements of the manifest creation, the so-called cosmic dance that ensures the orderliness (Rta) of the universe, the movement of the earth and the heavens, the arrangement of the galaxies and the interstellar spaces, on which depends precariously the whole balance. His dance is a divine activity that has no conflict. It entertains our suffering minds and dispels our ignorance. It destroys our illusions and burns the worlds of demons and darkness. Finally, at the end of creation it dissolves the entire universe into a mysterious period of suspended activity. He dances upon our ignorance. The Apsmarapurusha (the forgotten and deluded self), on whose body he rests his feet in the image of Nataraja symbolizes this fact. And for Shiva this whole wide world of apasmarapurushas is a stage on which he enacts his dance drama.

Dakshinamurthy: This is Shiva in his aspect as the universal teacher, teaching the secrets of yoga, tantras, yantras, alchemy, magic, occult knowledge, arts and sciences, ancient history or knowledge of the future to the sages and saints, gods and goddesses and his highly qualified devotees. He is called Dakshinamurthy, because he does his teachings sitting on the snowy mountains of Himalayas and facing towards the Indian subcontinent, which is in the southerly direction. The images of Dakshinamurthy, depict Shiva in his pleasant mood, seated on a high seat, with one leg folded while the other rests on the Apasmarapurusha, the deluded self. Two of his arms hold a snake or rosary or both in one hand and fire in the other. The snake is a symbol of tantric knowledge and the fire symbol of enlightenment. Of the remaining two one is in abhayamudra (posture of assurance) and the other holds a scripture in gnanamudra (posture of presenting knowledge).

Lingodhbhava-murthy: This image signifies the importance of Shiva in the form of Linga as the Supreme Self, without a beginning and without an end. According to Hindu mythology, Shiva once revealed his infinity to Brahma and Vishnu in the form of a pillar of fire that could not be scaled by either of them from one end to the other. As Lingodhbava-murthy, Shiva appears seated in the heart of a Linga, with four arms, while Brahma and Vishnu adore him from the two sides.

Bhikshatana-murthi: This is Shiva in his ascetic aspect, wandering from place to place, with a begging bowl made of human skull, doing penance or lost in his own thoughts. Even today we can see some followers of Shiva going around the villages in India in this form. Some of them even do a little magic to attract our attention or scare away the trailing children.

Hridaya-murthy: This is Shiva in a mood of reconciliation and friendship with Vishnu. Also known as Harihara or Sankaranarayana. The images show the right half of Shiva on the right side of the image and the left half of Vishnu on the left side.

Ardhanariswara: This Shiva and Parvathi together in one form signifying the unity of Purusha and Prorate. The feminine left half of Parvathi is fused with the masculine right half of Shiva in one continuous form, sometimes standing with the Bull Nandi in the background, or sitting on a pedestal and blessing the worlds, with eyes open or closed.

Minor Deities of Shiva: These are part of Shiva's Retinue. The most important of them are Nandi, Bhringi, Virabhadra
and Chandesvara.

Nandi: It is interesting to note that unlike the Vedic people who regarded the cow as sacred animal, the followers of Shiva venerate the bull! It is because Nandi, the Bull, is Shiva's vehicle. Nandi is invariably found sitting right infront of the sanctum sanctorum in every Shiva temple facing the image and looking at him all the time. In fact no one is supposed to see the chief deity in a Shiva temple without paying homage first to the seated Nandi and looking at Shiva from afar through the space between the ears and the top of his head. There are some temples in India which are exclusively built for him like the famous Nandiswara temple in Karnataka. Nandiswara in his anthromorphic form appears just like Shiva, with three eyes and four hands of which two are permanently dedicated to the veneration of Shiva while the other two carry his weapons. Symbolically Nandi represents the animal or the tamasic qualities in man which Shiva rides and transforms with his energies. As we have already noted, Nandi is well versed in all scriptural knowledge and spiritual knowledge and imparted knowledge of devotion to Hanuman. It is a tradition in many parts of rural India to let a Bull roam free in each village as a mark of respect to Nandi and to inseminate the cows in the village.

Bhringi: He was originally a demon named Andhaka, who was transformed by Shiva into a humble devotee and admitted into his force as a commander of his armies. Bhringisa was so loyal to Shiva that in his state of devotion he would not offer his worship to any one including Parvathi. It is said that when he saw once Shiva in his Ardhanariswara form, he tried to bore through the middle of the body in the form of a bee to complete his obeisance to only the Shiva side of the form, much to the annoyance of Parvathi. Bhringi who got his name thus was made to realize his mistake and change his behavior by Lord Shiva.

Virabhadra: He is Shiva in his ferocious mood. Shiva manifested himself as Virabhadra, when Daksha, his father in law, ill treated and insulted his wife Sati, Daksha's own daughter, infront of a large gathering. Unable to cope with the insult, Sati immolated herself. This angered Shiva so much, that he descended upon the place of Daksha with his large army and beheaded Daksha's. The images of Virabhadra depict the anger and ferocity of Shiva in that destructive mood, wearing a garland of skulls, and with four arms holding four different kinds of weapons. Virabhadra is a warrior god who was worshipped during wars in ancient and medieval periods. He is also the principal deity of Virasaiva movement and still worshipped by many in the Karnataka region of India.

Chandesvara: He is an aspect of Chandi in human form later elevated to the status of divinity, to signify the connection between Shiva and Chandi, or Durga. Chandesvara is a ferocious god, holding weapons of war and ready to do battle for a divine cause. His images are generally found in a corner in all the Shiva temples. As in case of Nandi, devotees usually visit him and pay their respects before going to see the Shivaling in the sanctum sanctorum.

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