One of the most enduring symbols of India is the figure of
NATARAJA - Shiva (The King of Dancers). Shiva's cosmic dance is believed to encompass
creation, preservation, and destruction and this idea has been embedded in Hindu
thought and ritual since the dawn of civilization.
He holds a small drum (DAMARU) in his upper right hand. His
lower right hand shows the fear-negating gesture (ABHAYA), his upper left hand
is in half-moon pose (ARDHACHANDRAMUDRA) which holds a tongue of flame which is
the fire (AGNI) that finally destroys the world and is then quenched in cosmic
waters. Thus the hand holding the drum and the one holding fire balance the forces
of creation and destruction. The second left arm is held gracefully across the
chest (GAJAHASTAMUDRA) with the hand pointing to the uplifted foot, denoting favor
or grace for the devotee.
One foot rests on APASMARA
or MAUYALKA, the embodiment of human cruelty
and ignorance. Surrounding Shiva's figure and emanating from him is an immense
aureole of flames (PRABHAMANDALA) representing
the vital processes of nature, sustained by the tremendous energy of the dancing
The flames represent the transcendental power of wisdom and truth, as well as
the mantra 'OM' which signifies the totality of creation. Also known as the ANANDA
TANDAVA, this dance is a metaphor for the belief that life is essentially
a dynamic balancing of good and bad, where opposites are interdependent. The dance
of Shiva is the dance of life.