Nataraja, Lord Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer representing the rhythmic movement of the entire cosmos.

Nataraja or Nataraj (Hindustani: [nət̪əˈraːdʒ]), The Lord (or King) of Dance; Tamil: கூத்தன் (Kooththan);Telugu:నటరాజ is a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the cosmic dancer Koothan who performs his divine dance to destroy a weary universe and make preparations for god Brahma to start the process of creation. A Tamil concept, Shiva was first depicted as Nataraja in the famous Chola bronzes and sculptures of Chidambaram. The dance of Shiva in Tillai, the traditional name for Chidambaram, forms the motif for all the depictions of Shiva as Nataraja. He is also known as "Sabesan" which splits as "Sabayil aadum eesan" in Tamil which means "The Lord who dances on the dais". The form is present in most Shiva temples in South India, and is the main deity in the famous temple at Chidambaram.[1]

The sculpture is usually made in bronze, with Shiva dancing in an aureole of flames, lifting his left leg (or in rare cases, the right leg) and balancing over a demon or dwarf (Apasmara) who symbolizes ignorance. It is a well known sculptural symbol in India and popularly used as a symbol of Indian culture.[2]

Nataraja, Bronze, Chola Dynasty, Tamil Nadu, Government Museum Madras, India.

The two most common forms of Shiva's dance are the Lasya (the gentle form of dance), associated with the creation of the world, and the Tandava (the violent and dangerous dance), associated with the destruction of weary worldviews - weary perspectives & lifestyles. In essence, the Lasya and the Tandava are just two aspects of Shiva's nature; for he destroys in order to create, tearing down to build again.[3]



Koothan is derived from the Tamil word Koothu, which means dance or performance. A male dancer is termed Koothan. Nāṭaraja is derived from the Sanskrit words narta rājan "lord of dance". The change of the dental /rt/ to a retroflex /ṭ/ with concomitant vowel lengthening is a normal sound change for the Prakrit languages descended from Sanskrit.


Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance. Tamil Nadu, Chola Dynasty, India
  • A cobra uncoils from his lower right forearm, and the crescent moon and a skull are on his crest. He dances within an arch of flames. This dance is called the Dance of Bliss, aananda taandavam.
  • The upper right hand holds a small drum shaped like an hourglass that is called a ḍamaru in Sanskrit.[4][5][6] A specific hand gesture (mudra) called ḍamaru-hasta (Sanskrit for "ḍamaru-hand") is used to hold the drum.[7] It symbolizes sound originating creation or the beat of the drum is the passage of time.
  • The upper left hand contains Agni or fire, which signifies destruction. The opposing concepts in the upper hands show the counterpoise of creation and destruction or the fire of life.
  • The second right hand shows the Abhaya mudra (meaning fearlessness in Sanskrit), bestowing protection from both evil and ignorance to those who follow the righteousness of dharma.
  • The second left hand points towards the raised foot which signifies upliftment and liberation. It also points to the left foot with the sign of the elephant which leads the way through the jungle of ignorance.
  • The dwarf on which Nataraja dances is the demon Apasmara (Muyalaka. as known in Tamil), which symbolises Shiva's victory over ignorance. It also represents the passage of spirit from the divine into material.
  • As the Lord of Dance, Nataraja, Shiva performs the tandava, the dance in which the universe is created, maintained, and dissolved. Shiva's long, matted tresses, usually piled up in a knot, loosen during the dance and crash into the heavenly bodies, knocking them off course or destroying them utterly.
  • The surrounding flames represent the manifest Universe.
  • The snake swirling around his waist is kundalini, the Shakti or divine force thought to reside within everything. This also parallels the cords of life warn by the brahmins to represent the second rebirth.
  • The stoic face of Shiva represents his neutrality, thus being in balance.


Bronze Chola Statue depicting Shiva dancing as Nataraja. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

The essential significance of Shiva's dance at Tillai, the traditional name of Chidambaram, can be explained as[1]:

  • First, it is seen as the image of his rhythmic play which is the source of all movement within the universe. This is represented by the circular or elliptical frame surrounding the Lord.
  • Secondly, the purpose of his dance is to release the souls of all men from the snare of illusion.
  • Lastly, the place of the dance, Chidambaram, which is portrayed as the center of the universe, is actually within the heart.

Dancing is seen as an art in which the artist and the art s/he creates are one and the same, thought to evoke the oneness of God and creation.

A Nataraja stone relief, Kailash Temple, Ellora Caves

In the compact spiritual texts of divine knowledge, the holy Geeta, there are three basic guna: Satvic, Tamsic and Rajsic. These combine with each other, and the life forms are created as a result of this divine activity. These life forms remain devoid of prana (breath), until the Divine entity infuses them with life. The Geeta says the division of the Divine entity is ninefold, of which eight can be known by humans, but the ninth is eternally unexplainable and hidden and secret. These eight divisions are the elements, Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Akash, Mana, Buddhi, Ahamkara.

Nataraj is a visual interpretation of Brahman and a dance posture of Lord Shiva. It is the representation of reality at the time of cosmic destruction. We being life forms, cosmic destruction would mean the disappearance of all life. The half moon shown in the head of Nataraj is a symbol only. The fall of the moon would result in cosmic destruction.

The third eye on the forehead of the Lord is a symbol. The serpent wrapped around the neck is a cosmic entity, just as Shiv. Other vedic texts mention a cosmic serpent called Kundalini, present in every living form at the base of the spinal cord. Myths abound about Kundalini's presence and the cosmic dangers associated with its arousal. More abstract and invisible divine energy centres, called Chakras, are associated with its Rise.


An eight-armed Nataraja

The origins of the Nataraja sect is in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. The trajectory of the dancing Shiva is traced: from the processional worship of metal icons outside the sanctum[8] to the cultic elevation of the Nataraja bronze into the sanctum at Chidambaram.

In the Shiva temple of Melakadambur is a rare Pala image that shows the ten-armed Nataraja dancing on his bull.

Archaeo metallurgical studies made on south Indian bronzes by Sharada Srinivasan combined with iconographic and literary showed that the Nataraja bronze was a Pallava innovation (seventh to mid-ninth century), rather than tenth-century Chola as widely believed. That formulation was informed of 'cosmic' or metaphysical connotations is also argued on the basis of the testimony of the hymns of Tamil saints.[9]

The largest gold Nataraja statue is in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu.

The image of the Lord as the Cosmic Dancer is shown at the Chidambaram temple, an unusual fact as Shiva is depicted in an anthropomorphic form rather than in the usual non-anthropomorphic form of the linga.

In 2004, a 2m statue of the dancing Shiva was unveiled at CERN, the European Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva. A special plaque next to the Shiva statue explains the significance of the metaphor of Shiva's cosmic dance with quotations from Fritjof Capra: "Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art and modern physics."

Nataraja - classical Indian dance pose

See also


  1. ^ a b The Dance of Śiva By Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy
  2. ^ "Shiva as Nataraja - Dance and Destruction In Indian Art". 
  3. ^ Elephanta: The Cave of Shiva By Carmel Berkson, Wendy Doniger, George Michell
  4. ^ Michaels, pages 218.
  5. ^ For definition and shape, see: Apte, pages 461.
  6. ^ For the damaru drum as one of the attributes of Shiva in his dancing representation see: Jansen, pages 44.
  7. ^ Jansen, pages 25.
  8. ^ A sacred or holy place (Origin: 1570–80; n. use of neut. of Latin sānctus; see Sanctus)
  9. ^ Shiva as 'cosmic dancer': on Pallava origins for the Nataraja bronze by Sharada Srinivasan in World Archaeology (2004) 36(3), pages 432-450


  • Apte, Vaman Shivram (1965). The Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. ISBN 81-208-0567-4.  (Fourth revised and enlarged edition).
  • Jansen, Eva Rudy (1993). The Book of Hindu Imagery. Havelte, Holland: Binkey Kok Publications BV. ISBN 90-74597-07-6. 
  • Michaels, Axel (2004). Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08953-1. 
  • Home of God Natarajar

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Nataraja —    Nataraja, or Lord of the Dance (nata, dance; raja, king or lord), is one of the most popular iconic forms of SHIVA (the most common is the LINGAM). In his cosmic dance he creates, sustains, and even tually destroys the universe. When Shiva’s… …   Encyclopedia of Hinduism

  • nataraja — (izg. natarȁdža) ž DEFINICIJA 1. starodrevni indijski ritualni ples 2. brončana ili kamena skulptura boga Šive predstavljenog u plesnom pokretu ETIMOLOGIJA skr. nātarāja : kralj plesa …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • Nataraja — Shiva als Nataraja. Bronze aus der Chola Zeit, Tamil Nadu, 11. Jahrhundert. Musée Guimet, Paris. Nataraja (Sanskrit: नटराज Naṭarāja [nʌʈʌˈrɑːdʒʌ] „König des Tanzes“) ist eine Erscheinungsform des …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nataraja — The Hindu god Shiva in his form as the cosmic dancer. The most common images show him with four arms and flying locks, dancing on a dwarf (a symbol of human ignorance) and encircled by a ring of flames. The Nataraja sculpture shows Shiva as the… …   Universalium

  • Nataraja — Este artículo o sección necesita referencias que aparezcan en una publicación acreditada, como revistas especializadas, monografías, prensa diaria o páginas de Internet fidedignas. Puedes añadirlas así o avisar …   Wikipedia Español

  • Nataraja — El dios hindú Shiva en su forma de danzante cósmico. Las imágenes más comunes lo muestran con cuatro brazos y cabellera al viento, danzando sobre un enano (símbolo de la ignorancia humana) y envuelto en una aureola de llamas. La escultura… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Nataraja — noun The dancing posture of the Hindu god Shiva, who performs his divine dance as a part of his activities of creation and destruction …   Wiktionary

  • Nataraja — …   Useful english dictionary

  • Nataraja Guru — (Malayalam:നടരാജ ഗുരു)(Dr. P Natarajan) was a direct disciple of Narayana Guru, a sage and social reformer of India. Nataraja Guru founded Narayana Gurukulam, a worldwide contemplative community based on the teachings of Narayana Guru. He… …   Wikipedia

  • Nataraja Ramakrishna — Born 31 March 1923(1923 03 31) Bali, Indonesia Died 7 June 2011(2011 06 07) (aged 88) Nizam s Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS), Hyderabad Nationality …   Wikipedia