Shiva シヴァ（舞踏神ナタラージャ） Part 1
Shiva: Lord of Divine Dance
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Shiva is considered as “Auspicious One” in Sanskrit. It is one of the main deities of Hinduism. Shaivites worship as the supreme god.
The story or mythology of Shiva is quite long and involved, here is the summary of its description just to get the general understanding of what Shiva represents: (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Shiva)
- Shiva is represented in a variety of forms: in a pacific mood with his consort and son, as the cosmic dancer (Nataraja), as a yogi, as a Dalit (formerly called untouchable), half-male and half-female, etc. He is both the great ascetic and the master of fertility, and he is the master of both poison and medicine, through his ambivalent power over snakes. As Lord of Cattle, he is the benevolentherdsman—or, at times, the merciless slaughterer of the “beasts” that are the human souls in his care. Although some of the combinations of roles may be explained by Shiva’s identification with earlier mythological figures, they arise primarily from a tendency in Hinduism to see complementary qualities in a single ambiguous figure.
Shiva is usually depicted in painting and sculpture as white (from the ashes of corpses that are smeared on his body) with a blue neck (from holding in his throat the poison, which threatened to destroy the world), his hair arranged in a coil of matted locks and adorned with the crescent moon and the Ganges. He brought the Ganges River to earth from the sky, where she is the Milky Way. Shiva has three eyes, the third eye bestowing inward vision but capable of burning destruction when focused outward. He wears a garland of skulls and a serpent around his neck and carries in his two (sometimes four) hands a deerskin, a trident, a small hand drum, or a club with a skull at the end. That skull identifies Shiva as a Kapalika (“Skull-Bearer”).
The reason why I decided to write about Shiva is for the following interesting fact. Shiva is also described as the Lord of the Dance or Nataraja.
I again turn to Encyclopedia Britannica for the brief description of this Hindu mythology. Here is the summary. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Nataraja
Nataraja means “Lord of the Dance” in Sanskrit, depicting him as divine dancer. It is in his form as the cosmic dancer, represented in many temples, particularly in South India. In the most common type of image, Shiva is shown with four arms and flying locks dancing on the figure of a dwarf, identified as a symbol of human ignorance. Shiva’s rear right hand holds the drum. The front right hand is in the “fear-not” gesture, made by holding the palm outward with fingers pointing up. The rear left hand carries fire in a vessel or in the palm. The front left hand is held across his chest in the elephant-trunk pose, with wrist limp and fingers pointed downward toward the uplifted left foot.
The locks of Shiva’s hair stand out in several strands with flowers, a skull, a crescent moon, and the figure of Ganga (the Ganges River personified as a goddess).
His figure is encircled by a ring of flames. In classic Sanskrit document on dance, this form of Nataraja is called the “trembling of the snake”.
The gestures of the dance represent Shiva’s five activities: creation (symbolized by the drum), protection (by the “fear-not” pose of the hand), destruction (by the fire), embodiment (by the foot planted on the ground), and release (by the foot held in the air).
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 vigorous form of dance), associated with the destruction of weary worldviews—weary perspectives and lifestyles. In essence, those two different dances are just two aspects of Shiva’s nature; for he destroys in order to create, tearing down to build again.
Here are some interesting and important points:
- He dances within a circular or cyclically closed arch of flames (prabha mandala), which symbolically represent the cosmic fire that in Hindu cosmology creates everything and consumes everything, in cyclic existence or cycle of life. The fire also represents the evils, dangers, heat, warmth, light and joys of daily life.
- His legs are bent, which suggests an energetic dance.
- On his right side, meshed in with one of the flying strands of his hair near his forehead, is typically the river Ganges personified as a goddess.
- The upper right hand holds a small drum whose beats syncopate the act of creation and the passage of time.
- The upper left hand contains fire, which signifies forces of creation and destruction.
- A cobra uncoils from his lower right forearm, while his palm shows a gesture suggesting not to fear or be afraid of evil and ignorance around.
- The lower left hand is bent downwards at the wrist with the palm facing inward (away from the viewer) and points towards the raised left foot. This signifies spiritual grace and fulfillment through meditation.
- The face shows two eyes plus a slightly open third on the forehead. The eyes represent the sun, the moon and the third has been interpreted as the inner eye, a symbol of knowledge, urging the viewer to seek the inner wisdom, self-realization.
- The dwarf upon whom Nataraja dances is the demon, who symbolizes the demonic evil and ignorance over which the sacred dance of Shiva gives victory.
- The slightly smiling face of Shiva represents his calmness despite being immersed in the contrasting forces of universe.
- Shiva’s long hair, streams out across the space within the halo of fire that constitutes the universe.
The above interpretations of symbolism are largely based on historic Indian texts published in and after 12th-century.
Some parts from an article of Khan Academy on Shiva: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/south-east-se-asia/india-art/a/shiva-as-lord-of-the-dance-nataraja
A dance within the cosmic circle of fire
Shiva embodies those perfect physical qualities as he is frozen in the moment of his dance within the cosmic circle of fire that is the simultaneous and continuous creation and destruction of the universe. The ring of fire that surrounds the figure is the encapsulated cosmos of mass, time, and space, whose endless cycle of annihilation and regeneration moves in tune to the beat of Shiva’s drum and the rhythm of his steps.
Beyond grace there is perfection
The supple and expressive quality of the dancing Shiva is one of the touchstones of South Asian, and indeed, world sculpture. When the French sculptor Auguste Rodin saw some photographs of the 11th century bronze Shiva Nataraja in the Madras Museum around 1915, he wrote that it seemed to him the “perfect expression of rhythmic movement in the world.” In an essay he wrote that was published in 1921 he wrote that the Shiva Nataraja has “what many people cannot see—the unknown depths, the core of life. There is grace in elegance, but beyond grace there is perfection.” The English philosopher Aldous Huxley said in an interview in 1961 that the Hindu image of god as a dancer is unlike anything he had seen in Western art. “We don’t have anything that approaches the symbolism of this work of art, which is both cosmic and psychological.”
The eloquent bronze statue of the Shiva Nataraja, despite the impact of its formal beauty on Rodin who knew little of its background, is incomplete without an understanding of its symbolism and religious significance. Bronzes of the Chola period such as Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja) arose out of a need to transmute the divine into a physical embodiment of beauty.
I have spent much space and provided the information so that the readers will have a general idea of Shiva god and the meaning of his divine dance. I think the story is incredibly interesting and I can understand that the French sculptor, Rodin’s impression as “perfect expression of rhythmic movement in the world.” I agree with the English philosopher Aldous Huxley, who said in an interview some fifty years ago. “We don’t have anything that approaches the symbolism of this work of art, which is both cosmic and psychological.”
The more I look at this statue and its design, I started to think about Busaganashi, the martial art god of Goju ryu. From what I had read about Busanagashi in several articles mostly in
Japanese, the Goju ryu people have a few hypotheses on the source. In other words, what was the origin of this statue’s image? In the end, no one is sure if any of those ideas are true.
If you are interested in reading my article on this subject, here is the link to my article, “Busaganashi: Goju ryu Deity of Martial Arts 武神・ブサガナシの源流”.
After comparing not only the shape of the figures but learning the meaning of what Shiva represents, I suspect the origin of Busaganashi could be the Lord of divine dancer, Shiva. This may be a wonderful discovery not only for the Goju ryu people but for all the karate practitioners around the world. Can this be an incredible new discovery, or is this only my silly imagination? What do you think?