Shiva as the Lord of Dance
“Shiva as the Lord of Dance” depicts the Hindu God Shiva and combines in a single image his roles as creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe and conveys the concept of the never-ending cycle of time. Shiva has many guises and many representations in art, but the most popular is as a dancing figure within the arch of flames, called Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance. Nataraja is a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the cosmic ecstatic dancer. The pose and artwork are described in many Hindu texts, and the dance relief is featured in major Hindu temples of Shaivism. It is an image seen in museums and temples across the world, and it is rich in iconography and hidden meaning.
The French sculptor Auguste Rodin wrote that the sculpture of Shiva as the Lord of Dance has:
“what many people cannot see—the unknown depths, the core of life. There is grace in elegance, but beyond grace, there is perfection.”
Shiva’s dance is set within a flaming circle of fire. The god holds in his upper right hand, the act of creation, the hand drum that made the first sounds of creation. His upper left-hand holds, the act of destruction, the fire that will destroy the universe. With his lower right hand, the action of protection, he makes the gesture that alleviates fear. The figure being trampled by his right foot represents the illusion, which leads humanity astray. Shiva’s front left hand, pointing to his raised left foot, signifies refuge and release for the troubled soul. The energy of his dance makes his hair fly to the sides.
The English philosopher Aldous Huxley said 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.”
Just like the art of medieval Europe, the art of India at this time was devoted to the service of religion. The spiritual experience was enhanced by meditating on works of art. This elegant bronze statue of Shiva in its original Temple setting would have awed and inspired a Hindu devotee. The three gods of the Hindu trinity are Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Siva the Destroyer and Restorer. The Tamil sculptors of the Chola dynasty (880–1279) realized Shiva, the Dancer in his most complete and graphic form and one which has become symbolic of Indian civilization. Siva, as represented in this historic work of art, is perfectly poised and depicts Siva’s grace and majesty.
Shiva as the Lord of Dance
- Title: Shiva as the Lord of Dance
- Find Site: Tamil Nadu, India
- Year: 950-1000
- Period: Chola period (880–1279)
- Medium: Copper alloy
- Dimensions 30 x 22 1/2 x 7 in. (76.20 x 57.15 x 17.78 cm)
- Museum: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Explore the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
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- “Magdalene with the Smoking Flame” by Georges de La Tour
- Shiva as the Lord of Dance
- “Cliff Dwellers” by George Bellows
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- What is the symbolism of this image?
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“To heal your wounds, I get you to dance.”
– Shahram Shiva
Photo Credit: 1) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons