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HOME : Asian Art : Art of India : Shiva Nataraja, God of the Divine Dance
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Shiva Nataraja, God of the Divine Dance - MS.989
Origin: India
Circa: 900 AD to 1200 AD
Dimensions: 16" (40.6cm) high x 10.5" (26.7cm) wide
Collection: Asian Art
Style: Chola Period
Medium: Bronze


Location: Great Britain
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Description
The bronze figure of Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism, dates to the Chola period (880–1279). Shiva is known as “The Destroyer” within the Trimurti, the Hindu trinity that includes Brahma and Vishnu. In Hindu religious philosophy all things must come to a natural end so they can begin anew, and Shiva is the agent that brings about this end so that a new cycle can begin. The destruction of Shiva in this sense is not an entirely negative force, but one that is expansive in its impact. Shiva is one of the supreme beings who creates, preserves, and transforms the universe in Shaivism tradition. Shiva Nataraja is a divine form that merges all these ideas. The word 'Nataraja' is a Sanskrit term, from 'Nata' meaning act or dance and 'Raja' meaning king or lord; it can be translated as 'Lord of dance'. Shiva Nataraja as the Lord of Dance, offering salvation to the worshipful observer as he performs the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of the cosmos through the Ananda Tandava, the dance of bliss. It combines in a single image Shiva's role as creator, sustainer, and destroyer of the universe and conveys the Indian conception of the never- ending cycle of time. Although the image of Shiva Nataraja appeared in sculpture as early as the fifth century, its representative form evolved remarkably during the Chola period.

During the Chola period, the statues of Shiva Nataraja were produced in different dance poses. In general, Shiva Nataraja's dance is set within a huge arch of flames, Prabha Mandala. However, more than a thousand years have passed since the Chola period, when this sculpture was worshiped, so only the supports on both sides of the pedestal suggesting that the divine halo of flames existed. Even if the halo has disappeared, Shiva's dynamic and exquisite posture, expressed in four arms and two legs, reveals that he is performing the Ananda Tandava as a sacred dancer. The god holds in his upper right hand the Damaru, the hand drum that made the first sounds of creation and in his upper left hand Agni, the fire that will destroy the universe. With his lower right hand, he makes Abhaya mudra, the gesture signifies fearlessness. The huddled dwarf figure being trampled by his right foot represents the demon Apasmara, the embodiment of ignorance. In the intense process of overlapping creation and destruction of the universe, Shiva God maintains a calm and peaceful expression. It implies that, through belief in Shiva, his devotees can achieve true tranquility and entire salvation. This Shiva Nataraja is a superb masterpiece of the Chola bronze sculpture and is considered one of the most significant contributions of the Cholas to Indian art. -MK

(Reference: Upinder Singh. A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson Education India, 2008; Archana Verma. Performance and Culture: Narrative, Image and Enactment in India. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011.)
- (MS.989)

 

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