Natraja : The dancing Shiva- Symbology

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 – Fritj of Capra, Professor of Nuclear physics, Australia

Dancing Shiva: Shiva in Indian culture is considered as most powerful deity of destruction, recreation and cosmos. The early origin name of Shiva is mentioned as “Rudra” in Vedas. Rudra which means “the angry one” is one of the Vedic deity which get transformed into Shiva in puranic time of Hinduism.

Nataraja Icon is most famous representation of lord Shiva in Middle ages of Indian (7CE-16CE). Its one of the most astonishing idol used during the teaching of Natya Shastra.

Construct of Nataraja

Lord Shiva in this Icon is in position of dance known as: Tandava (Dance of Destruction), background of his shown a fire “again” which is considered as cosmic fire during which Lord shiva dance for destruction of universe so he can create another universe. a small dwarf on which lord shiva is standing is known as “Ignorance”. This small rakshasa “Evil” is shown as a symbols that, when Shiva dance for destruction the ignorance has been killed.

In This icon, Shiva has four hand, which is very common in all deity which is prime: Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Brahma, Ganesh. These deities are not avatars, the only difference between avatars and prime deities is numbers of hand. you will very rarely found any idol of Krishna and Rama with four hands. This was the symbols that Krishna and Rama lived amongst people like human and Mahabharata and Ramayana is account of facts and fiction which include history. while Puranaic stories are account of stories of prime deities which hold the Vedic knowledge in  bard form. Now, Two out of four hands of Shiva has holding fire and  abhay Mudra (Fear Not Position). The symbolic meaning of fire as describe in Vedas is sacred. Fire is one of the Vedic deity named as “Agni”.

Shiva is considered as controller of Cosmic fire, his dance is metaphor for cosmic uncertainty which is very spontaneous and destructive in nature. In Many Puranas Shiva is symbolized as deity who create and destruct the universe. In Hindu philosophy, Creation is complementary part of destruction.

The Famous bronze statue of Shiva: Nataraja (King of Act/King of destruction), 10th CE chola empire bronze statue of Lord Shiva

Symbology behind the Statue

In this icon, Shiva one hand hold agani which is symbols of his control over cosmic activity while another hand is shown in dandahasta mudra, Which symbolised his power of giving punishment who tried to break the natural law of cosmos, another hand shows Abhay Mudra which symbolised Shiva greets to “Fear not” for who follow the law of nature or Law of Santana Dharma. At last hand he has Damaru Which symbolised the sound of universe which is destructive yet productive. These four symbols has been shown his Vedic nature and puranic nature. In vedic nature, Rudra is powerful and give danda who do not adhere of natural law while puranic Shiva has more materialistic in nature and provide fear not sympathy for them who follow the Santana dharma. Small demon below the shiva known as Apasmara or Muyalaka which symbolised ignorance of Humans. while the clockwise position of Shiva left leg provide the symbolising power of time.

In another meaning, Hindu philosopher during transition time of this religion from Vedic to puranic, tried to Icon the dieties in very basic teaching of Vedas. This very basic teaching includes the powerful nature of Cosmos, always changing natural phenomenon around them and last their believe on some nature controller of this universe.

Few seen very different prospective in Nataraja. According to professor of Nuclear physics, Fritj of Capra this dance seems to be key of creation of universe. Background arc of fire represent the changing cosmic play /rhythm while the dance itself is symbolised the effort of soul redemption from this cycle of cosmos.

Now Let’s discussed few Icon, one the misconception of Nataraja only represent the shiva but if you will observe closely it’s actually a ardhanariswar (half female shiva) statue. ankles on Shiva frame represent the feminine side of this icon, moreover the sculpture waist is too feminine. This also symbolised the another philosophy of Hinduism which represent the divine female half of nature in cosmos dance.

Nataraja in Ellora cave (6 CE)

With time the look of Nataraja has been changed from 6CE to 10CE. the above picture of Lord Shiva dance is 6CE wall sculpture from Ellora cave 21. In this figure shiva is dancing in between many male and female deities. In close look you will found that in this shiva only representing agani and damru with him while abhay mudra is not so clear. A man behind shiva playing Murali which is very much mixed with vaishanav tradition. This 6CE sculpture has vaishanva influence while shiva has shown in jewellery which is feminine in nature. a child near the sculpture is seems to given birth by Shiva itself and another are looking waiting for his birth. Why this sculpture is too feminine ? Because  shiva symbolised here the power of womanhood for producing new life.

10 arms Nataraja dance: Melakadambur Temple

This is another kind of unique statue of 10 hand Shiva from melakadambur temple. In which shiva is represent with cosmic fire in background while he has 10 hands and he is dancing on Nandi (an iconic bull of Shiva). Shiva represent here, similar mudras while holding different arms in hands. below the Shiva statues many deities seems dancing along with him which is symbolised their agreement with shiva for the cosmic dance.

8 CE Nataraja in Kailash cave

This 8th CE sculpture in Kailash cave is different from other in many terms. Here Shiva is present along with his trident (Trident is a weapon of shiva which symbolised his power of being in present, past and future or destruction, creation and control of universe) and while its first shown in tandava mudra in 8CE clearly. This sculpure also seen amazing because of his unique identification of hand which hold the trident. The hand which is holding the trident seems to somehow coming from behind the Shiva. This symbolised the manhood in shiva sculpture, its symbolised the power of manhood to control the past, future and present.

6CE Nataraja in Elephanta cave

Another sculpture from elephants cave seems to be similar with Ellora cave. Here to we can find many puranic deities like Brahma (extreme top in left side) and other deities around them. This icon also symbolised the feminine side of Shiva which is popularly known as : Shakti. It may be possible that early icon of Shiva Nataraja could be iconic representation of Shiva-Shakti symbole for cosmic rhythm. In Hindu, philosophy women, feminine and shakti also consider as equal and important part of creating universe. Hence, many prime diets always represent with their women companion in all famous temple. Few even shown with their lover rather than wife which is perfectly symbolised that early Hindu societies were respectful or open-minded for women hood and their power.

Nataraja in Meenakshi amman temple, Madurai

This icon in Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai is another form of Nataraja image. here Shiva is represented as 10 CE Chola empire bronze staue.Its very similar except the chindamram below the Shiva feet is decorated more.

10 CE Shiva Nataraja of Chola empire
7th/8th CE Shiva Nataraja in Ellora cave

This ellora cave image of Shiva dance is similar to another image of badami cave while here its has been represented with many deities. In this image shiva has 8 hands while the twist of shiva waste in left side represent the  feminine balance (in Religious symbology, left is considered as female. In indian customs left hand considered of women, sacred thread, kalava is also bind in left thread to female by Brahmins) while the tilt of upper part of shiva symbolized the male balance in nature.

6th/7th CE Nataraja in Badami cave

This sculpture here symbolised the shiva with his family. In this image we can see Shiva with his family (Lord Ganesha) and ganas (Nandi). This 18 Hands Shiva represent the another famous position in tandva. According to Natya shastra, 108 position of Shiva tandva is sculptured in bronze statue. The symbolic abhay mudra, trident, fire and damaru along with another position of shiva symbolized the uncertain dangling in nature.

6th CE standstone nataraja in Madhya Pradesh, India

This 6CE standstone Nataraja of MP is another form of Shiva which is based on manhood. Erect penis symbolised the manhood power of nature while the feminine position of shiva shows the mixing of feminine for creating the cosmic dance of life. Shiva shown with trident and Musala which symbolised the male power of statute while the feminine smile and position of waist in this statue represent the womanhood in Shiva dance.


Nataraja statue is one of the powerful symbolization about nature and natural power in Hindu philosophy which includes the feminine and male nature of cosmos. Shiva Nataraja statue symbolized the natural play of cosmos which need female and male representation. On the other hand it’s also symbolized the early understanding of cosmos by ancient Indian scholar. Dancing Shiva symbolized the changing nature of cosmos, while Shiva position in different images represent the Hindu scholar agreement on  feminine side of nature. Their agreement that this changing cosmos represent and made up of Shiva-Shakti rythem of life. Nataraja also symbolized the nature is made up of uncertainty events which is controlled by time. the cycle of time and nature of cosmos create the magnificent dance of tandva by Lord Shiva.