Nataraja

The Lord of the Dance

Shiva, seated in the Heart, enjoys the marvellous things offered by the Goddess who comes and goes from the heart to the tips of the sense organs; the universe trembles in its turn with this same Consciousness: it is no longer anything but bliss, that of the Self.

– Saubhagyahridaya

NatarajaDance is an important art form in India, and Shiva is believed to be the master of it. He is often called Nataraja, or Lord of Dance. The rhythm of dance is a metaphor for the balance in the universe which Shiva is believed to hold so masterfully.

His most important dance is the Tandav. This is the cosmic dance of death, which he performs at the end of an age, to destroy the universe.

It is if there has been an invisible dancer, a shadow, dancing hidden in the ballet of the universe. All the the other dancers have always danced around this hidden dancer. We have observed the choreography of the dance, but until now we could not see that dancer.

– Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds

The End of the Universe

According to one Hindu legend, Shiva almost signalled the end of this universe by performing this dangerous dance before its time.

One day, the father of the goddess Sati decided to hold a prayer ceremony. At this prayer ceremony, all the gods would be invited and offerings would be made to them. But Shiva had married Sati against the wishes of her father and he was not invited. Sati was deeply offended on behalf of her husband.

In anger, Sati prayed intensely and jumped into the sacred fire that was burning on the day of the ceremony.

During this time, Shiva had been in the midst of deep meditation. But when Sati jumped into the fire, he awoke in great anger, realising what his wife had done. Shiva started the cosmic dance of death—becoming Nataraja. The whole universe was about to be destroyed before it was time.

The gods who were present at the prayer ceremony were very concerned. In order to pacify him, they scattered the ashes of Sati over him. This did the trick. He calmed down and did not complete the dance. But he went into meditation for many years, deeply upset over the death of his wife, ignoring all his godly duties.

It was not until Sati was reborn as Parvati that Shiva finally came out of meditation. Through her love and patience, she taught him about family life and the importance of moderation—the householder path.

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