Sunday, May 8, 2011



- From 'Bichitra', Geetabitan, RabindraNath Tagore

Loosely translated, this means :
Who is dancing on my conciousness all the while !
His steps in perfect rhythm .
Whose percussion plays along with
His steps in perfect rhythm .
Laughter and tears sway on His head like jewels
Good and Evil too vibrate  in tandem
Behind Him, dances Life,dances Death  with
His steps in perfect rhythm .
Joy abundance ! Oh ! with joy abundance
Dances Salvation,dances Binds
I too follow Him in this flow
His steps in perfect rhythm .

I read Kapila Vatsayan's critique on Nataraja in 'Discourse on Siva' and portions of 'Dance of Shiva' by Ananda K. Coomarswamy  a few days ago.Their writings are on 'Chidambaram Nataraja' whereas the ones  I came across in SriMukhalingam, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal  are very much connected with Siva's dance after he defeated Andhakasura and slayed Gajasura.

One of the most elaborate depiction of Siva's battle with Gajasura and His dance after Gajasura was vanquished. SriMukhalingam temple. 8th century AD. Built by Kamarnava II of Eastern Ganga dynasty of Orissa ( source - WIKIPEDIA - ) .
 Nataraja' posture is in equilibrium, in direct contrast with that in GajasuraSamharaMurti. Raised hands hold elephant's skin while the lower right hand touches Devi's chin . Nandi is on His left side. Siva as Nataraja and Gajasura SamharaMurti is ithyphallic.  

The twin wall-relief of Nataraja and GajasuraSamharaMurti on the western wall of temple at SriMukhalingam, photos of which I found in  Ann Mary-Gaston's  book and later in Ravi Putlam's photo-stream in,  inspired me to undertake the journey  to the land of Saivites during February,2011.We made our plan during 3rd quarter of 2010 and are  thankful to Siva that the trip went according to plan.

Now, back to the subject.The most well-known  Nataraja's imagery  is Chidambaram Nataraja. Through ages, sages and devotees have added to the myth of this manifestation with layers of interpretation. Siva in perfect balance within a ring of fire, one leg on trampled 'Apasmara', the other raised slightly , crescent moon on his matted hair..... Siva is revered in this manifestation through centuries. Yet,  the Nataraja of  Badami,  Aihole, Pattadakal. Lakundi and SriMukhalingam are different from this imagery. The former is very likely connected with Siva's encounter with the sages  at Deodar forest whereas the later with his battle with Andhakasura and Gajasura. The twin wall-reliefs on the western gate of SriMukhalingam's main temple refer to these battles.

Nataraja at the entrance of the Siva's cave at Badami. 534 AD.
His both legs touches the base, Ganesha dances on His left while 
Nandi stands on His right.
Poses of Nataraja's sixteen arms and his posture  form the basics of Bharat-Natyam. 

There is a duality in these imageries.  Siva , aided by 'Sapta-Matrikas' has defeated Andhakasura in a prolonged battle , converted emaciated Andhakasura  to a devotee - Bhringee - and slayed Gajasura. The time now is to rejoice.He was at his fierce manifestation during these battles. He is the greatest master of dancing too - and - now he dances with abandon. The 'Ganas' and 'Pramathas' , his companions, join him in this revelry. Often, Ganesha  too is among these cosmic dancers !

Nataraja Siva at Ravana Phadi ( also known as Ravala Phadi),Aihole.6th century AD.The wall-relief comprises of three panels  - we see two of these in parts.We face ten-armed Nataraja, Devi on His left side, Ganesha on His right. At the far end,on His right-hand side,stand three of the seven Matrikas.  

Another view of the same wall-relief. Devi and three of the seven Matrikas - including  Varahi - 
stand on the left hand side of Nataraja.

While  the cave temples of Badami and Aihole have large wall-reliefs, exquisitely crafted,temples of Pattadakal have  a very large numbers of Nataraja on the front-walls of the same - but   not  so attractive. These are more like motifs , visible to the devotees from a distance .

The Natarajas of SriMukhalingam are very different in nature. While the one with GajasuraSamharaMurti has serene composure, that on one on the alcoves in the Western wall has  fierce expression with his fangs out !

Nataraja in alcove  at SriMukhalingam temple.He touches Devi's chin with His lower left hand.Bhringee  imitates His dance posture. Nandi looks up. Nataraja is ithyphallic.

Siva is the Master of the art of Dance. The story goes that He was disappointed at the quality of a session where Brahma was giving dance lessons. Siva  gave dance lessons to His companion 'Tandu' - the word 'Tandava' was thus came into being. His dance postures are stated to be the starting point of Bharata Natyam - the famous South Indian dance form, appreciated among the elite across India as one of the purest classical form of dance. More on this subject will be discussed in later blogs. I end  this one here, with one photo of  dancing 'Ganas' from Badami caves.   


utpal said...

Shyamal Da always comes with a difference !


Thanks for appreciation !

injamaven said...

my favorite Andakasuramardana is the one in Elephanta. Lord Shiva nearly leaps out of the frame