Nataraja or the Dancing Shiva is a very popular image. It illustrates a legend in which Shiva, accompanied by Vishnu disguised as a beautiful woman, set out to subdue ten thousand holy men who were living in a nearby forest. The holy men became angry and invoked a fierce tiger out of a sacrificial fire but Shiva flayed it and wore its skin as a cape. Next he was attacked by a poisonous snake hut Shiva tamed it and wore it around his neck as a necklace. A dwarf was also sent on whom Shiva put his foot and performed a dance which was so brilliant that the holy men acknowledged Shiva as their master.
The symbolism of the dance, called Tandava, can be interpreted in many ways. It may show Shiva as the moving force of the universe and his five acts of creation, preservation, destruction, embodiment and release (of the souls of men from illusion). The last can he linked to the fire of the cremation ground, perhaps symbolized by the ring of flames round the dancer.
Natraj Dancing Shiva Statue
In the image of Nataraja, Shiva is caught in the middle of the dance with one foot on the dwarf and the other in the air. The dwarf is said to be the embodiment of ignorance, the destruction of which is the pre-requisite to enlightenment, true wisdom aid release. Shiva’s long hair fly out while he plays the drum. The drum indicates that God is the source of sound, the Nada-Brahman. The tipper left hand carries the fire, the instrument for the final destruction of the universe. The lower right hand bestows protection. The lower left hand points to the left foot, showing that his feet are the sole refuge of the individual souls. The lifted foot stands for release from illusion.