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la danse de Śiva (article)

     A.K. Coomaraswamy wrote a book entitled The dance of Śiva (1914) thanks to which he dedicated his research to Śiva’s figure and representation. This publication that has been read throughout the world, Śiva has become a classical exponent of Indian aesthetics.

     Whereas, in Hindu mythology, Brahmā is creating the universe and Viṣṇu preserving it, Śiva, representing the graceful ascetic yogin, is the one who has the ability to create, maintain and destroy. He keeps specific links with arts, especially dance: amongst his several appearances, the one that expresses the most the artistic activity is Śri Naṭarāja, known as « the King of Actors and Dancers » [1]. Actually, the whole universe is the Cosmic Dancer:

Whose bodily movement is the entire Universe
Whose speech is the language (of the Universe)
Whose ornaments are the moon and the stars
Him, we version the serene Lord Śiva!
Abhinaya-darpaṇa, maṅgalaśloka.


     This dance, which forms an important representation of the South Indian images and literature, depicts Śri Nāṭarāja while dancing. Siva knowns many dance styles that He performs depending on the context: as an instance, the nadānta was represented in front of an assembly in the golden hall of Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu), the centre of the Universe, where He first revealed His dance to gods and rishis.

     He is standing on a lotus pedestal, from which springs an encircling glory (tiruvasi), fringed with flame. This fire symbolizes the capacity of transforming everything as well as the power of Illusion (māyā). His entire body is adorned with jewellery. With braided hair of which the lower locks are whirling in the dance. In His hair may be seen a wreathing cobra, a skull, and the mermaid figure of Gaṅgā; upon it rests the crescent moon.

     He has four hands. His first right hand holds a drum (creation), the second, uplifted in the abhaya-mudrā, shows the sign of do not fear; the first left hand holds fire (destruction) whereas the second points down, upon the demon Muyalaka, a dwarfish body holding cobra. From this representation proceed the five activities of Siva. At the end of a cosmic period (kalpa), it is time for the Universe to be purified, Siva starts his well-known dance called tāṇḍava [1]. Holding his small percussion (damaru) made with two skulls, He beats cosmic rhythms while dancing. During this imperious dance, all the existing beings are perishing into fire. This a also the idea of a never-ending transformation of things: life always proceeds from death.

     As the divine purveyor of destruction of evil. Śiva’s dance metaphorically leads to the destruction of the ego. Burning grounds can also be found within the body. Dancing is an act of knowledge participating to the liberation of all kind of links with the manifested world. The other one is killing the demon representing ignorance. By destructing him, Siva provides  enlightenment as well as he releases the bondage of existences.

 the dance of Siva and Parvati
     Some representation of Siva show him as an hermaphrodit. In his right side, He wears a man’s earring, a woman’s one in the left. With the body of Ardhanārīśvara, Śiva appears fusioning with Pārvatī to embody the « tension of Hinduism » [2]. The god, raising His left leg, embodies a precarious balance. He cannot stop moving and dancing. When Siva’s frenetical dance is disturbing the Universe’s harmony, nobody else than Pārvatī would have the ability to soften it. Dancing the lāsya, she calms Siva’s motion by doing graceful movements leading the universe to stability again.
     Like the dancers, they have to show both sides of dance: lasya is composed by graceful feminine lines and movements, and tandava (the dance of Shiva), masculine aspect. Dance has to show the tension between those two faces.
[1] This dance belongs to Bhairava, the tamasic aspect of Siva. It is in origin that of a pre-Aryan entity, half-god, half-demon, who holds his midnight revels in the cemeteries and the buring grounds. It is performed in cemeteries and burning grounds, where Shiva, usually in ten-armed form, dances wildly with Devi, accompanied by troops of capering imps.
[2] David Kinsley, Hindu Goddesses Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2005, p. 46.
  2006  /  bharata-nāṭyam, dance, gesture, performing art, sculpture, theatre  /  Last Updated novembre 26, 2017 by akṣalab  /