Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lord of the Dance

Monday May 24, 2010

Lord of the Dance: Shiva Nataraja, India (Tamil Nadu); Chola period (Late 12th - early 13th century) Copper alloy;

This photo is called "Lord of the Dance" because the sculpture shows the Hindu god Lord Shiva in his dancing aspect (Shiva Nataraja). Padma Kaimal says the Shiva Nataraja in the ring of fire is very familiar to Westerners because of an influential 20th century essay by A. Coomaraswamy, which led to the proliferation of such figures, since any collection of Indian art is now considered incomplete without one. You can even buy one online. Pratapaditya Pal adds that renowned sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was inspired by Shiva Nataraja.

The form of this type of statue of the dancing Shiva is late, from the Chola Dynasty (12-13th centuries A.D.) for whom the Shiva Nataraja was a family deity. Earlier representations of a dancing Shiva show Shiva dancing on a platform, instead of a dwarf, and sometimes with 16 hands, instead of 4. Pal says that in a depiction of a contemplative Shiva sitting Buddha-like beneath a tree, the dwarf (Shiva-gana) beneath the god's foot represents ignorance. The symbolism of the dwarf may be the same in Shiva Nataraja sculptures. Kaimal, however, says the fat dwarf serves as a visual foil for the tall lean figure of the god, and some of the dwarf figures seem to be supports (literally and figuratively) rather than opponents of Shiva.

Jadzia Donatowicz says Shiva's limbs and movements represent Shiva's acts of creation, maintenance, dissolution, veiling-unveiling, and dissolution. The dance is a dance of repeated creation and destruction, the cosmic cycle. Kaimal thinks the raised and crossed leg is in a position known as bhujangatrasit "frightened by a snake" even though the snake is not (no longer) present. The angles of the limbs reflect a perfection humans can't achieve. The drum in his hand could have been used to beat a dance rhythm. Kaimal points out that among the radiating locks of hair and flower garlands sits a half piscine female who is a personification of


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