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Archaeology

Nataraja

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Nataraja
12th century AD, Chola Dynasty

Place of Origin: Tamil Nadu
Materials: Bronze
Dimensions: Ht: 96 L: 82.8 W: 28.2 cm.
Acc. No. 56.2/1

This massive yet elegant statue cast in bronze, an uncompromising hard alloy not easily yielding such large sizes, represents the Shiva as passionately engaged in ecstatic dance, a form of his image known as Nataraja in iconographic tradition, and the dance, as 'Ananda-tandava'. 'Tandava' is the dance that Shiva performs to dissolve but destruction being the forerunner of creation Shiva performs it with delight, and hence, the 'Ananda-Tandava'. The Shiva's dance 'Tandava' is venerated in the tradition as the most outstanding expression of the divine rhythm, ecstasy, energy and cosmic balance and harmony. As contends metaphysical tradition, 'Tandava' represents 'panchakrityas' - five essential acts that Shiva performs: 'Srishti' - creation, 'Sthiti' - preservation, 'Samhara' - destruction, 'Tirobhava' - veiling, and 'Anugraha' - grace, and it is this cosmic activity that constitutes the central motif of Shiva's 'Tandava'.

Anodized in deep copper tint the statue represents the king of dancers, as the term Nataraja means, with his right foot fixed on the figure of Apasamarapurusha, and the left, turned diagonally to right and flung into space with foot up in air denoting the path of salvation. A circular 'prabhavali' or 'prabhamandala' - fire-arch: a large ring with flames of fire bursting from its outer edge, erected over a lotus pedestal and a 'Kirti-mukha' like form of lotus atop frames the divine dancer. There enshrines on figure's face a divine bearing and in its anatomy - unfurling locks of hair and various body parts, the ecstasy of dance. Though all four arms of the figure are gesticulated in tune with the dance-move, each has been conceived to reveal also its individual function and significance. In his upper right hand the figure is carrying a 'damaru' - double-drum representing the power of creation, while the upper left, holds 'agni' - fire, denotative of the power of destruction the lower right hand reveals the gesture of 'abhaya' - redeeming from fear, and the lower left, the gesture known as 'dandahasta' or 'gajahasta' denoting dissolution.

The forearm of the lower right hand has around it a 'bhujanga-valaya'. The 'jata-mukuta' that adorns the head of Lord Shiva has been designed like a crown different in its look. It has been adorned with a snake, jewels, flowers, crescent and a human skull. The energy waves that the friction of body moved in dance creates best reflect in 'jatas' - locks of hair, unfurling horizontally on either side. The female figure on their right side is obviously the river goddess Ganga. Every alternate jata carries on it the flowers of dhutura or arka, or some other flower. Shiva is adorned with a pearl necklace, a 'yajnopavit', a 'uras-sutra' - chest band, rings in the hands, anklets, a 'makara-kundala' on right ear and 'patra-kundala' on his left. Excellent anatomical proportions and well-defined features define the image of the great Lord.

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