NATARAJA: the Cosmic Dancer ~ Swami Chinmayananda

[Excerpts from articles by Swami Chinmayananda]

The MAHASHIVARATRI is an auspicious day when Lord Shiva bursts Himself into the ecstatic DANCE of NATARAJA. Shiva’s divine dance is the thrilling expression of God-realisation by one who has transcended the limitations of the material layers of personality. It represents the finite exploding into Infinite Stature. The dancing Deity has four arms delicately poised. The upper right hand, it will be observed, carries a little drum (damaru), shaped like an hour-glass for the beating of the rhythm and the opposite hand, the upper left hand, with the half moon posture of the the fingers (ardhachandra-mudra) bears on its palm a tongue of flame. The Divinity is represented as dancing with one foot firm on the prostrate body of a dwarfish demon (Apasmara- Purusha), and the other raised in posture well known in classical Indian dance. A ring of flames and light (prabhamandala) issues from and encompasses the Deity. On the auspicious day, Shiva, the Arch-Yogi amongst the Gods, lays down the Trident (trishula) with the prongs indicating the transcendence of the three Gunas namely, the sattwa, rajas and the tamas – and transforms Himself into the Divine Dancer. The dance posture, balancing on one foot, signifies His single-pointed attunement with the Absolute Reality. Thus when the dwarfish demon, the ego (or avidya) lies, conquered and crushed, one experiences within oneself the pure, transcendental Essence of Divinity. The control of lower nature becomes one’s dignity and glory and this is symbolised by adorning His body with a serpent. In whatever direction the Lord sees, the world gets annihilated by the Fire of Knowledge (Jnana Agni). 

To such a Man of Realisation, therefore, the world of plurality, with the pairs-of-opposites (dwandvas) disappears which is indicated by the term ‘ratri’ or night. The allegory of the Nataraja pictorially brings out the dual manifestations of the Non-dual Ultimate Reality, namely, the Absolute Tranquility of the All-Knowing Self and the dynamic expressions of the world. In the one form of the Lord, we find His blissful, silent countenance representing the Unmanifest, in significant contrast to the passionate agility of the swaying limbs representing the manifest – the world of plurality. The ring or halo of flames signifies the creatures (jeevas) of the world who emerge from the One Non-Dual Reality. The continuous creation-destruction of the universe, which emanates from Him, is indicated by the damaru and the tongue of flame supported by His two upper arms. The damaru produces sound which is associated with space, the subtlest of five elements from which emerges the Universe. The flame is the symbol of the destruction of the world. Lord Shiva’s tresses are long and matted, indicating the tapas or austerities undertaken by Him. In the triumphant, violent, frenzy of His untiring dance, the tresses loosen and expand, suggesting that the Ultimate Experience is TRANS-TAPAS. Thus, through tapas and annihilation of ego, one finds, in the allegory of the Cosmic Dancer, the path – from ignorance, passion and egoistic individuality to the Absolute and Higher Essence in one!

On this Shivaratri Day, Lord Parameshwara Himself, who is in constant meditation and tapas in Kailasa, is represented as getting up from His seat and dancing everywhere in ecstatic joy. Dance is a physical expression of inner joy. He is experiencing that Paramananda State of Total Mental Transcendence of the Pure Consciousness, and in that State of Sachidananda of the man of realisation, as indicated in ecstatic joy of self-mastery or realisation, He dances. In His dance, He opens His eye of wisdom, which recognises the Eternal, the Self everywhere, within and without. Then, when you look out through the eye of wisdom, you cannot see the BMI (body-mind-intellect), and therefore, the PFT (perceiver-feeler-thinker) is not available. Alas! The OET (objects-emotions-thoughts) are all burnt down. It is not that the world is literally burnt, but only in the “JNANA-DRISHTI” when He looks all around everywhere, He sees nothing but Himself ALONE; all else is burnt in the “fire of knowledge.”


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