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Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Cosmic Dance
The famed mythologist, Joseph Campbell, commented on Shiva Nataraja:
The upper right hand of the dancing god holds a little drum shaped like an hourglass, the rhythm of which is the world-creating beat of time, which draws a veil across the face of eternity, projecting temporality and thereby the temporal world.
The extended left hand holds the flame of spiritual light that burns the veil away, thus annihilating the world and revealing the void of eternity.
The second right hand is tin the “fear-dispelling” posture, and the second left, lifted across the chest, pointing to the raised left foot, is in a position known as “elephant hand,” signifying “teaching”, for where an elephant has gone through the jungles all animals can follow, and where a teacher leads the way disciples follow.
The left foot, to which the “teaching hand” points, is lifted to symbolize “release,” while the right stamping on the back of a dwarf named “Forgetfulness” drives souls into the vortex of rebirth.
The dwarf is gazing in fascination at the poisonous world-serpent, representing thus man’s psychological attraction to the realm of his bondage in unending birth, suffering, and death.
The god’s head, meanwhile is poised, serene and still, in the midst of all movement of creation and destruction represented in the rhythm of the rocking arms and slowly stamping right heel.
His right earring is a man’s, his left a woman’s, for he includes and transcends opposites.
His streaming hair is that of a yogi, flying now however in a dance of life,. Among its strands is tucked a skull, but also a crescent moon, a datura flower, from the plant of which an intoxicant is distilled, and finally, a tiny image of the goddess Ganges – for it is Shiva, we are told, who receives on his head the first impact of that heavenly stream as it falls to earth from on high.
From the mouth of a double-headed mythological water monster called a makara the flaming aureole issues by which the dance is enclosed; and the position of his head, arms, and lifted leg with this frame suggests the sign of the syllable OM.
(Source: Campbell, Joseph. 1974. The Mythic Image. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.)