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Shiva the destroyer in the Hindu pantheon is popularly known as the hermit of the netherworld, as the one who resides in cremation grounds. However, there is another aspect to Shiva- as Nataraja. Nataraja literally translates as the Lord of the Stage.

The western world is familiar with Shakespeare’s words, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely actors.” The soul assumes a physical form only to perform certain functions, duties, to give and receive pleasure, learn karmic lessons, and finally move on to a different realm. In this gross body, we humans who are supposed to be of a higher intellect are merely players and puppets in the hands of an unseen force called God.

Every birth gives us new pleasures, even as it gives us pain. We as living beings, are caught in the grasp of illusions, attachments, bonds that further pull us towards more cycles of birth. Suffering bothers man who ultimately seeks salvation, and he finds himself grappling with the results of his deed. Even as the soul leaves one gross body, it steps onto another womb, in the hope of fulfilling unfulfilled desires, to cleanse itself and perform certain karmas.

Nataraja in his cosmic dance form shows us the path to liberate ourselves from this continuous cycle of birth and death. Shiva stands majestically on the body of ‘Apasmara purusha’ and performs his dance. This body represents the ego, ignorance, the soul’s illusions. By trampling on it, Shiva is seen as controlling this ego and urge.

On one hand, Shiva holds the drum that symbolizes creative energy. By holding it in his hand, he portrays man as the powerful force with the entire cosmos in his hands! The world is in your hand-to be folded and unfolded at your will. The world exists only if you feel it does. In reality, life or the world is merely an illusion. Sorrow exists only if you allow it to seep into your consciousness and joy too exists if you give it place in your world. Feelings are what you express and allow your senses to feel.

On another hand, he is seen holding fire. The illumination of the flames is the realization of the soul. The ultimate aim is to realize the atman or the self. Only by understanding and realizing the self, can anything be understood.

He has at his feet, sprightly deer that leaps from one desire to another. The mind is compared to the deer, but the soul is far beyond the capricious mind. By placing the deer at his feet, Nataraja symbolizes that desires and worldly goals have little importance in comparison to the ultimate goal of the soul.

As Chandrashekhara, he has the creascent moon on his crown, symbolizing intuition and the feminine force. As Gangadhara, he wears the river Ganges or the ganga on his matted crown, the cool waters of which is supposed to refresh the flames of desire.

The theatre where he performs his cosmic dance is the lush forest because of the multitude of its components, vegetation and life. The platform in that theatre is nothing but the cremation ground, where the gross body returns to dust! The cremation ground is the place where all passions, names, forms that represent illusion are all burnt to ashes. We spend a lifetime earning a name, carving a niche for ourselves, amassing a fortune, and in a minute, the toil comes to naught!


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