Shaivism - Concepts and symbols - The Dance
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Alain Danielou – While the Gods Play
As the creative principle, Shiva does not utter the world, he dances it.
"Whatever the Dance of Shiva may originally have been, it became with time the clearest image of god's activity that any art or any religion may pride itself on having invented." (see Ananda Coomaraswany, The Dance of Shiva, p.67.)
According to the Greek writer Lucian (second century A.D.),
"It seems that the dance appeared at the beginning of all things and was revealed at the same time as ancient Eros, since we can see this first dance clearly appear in the ballet of the constellations and in the over-lapping movements of the planets and stars and their relationships, in an ordered harmony".
As the manifestation of primordial rhythmic energy, Shiva is the "Lord of the dance" (Nata-raja) and the cosmic universe is his theatre.
He is the ithyphallic dancer who is the beginning of all life. That which binds Creator and Created, the divine being and the apparent world, may be expressed in terms of rhythm, movement and dance.
The Creator dances the world and, by analogy, the dance of men may be envisaged as a rite, as one of the means by which we are able to go back towards the origin of things, draw near to the divine, and unite with him. Erotic intoxication and ecstatic dancing are the most direct means of establishing contact with the supernatural.
Shiva in the aspect of Tamas, the expansive force which causes the birth of the world, is symbolized at the level of the gods by the Nata Raja, the cosmic dancer who, in the postures and rhythms of his dance, creates the harmonies, modules, plans, and patterns according to which all structures of matter and life are organized.
In his androgynous aspect (ardhanarishvara), he is the life principle, the origin of the species.
As Bhairava (the Terrible), he is the death principle, the image of the impermanence of transitory beings, on which the existence of species rests in a perpetually transforming universe.
Shiva is also depicted as Kala, the time principle, who measures the duration of worlds and beings.
The Pashupata consider Bhairava, the destructive and terrifying aspect, to be the basis of the other aspects. It is to ward off this aspect that he is called Shiva (the Kindly) or Shambhu (the Peacemaker).