The Cosmic Dance

Goa trance was originally referred to as trance dance. The original goal of the music was to assist the dancers in experiencing a collective state of bodily transcendence, similar to that of ancient shamanic dancing rituals, through hypnotic, pulsing melodies and rhythms.

The Cosmic Dance of Lord Nataraja symbolizes the motion of the universe as sustained by Lord Shiva. Nataraja (The Lord of Dance) is a depiction of the Hindu god Shiva as the cosmic dancer who performs his divine dance to destroy a weary universe and make preparations for god Brahma to start the process of creation. Nataraja is most often depicted through a statue. He is also known as “Sabesan” which splits as “Sabayil aadum eesan” in Tamil which means “The Lord who dances on the dais”. The form is present in most Shiva temples in South India, and is the main deity in the famous temple at Chidambaram.

The sculpture (see below) is usually made in bronze, with Shiva dancing in an aureole of flames, lifting his left leg (and in rare cases, the right leg) and balancing over a demon or dwarf (Apasmara) who symbolizes ignorance. It is a well known sculptural symbol in India and popularly used as a symbol of Indian culture.

A cobra uncoils from his lower right forearm, and the crescent moon and a skull are on his crest. He dances within an arch of flames. This dance is called the Dance of Bliss, ananda tandava.

The upper left hand contains Agni or fire, which signifies destruction. The opposing concepts in the upper hands show the counterpoise of creation and destruction. This is one of the reasons you see people dancing with fire, torque or a loop in fire sometimes in present day while dancing.

The essential significance of Shiva’s dance at Tillai, the traditional name of Chidambaram, can be explained as:

  • First, it is seen as the image of his rhythmic play which is the source of all movement within the universe. This is represented by the circular or elliptical frame surrounding the Lord.
  • Secondly, the purpose of his dance is to release the souls of all men from the snare of illusion.
  • Lastly, the place of the dance, Chidambaram, which is portrayed as the center of the universe, is actually within the heart.

Nataraja is a visual interpretation of Brahman and a dance posture of Lord Shiva. It is the representation of reality at the time of cosmic destruction. We being life forms, cosmic destruction would mean the disappearance of all life. The half moon shown in the hand of Nataraja is a symbol only. The fall of the moon would result in cosmic destruction.

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