The auspicious night of Shivaratri represents the enlivening of the Shiva tattva – the most beautiful aspect of Consciousness. Shiva is the eternal tattva, the principle that is the essence of everything, from which everything has come, which sustains everything and in which everything dissolves. How does one capture and express this tattva that is so subtle yet palpable?
Shiva as Nataraja or the Cosmic Dancer is a graceful symbol of the interplay between the material and spiritual realms of creation. Of the 108 postures of Nataraja the most adored and beautiful is the Ananda Tandava, dance of bliss.
When one has access to mystical realms through deep sadhana and detachment, one is able to experience Ananda Tandava. There are multiple dimensions of existence. One who has gained entry to subtle realms of creation, will find that the dance of Shiva is happening in ceaseless continuum. This blissful dance can be enjoyed only after transcending the body, mind, intellect and ego.
Shiva is Anadi –birthless, and Ananta – deathless. To limit Shiva to a form confined to time and space would be undermining the omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience of this Eternal Principle.
The damaru in the upper right hand of the Dancing Shiva is in the shape of infinity. It signifies sound and space and symbolises the expanding and collapsing nature of the Universe. Through finite sound one can behold the infinite.
The fire in the upper left hand of Nataraja represents the primordial energy of the cosmos. Ananda upholds energy while pleasure depletes it. The lower right hand, which is in abhaya mudra represents protection and assurance of orderliness. The other hand pointing to the feet is indicative of infinite possibilities.
Beneath the feet is Apasmara, the demon that symbolises ignorance and denotes the state in which there is no control over the body and life force.
When human consciousness is able to free itself from the shackles of ignorance and gains mastery over the body-mind complex, the dance of ecstasy begins in life.
The Ananda Tandava symbolises the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction. The whole world is nothing but a rhythm of energy, rising and contracting again and again.
Devas can only be perceived in the subtle realms. Those who have gone deep in meditation have discovered this phenomenon. It is said that devas have non-material bodies of light which are perceived in human form by human beings. The different forms of divinity that we see are the outer projections of what the sages observed in deep meditation. These inner experiences of the sages have found beautiful expressions in temples and artistic landscape of India.
The Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu is a magnificent representation of the cosmic stage of Nataraja. Chidambaram – ‘Chit’ meaning Consciousness and ‘Ambar’ meaning space – refers to the scintillating consciousness. The eternal dance of Shiva never occurred on earth. It is happening perpetually on the stage of consciousness. The central roof of the Chidambaram temple is adorned with 21,600 gold tiles, denoting the number of breaths taken by a human being in a day.
The scriptures extol the Shiva Principle as being all pervasive — Sarvam Shivamayam Jagat – everything in this world is an expression of Shiva. The finest flowers offered to Shiva are knowledge, equanimity and peace. Celebrating the Shiva tattva in oneself is real Shivaratri.