It is a belief in Hindu mythology that the origin of all kind of arts is in Lord Shiva. One such art is dancing. Shiva is also known as Nataraja, ‘Nata’ meaning dance and ‘Raja’ meaning king. The king of dance.
There is an interesting legend behind the conception of Shiva as Nataraja. In a dense forest, a group of sadhus lived. They were so vain that soon they saw themselves as gods. They fought amongst each other and cheated and lied. To show the rishis the path of righteousness Shiva went to the forest and started dancing. The rishis were furious at Shiva. They became determined to destroy him. By means of incantations a fierce a tiger was unleashed upon Shiva. But Shiva very calmly stripped of the tiger’s skin and wrapped it around himself. The sages muttered some more incantations and produced a monstrous serpent which Shiva seized and wore around his neck like a garland. The rishis at last unleashed a malignant dwarf by the name of Apasmara. Shiva broke the creatures back by placing his foot on his spine. And then he resumed his dance. Properly chastised the rishis realized their mistake and started praying to Shiva.
Apasmara the dwarf signifies indifference, ignorance and laziness. The fact that Shiva places his foot upon ignorance denotes that the dance is not a destructive act but an act of liberation. Shiva liberates souls by destroying their ignorance.
Shiva symbolizes two opposite things. One is an archetypal ascetic and the other is archetypal dancer. On one hand he is the Mahayogi, who is calm and absorbed in himself. On the other hand he is frantic, aimless and playful. As Nataraj, the king of dancers, his gestures are wild and yet full of grace.
In his Natarajaform, Shiva holds a damru in his upper right hand symbolizing the sound of creation. In his upper left hand he holds agni which signifies final destruction. His second right hand is in abhay mudraposition for freedom from fear. And his second left hand points towards the raised foot which signifies upliftment and salvation. The snakes around Shiva’s waist symbolizes the kundalinishakti or divine force which resides within everything.
The Nataraj form has the five element which are ‘Shrishti’(creation), ‘sthiti’ (support) ,’ samahara’ (destruction), ‘triobhava’ (illusion) and ‘anugraha’ (release and grace).
The aim of this dance is to release men from the illusion of ‘self’ and the materialistic world. Dance initiates a trance like state just like yoga, through which one can experience divinity.