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Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja), c. 1000

India: Tamil Nadu, 975-1025
overall: 31-3/4 x 24 x 9-1/2 in. (80.6 x 61 x 24.1 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

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In his dance of bliss (ananda tandava), Shiva displays both destructive and regenerative powers. He holds in his right hand a double-sided drum, representing creation; in his left hand is the fire of destruction and transformation, exemplifying his role as the destroyer at the end of each world age. This balance of power takes place during Shiva’s dance, which the sculptor depicts in dramatic fashion. Shiva stands on his bent right leg, while his left leg and foot are raised across his body. So vigorous is Shiva’s dancing that his locks of matted hair become loosened from their once-tight formation, allowing the goddess Ganga to be caught in his hair before bringing forth the water of life to earth and avoiding a torrential deluge. Shiva as the Lord of Dance (Nataraja) is an iconic form rich with symbolic meaning.

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