Friday, June 18, 2021

Ananda Tandava Of Nataraja - 10

Many Images: One Motif

  Almost coincidentally, Coomaraswamy chose the Chola image of Tiruvālaṅgāḍu – exactly the same sculpture that inspired Sriranga Mahaguru too - as the very frontispiece for his book, The Dance of Shiva. Numerous sculptures with multifarious differences in certain details obtain today. For Coomaraswamy  however, who could see the essential strain submerged beneath a multiplicity of expressions, the numerous depictions of Naṭarāja 'vary amongst themselves in minor details, but all express one fundamental conception.' (Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva, p.86). The central motif, says he, is the cosmic activity of Śiva, a motif which he elaborates on in sufficient detail throughout his essay. So important was the interpretation of this image to Coomaraswamy that he entitled his book "The Dance of Shiva" even though there are other numerous interesting, and important enough, essays in the book.

We perceive here a special meaning, not noticed by anybody yet – at least as far as we know, in the subtitle of this book viz. "Fourteen Indian Essays". The number "fourteen" indeed echoes 'the sounding of the drum fourteen times by Naṭarāja,' which gave rise to the Fourteen Aphorisms, which came to be the very foundation - of Sanskrit syllabary and of Sanskrit grammar itself, and was designated Māheśvara-sūtra, apart from its tāttvic ramifications as spelt out in a work we are about to notice. That Naṭarāja so sounded the drum is detailed in a text called Nandikeśvara-kārikā in its very opening verse. The famous verse reads thus:

  nṛttā'vasāne naṭarājarājo

   nanāda ḍhakkāṁ nava-pañca-vāram |

uddhartukāmaḥ sanakādi-siddhān

   etad vimarśe śiva-sūtra-jālam ||


नृत्ताऽवसाने नटराजराजो

   ननाद ढक्कां नव-पञ्च-वारम् |

उद्धर्तुकामः सनकादि-सिद्धान्

   एतद् विमर्शे शिव-सूत्र-जालम् ||

  In order to place things in perspective, and in order to demonstrate the originality of Śrīraṅga Mahāguru's interpretation, let us make a brief survey of the work done in the past, and in recent decades, about this Naṭarāja image.