Friday, July 9, 2021

Ananda Tandava Of Nataraja - 13

Three Contemporary Interpretations

           Several interpretations of the Naṭarāja image have been offered. By way of proceeding to the interpretation presented by Śrīraṅga Mahāguru, let us rehearse three key studies, being those of Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), Heinrich Zimmer (1890-1943), and Kamil Zvelebil (1927-2009) – their studies standing at approximately the beginning, middle, and end of the 20th century. The selection will thus give us an idea about the trends and patterns of thinking and analysis of a celebrated work of art at this day and age, almost contemporary. Our focus is on the symbolic interpretations given by these writers. We start with Coomaraswamy.


Coomaraswamy recognises the following key elements of the Nataraja image as typically represented:

…The images, then, represent Shiva dancing, having four hands, with braided and jewelled hair of which the lower locks are whirling in the dance. In His hair may be seen a wreathing cobra, a skull, and the mermaid figure of Ganga; upon it rests the crescent moon, and it is crowned with a wreath of Cassia leaves. In His right ear, He wears a man's earring, a woman's in the left; He is adorned with necklaces and armlets, a chief part of His dress consists of tightly fitting breeches, and He wears also a fluttering scarf and a sacred thread. One right hand holds a drum, the other is uplifted in the sign of do not fear; one left hand holds fire, the other points down upon the demon Muyalaka, a dwarf holding a cobra; the left foot is raised. There is a lotus pedestal, from which springs an encircling glory (tiruvasi), fringed with flame, and touched within by the hands holding drum and fire. The images are of all size, rarely if ever exceeding four feet in total height. (Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva, p.86).

Coomaraswamy exudes confidence, indeed unbelied, when he remarks, 'Even without reliance upon literary references, the interpretation of this dance would not be difficult.'