Friday, September 17, 2021

Ananda Tandava Of Nataraja - 23

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The Dance of Naṭarāja (continued)

In considering Śrīraṅga Mahāguru's interpretation, we have confined here to certain specific, more important, aspects of this image, viz.: Apasmāra; the four arms; the head and face, and the items adorning the head (the skull, the plume, the flower, the serpent, the lunar digit, and the river Ganges; the Ardhanārīśvara ("The Lord Who Is Half Woman") aspect; and the bandha-s ("Knots" or "Bonds").


Apasmāra and The Feet of Naṭarāja

The figure of Naṭarāja is very much larger than the crouching figure of Apasmāra (known as Muyalaka in Tamil). Apasmāra holds a serpent in his left hand, which has raised its head and spread its hood. Naṭarāja's right foot presses down on the back of Apasmāra, almost matching in length his spine. Rather than being depicted as writhing in pain consequent to the trampling by Naṭarāja, Apasmāra is shown with his head a little raised, and, puzzlingly, with a gentle, not too very conspicuous though, smile on his face. His eyes appear to be endeavouring to catch a glimpse of the face of the person bearing him down on his back.


              The Cidambara-māhātmya describes how the sages of the Devadāru forest created this "imp" and set it against Śiva (Cidambara-māhātmya 13.29-32.) : They made it to look like a boy (bālam iva)): the boy had rolling eyes comparable to Kuja (Sanskrit for Mars - the veritable bloody god of war - aṅgārābha-valan-netram), tawny hair (jvālā-babhru-śiroruham), dwarfish stature, and protruding teeth; was surrounded by numerous serpents; and charging against Śiva fearlessly (tyakta-bhīti) and with great ferocity, the imp ended up getting trampled down by Him, only to serve as His pedestal, finally.

This image is commonly recognised as Śiva overcoming evil and ignorance. In the system of traditional Indian medicine known as Āyurveda, Apasmāra is the name of a disease, characterised by convulsions and repulsive functions consequent to an eclipse of the inner faculties: 

smṛterapagamaṁ prāhur apasmāraṁ bhiṣagvarāḥ

tamaḥpraveśa-bībhatsa-ceṣṭaṁ dhī-sattva-samplavāt || 

स्मृतेरपगमं प्राहुर् अपस्मारं भिषग्वराः |

तमःप्रवेश-बीभत्स-चेष्टं धी-सत्त्व-सम्प्लवात् ||

Cf. Caraka Saṁhitā 6.10.4 (ed. Y. Sharma, Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar Press, 1941).

The concept of Apasmāra including its causes and consequences upon epileptic seizures obtains a detailed treatment by Bharata (Nāṭya Śāstra 7.74). Suśruta gives the etymology of Apasmāra as 'the absence of proper memory.' Suśruta Saṁhitā 6.61.3.