The Dance of Siva-Nataraja Its Manifold Significance

Siva-Nataraja is enshrined in Chidambaram, the mythical centre of the universe. Devotees of Siva throng this town, about 240 kilometres south of Madras, in thousands on the occasion of what is known as Arudra Darshana, celebrated in the.The Tamil month of Margazhi (beg. 15 December). At daybreak on an auspicious day, the environs of Nataraja's shrine reverberate with the thunderous burst of fireworks. To the melodic refrains of nagaswara music, the singing of hymns in Tamil and the chanting of Vedic mantras, the image of dancing Nataraja is taken in procession around the shrine. A Tamil hymn describes the enchanting rhythm that pulsates in the heart of every devotee. It says that the whole universe—with its flora and fauna, the moon, the river and the mountains, the Vedas, Brahma, Vishnu, Sivakami [Siva's consort], the celestial gods, the elephant-faced Ganesa, the young Muruga, saint Gnanasambandar, Indra, the eighteen sages, Nandideva and the celestial dancers—all dance in tune with the rhythm of Siva's dance, and it ends with the supplication: "Oh Lord! Please do a dance to my delight."

While the simple devotees derive ecstatic pleasure from the Lord's dance and while practitioners of the art of dance pay obeisance to Nataraja as the patron deity, mystics and philosophers and now scientists too read deep significance into Siva's dance. The dance of Siva-Nataraja is seen as a cosmic dance encompassing the creative, protective and destructive mysteries of nature and representing the ordered movement of the universe. All things appear static and dynamic at the same time, presenting an enigma that baffles the mind of the ordinary mortal. Our ancient seers analysed Nature through their mystic perceptions. They saw the world as composed of the five elements—wind, water, matter, ether and fire—and the mystic five-lettered Na-ma-si-va-ya as encompassing entirely the philosophy and acts of Nature. Over time, Siva and Sakti came to symbolise Matter and Energy.

Numerous physicists all over the world are today engaged in research projects pertaining to matter and energy, but the properties of matter and energy remain baffling. Years ago, the atom was considered the ultimate unit of matter, but Dalton's atomic theory is outdated today. While none has yet been able to establish what the ultimate unit of matter is, sub-atomic units have been identified. These are found to disintegrate further into particles and equally powerful antiparticles. Some have said that these are always in a dancing state, colliding with one another. It is still a mystery to identify them precisely and recognise their behaviour. Surprisingly, some scientists have found inspiration in correlating them with the postures and movements of Siva in his cosmic dance. If the scientists of our soil would report such correlations, they might be accused of religious fervour and bias.

Fritjof Capra, a high-energy physicist, following exhaustive studies, produced a book in 1975 titled The Tao of Physics. In this book, he has put forward the view that the Vedas, the Upanishads and other ancient works found in India and China contain base material for modern scientific discoveries. In his preface to the book, he says: "Five years ago, I had a beautiful experience which set me on a road that has led to the writing of this book. I was sitting by the ocean one late summer afternoon, watching the waves rolling in and feeling the rhythm of my breathing when I suddenly became aware of my whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance. Being a physicist, I knew that the sand, rocks, water and air around me were made of vibrating molecules and atoms and that these consisted of particles which interacted with one another by creating and destroying other particles. I knew also that the Earth's atmosphere was continually bombarded by showers of 'cosmic rays', particles of high energy undergoing multiple collisions as they penetrated the air.

All this was familiar to me from my research in high-energy physics, but until that moment I had only experienced it through graphs, diagrams and mathematical theories. As I sat on that beach my former experiences came to life: I 'saw' cascades of energy coming down from outer space, in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses ; I 'saw' the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy ; I felt its rhythm and I 'heared' its sound, and at that moment, I knew that this was the Dance of Siva, the Lord of Dancers worshipped by the Hindus.

"I had gone through long training in theoretical physics and had done several years of research. At the same time, I had become very interested in Eastern mysticism and had begun to see the parallels to modern physics." Not only Capra, but some other scientists have used expressions like 'dance of creation and destruction' and 'energy dance' in writing about matter and energy. Ananda Coomaraswami has rightly stated: "The dance of Shiva is the dancing universe. This is poetry but nonetheless science." The figures and diagrams drawn in the laboratories signify Siva's creative, protective and destructive capabilities. The macrocosmic and microcosmic dance and energy ramifications are an enigmatic puzzle to human beings. If we remove the veil of ignorance, we might have a glimpse of the mysteries of Nature. In addition to the festival of Arudra Darshana, a dance festival is being organised in recent years at Chidambaram during Maha Sivarathri (in February) in which dancers from all parts of India and from abroad participate. It is obvious that the Cosmic Dancer is the prompter for this human enactment! Let the world of art dance to his cosmic rhythm to strive, to seek and to find the elusive and incomprehensible ultimeJfc truth baffling the realm of science.

K Radhakrishnan