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One of the most famous forms and depiction of Lord Shiva is that of Nataraja. The Nataraja is that form of Lord Shiva, where he is shown dancing on an aureole of flames. While his one foot is lifted in the air, the other one, is stepping on the dwarf, Apasmara. The dwarf that he is stepping on, is the symbol of ignorance. This signifies that he is - the preserver of knowledge and the remover of ignorance. The dumroo in one hand symbolizes the origin of sound. He is the NadaBrahma, meaning the lord of sound.
While his upper right hand holds the dumroo, the lower right hand is shown blessing the devotees and is associated with protection. He is he protector, not only from ignorance but from all the other evils as well. The upper left hand holds fire which symbolizes the creation and the destruction. He is the destroyer of all that is mortal. Whenever the universe gets trapped in sins, this preserver of the world, Lord Shiva destroys it, though partially, in order to allow a recreation.
Lord Shiva's lower left hand pointing to the left foot indicates that we must reach out to him as our ultimate aim of life. His feet is like a refuge for his devotees. The lifted foot, is symbolic of awareness. It means we are uplifted when we seek awareness, knowledge and enlightenment. His one foot on Apasmara and the other lifted up, together symbolize that this upliftment can happen only when we detach ourselves from the illusions of the materialistic world and seek real spirituality.
The word 'Nataraja' has been derived from - Natya meaning dance and Raja meaning the king. Therefore, Nataraja means the King of dances. It is believed that when Lord Shiva started the Ananda Tandava, one of the Tandava forms, many holy and divine men got annoyed. They tried to stop him in various ways. They first threw a tiger at him. Lord Shiva thrashed the tiger and wore its skin. The next they threw a snake, but Shiva tamed the snake as well and carried it around his neck. Then came the dwarf of ignorance, Apasmara. But no form of ignorance can attack Shiva, the divine Yogi who is the embodiment of knowledge and enlightenment. He stepped on the dwarf and continued the dance.
His long matted tresses spread into a fan behind him, indicate the wildness and ecstasy that he dances with. Shiva is shown with his third eye slightly open, symbolizing awareness and knowledge. The other two eyes of Lord Shiva represent the Sun and the Moon. Apparently the eyes of Shiva also represent the three fundamental Gunas - Satva, Rajas and Tamas. A balance between the three is of highest importance for man.
This way the lord of dance, Shiva performs the Ananda Tandava, the form of dance representing the creation, preservation and ultimate dissolution in the universe.
The movements of Shiva represent all the movements in the universe. Through these rhythmic dance movements he is representing the cosmic movements as well. This dance is also seen as symbolic of rescuing all men from the clutches of illusion.
Shiva performs this dance on a Chidambaram, which represents the center of the heart. Therefore this dance of Shiva signifies the various emotions that take place within the heart of the man. The aim of the movements of emotions in the heart should be upliftment and we should let the almighty lead us through these emotions to their real aim of spiritual awakening.