Symbolism of the Nataraja

When looking for a name, we found the symbolism of the Nataraja—the dancing form of Lord Siva—to be not only extraordinary, but also befitting of our desire to help people access the untapped potential within. While we don't subscribe to or promote a particular religion or spiritual belief, we hope you too will take a moment to appreciate the beauty and elegance of this timeless metaphor.

Lord Siva, depicted here as the Nataraja, is regarded as the most powerful god in Hinduism. Nataraja means "King of Dancers" (Sanskritnata = dance; raja = king). In this form, Siva dances Anandatandava—the Dance of Bliss—symbolizing the cosmic cycles of creation and dissolution, as well as the daily rhythm and harmony of life, of birth and death. The purpose of this dance, it is believed, is to release humankind from ignorance and the snare of illusion of the "self."

Each element composing the Nataraja has particular significance:

  • The form is encircled in flames representing consciousness and the manifest universe; the endless cycle of birth and death. The fiery ring, prahabhamandala, represents the universe with all its illusion, suffering and pain.
  • Siva is shown with four arms, symbolizing the cardinal directions (north, south, east and west), where each hand reflects a distinctive gesture or mudra.
  • The upper right hand holds a ḍamaru—a small, hourglass-shaped drum—symbolizing sound originating creation and marking the passage of time. The ḍamaru is also thought to represent the male-female vital principle.
  • The upper left hand holds a flame (agni), which signifies destruction, the dissolution of form. The opposing concepts in the upper hands show the counterbalance of creation and destruction, or the fire of life.
  • The lower right hand shows the abhaya mudra ("fearlessness" in Sanskrit), asserting one to be without fear. The blessing is believed to bestow protection from both evil and ignorance to those who follow the righteousness of dharma.
  • The lower left hand points towards the left foot, which is elegantly raised, signifying upliftment and liberation. The same arm is held across the chest in the gahahasta (elephant trunk) pose, thought to lead the way through the jungle of ignorance.
  • Snakes that stand for egotism uncoil from his arms, legs and hair. Siva's unkempt hair—long, matted tresses, a symbol of a rejection of society—shows him to be an ascetic.
  • The cobra around Nataraja's waist is kundalini shakti, or the divine force thought to reside within everything.
  • On his head is a skull, symbolizing Siva's conquest over death, and the goddess Ganga also sits on his hairdo. His third eye is symbolic of omniscience, insight and enlightenment.
  • The dwarf on which Nataraja dances is Apasmarapurusha, a soul temporarily Earth-bound by sloth, confusion and forgetfulness. Siva's right leg, representing obscuring grace, symbolizes his victory over ignorance. The uplifted left leg, by contrast, is revealing grace, which releases the mature soul from bondage.
  • The entire form rests on a lotus pedestal, the symbol of the creative forces of the universe, and the overall temper is paradoxical in nature: inner tranquility countered by vigorous outside activity. Siva's stoic face represents his neutrality, thus being in balance.