Thus, it is in dance that Shiva discovered his ultimate instrument to create, dissolve and delight : the source of ultimate energy and entire beauty, attributing to him the epithets like Natesh and Nataraja, both meaning ‘the king of stage-performers’ or the supreme performer of dance, the apex of stage-craft. Shiva – the ‘Purusha’ or the ‘enlivening self’, danced to delight Parvati – ‘Prakriti’, infusing life into lifeless matter whereby the ‘unmanifest’ manifests and the creation evolves. The tradition classified this form of dance as ‘lasya’ – the dance manifesting aesthetic beauty. Shiva danced to annihilate and destroy as for destroying Tripura – the three cities of demons, and the three demon brothers ruling them. As against this one time act of annihilation his dance to dissolve is incessant. If a new shoot infused with life and beauty manifests Shiva’s ‘lasya’, the fall of the pale leaf manifests dissolution, his dance to dissolve, an ever continuing process in which he delights and hence while his dance to annihilate is the outcome of his ‘raudra’ – wrathful form, his act to dissolve is ‘Ananda’ – the ultimate ecstatic delight.
While a form of Shiva’s wrathful dance performed to annihilate a particular evil has not been specifically classified and named, or each form is known by a different name, as his Three Cities destroying form as Tripurantaka – Shiva who destroyed three cities, his dance to dissolve is universally acknowledged as ‘Ananda Tandava’, and the imagery representing this form has been almost completely rigidified. Alike, the term ‘Nataraja’, otherwise a common epithet denotative of his status as the king of performers to include dancers has also rigidified to represent his Ananda-tandava form. This powerful image of Lord Shiva, passionately engaged in dance with his left leg fixed on the pedestal, not on the figure of Apasamarapurusha, a subordinate icon symbolising inertia or forgetfulness usually appearing in Nataraja iconography, and the right, turned backwards, almost to hundred eighty degree, has been installed inside a fire-arch rising from a pedestal consisting of moulded base and is topped by a Shri-mukha motif representing good and auspiciousness. In Ananda-tandava statues Apasamarapurusha denotes the state after dissolution has completed its task. It usually carries a lotus in its hands indicative of the creative process to commence in future. This statue comprises instead a pedestal consisting as of building components decorated with floral designs, all indicative of creative process.
Except the non-inclusion of the figure of Apasamarapurusha icon, this brass-cast almost completely adheres to the Shiva’s Ananda-tandava iconography. It is the usual four-armed image holding in upper ones a double drum and flames of fire – the essence of Ananda-tandava iconography, further emphasized by the flames’ multiple repeats appearing on the outer edge of the fire-arch. The normal right and left hands have been cast as denoting dissolution. The pace of movement is the essence of Ananda-tandava and the flames of fire that fast friction creates, its manifestation. These flames symbolise explosion of ultimate cosmic energy and its dynamics, which Ananda-tandava generates. There enshrines on figure’s face a divine bearing and in its form – locks of hair scattered over shoulders, blown up muscles, contained belly, glowing face …, the ecstasy of dance. With excellent anatomical proportions, well-defined features, elaborate ornamentation : a gorgeous crown alternating the usual ‘jata-mukuta’, the modeling and iconographic perfection of the Shiva’s figure is absolute. The three-tiered fire-arch consists of an inner lotus ring, a centre with floral course and an outer circle consisting of flame-motifs.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.