Nataraja

நள் இருளில் நட்டம் பயின்று ஆடும் நாதனே, தில்லை உள் கூத்தனே தென்பாண்டி நாட்டானே…
– சிவபுராணம் (89-90), திருவாசகம்
He who dances [the Cosmic Dance of the Universe] while the world sleeps at midnight, He who is the dancer of Thillai (Chidambaram) of the southern Pandian country…
– Sivapuranam (89-90), Thiruvasagam

Nataraja-CERN-Night
Nataraja at CERN (European Center for Research in Particle Physics), Geneva. Original photo here.
Nataraja, at CERN (European Center for Research in Particle Physics), Geneva.
Nataraja at CERN (European Center for Research in Particle Physics), Geneva. Original photo here.

The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all science… To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the lightest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. The deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, form my idea of God.
— Albert Einstein

While Einstein expressed his feeling/idea of God in words, the yogis of Chidambaram expressed what they experienced or “saw”  (hence the epithet “seers”) when they conceived Nataraja.

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, seeing beyond the unsurpassed rhythm, beauty, power and grace of the Nataraja, once wrote of it “It is the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of.”
— excerpt from the plaque on the Nataraja at CERN

The Nataraja form of Shiva was conceived by yogis, who like scientists were more at home seeking God through critical thinking, which converged into meditation. While western scientists investigated nature, Hindu scientists developed a direct insight into nature — not through technological crutches that serve as extensions of our senses (like electron microscopes and particle accelerators, which in turn has its limitations) — but through the science of yoga.

Nataraja represents the cosmic dance of the universe. The dance of what we call as matter and energy, of creation and destruction, of the masculine and feminine principles of the universe, of Shiva and Shakti. The drum in his right hand represents the primordial cosmic vibration, Om, from which everything originates. The flame in his left hand represents the dissolution of the universe. The ring of fire around Nataraja represents the cycles of life and death we have to pass through (as an individual, as a particle, and as the universe). The second right hand, uplifted shows the abhaya mudra, signifying “do not fear” and protection from ignorance and “evil”. The second left hand downward pointing to the raised left foot, signifies liberation — release from maya and hence the release from cycle of life and death (once you realize your true nature as the atman). The right foot is standing on the demon signifying ignorance. The stoic face represents neutrality, as he takes no sides on this cosmic dance of creation and destruction. Everyday, from the tiniest quantum particle, to all living things, to every star… we witness this dance, a never-ending cycle of life and death. The message he has for us is: do not fear (as pointed by his right hand) provided you release yourself (as pointed by his left hand).

The cosmic dance represents the trillions of cycles of creation and destruction takes place at the quantum level right before our very eyes. All of what we see, all that exists, are because of this constant dance. If one were to harness the power of concentration, and instead of concentrating on external objects, we were to withdraw our mind, and turn it inward on itself, we’d “see” this Tandavam, this Cosmic Dance, as did the yogis (seers, rishis, siddhars, etc). And we would also see, they are not some inert “matter and energy”, but is a larger-than-life Cosmic Intelligence that is the sower of all life, knowledge, beauty, and all things mystical. Which is why these yogi’s once they had the vision, they were at once filled with divine bliss, prompting them to express this beauty through scores of poetry rich in symbolism, music, arts, stories,… for everyone to know, that there is truly something “beyond” what meets the eye, and how we all suffer by thinking we are only the body and what exists is only what we see.

Like Vivekananda said often, something like: if you focus the mind with laser like focus, just like the rays of the sun when focused has the power to burn through metal, one receives direct insight into the “laws of nature”.

The powers of the mind are like the rays of the sun. When they are concentrated, they illumine.

All knowledge that we have, either of the external or internal world, is obtained through only one method — by the concentration of the mind.

Concentration is the essence of all knowledge; nothing can be done without it. Ninety per cent of thought force is wasted by the ordinary human being, and therefore he is constantly committing blunders; the trained man or mind never makes a mistake. When the mind is concentrated and turned backward on itself, all within us will be our servants, not our masters. The Greeks applied their concentration to the external world, and the result was perfection in art, literature, etc. The Hindu concentrated on the internal world, upon the unseen realms in the Self, and developed the science of Yoga.

– Swami Vivekananda

It is no small coincidence that worlds premier institute for particle physics, for producing some of the most advanced insights into the quantum nature of the universe, CERN (European Center for Research in Particle Physics) has the statue of Nataraja.

Now… the question is, can you imagine a Nataraja statue in front of the Physics building at IIT or IIS? There will be shouts of “Hindutva” by pseudo-secularists.

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