Understanding the symbol of Nataraja (god Shiva, yoga, etc.)

We call nataraja a common representation of Shiva (a major god in the Indian pantheon) doing a strange dance.

Far from being just vulgar statues, the nataraja icons carry a strong symbolism which teach us some of the greatest mysteries of our world.

This is not because the Nataraja is considered in Hinduism as one of the most sacred representations of the god Shiva!

Yes, the symbol we are going to talk about today has mystical and esoteric aspects like few others have.

The different elements that make up the nataraja actually carry a specific meaning and, together, form a harmonious whole.

All this may seem somewhat abstract, that's for sure.

We will now try together to clarify all of this.

Contents :

Etymological analysis of the word “nataraja”

Description of this symbol of the god Shiva

Understanding the meaning of Nataraja

Dictionary open on an encyclopedia page talking about Shiva and Shaivism.

Etymological analysis of the word “nataraja”

The first thing to do to understand the meaning of Nataraja is to analyze it from a linguistic point of view.

The term “ nataraja ” actually comes from two Sanskrit words: nata, dance, and raja, king. The nataraja would thus be “the king of dancers” or, more likely, “the king who dances”. The link with dance is immediately obvious and is quite easy to understand. The one with the idea of ​​a king is a little more complex.

In fact, when we see Shiva in the form of Nataraja, we are more faced with a "king of wisdom" than with a god as such, a being capable of teaching us meditation, Dharma and a whole bunch of things. 'other stuff.

It is not uncommon for Indians to find representations of it in their favorite temple. Cults are paid to it and certain forms of traditional yoga are linked to it.

To fully understand all of this, we need to focus on each element that makes up our symbol. This is what we are going to do in the following paragraph.

Bronze statue of Nataraja surrounded by a circle of fire.

Description of this symbol of the god Shiva

The sacred texts teach us a lot about the symbols surrounding the narataja. Both the Vedic tradition and Hindu philosophy are rich in treasures.

Here is a list of the different elements and symbols that you can find on the statue:

  • The posture with its four arms, the statuette indicates to us the four cardinal directions, and therefore the world in its entirety. (Some speak of the four elements of our physical world, but this view is in the minority.)
  • The circle surrounding it is actually made of flames. In Hindu tradition, the circle of fire is the symbol of the barrier between our consciousness and the cosmos.
  • The Nataraja's right foot steps on a strange little creature. It is in fact the demon Apsmara, the personification of desires, ignorance and illusion. Shiva therefore symbolically triumphs over all this. More broadly, here all the demons are cast out.
  • The left foot points towards the observer of the statue with its big toe raised. In Indian culture, this is actually a welcome sign.
  • If we look closely, we can see a small woman nestled in Shiva's hair. It is in fact the goddess Ganga, the protector of the sacred and nourishing river of India. This indicates that it was from Shiva that the creation and sustenance of Indian civilization came.
  • At the top of the Nataraja's head is a skull, a symbolic representation of victory over death.
  • We can also see the presence of a third eye on the statue's forehead, a sign of the ability to perceive reality and enlightenment.
  • With its uppermost hand, the statue holds a drum, which is associated with life and creation.
  • The Nataraja also has a gigantic snake wrapped around its neck and arms. This could represent his domination over matter. The most plausible theory, however, is that it is a representation of the concept of reincarnation.
  • The figure as a whole rests on a lotus flower, one of the most sacred lucky symbols in India, an allegory of creative forces of good.

All these elements thus indicate to us that, yes, the nataraja shows the god Shiva as a master of the universe and of knowledge.

In any case, one thing is certain: Hinduism is a decidedly mysterious religion.

If you are interested in the mysteries and secrets that it has hidden for centuries, you should appreciate this entire collection dedicated to Hindu symbols and lucky charms.

A statue of a Hindu deity and several other lucky charms from Hinduism

The mysteries of the Orient

through the ancient wisdom of Hinduism

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Understanding the meaning of Nataraja

With all these elements of symbolism, it can be complicated to understand the deeper meaning and message that the god Shiva brings to us when he is depicted as the nataraja.

There are in fact three main interpretations in this respect which we are going to talk to you about.

Be careful, however: these three points of view can of course be intertwined, and others can obviously exist.

Nataraja is a complex symbol and each Hindu religious school, doctrine or movement may have its own opinion on it.

Young Indian woman dancing during a traditional ceremony.

The great sacred dance of Nataraja

We mentioned it a few moments earlier but, in fact, the Nataraja clearly shows us the god Shiva doing a dance.

Known as the “Anandatandava ” (which literally translates to “the dance of bliss”), it is a representation of the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction.

Many elements that may at first glance seem opposed take on their full meaning here. If the demon of envy is represented on the same statue as the goddess of the Ganges (and therefore of a certain form of life), it is precisely for this reason.

By the many symbols we have analyzed, we can somehow say that the god Shiva is fighting the forces of illusion here. Many Hindu myths and rituals link Shiva to this very necessary fight.

In short, the goal of Anandatandava would therefore be to free men from illusion, from their ego and their desires.

God Shiva meditating in a dream world.

The five domains of Shiva

Another common interpretation of the meaning of nataraja is to compare it to the five areas over which the god Shiva rules in Hindu tradition.

In particular, here are some additional explanations:

  • Creation : This can be seen by the drum held by our lucky statue, an instrument often accompanying the recitation of mantras.
  • Protection : The lowest hand makes a strange sign, which is actually a common blessing in India.
  • Destruction : Destruction is symbolized by the circle of fire. In particular, it is a question here of the destruction of the cosmic illusion.
  • (Re)incarnation : On the one hand, the Nataraja's foot is firmly anchored in the ground, as a sign of an incarnated being. On the other hand, the snake coiled around his neck represents the concept of reincarnation.
  • Liberation : This is the other foot that interests us. The welcome sign he gives us shows that Shiva invites us to free ourselves.

It is clear: we are here facing a leading divinity in Indian mythology. It is not for nothing that Shiva is so worshiped along the Ganges and the Brahmaputra!

In fact, it even has its own sub-religion, Shaivism. If you're curious about this, you can learn more here.

Group of friends looking at a starry sky representing the cosmos.

The cyclical battle of the universe

Many sages and gurus describe the universe as a great movement, a cycle in continuous evolution... or even as a dance.

Our statue is particularly interesting in this respect: by showing us how the god Shiva fights illusion, avatars and desires through a mystical dance, it actually offers us a more global vision of our cosmic world.

You should know that Shiva is seen as the deity of destruction. Far from having a pejorative meaning, it is more about the idea of ​​the necessary suppression of the old to make way for the young and the new. The cycle of karma and reincarnations cannot happen without destruction and, in this sense, it is not something negative.

In short, we can see through the Anandatandava dance how he continually destroys the barrier of illusion, because the illusion is fueled by the circle of fire which never goes out.

Again, this may all seem somewhat abstract, but it is an allegory describing one of the greatest treasures of Indian thought and philosophy.

author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.