Unpacking the Symbolism: What Does Nataraja Symbolize?

When we think about the rich mythology of Hinduism, one of its most fascinating and iconic depictions is that of Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance. Nataraja is a form of the god Shiva, revered as the ultimate cosmic dancer who keeps the universe in motion. But what does this powerful symbol really mean?

On the surface, Nataraja is often depicted as a dancing figure with multiple arms and circular flames emanating from his body. However, this image is more than just a piece of religious art. The dance that Nataraja performs is known as the “Tandava,” which represents the eternal cycle of creation and destruction. Through his movements, Nataraja symbolizes the idea that everything in the universe is in constant motion and nothing is permanent.

But Nataraja’s symbolism goes even deeper. The flames surrounding the deity represent the destructive nature of time, while his raised leg depicts liberation from the material realm. Ultimately, Nataraja exemplifies the Hindu concept of the cycle of birth, life, and death, reminding us that change is inevitable and that we must embrace the impermanence of everything around us.

History of Nataraja

Nataraja is the Hindu God Shiva in his cosmic dance form. This iconic representation of Shiva is one of the most popular and recognizable symbols in Hinduism. The origins of the Nataraja dates back to the Chola period in South India, around the 9th and 10th centuries. During this time, the Chola dynasty was one of the most powerful and prosperous empires in South India. They were great patrons of art, literature, and religion, particularly the Hindu religion.

The Chola kings commissioned many works of art during their reign, and the Nataraja statue was one of the most important. The Nataraja statue is a representation of Shiva in his cosmic dance form, where he is depicted as performing the Tandava, the dance of creation and destruction. The Nataraja statue is regarded as one of the greatest works of art in the world and is considered a masterpiece of Indian craftsmanship.

  • The Nataraja statue is usually depicted with four arms, each symbolizing different aspects of the universe. One arm is held up in a gesture of protection, one arm is pointing to his raised foot, one arm is holding a drum, and the other arm is holding a flame.
  • The raised foot symbolizes liberation and the release of the soul from the cycle of birth and death.
  • The drum represents the sound of creation, while the flame represents destruction. Together, these two elements symbolize the cycle of life and death.
Element Symbolism
The circle of fire Symbolizes the cosmic energy that creates and sustains the universe.
The dwarf under Shiva’s foot Represents illusion and ignorance, which Shiva overcomes through his dance.
The snake around Shiva’s neck Symbolizes the kundalini energy that is coiled at the base of the spine and represents spiritual awakening.

The Nataraja statue is also seen as a symbol of the cosmic balance between creation and destruction, and of the ultimate realization of the goals of Hinduism: the union of the individual soul with the universal soul. The statue continues to be an important religious and cultural symbol in India today and is revered by Hindus all over the world.

Nataraja in Hindu mythology

One of the most iconic representations of Hinduism, Nataraja, is also known as the Lord of Dance. This depiction of the Hindu god Shiva is an embodiment of his cosmic dance and represents some of the most profound ideas in Hinduism. Various aspects of Nataraja symbolize different meanings in Hindu mythology.

Symbolism of Nataraja

  • Creation – Nataraja’s dance of creation (Tandava) represents the continuous cycle of creation and destruction, birth and death. The drum in his hand represents the beginning of creation, while the fire symbolizes destruction, both essential parts of the cycle.
  • Balance – Nataraja’s dance also signifies the balance between the masculine and feminine energies of the universe. The right side denotes the male energy of creation, while the left side represents the female energy of destruction.
  • Ignorance – Nataraja is also seen crushing a diminutive figure under his feet, representing ignorance and illusion. This aspect emphasizes the ultimate supremacy of truth over ignorance.
  • Renewal – The crescent moon on Nataraja’s head symbolizes rejuvenation and new beginnings. The moon also represents the cyclical nature of time and is an essential element in Hindu calendars and astrology.
  • Unity – Nataraja’s four arms, representing cardinal directions, bring together the entire universe in a common rhythm. The outer circle of flames around him represents the circumference of the cosmos, and he stands at its center, symbolizing the unity of all things.

The Impact of Nataraja

Nataraja’s iconic symbolism has had a significant influence on Hindu art, culture, and philosophy. It has also inspired many western artists and thinkers, including physicist Fritjof Capra, who drew parallels between Nataraja’s dance and the atomic structure of matter. By embodying complex ideas in simple yet profound symbols, Nataraja’s legacy continues to inspire many seekers of truth and knowledge.


The symbolism of Nataraja in Hindu mythology is layered and profound, representing some of the most fundamental ideas in Hinduism. From illustrating the cyclical nature of creation to symbolizing the unity of all things, each aspect of Nataraja’s representation holds eternal value. The legacy of Nataraja continues to inspire generations of artists, scientists, and spiritual seekers to this day.

Nataraja Symbolism Meaning
Tandava Creation
Fire Destruction
Crescent Moon Renewal
Ignorance Crushed figure beneath his feet
Feminine and Masculine Energy Balance
Four Arms/Cardinal directions Unity and rhythm of the universe

Nataraja’s attributes

Nataraja, also known as the Lord of Dance, is one of the most iconic figures in Hindu mythology. He is portrayed as a powerful god who can destroy the universe with just one movement of his feet. Nataraja is often depicted with several attributes that symbolize different aspects of his nature. These attributes include:

  • The damaru: This small, two-headed drum is one of Nataraja’s most important symbols. It represents the sound of creation, which is said to have been produced by Nataraja’s dancing. The damaru also symbolizes the eternal rhythm of life and death.
  • The flame: Nataraja is often depicted dancing within a circle of flames. This represents the cosmic fire that will eventually destroy the universe. However, the flame also symbolizes the power of creativity and transformation, as it can turn matter into energy and vice versa.
  • The number three: One of the most significant aspects of Nataraja’s symbolism is the number three, which appears throughout his iconography. The number three represents the trinity of creation, preservation, and destruction. It also symbolizes the three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. Finally, the number three represents the three worlds of existence: the physical world, the astral world, and the celestial world.

Nataraja’s cosmic dance

Perhaps the most famous aspect of Nataraja’s mythology is his cosmic dance, which symbolizes the eternal cycle of creation and destruction. Nataraja is said to have performed this dance in the hall of consciousness, where he destroyed ignorance and created enlightenment. The dance also represents the balance between order and chaos, as Nataraja’s movements are both graceful and powerful.

The cosmic dance of Nataraja is often depicted in intricate detail in sculptures and paintings. The dance is divided into several poses, each of which symbolizes a different aspect of the universe. For example, Nataraja’s raised foot represents liberation from the cycle of birth and death, while his lower foot represents the material world.

Nataraja’s iconography

The iconography of Nataraja is rich with symbolism and religious significance. In addition to the attributes mentioned above, Nataraja is often depicted with a variety of other objects and beings. Some common elements of Nataraja’s iconography include:

Object/Being Symbolism
The snake Represents the power of kundalini, the spiritual energy that lies coiled at the base of the spine.
The dwarf Represents ignorance and ego, both of which Nataraja has the power to destroy.
The lotus Represents purity and enlightenment.
The crescent moon Represents the cyclical nature of time.

Each of these elements adds depth and complexity to the image of Nataraja as a powerful and multifaceted god.

The Symbolism of the Cosmic Dance

Nataraja, the dancing form of Lord Shiva, is a popular Hindu iconography that symbolizes the cosmic dance. The symbolism of the cosmic dance is vast and profound, depicting the cyclical nature of the universe and the eternal dance of creation and destruction. The cosmic dance is a metaphor for the transient nature of life and the eternal energy of the universe that sustains it.

The Four Subsections of the Symbolism of the Cosmic Dance

  • The Tandava Dance
  • The Symbolism of Fire
  • The Significance of the Cobra
  • The Four Principles of Nataraja

The Tandava Dance

The Tandava dance of Nataraja is a powerful, dynamic dance that symbolizes the energetic and destructive aspects of the universe. It is believed that the Tandava dance is performed by Lord Shiva during times of great destruction, such as the end of the world. The dance is said to release the energy of the universe, which is then used to begin the cycle of creation once again.

The Tandava dance is also a metaphor for the human struggle with destructive emotions and the ultimate triumph over them. It is believed that by witnessing the Tandava dance, individuals can overcome negative emotions such as anger, desire, and jealousy and attain inner peace.

The Symbolism of Fire

Fire is a powerful symbol in Hindu iconography, representing both destruction and purification. In the cosmic dance of Nataraja, fire is represented by the aureole that surrounds the deity. The flames signify the cycle of destruction and creation, the cycles of death and rebirth, and the absolute power of Lord Shiva over the forces of nature.

The Significance of the Cobra

The cobra that is shown around Lord Shiva’s neck in the Nataraja iconography represents the life-giving energy of the universe. The snake is also a symbol of the kundalini energy that lies dormant within each individual and is awakened through spiritual practices such as yoga and meditation. The cobra is a reminder of the cosmic energy that animates all of life and the importance of tapping into this energy to achieve spiritual growth.

The Four Principles of Nataraja

Nataraja embodies four principles that represent the cyclical nature of the universe. The first principle is creation, represented by the drum that Nataraja holds in his hand. The second principle is sustenance, symbolized by the flame that surrounds him. The third principle is destruction, depicted by the snake around his neck. And the final principle is liberation, signified by the foot that Nataraja raises in the dance, symbolizing the release from the cycle of birth and death.

Principle Symbol
Creation The drum
Sustenance The flame
Destruction The snake
Liberation The foot raised in the dance

The symbolism of the cosmic dance of Nataraja is a testament to the vastness and complexity of Hindu iconography. It is a beautiful representation of the universe and the eternal dance of creation and destruction that sustains it. The cosmic dance teaches us about the cyclical nature of life and the importance of tapping into the life-giving energy of the universe to achieve spiritual growth and liberation.

Significance of Nataraja in Indian art

Lord Nataraja is one of the most significant deities in Indian art and Hindu mythology. The iconography of Nataraja represents the dancing form of Lord Shiva, the Lord of Dance. His dancing form is an embodiment of the rhythm and movement of the cosmos. The Nataraja statues and paintings have been a source of inspiration for artists and art enthusiasts all around the world.

The Five Subsections of Nataraja

  • Creation: The first pose of Nataraja represents creation, where Shiva lifts his leg up and balances it on the demon of ignorance or Maya. This pose signifies the creation of the universe, and Shiva is believed to have created the world through his dance.
  • Preservation: The second pose represents preservation, where Nataraja’s upper right hand holds a drum, signifying the rhythmic beat of the universe that maintains the balance of life. The rhythm reminds us that life is a cycle and we must go with the flow to preserve the natural order of things.
  • Destruction: The third pose represents destruction, where Shiva’s lower right hand is raised in a ‘fear not’ gesture, while his left foot is planted forcefully on ignorance. The flame in his left hand symbolizes destruction and transformation as he destroys the old to make way for the new.
  • Veiled truth: The fourth pose represents the veil of illusion or Maya that covers up the truth in life. The snake coiled around Shiva’s neck represents the ego, which often blinds us to the true nature of reality.
  • Final Liberation: The final pose represents the ultimate liberation or moksha, where Shiva’s upper left hand points to his raised left foot. This pose signifies that by following the path of Nataraja, the seeker can attain liberation or break free from the cycle of life and death.

Symbolism of Nataraja

The symbolism of Nataraja in Indian art reflects the belief that everything in the universe is in constant motion. The universe is believed to be in a state of perpetual motion and change, and Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance represents this eternal motion. The Nataraja statues and paintings represent the majesty of cosmic movement, the rhythms of the universe, and the ultimate destination of liberation or moksha.

Nataraja in Indian Art

The form of Nataraja has been widely depicted in Indian art, especially in sculptures and paintings. The famous Chola bronze statues of Nataraja from the 10th and 11th centuries are some of the best examples of Indian art. These sculptures are rich in detail and symbolism and represent the Chola dynasty’s sophisticated art and culture.

Nataraja at CERN Nataraja Sculpture in Metal

The Nataraja statues and paintings depict Lord Shiva’s dynamic and graceful movement and often represent the five elements of nature- earth, water, fire, air, and ether. These elements are essential in the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe, and the Nataraja statues beautifully capture the essence of these elements and their role in the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva.

Comparison to other Hindu deities

While Nataraja is widely recognized as the “Lord of the Dance,” he holds significance beyond his dance performance. Hindu mythology is rich with deities that personify different aspects of life and creation. In comparison to other Hindu deities, Nataraja holds a unique position as he balances various cosmic energies through his dance.

  • Lord Vishnu: often symbolized as the preserver of the universe, he is regarded as one of the most important Hindu deities as he sustains life on earth. In contrast, Nataraja is seen as the destroyer of ignorance and evil.
  • Lord Shiva: commonly known as the “destroyer” in the Hindu trinity, Nataraja is considered the dancing form of Lord Shiva.
  • Goddess Kali: also referred to as the “divine mother” and victorious over evil, she holds a similar energy to Nataraja in her power to conquer negativity.

Unlike other deities that are held to a specific task or aspect of life, Nataraja encompasses a larger meaning as he represents the never-ending cycle of creation and destruction.

Additionally, Nataraja’s dance is depicted through his cosmic dance floor, with a ring of fire surrounding it. The number six plays a crucial role in this symbolism. The six acts of the dance represent:

Act Symbolism
Tandava Destruction
Rudra Tandava Fury
Gandharva Tandava Musical rhythm
Samhara Concealment and illusion
Srishti Creation
Samhara Concealment and illusion

The number six represents the six seasons in Hindu mythology, the six chakras within the human body, and the six states of consciousness beyond the physical realm.

Nataraja in Popular Culture

Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, is a popular icon in Hinduism and Indian culture. The symbolism of Nataraja can be found in art, literature, and even popular culture.

The Number 7 in Nataraja Symbolism

The number 7 is an essential part of the Nataraja symbolism. The Nataraja statue has seven significant aspects that symbolize different things.

  • The Upper Left Hand: The upper left-hand holds a flame, which represents destruction.
  • The Lower Left Hand: The lower left-hand points towards the raised foot, signifying liberation.
  • The Upper Right Hand: The upper right-hand holds a drum, symbolizing creation.
  • The Lower Right Hand: The lower right-hand depicts the gesture of fearlessness, representing protection.
  • The Raised Foot: The raised foot symbolizes liberation from the material world.
  • The Arch of Fire: The arch of fire represents the cycle of birth and death.
  • The Dwarf: The dwarf under the feet shows the triumph of good over evil.

Each of these seven aspects carries a profound meaning, and together they represent the unity of the universe and the triumph of good over evil.

Nataraja’s Role in Hindu Rituals and Festivals

Lord Shiva’s Nataraja form is highly revered and plays a significant role in Hindu rituals and festivals. Devotees believe that by offering their prayers or performing certain rituals, they can seek his blessings and attain inner peace. Here are some of the key subtopics that highlight Nataraja’s significance in Hindu traditions:

The Symbolism of Number 8

The eight arms of Nataraja symbolize the eight directions in Hinduism – North, South, East, West, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. It is believed that Nataraja dances in all eight directions, indicating his omnipresence and power. In addition to that, the number 8 has several other symbolic meanings in Hinduism, such as:

  • The eight chakras or energy centers in our body
  • The eight forms of Lord Shiva – Aghora, Ishana, Tatpurusha, Varna-Deva, Sadyojata, Vamadeva, Bhairava, and Samhara
  • The eight Ayurvedic elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether, Mind, Intellect, and Ego
  • The eight-fold path of Yoga – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi

Therefore, the significance of the number 8 in Nataraja’s form is not just limited to the eight arms, but it represents a much broader spectrum of symbolism that holds immense spiritual importance.

The spiritual significance of Nataraja

Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity, is known for his many features, including his prowess as the Cosmic Dancer or Nataraja. Nataraja represents the power of Lord Shiva as the creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe. The deity is depicted dancing in a ring of fire, with his hair flying wildly, and four arms representing the four cardinal directions. Nataraja’s dance represents the five aspects of creation, preservation, destruction, illusion, and grace. In this article, we will explore what Nataraja symbolizes and the spiritual significance of the number 9.

The significance of the number 9

  • Number 9 is a powerful number in numerology, and it represents spiritual awakening and enlightenment.
  • The dance steps performed by Lord Nataraja represent the nine emotions of human beings, which are love, laughter, fear, anger, disgust, wonder, courage, peace, and compassion.
  • The Nataraja statue has nine attributes, representing his divine power, including the fire ring, the drum-shaped face, the cobra around his waist, a raised foot, a downward-pointing hand, a gesture of protection, the flame-like hair, a crescent moon, and the skull.

The spiritual significance of the number 9 in dance

The dance posture of Lord Nataraja is depicted with nine subtle movements representing the nine grahas or planetary deities in Hindu astrology. These are :

Movement Planet Characteristics
Samhara Sun Creation
Stiti Moon Sustenance
vidrava Mars Destruction
Unnatha Mercury Liberation
Sukshma Jupiter Absorption
Dhruti Venus Support
Dhruti Saturn Illusion
Sama Rahu Devotion
Jati Ketu Surrender

These nine movements represent the spiritual journey of human beings, from creation to surrender, and each movement is a step towards enlightenment and understanding of oneself and the universe.

Nataraja’s influence on Indian classical dance and music

Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, is one of the most significant deities in Hindu mythology and is considered to be the embodiment of the divine art of dance. The Nataraja iconography is a celebrated symbol of Hinduism and is often depicted in classical Indian dance performances and music compositions. Here are some ways in which Nataraja has influenced Indian classical dance and music:

  • Number 10: Nataraja is often depicted with ten arms, each representing a different aspect of life. His ten arms also symbolize the ten directions in Hindu mythology, including the east, west, north, south, northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, up, and down.
  • Symbolism: The iconic Nataraja pose with one leg lifted and arms in various positions symbolizes the rhythm and movement of the universe. This pose reflects the balance between destruction and creation, as well as the cyclical nature of existence.
  • Dance: Nataraja’s association with dance has influenced the development of classical Indian dance, including Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, and Odissi. These dance forms celebrate the beauty of movement and seek to convey deep emotions and stories through elaborate footwork, hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language.
  • Music: Nataraja’s connection with music has also had a significant impact on Indian classical music, particularly in the devotional genre of Bhajan and Kirtan. Musicians often sing and play traditional instruments like the tabla, sitar, and sarod to honor Nataraja and evoke his divine grace.

Overall, Nataraja’s influence on Indian classical dance and music is profound and timeless. His symbol embodies the beauty, grace, and power of the artistic and spiritual traditions of India and continues to inspire people around the world to this day.

FAQs: What Does Nataraja Symbolize?

1. Who is Nataraja?

Nataraja is a form of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and transformation, who is depicted as a cosmic dancer in the Hindu iconography.

2. What is the meaning behind Nataraja’s dancing posture?

Nataraja’s dancing posture symbolizes the cycle of creation and destruction, representing the eternal rhythm of the universe. It also represents the balance between the male and female energies.

3. What does the circle of fire around Nataraja symbolize?

The circle of fire around Nataraja symbolizes the cosmic energy of creation and destruction. It represents the never-ending cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

4. What is the significance of Nataraja’s raised right hand?

Nataraja’s raised right hand symbolizes the act of creation, while his lower left hand symbolizes the act of destruction. His other two hands are in the mudra (gesture) of assurance and protection.

5. What does Nataraja’s standing on the dwarf demon Apasmara symbolize?

Nataraja’s standing on the dwarf demon Apasmara symbolizes the triumph of knowledge over ignorance and ego. It also represents the victory of spiritual enlightenment over the material world.

6. Why is Nataraja considered a powerful representation of spiritual transformation?

Nataraja’s depiction as a cosmic dancer and his symbolism of the eternal cycle of creation and destruction remind us that everything in life is constantly changing, and that spiritual transformation requires embracing change and letting go of attachments.

7. How is Nataraja’s symbolism relevant in modern times?

Nataraja’s symbolism is relevant in modern times as it reminds us of the interconnectedness of all things in the universe and the importance of maintaining balance in our lives. It also teaches us to let go of our ego and embrace spiritual transformation.

Closing Thoughts: Thanks for Exploring Nataraja’s Symbolism

Nataraja’s symbolism is rich and profound, and exploring it can deepen our understanding of Hindu philosophy and spirituality. From the eternal cycle of creation and destruction to the triumph over ignorance and ego, Nataraja’s symbolism has much to offer. We hope you enjoyed learning about what Nataraja symbolizes and will join us again for more explorations of spirituality and culture. Thanks for reading!