Last Updated: November 23, 2016

Definition - What does Nataraja mean?

Nataraja is the name given to the Hindu god, Shiva, in his role as the cosmic dancer and god of dramatic arts. Derived from Sanskrit, nata means "dance" and raja means "king." Hence, nataraja means "king of dance." The popular belief that Shiva is the creator, preserver and destroyer is symbolized in the form of Nataraja. He is typically depicted encircled by an arch of fire, symbolizing samsara (circle of death and rebirth) and the cosmic fire that consumes all and creates all.

Nataraja, representing the union of nature and the Divine, is considered the most powerful Hindu god. The cosmic dance performed by Nataraja is called the ananda tandava, meaning the "dance of bliss."

Yogapedia explains Nataraja

The aim of the cosmic dance is liberation. The cosmic dance symbolizes the creation and destruction cycles. It represents the five principles of eternal energy: creation, preservation, destruction, illusion and liberation.

Nataraja is surrounded by a ring of fire, which represents the cosmic fire as well as the universe. He takes on a form with four hands: the upper right hand holds a damaru (drum); the lower right hand forms abhaya mudra; the upper left hand has a flame; and the lower left hand points to his feet in gaja hasta mudra. The damaru represents primordial sound of creation and the passing of time; the flame represents destruction; the lower right hand asserts those who follow the path of righteousness to be fearless; and the lower left hand symbolizes liberation.

According to yoga philosophy, the true nature of man is Shiva, which means "pure consciousness." Shiva as Nataraja is represented in the standing pose called Natarajasana, which develops balance, spiritual stability and concentration. This asana represents the union of the individual soul with the cosmic Soul.

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