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Hindu God Nataraja, Shiva as the Lord of Dance

 

Statues of Hindu God Shiva the destroyer
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Shiva, Hindu God of Destruction, is also known as Nataraja, Lord of Dancers, in one of his most popular forms.  He is depicted as sacred dancer, dancing to restore the universe of its fatigued nature making way for Brahma to create within the universe.  He has a restorative power revitalizing the universe and preparing for growth.  Shiva as Lord Nataraja is his most popular within Hindu temples. His likeness is often sculpted in bronze as Shiva dances around a ring of flames.  His left leg is often raised balancing over a lesser being that stands as a metaphor for the ignorance of the world.  Shiva as Nataraja is a powerful symbol of Indian culture for its spirit and energetic nature.  He represents the precise flow and generation of the universe.  Shiva as Nataraja is perhaps the most renowned symbol of Hindu art.

Nataraja statues
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Shiva’s dance is often said to come in two forms.  The first form represents the gentle, or the nature associated with creation upon the earth, while the second from is said to be that of violence as he destroys the tired and suffocating ways of the universe.  Shiva terminates what is weary in order to create what is profound. He tears down the old in order to make way for the new.

Legend has it that one day Shiva journeyed to a thick forest in the South of India in order to confute with the multitude of heretical sages that lived within.  Traveling with him was Hindu God Vishnu, The Preserver, disguised as a woman.  Upon arrival, the sages became very angry towards Shiva and attempted to destroy him via powerful incantations.  They first induced a violent tiger which was no match as he skinned it in one foul swoop and draped it around his body like a blanket. Next appeared a deadly serpent of which Shiva quickly overtook and hung like a necklace about his neck.  Through all their confrontation simply Shiva danced about their ring of fire laughing, destroying everything they threw his way.  Thus, Shiva became the lord of dancers, a symbol of the divine.

Hindu God Dattatreya, Synthesis of Shiva, Vishnu & Brahma

HIndu God Dattatreya statue
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Dattatreya or Datta is considered by Hindus to be god who is an incarnation of the Divine Trinity, the three main Hindu Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The word Datta means “Given”, Datta is called so because the divine trinity has “given” themselves in the form of a son to the sage couple Atri and Anasuya. He is the son of Atri, hence the name “Atreya.”

Dattatreya is recognized as an Avatar or incarnation of the Lord Shiva and as the Adi-Guru (First Teacher) of the Adinath Sampradaya of the Nathas. Although Dattatreya was at first a “Lord of Yoga” exhibiting distinctly Tantric traits, he was adapted and assimilated into the more devotional Vaishnavite cults; while still worshiped by millions of Hindus, he is approached as a benevolent god and a teacher of the highest essence of Indian thought.

In sculpture Dattatreya statues have some distinct characteristics. He always has three faces, one for Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Vishnu faces forward with Shiva on the left of Vishnu and Brahma on the right. He has six hands where he holds a drum (damru), discus (chakra), conch shell (sank), japa mala, water vessel (kamandala) and a trident (trishul). All these attributes of the Lord have their esoteric meanings. The trident is used for killing the ego, and the drum is used to awaken those souls who are still sleeping in the slumber of ignorance. Lord Datta’s conch shell is used to make the sacred sound OM. Lord Dattatreya is also holding a rotating discus -chakra. It is a round circle with no beginning and no end. Like the universe, it too is constantly moving, always in a flux. He uses this chakra to destroy all kinds of karmic bonds of His devotees. His right hand holds a rosary -japa mala. With this the Lord counts His devotees, liberating them by merely thinking of their name. In another hand the Lord is carrying the water pot -kamandala. This holds the nectar of pure wisdom. With this He revives the souls thirsty for knowledge, liberating them from the endless cycle of life and death.

Bronze Hindu God Dattatreya statue
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Accompanying Dattatreya are 4 dogs and a cow. The four dogs surrounding Datta represent the four Vedas. The dogs are both wild and tame and symbols of fidelity and devotion. The cow is Kamadhenu the gift giving cow. She grants all wishes and desires. She is the cow of plenty, which emerged from SAMUDRAMANTHAN (the churning of the ocean) and and was claimed by Indra as his property. She is the mother of all cows.

Why are there no Temples Dedicated to the Hindu God Brahma

Brass Hindu God Brahma Statue
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In the Shiva Purana, at the beginning of time in the Cosmos, Vishnu and Brahmā approached a huge Shiva Lingam and set out to find where Shiva began and where he ended. Vishnu was appointed to seek the end and Brahma the beginning. Taking the form of Vishnu’s 3rd avatar; the boar Varaha, Vishnu began digging downwards into the earth, while Brahma took the form of a swan and began flying upwards. However, neither could find the end or begining to Shiva. He was infinite. The Hindu God Vishnu, satisfied, came up to Shiva and bowed down to him as a swarupa of Brahman. Brahmā did not give up so easily. As He was going up, he saw a ketaki (Sanskrit – Kaetakee) flower, dear to Shiva. His ego forced him to ask the flower to bear false witness about Brahmā’s discovery of Shiva’s beginning. When Brahmā told his tale, Shiva, the all-knowing, was angered by the Brahma’s ego. Shiva cursed Brahma that no being in the three worlds will worship him.

Another story in connection with Brahma’s lack of worship is when Brahma was creating the universe, he made a female deity known as Shatarupa (one with a hundred beautiful forms). Brahma became immediately infatuated with his creation.  Shatarupa moved in various directions to avoid the gaze of Brahma. But wherever she went, Brahma developed a head.  Thus, Brahma developed five heads, one on each side and one above the others.

In order to control Brahma, Shiva cut off the top head. Also, Shiva felt that Shatarupa was Brahma’s daughter, being created by him. Therefore, Shiva determined, it was wrong for Brahma to become obsessed with her.  He directed that there be no proper worship in India for the “unholy” Brahma.  Thus, only Vishnu and Shiva continue to be worshiped with temples all over the world while Brahma only has two temples dedicated to him. Ever since the incident, Brahma has been reciting the four Vedas in his attempt at repentance.

The Hindu God Nandi, Sacred Bull of Shiva

Nandi, Shiva's white bull
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Within Hinduism, Nandi, or sometimes called Nandin, takes on many different roles.  In his most prevalent form he is the sacred steed of Shiva the Hindu god of Destruction, depicted as a powerful white bull.  His white color is marked as a symbol of purity and devotion.  Nandi is said to be Shiva’s main form of transportation and most ardent devotee.  As his most astute follower, Nandi is in charge of leading all of Shiva’s followers.  Along the same lines, Nandi is regarded as the gatekeeper and protector of Shiva as well as Shiva’s consort the Hindu Goddess Parvati.  He can be found in many temples dedicated to Shiva throughout Asia seated and facing the main temple as protector.  His name, Nandi, is even used as metaphor meaning “to stand in the way of”.  It is said that one must first gain the approval of Nandi before being allowed worship of Lord Shiva himself.

Nandi in human form as Nandikeshwara
Click here to view Nandi in human form as Nandikeshwara

As a primary Hindu God, Nandi is traced in lineage back to ancient dairy farmers that depended on cows for their main livelihood.  As their foremost source of sustenance, Nandi was worshiped as keeper of the herds.  In this form he was said to be bull-faced with a body much like his hallowed Shiva, but with 4 hands.  Two hands holding axe and antelope, and the other two joined in homage.  In this human form he is known as Nandikeshwara.

It is said that many women visit these large Nandi statues outside temples throughout the world and decorate him with flowers and touch his stone in order gain fertility.  Many worshipers who flock to his side also often whisper to in him in order to announce their hopes and dreams hoping Nandi relays their message on to Shiva.

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Shiva as Ardhanari: ‘Lord Who is Half Woman’

red marble shiva as ardhanari statue
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Shiva as Ardhanari, or Ardhanarishvara, translates to ‘Lord who is half woman.’ Ardhanarishvara is the androgynous combination of Shiva and his consort Parvati, split down the middle as half man half woman. Shiva, usually depicted on the right, is often adorned with headdress of a half crescent moon, serpent earring, third eye upon the center of his forehead, and wears a sacred thread across his chest. Parvati down the left is commonly portrayed with basket shaped crown, kundala earing, red dot matching Shiva’s third eye, and multi-colored or white linen dress. Visually, Shiva and Parvati embody their corresponding gender vigorously so as to starkly contrast their opposing counterpart.

Ardhanarishvara is said to characterize the fusion of the masculine and feminine energies of the world and exemplifies how Shakti, the female principle of God, is inseparable from Shiva, the male principle of God. The merger between these masculine and feminine energies is regarded as the root of all creation.

God is both Shiva and Parvati, “both male and female, both father and mother, both aloof and active, both fearsome and gentle, both destructive and constructive” and unifies all other oppositions of the universe.

It is believed that Parvati is not just Shiva’s consort, but an actual part of him.

Ardhanari is one of the most popularly worshiped forms of Shiva and can be found in virtually every temple or shrine throughout India and south-east Asia. It is often regarded that the ultimate goal of a devotee is to be united with Shiva as Parvati is in the Ardhanarishvara form.

Click to read more about Shiva or Parvati.

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