Handmade Antiquated Nataraja Brass Statue

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Icons depicting Shiva as the Lord of Dance Nataraja Brass Statue seem to have originated in the North in Gupta times, and developed in the South under the post-Gupta Vishnukundin dynasty early in the seventh century. One of the first southern sculptures is a colossal dancing figure carved upon the cliff face above the facade of a cave- temple at Mogallarajapuram on the Krishna River. The Pallavas took up the theme and developed it throughout the succeeding two centuries until, in the tenth century; the Cholas perfected in bronze the form which is the precursor to the present image.

Antiquated Nataraja Brass Statue
Antiquated Nataraja Brass Statue

To place this brass statue icon-type in its context, it is just one of several images, such as the Dakshinamurtis, which depict Shiva-Mahaguru in one of his teaching roles; in this case, as a teacher of the classical dance which originated as a magnificent form of worship in temples. The architects and sculptors of the temple having been required to study music and dance, the sacred building comes to life when the dances are staged, the performers, whose lives are dedicated to the god, being dressed to resemble the deities, demons, and heroes of mythology. The god is entertained, his temple resounding with precise rhythms; the dancers themselves, trained from childhood in the strict discipline of their art, may attain a state of ecstasy; and the observers see the gods acting out their timeless dramas in the magical medium of the sacred ballet which recreates the supernatural world of myth.

The Nataraja Idol icon presents the dancer in a pose called bhujanga-trasa, ‘fear of a snake’ since the body is twisted violently to the side, one leg raised abruptly as if the foot had just trodden upon a snake. The left arm sweeping across the body is also a purely artistic movement from the dance. In the upper right hand, is the damaru drum – a double-faced instrument held in the middle at the narrow waist. When the drum is shaken with a vigorous rocking motion, the thongs fly out and the knots or weights lash the stretched skin of the drum faces, producing a rapid, staccato tattoo: the original meaning of the word damaru is a tumultuous clamor or uproar. As for the rest, the icon is wholly didactic, a great symbol of the divine forces which demand utter self-surrender on the individual, presented in ritualized artistic terms which engage the devotee’s mind as compellingly as does the temple dance itself. This is the four-armed Nataraja image as it is best known; Shiva is the destroyer of ignorance, a pattern of the cosmos, and guide to liberation.

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