Stage is set for the sparkling dance of the darkest night

Infinite is the rhythmic beat in timeless vibration appearing as a finite measure with syllables as ‘Aum’. As the unheard manifests into the heard spheres, these syllables expand into words, sentences and languages. This bursting forth of conscious energy consisting of sound and light is the dance of Shiva captured in the image of Nataraja. The world is ‘his stage’ where forms evolve and dissolve constantly out of and into the Dance. This supreme actor is not only a dancer but also the witness of the dance. Like a spider that weaves a web exists in it and then destroys it, Shiva as formless Brahman projects the world with Eshwara or God who creates, absorbs and recreates endlessly. This is called ‘Shiva Maya’ – ephemeral and temporal, controlled by the five elements of – Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth, the mind and a limited soul consciousness. Every human effort is to unwind the limiting shackles towards the limitless ‘self’ that is changeless and complete. Among the five elements, the subtlest ‘space’ whose essence is sound, is represented by the Shiva Aakaash Linga in southern India’s grand temple dedicated to Nataraja at Chidambaram. He is in Sat Chit Ananda posture doing his blissful dance.

Shiva Nataraja temple or Thillai Nataraja temple at Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu

Nataraja observes the fleeting emotions in the world drama that has emerged from him but rests in blissful peace. The blazing luminosity of ‘I AM’ (Being) crushes the ignorance of the individual ego with one foot that descends to the gross realms (Becoming). The other foot promises the devoted aspirant to be elevated to the subtle realms. Nataraja’s dynamism and vitality become palpable as the serpents dance around him, whom he has mastered as a perfect Yogi. His right hand holds ‘Abhaya Mudra’ which protects while the left is gracefully tossed across the right side signifying his Queen – Natarani – who is dancing in tandem with every movement. Concentrated on the left foot is the message to the devoted heart so that ‘She’ – the dear ‘Mother’ will open doors to the ‘Father’ with the magical hymn-

Vagarthaviva sampriktau vagarthah pratipattaye | Jagatah pitarau vande parvathiparameshwarau || – Raghuvamsha-[Kalidasa]

I venerate the parents of the world, Shiva and Parvathi, who are inseparable as speech and its meaning.

It is like fire and heat, sun and effulgence or oil and sesame seed. Without Shakti, Shiva has no purpose and without Shiva, Shakti has no existence. Together they take charge of the Panchakriya or five acts of Srishti – creation, Sthiti – sustenance, Samhara – dissolution, Tirodhana – veiling and Anugraha – liberation or final grace. The fusion of left with right, lunar with solar energies, energy with consciousness, the reflector with light, matter with spirit and similarly, fullness with emptiness and celebration with renunciation is the Ardhanarishwara Nataraja. A poet finds inspiration, a painter locates pulsation, a singer identifies melody, a dancer emulates balance, a sculptor blends harmony, a philosopher unravels a mystery and a pure devotee imagines the final destination – all these and more can be discovered in the perfect symbol of the dancing duo Shiva and Shakti. The magnetic forceful and graceful dance that is enacted contains a graph of nine aesthetic moves starting with love and culminating in peace. This represents a beautiful metaphor for the game of life wherein negative tendencies like fear, anger, and disgust interplay with positive ones like courage, love, compassion in a spirit of wonder and humour at the various stories they express together. At the end of the play, what sustains as the substratum is ‘Peace’ which is also what existed before the play as pure ‘Awareness’.

Rhythm is inherent in everyone, every aspect of nature and one can become united with true movement as an expression of oneself. One who is adept performs a pure dance to Anahata Dhwani – the innermost vibration. It is this voice of the soul which unites with the sound reflected by the sense organ and becomes ‘Universal’, in experience. Dvaita, duality with all differences gets burnt into the sacred ash of non-dual Advaita with the ‘One Absoluteness’. Nataraja makes us aware of the dance seen through the eyes but meditating on ‘Him’ can make the third inner eye open to witness the dance that transcends. We need to close our gross vision and see with the mind’s eye and then close our subtle vision and see with the inherent light of consciousness. This can happen easily on the annual festival celebrating the darkest night of Maha Shivaratri. As the moon is connected with mind and emotions, the dark amavasya makes this constantly active restless human mind, amazingly withdrawn and quiet. Thus the focus on the innermost recesses of the heart where the shrine of the deity rests – Shuddha Shivam / Shantam.

With the merudanda – our spine – erect, let us meditate on the mystic five-syllable mantra – ‘Na Ma Shi Va Ya’ which tunes us immediately to the divine dance. ‘So Ham Ham So’ as the Ajapa Gayatri of breathing in and out will keep us awake on the most auspiciously silent Shivaratri. It is without a doubt that the dawn will usher in great unmatched spiritual verve and vigour.

Dear Lord Nataraja – Tha Dhi Thom Nam – prostrations to That Thou Art.