The auspicious night of Shivaratri represents the enlivening of the Shiva tattva – the most beautiful aspect of Consciousness.
Lord Shiva is not a person or a figure. Shiva is the eternal tattva (principle) that is the essence of everything. It is the principle from which everything has come, which sustains everything and in which everything dissolves. How does one capture and express this tattva that is so subtle yet palpable?
One of the expressions that encapsulates this most exquisite and unfathomable substratum of existence in its near totality, is the depiction of Shiva as Nataraja or the Cosmic Dancer. Nataraja is a fascinating symbol of the interplay between the material and the spiritual realms of creation. Of the 108 postures of the Nataraja the most adored and beautiful is the Ananda Tandava – the dance of bliss. The beauty, elegance and grace with which the Shiva Tandava is represented here is unparalleled.
When one has access to mystical realms through deep sadhana and detachment to the material world, one is able to experience the Ananda Tandava. There are multiple dimensions of existence. One who has gained entry to the subtle realms of creation, will find that the dance of Shiva is happening in a ceaseless continuum. This blissful dance of the cosmic rhythm can be enjoyed only after transcending the body, mind, intellect and ego complex.
Though it is mistakenly believed that Shiva took a human form and walked this planet, Shiva is Anadi –birthless, and Ananta – deathless. To limit Shiva to a form confined to time and space would be undermining the omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience of this Eternal Principle.
The damaru in the upper right hand of the Dancing Shiva is in the shape of infinity (∞). It signifies sound and space and symbolizes the expanding and collapsing nature of the Universe. Through finite sound one can behold the infinite.
The fire in the upper left hand of Nataraja represents the primordial energy of the cosmos. Ananda upholds energy while pleasure depletes it. The lower right hand, which is in abhaya mudra represents protection and assurance of orderliness. The other hand pointing to the feet is indicative of infinite possibilities.
Underneath the feet is Apasmara, the demon that symbolizes ignorance and denotes the epileptic state in which there is absolutely no control over the body and the life force.
When human consciousness is able to free itself from the shackles of ignorance and gains mastery over the body-mind complex, the dance of ecstasy starts dawning in life.
The Ananda Tandava of Nataraja symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction. The whole world is nothing but a rhythm of energy, rising and contracting again and again.
Devas can only be perceived in the subtle realms or the sukshma jagat. Those who have gone deep in meditation have discovered this phenomenon. It is said that Deva Apraakrata Divya Manusha Rupa meaning the devas have non-material bodies of light which are perceived in human form by human beings. The different forms of divinity that we see are the outer projections of what the sages observed in deep meditation. These inner experiences of the sages have found beautiful expressions in temples and artistic landscape of India.
The Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu is a magnificent representation of the cosmic stage of Nataraja. Chidambaram – ‘Chit’ meaning Consciousness and ‘Ambar’ meaning space – refers to the scintillating consciousness. The eternal dance of Shiva never occurred on earth. It is happening perpetually on the stage of consciousness. The central roof of the Chidambaram temple is adorned with 21,600 gold tiles, denoting the number of breaths taken by a human being in a day.
The scriptures extol the Shiva Principle as being all pervasive – Sarvam Shivamayam Jagat – everything in this world is an expression of Shiva.
Shivaratri is the most unique time to rise above the mundane and bask in the supreme glory of the infinite, innocent and blissful Shiva tattva. Though the external worship to Shiva seems elaborate with numerous offerings, it is said the finest flowers used in Shiva’s worship are knowledge, equanimity and peace. Celebrating the Shiva tattva in oneself is real MahaShivaratri.