The Cosmic Dancer


Victory to Siva, who dances forth His passionate tandava

with steps that roll like thunder, creating waves of bliss!

The mrdangam resounds, His radiant third eye blazes forth,

His tandava powerfully spins His garland of fire-hissing snakes!

(from the Siva Tandava Stotram, translation by Kate Macdonald)

As yoga practitioners, we are all somewhat familiar with Natarajasana or Dancer’s Pose. But the usual English translation doesn’t quite catch the poetry and power of the Sanskrit. The reference is to Lord Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer. All creation vibrates ecstatically in Shiva’s wild and whirling tandava dance.

As I wobble on one leg, hand reaching back blindly to catch my foot, trying to find a gaze that is (as our Kira Sloane would say) "kind", I have to wonder how my awkward interpretation connects to the image of the divine Cosmic Dancer.

But any image of the Cosmic Dance is the shadow of a shadow of a shadow. Just as a shadow reduces three dimensions to two, so my pose can obviously never capture the sublime reality of Nataraja...

...and yet...

My wobble is also an integral part of the Divine dance! If I can let that realization seep into my awareness, how might it transform my experience of this pose? Can I root myself in the reality of the Cosmic Dancer? Can I embody this image so that my pose reaches out beyond the perceived limitations of my body?

Yoga’s sister embodied art, Bharatanatyam or Indian classical dance, embraces this icon of Lord Shiva. Every dance studio has a representation of Nataraja, and many choreographies celebrate this sublime image. I have recently started to learn the first steps in a choreography that draws upon the rich imagery of the Cosmic Dancer. This is allowing me, in a very tangible way, to inhabit the iconography of Nataraja. The dance becomes a movement prayer.

Supratim Talukder embodying Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer; Photo credit: Aritra Asterix

Is this not the enriching possibility that both Bharatanatyam and Yoga offer to us? An offer that extends to us from the birthplace of these embodied ritual arts, reaching from India’s distant past into our present, and carried forth from all the cultural geographies that we call home, into the future?

Here is my teacher, Supratim Talukder's, interpretation of the rich imagery of the Cosmic Dancer:

About the Author

Kate Macdonald

Kate Macdonald is a retired English teacher, mom, recent grandmother, a long-time yoga practitioner/teacher and a very new student of Bharatanatyam, living in Ottawa, Canada. Follow Kate’s unfolding journey into yoga and Bharatanatyam at her blogspace.


2 people like this.
Beautiful insights. The dance is mesmerizing. Thank you for your sharing.
1 person likes this.
Brenda S I'm so glad you checked out Supratim's dance! It's a favourite of mine, and as I learn more little pieces of it, it is becoming a movement prayer...

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