Biblical Archaeology Review 42:6, November/December 2016


Madras, India

This intricate, eighth–ninth-century C.E. copper alloy statue depicts the Hindu god Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, performing the Tandavam ananda—a dance to create, maintain and destroy the elemental forces of the universe. Set within a flaming halo, the god holds the damaru (the drum that made the first sound of creation) to mark time and the agni (the fire that will destroy the universe) while making the abhayamudra (a gesture to relieve fears). Underfoot is the Apasmara, a demonic personification of ignorance and materialism. Overall, the symbols affirm Shiva as creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.

Used in ceremonial processions, this statue of Shiva Nataraja is affixed to a lotus pedestal. Before processions, the image would have been ritually bathed, dressed in fine silks and decorated with fresh flowers.

Today this 26.5-inch figure can be viewed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England.

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