Shiva as Lord of the Dance is probably the best-known sculptural image in Indian art. The powerful Hindu god Shiva appears encircled by flames, representing the boundaries of the cosmos, as he performs his dance of destruction and creation. The iconography for this popular depiction developed early in the Chola period (ninth to thirteenth centuries) in south India. It was during that time, under the patronage of the rulers of today’s Tamil Nadu, that bronze casting reached its pinnacle for temple and shrine.
The graceful elegance and delicate intricacy of this sculpture is matched by the striking animation of the dancing figure. Locks of hair and waist sash flying, Shiva beats the rhythm of creation on the drum in his upper right hand. His raised left leg symbolises the potential for liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth. During this dance of bliss, Shiva’s right foot quashes darkness and ignorance in the form of a demonic dwarf. The swaying hood of a snake can be seen wrapped around one of the god’s right arms, while another serpent appears in his tresses on the left. Opposite, the upper torso of the river goddess Ganga (Ganges) nestles in his matted hair which, in dance, has been likened to the spray of the sacred river.
Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, NGA Publishing, Canberra, 2008
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008