Yesterday we read about Bharatanatyam.
Today we will read about another dance form that has a popular mythological association is that of the Tandava-nritya by Lord Shiva. During every dance performance, an idol of Nataraja always adorns the stage and as the name depicts, Lord Shiva is the King of all dance performances (nat – dance/performance and raja – king). In due course of time, the image of Nataraja has become the symbol of India.
There are different versions of the reason behind the dance form by Shiva. Some say that the form depicts the cosmic cycle of creation and destruction wherein Lord Shiva is on a destructive spree before Lord Brahma can begin his creation, also referred to as the ananda-tandava.
According to a legend, once a group of sages from a particular school of thought started neglecting the rituals and worship and tried to find ways of superseding the gods. To teach them a lesson, Lord Shiva walked into the hermitage in the form of a handsome youth while all of them were busy in their yagnas. The wives of the sages were so enamoured by the looks of Shiva that they gave up all decency and started following him. Seeing this, the sages were enraged and thought of teaching a lesson to the youth. Through their powers, they created a ferocious lion, who was skinned in minutes by Shiva and used the skin to adorn himself (some versions say that he had walked in the hermitage nude to lure the wives of the sages). The sages then created a serpent which raised its fangs and Shiva picked it up and flung it around his waist. The sages then created a demonic dwarf, named Apasamara, the demon of forgetfulness. To control it, Shiva started the tandava and soon alighted atop the dwarf and crushed it. Seeing the earth shake and everything tremble under the impact of the dance, the sages came back to their senses and fell at the feet of Shiva. This is supposed to have taken place in a hermitage near the present day Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, where stands the magnificent temple of Chidambaram, one of the few temples to worship Lord Shiva in the Nararaja form.
Some versions also say, that Shiva and Vishnu got together to teach the sages a lesson. Vishnu took the form of Mohini to distract the sages and Shiva took the form of the handsome youth. While the wives ran after the ascetic, the sages got distracted by the presence of the enchantress. But thereafter there is no role of Mohini in the myth, except to watch the celestial dance performance of Lord Shiva.
The temple of Chidambaram also has another interesting aspect of the tandava nritya. According to some legend, there was a dance-duel between Shiva and goddess Kali, who too was doing the cosmic dance of destruction. During the duel, Shiva raised his left foot towards the sky (urdhuva tandava) a definite mail posture, which could not be performed by a female. Kali blushed and accepted defeat and it is said that since then Kali has been relegated to another temple in the outskirts of the city of Chidambaram. This myth is depicted in one of the halls of the temple of Chidambaram.
The Nataraja is generally seen with Lord Shiva standing on his right leg with the left leg raised. But in a rare form, in one of the halls of the temple of Chidambaram, the lord is seen doing exactly the opposite. The legend associated with this is that one of the Pandya kings who was a great devotee of Lord Shiva learnt all the forms of the tandava. While learning he realized how tough the form was and he felt that the lord had been standing in the same form for too long which must be painful and tiring. So he went to the said hall and started praying to the lord to change his form and give his right leg some respite. When nothing happened he took his sword to cut off his head. Seeing this Lord Shiva is supposed to have agreed to change his posture and this is probably the only place where the Nataraja is seen standing on his left leg with his right leg raised!
The angry form of the dance form, or the raudra-tandava was performed when Lord Shiva learnt about the self-immolation of his wife, Sati. Lord Krishna too is supposed to have performed the ananda-tandava atop a serpent in the episode of Kaliya-daman (http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.in/2011/12/two-stories-and-one-meaning.html ).
The philosophers decipher meanings from different aspect of the posture and the form of the dance. Every aspect has a hidden symbolism, which is not something I would delve on. The artistic form of the tandava dance and the myriad myths associated with the form is by itself very intriguing and I hope I have been able to bring out the very spirit of the tough dance form.