The Symbolic Meaning of the Dancing Shiva

Get In Touch With Your Other Half

The statue of the God, Shiva performing the cosmic dance, is one of the most iconic and enigmatic symbols of Hinduism. Symbolically, the ‘Nataraj’ represents enlightened persons that have mastered their emotions, nurtured a balanced personality and understand the True Self.

The Dancing Shiva

Ancient symbolism teaches us many lessons that are as pertinent today as they were thousands of years ago. The Gods are merely personifications of the human mind and the Nataraj playfully shows us how we can liberate our minds and become master of our emotions, thoughts and actions.

It is widely accepted that humans have both masculine and feminine aspects. Our challenge is to adopt the qualities of male and female energies in order to find peace of mind and bring more harmony into our lives.

In ancient symbolism, male and female energies are appointed specific emotional and physical aspects of human nature. These are most distinctly portrayed in the four elements, earth, air, fire and water.

We see the four elements symbolically expressed in the dancing Shiva. The statue could actually be called “the dance of Shiva and Shakti” as it represents the reunion of Shiva and Shakti from Hindu mythology.

Shiva is the male power representing consciousness together with the elements of fire and air. His consort, Shakti is the female quality and represents energy and the elements of earth and water.

The dance the Gods are performing is a form of hatha yoga. Ha means Sun, Tha is Moon and yoga means union. In ancient symbolism, the sun represents the power of fire in masculine energy and the moon represents the soothing waters of the female energy.

On a deeper level, the sun and the moon represent life, or creation as life on earth cannot exist without the power of the sun, and all life is born from water. The gravitational pull of the moon keeps the Earth balanced and stable.

In the “cosmic dance” of Shiva we find the concept of balancing male and female qualities. This is defined by sun and moon symbolism (fire and water) so that we are better equipped to create the things we want in life.

The goal of hatha yoga is to bring balance to the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of the self. It is a discipline of self-control, perseverance and strength. All these qualities are reflected in the dance of Shiva and Shakti.

What are male and female energies?

Ancient sages knew that everything in the Universe has a polar opposite. Thus human emotions and traits of character have opposing ends of the scale. The ancients also understood that we need to find equilibrium within ourselves in order to find peace of mind and clarity of thought.

The ancient magi defined sets of emotions and personality traits that mostly resembled members of the opposite sex. You can check out a useful list on fromthestars.com, but as a quick example, doing and being, analysing and intuition, aggression and surrender are all opposites that can be classified as mostly male or female traits.

The dance of Shiva and Shakti is sometimes called the ‘Dance of Bliss’ as its purpose is to bring both the masculine and feminine sides of your character together. And by doing so, you will find balance and harmony.

Shiva and Shakti, consciousness and energy

Essentially, the masculine energy requires courage, knowledge, passion and understanding and the feminine qualities require, love, patience and dedication to nurture consciousness into reality.

Whatever we do in life, and the manifestation thereof, is powered by our male and female energies. Everything we do is consciousness – whether we are consciously aware of what we are doing or not. Energy is how much effort you put in and the rewards you get out.

You may have heard of the expressions (or something similar), “what you give is what you get,” or “the more you put in, the more you get out.”

This is the essence expressed in the dance of Shiva and Shakti. The combination of consciousness and energy ultimately manifests as reality.

We should also consider the triangle of manifestation at this point. To take an idea or desire (consciousness) and turn it into physical reality (manifestation) requires thought emotion and action. Thought, emotions and actions are all energy.

Therefore whatever energy you put into something, be it positive or negative (attitude/thought), a little or a lot (will power/action), love or hate (emotion) will determine the outcome of your physical reality.

Yoga Vashishtha ~ 5.23

“Utterly fearless and uninhibited, it is this consciousness that brings into manifestation and sustains the infinite variety of beings…”

Let’s take a closer look of how this concept is reflected in the statue of the Dancing Shiva.

The story of Shakti and Shiva in Hindu Mythology

The cosmic dance of Shiva symbolizes the continuous cycle of destruction and creation. Thus Shiva is known as the destroyer of ego and can shatter delusion and bring in new visions of life.

In order to manifest new traits or qualities of character and attitudes towards life, you need clarity of thought to admit changes are necessary and the courage to change habitual attitudes and ways of living. You have to make sacrifices.

These are male energies symbolized in the personification of Shiva. His ability to destroy and recreate reflects ancient traditions of ritual sacrifice which were performed to demonstrate the Universal cycles of death and rebirth.

This same concept appears in the mythology of ancient cultures throughout the world. In Hindu myth, the story of Shiva and Shakti explains this is a somewhat convoluted way – unless you understand the underlying meaning in which case it makes perfect sense.

shiva lingam

Shakti is the universal energy, the primordial source of life that brings consciousness into reality. Energy and consciousness must be bonded in union in order for you to take control of what you create.

This idea is also reflected in statues of the Linga-Yoni which is commonly known to represent the male and female productive organs of Shiva and Shakti. It’s esoteric meaning represents the union of physical energy with spiritual consciousness which then manifests as physical and spiritual reality.

In Hindu myth, Shakti is the consort of Shiva, but sacrifices her life by throwing herself in the fire of yagna after suffering humiliation. Unable to live without her, Shiva goes to live in the mountains and becomes a recluse.

When the Universe is terrorized by demons, the Gods appeal to Shiva for help, but Shiva is unable to act and refuses aid. An oracle informs the Gods that only a son of Shiva can defeat the demons so Shakti reincarnates herself as Parvati.

It takes Parvati some time to win over the affections of Shiva, but when she develops the same skills and qualities as the powerful God, Shiva accepts Parvati as his bride and they fall into perfect balance. It is on their wedding night that Shiva (consciousness) is reunited with Shakti (energy) and performs the dance of bliss.

In the same myth, Shiva is consciousness – clarity, knowledge and wisdom. Shakti is energy. When you work towards achieving your goals, you generate positive energy. If you are lazy or unable to overcome the habitual mind, the energy you emit works against your goals.

Without energy consciousness cannot come into being. Shakti, the mother goddess provides love, protection and warmth. She is a reminder that objectives require nurturing and thinks, feels and acts from the heart.

The esoteric significance of the Dance of Shiva

The esoteric meaning behind the Dance of Shiva is the process of dissolution and creation. By shattering the illusion of self in the real world and recognizing your true self, you can successfully work towards the goal of transformation.

The symbolic gestures of Shiva in the statue reflect the five powers you require to master emotions and manifest conscious thoughts and actions.

  1. Identify illusions – this is the point of self-discovery whereby you recognize a character flaw or aspect of your life that you need to change
  2. Destroying bad traits – actively sacrificing old habits and learning new ways to live
  3. Salvation – deliverance from harm or loss that manifest as a result of negative energies
  4. Creation of new life – developing new qualities through positive actions
  5. Preservation of new qualities – continual dedication to new ways of feeling, thinking and acting

When Shakti kills herself, Shiva rejects society and lives as an ascetic on Mount Kailash where he meditates to free his mind. In the dance of Shiva, his choice of lifestyle is reflected by his unkempt hair.

However, the deeper meaning reflects the need to understand that we have to make sacrifices before we can be reborn and to free our mind of inhibitions towards the change. Our habitual minds resist change and we tend to have internal conflicts.

To overcome such conflicts, we must invoke the aspects of our male and female energies that Shakti and Shiva personify. In the four elements, male energy is air which relates to mental attitudes and the acquiring of knowledge, and also fire which demands courage and perseverance.

Shakti, the female aspect of human nature, represents the element of earth which is symbolic for fertility, nurturing and the need to be grounded, and the element of water which represents emotions and the need to ‘go with the flow.’

Symbols of the Siva Nataraja

In the statue of the dancing Shiva the fiery ring of the outer edge features 29 burning flames. In Hindu myth Shiva often uses fire from his trident or his third eye to destroy enemies.

In gematria, 29, 2+9=11. Eleven symbolises new beginnings having mastered an emotion or personal trait. In the four elements, fire represents courage and will-power, attributes required to burn away undesired attitudes.

By destroying habitual ways of life that do not serve you, it is possible to create new views, attitudes and ways of feeling that give you more quality in life. This idea is symbolically painted in the idea of death and rebirth.

This concept comes distinctly clear when you consider individual symbols of the Nataraja. The two upper arms alone signify the balance between the forces of destruction and creation.

In the upper left hand, Shiva holds a flaming torch. Scholars tend to call this torch, “the flame of extinction,” because of Shiva’s ability to destroy ignorance and delusion with fire. However, we already see this concept expressed in the ring of 29 flames.

My view is that the torch denotes the gaining of wisdom. In other ancient traditions, “light bringers” such as Isthar, Astarte and the Statue of Liberty are pictured holding flaming torches. It signifies the liberation of the mind after burning away the veil of illusion.

The Statue of liberty, the light bringer

In this symbol, we see a reflection of Shiva’s son, the elephant God Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and the God of knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is the acquisition of new information, whilst wisdom is knowing to let go of the old.

In the upper right hand, Shiva holds a sacred drum in the shape of an hourglass. In Hindu symbolism, the drum represents the primordial sound of creation, the beginning of time. The hourglass represents the passing of tine as one life cycle ends and another begins.

Shiva’s lower right hand is an open palm directed outwards and is a sign of assertion. Its literal meaning is “fear nothing.” By letting go of fear, you dissolve all negative emotions and feel only love.

A snake is draped over his left arm and slithers out towards the outer circle. Snakes represent wisdom and the conscious mind whilst the circle represents the spiritual world. The “spiritual word” is where your soul reside, your true self.

In other words, when you become consciously aware of something you do in life that is not good for you and you change your ways, your change yourself on the physical world and become more like your true self in the spiritual world.

Shiva’s left foot is planted on the back of a dwarf-like creature called Apasmara, a demon figure that signifies forgetfulness, ignorance and confusion. Here we see that Shiva has defeated the demons of bondage and illusion through the discovery of self-knowledge.

The combination of the lower left hand pointing towards the raised upper right foot is a reflection of the entire symbolic meaning. Shiva gestures towards the raised foot as though to say, “See.”

As Aldous Huxley observes in his novel “Island”, the lifted foot of the dancing Shiva is “the symbol of release, of moksha, of liberation.” Essentially, once we free our minds from the bondage of fear, we begin to see the truth of light.

The Dance of Shiva is very rich in symbolism, but once the esoteric meaning is decoded, the mystery begins to make perfect sense. And now you know that you have to get in touch with masculine/feminine emotions, putting thoughts into actions becomes that little bit easier.

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