The dance of Shiva
Shiva Natarajan, the Lord of the Dance. Tamil Nadu, Chola Dynasty, India

Tāṇḍavam (also known as Tāṇḍava natyam) is a divine dance performed by the Hindu god Shiva. Shiva's Tandava is described as a vigorous dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution. While the Rudra Tandava depicts his violent nature, first as the creator and later as the destroyer of the universe, even of death itself, the Ananda Tandava depicts him as joyful. In Shaiva Siddhanta tradition, Shiva as Nataraja (lit. "Lord of dance") is considered the supreme lord of dance.[1]

The Tandavam takes its name from Tandu (taṇḍu), the attendant of Shiva, who instructed Bharata (author of the Natya Shastra) in the use of Angaharas and Karanas[2] modes of the Tandava at Shiva's order. Some scholars consider that Tandu himself must have been the author of an earlier work on the dramatic arts, which was incorporated into the Natya Shastra.[3] Indeed, the classical arts of dance, music and song may derive from the mudras and rituals of Shaiva tradition.

Some of the 108 Karanas of Nataraja at Kadavul Hindu Temple, on Kauai, Hawaii. It is one of the few complete collections in existence, commissioned by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami in the 1980s. Each sculpture is about 12 inches tall. Chidambaram Temple is also known to have a complete set.

The 32 Angaharas and 108 Karanas are discussed by Bharata in the 4th chapter of the Natya Shastra, Tandava Lakshanam.[4] Karana is the combination of hand gestures with feet to form a dance posture. Angahara is composed of seven or more Karanas.[5] 108 karanas included in Tandava could be employed in the course of dance, fight, and personal combats and in other special movements like strolling.

The dance is a pictorial allegory of the five principle manifestations of eternal energy:[6]

  • Srishti - creation, evolution
  • Sthiti - preservation, support
  • Samhara - destruction, evolution
  • Tirodhana - illusion
  • Anugraha - release, emancipation, grace

Thus Tandava symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death.

Rudra Tandava: A dancer depicting Shiva kicking Yama, the god of Death.

Tandava, as performed in the sacred dance-drama of southern India, has vigorous, brisk movements. Performed with joy, the dance is called Ananda Tandava. Performed in a violent mood, the dance is called Rudra Tandava. In the Hindu texts, at least seven types of Tandava are found: Ananda Tandava, Tripura Tandava, Sandhya Tandava, Samhara Tandava, Kali (Kalika) Tandava, Uma Tandava and Gauri Tandava.[5] However, some people believe that there are 16 types of Tandava.

"How many various dances of Shiva are known to His worshipers I cannot say. No doubt the root idea behind all of these dances is more or less one and the same, the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy. Whatever the origins of Shiva's dance, it became in time the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of." - Ananda Coomaraswamy[7]

The dance performed by Shiva's wife Parvati in response to Shiva's Tandava is known as Lasya, in which the movements are gentle, graceful and sometimes erotic. Some scholars consider Lasya to be the feminine version of Tandava. Lasya has 2 kinds, Jarita Lasya and Yauvaka Lasya.

The Hindu scriptures narrate various occasions when Shiva or other gods have performed the Tandava. When Sati (first wife of Shiva, who was reborn as Parvati) jumped into the Agni Kunda (sacrificial fire) in Daksha's Yajna and gave up her life, Shiva is said to have performed the Rudra Tandava to express his grief and anger. The Shivapradosha stotra says when Shiva performs the Sandhya Tandava, the other gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Sarasvati, Lakshmi and Indra play musical instruments and sing Shiva's praises.[5] Ganesha, the son of Shiva, is depicted as Ashtabhuja tandavsa nritya murtis (Eight armed form of Ganesha dancing the Tandava) in temple sculptures.[8] Shiva Tandava Stotram is a stotra (Hindu hymn) that describes Shiva's power and beauty. The Bhagavata Purana talks of Krishna dancing his Tandava on the head of the serpent Kaliya.[9] According to Jain traditions, Indra is said to have performed the Tandava in honour of Rishabha (Jain tirthankar) on the latter's birth.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Nataraja", Manas, UCLA
  2. ^ Natya-shastra IV.263-264
  3. ^ Quarterly Journal of the Andhra Historical Research Society, part III, pp. 25-26, as cited in Manohar Laxman Varadpande 1987, p. 154
  4. ^ Ragini Devi, Dance Dialects of India, pp.29-30. Motilal Banarsidass (1990) ISBN 81-208-0674-3
  5. ^ a b c Manohar Laxman Varadpande 1987, p. 154.
  6. ^ Ananda Coomaraswamy, cited at
  7. ^ Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, "The Dance of Shiva", in The Dance of Shiva: Fourteen Indian Essays, rev. ed. (New York: Noonday Press, (1957) ISBN 81-215-0153-9. Cited, "Nataraja", Manas, UCLA
  8. ^ Manohar Laxman Varadpande 1987, p. 5.
  9. ^ Manohar Laxman Varadpande 1987, p. 98.
  10. ^ Manohar Laxman Varadpande 1987, p. 146.


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