Since time immemorial dance has been a way of communication with spirit, with the unseen and the hidden. Dance unites people in a mutual experience beyond daily routines.
Indian classical dance forms incorporate both tandava (vigorous/ masculine) and lasya (soft/ feminine), offering a balance of cosmic energies — male/female, yin/yang — in their exposition. The tandava aspect is characterised by sharp, forceful movements that aim to capture the essence of the underlying bhava (sentiment). The lasya elements are represented by movements that are soft, fluid, and seem to merge into one another in a graceful blur with no sharp edges.
Tandav and Lasya are two of the most revered dances in India known for its unique and graceful routines associated mainly with the Hindu deity of creation and destruction – Lord Shiva and His consort, Goddess Parvati (the embodiment of Shakti Devi – the goddess of the creative feminine force and the primary cosmic energy that moves the entire Universe and resides in the souls of all living beings).
Along with Shiva, Parvati symbolizes the harmonious union between the masculine and feminine forms of existence or the inextricable male and female beginning, known as the Ardhanarishvara, symbolic of the inseparability of the female and male energies, without which, the entire Universe will be in a state of flux.
The earliest known iconography records of Ardhanarishvara can be traced back to the time of the Kushan Empire and the Gupta Empire. Historically, the statues of Ardhanarishvara came into being during the Kusana period and were slowly perfected during the Gupta era. The oldest depiction of Shiva – Ardhanarishvara is that of Rudra – the Puranic male aspect of Lord Shiva or the static masculine energy (perfect neutrality), and Prakriti, the dynamic and creative feminine intellect. Ardhanarishvara embodies Lord Shiva and goddess Shakti (when they are together, Shiva and Shakti represent the masculine and the feminine beginning that shapes the authenticity of the Universe), who is a personification of the creative feminine energy and the primordial cosmic energy and also represents the creativity, fertility and the power of creation of the whole cosmos). This harmony is particularly well expressed in both dances – the Tandava and the Lasya performed by Shiva and Parvati.
When Shiva is angry, He starts to perform the dance of destruction – Tandava, which incorporates the destruction, the creation and the preservation of the world, with both aspects of the God: Rudra Tandav who represents the darker side of Shiva as a creator and destroyer who can sow death and Ananda Tandav – transmitting the joy of the God from the creation of the world. However, the most common image of Lord Shiva is that of the divine dancer – Nataraja. When Shiva is in the form of Nataraj, He performs His divine dance of destruction by destroying the old existing Universe making way for Brahma to start the process of creation all over again.
The name of this dance comes from the name of the companion of Lord Shiva called Tandav who helped Bharata Muni in the creation of the “Nati Shastra.” Tandav was considered the author of an older piece of literature dedicated to the dramatic dances, which is contained in the basic Mudras or the ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism, bearing a semantic meaning and which are used in the traditional Indian dances.
The dance of Shiva Tandav reflects the five principles of the energy contained in the Universe:
Srishti – Evolution, creation;
Sthiti – Preservence, support;
Samhara – Destruction, evolution;
Tirobhava – Illusion;
Anugraha – Grace, mercy, freedom.
Apart from being a symbol of the cosmic creation and destruction, the Tandav is also perceived as a symbol of the natural cycle of both life and death. This dance is often performed by dancers in southern India as part of theatrical shows with highly religious plots.
In contrast of the Tandav, is the dance called Lasya or the dance of goddess Parvati. Its name means beauty, grace, happiness and compassion. The rhythmical steps of this dance are full of harmony, grace and tenderness, the bedrock of womb healing and sacral sustenance that our planet depends on and are supplementing to the brute male energy of the Tandav. It is a symbol of the harmony of the ancient tempo of the creation of the world.
In the iconographic images of Parvati, Her gestures express the intellect, the power of nature and the protection of the believers. Lasya is a dance of the Yogini, of Divine worship, harmonizing and elevating inner and outer vibrations. It s an embodied prayer to Earth, Sky, all the elements and subtle forces which sustain All life. We explore ways to communicate with those forces in order to restore Balance. In dance, our bodies become bridges between subtle and physical, pure channels of creativity and sacred order.
The two cosmic dances, which Shiva performs, are those which determine His true nature – Lasya (a gentle, elegant and emotional dance that is associated with the creation of the whole world performed by Parvati) and Tandava (a vigorous dance which incorporates the destruction performed by Shiva).
The statues depicting Shiva as the god of dance have their own symbols and meanings:
– A large cobra uncoils from His lower right forearm and in His crown are woven skull and a crescent moon.
– The god dancing in the middle of an arch of flames – His dance (Dance of Bliss) is a symbol of the eternal movement of the Universe and the liberation of the soul from the snare of Maya or the illusion. The center of the Universe where Shiva is dancing is actually a symbol of the human heart. The surrounding flames represent the manifest Universe.
– The upper right hand of Shiva holds a little drum called the damaru which is a representation of the pridominal sound (Om) of both the creation and the elapsed time. The drum symbolizes the sacred words of the Vedas given to the people by the Gods (these words are believed to have the power to guide people through the paths of life). Shiva holds the drum with a specific hand gesture called ḍamaru-hasta, representing time and rhythm of both music and the universe.
– The upper left hand holds Agni or the fire – the symbol of destruction.
– The symmetrical position of both arms symbolizes the origins of life.
– The second right hand is placed in the position of Abhaya mudra which indicates to Shiva’s devotees, ‘fear not,’ as He will always come to the rescue of His disciples when threatened. This hand represents protection from both evil and ignorance to all those who have chosen to follow the path of Dharma.
– The second left hand is pointing towards the raised foot which symbolizes the upliftment and the liberation of the soul from ignorance.
– The demon Apasmara on which Shiva dances is a symbol of the victory of good over evil and ignorance. This also describes the passage of the soul from the divine to the material.
– The snake wrapped around the waist of Shiva is called kundalini and it symbolizes Shakti. It is associated with the cords of life worn by Brahmins as a symbol of the second rebirth (The inceptive members of the Indian caste system or the Brahmins are being given the sacred title “Dvija,” or “twice-born,” because of their birth as humans from the womb of their mother and their second spiritual “birth,” through the detailed understanding of the Vedic texts).
– The static facial mimicry of Shiva represents His neutrality and the balance in the Universe.
It is when Tandav and Lasya come together that our sacred Earth is able to maintain the balance it requires to remain robust on its axis. That same Tandav and Lasya that describe the cosmic union of Shiva-Shakti, providing the potential of rebirth and recreation at every dead end as well as the promise of new beginnings at the deathbed of all that diminishes in oblivion.
SUJATA NANDY WORLD GURUKUL