The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

by M. A. Dorai Rangaswamy | 1958 | 410,072 words

This page describes “(b) the seven tandava dances of shiva” from the part dealing with Nampi Arurar (Sundarar) and Mythology, viz. Puranic stories and philosophy. The 7th-century Thevaram (or Tevaram) contains devotional poems sung in praise of Shiva. These hymns form an important part of the Tamil tradition of Shaivism

Chapter 4.3 - (b) The seven Tandava Dances of Shiva

(1) The Ananda Tandavam:

The Agamas also describe the seven Dances. The Ananda Tandavam is the well known form found in every temple. Shiva has an ash-besmeared body. He has four arms; the right back arm holds the ‘utukkai’ or the hour-glass, like drum; the left back arm holds the fire or the fire-pot; the right front arm with a valaya of sarpa with 1, 2, 5 or 7 hoods (the corresponding valaya of serpent on the other hand according to Havell has fallen down) is the abhaya pose or the pose of protection, i.e., the palm, level with the straight fingers in close contact, raised up showing the palmside to the front; the left front arm is in gajahasta pose, i.e., is bent at the shoulder joint going straight across the chest to the right side with its fingers gracefully pointing below towards the left leg which is raised in a dancing posture. The ecstasy of the dance, in whirling on one leg is shown by the matted hair sweeping out on both sides of the head in 5, 6, 7 or 11 divisions, standing horizontally or forming a circle. ‘Erukku’ (Madar) and ‘Umattam’ (Datura) flowers, snake, crescent moon, grinning human skull are on the left matlocks; Ganga is on the right. The cloth, partly tied round the waist and partly thrown over the left shoulder, flies up in the air. The head of Shiva wears peacock feathers and this characterises this murti’s crown. The right leg is slightly bent, placed upon the back of the black apasmara purusa or Muyalakan’.The left leg is lifted up somewhat turned towards the right leg and kept across it. Apasmara, a hideous malignant dwarf trodden on by Shiva, lies right to left. He is playing with a snake by keeping all his fingers in a serpent hood-like shape. The pedestal of the image is a double lotus flower, placed back to back. The prabha or the aureola is surmounted all round with flames of fire similar to the one which is held in His hand and the Silparatna states that this prabha is the ravi-marulala or the sun’s disc.

Uttara Kamikagama gives further particulars in addition to the above as given in Amsumadbhedagama. The jatas separated from one another vary from 5 to 30 and in the vacant space between the jatas are ‘umattam’, ‘erukku’ and other flowers. In the japa, on the right stands the three-eyed Ganga, with hands held in anjali pose, with the upper half of body shaped in the form of a lady adorned with karanda makupa and other ornaments, whilst the lower half is in the form of running water. In the japa on the left is the crescent moon. There are necklaces of various patterns round his neck made of (1) pearls, (2) of snakes, (3) of ‘makilam’ flower, (4) of sea shells, boar’s tusks, tiger’s claws and beads with a pendant of tortoise shell. The left ear wears patra kundala, whilst the right has nakra kundala; on the feet are anklets of tiny bells and another pair of other designs. This dance is known as Bhujanga trasa. If the foot of the uplifted leg is kept higher than the knee of the standing leg, the dance is called Bhujanga lalita.

According to Natya sastra,

Kuncitam padamutksipya tryasramurum vivartayet
Kapijanu vivarttau ca bhujahgatrasitam bhavet

i.e., ‘One leg is bent in a triangular way. It is lifted up. The body above the hip and the knee are slightly turned on one side’. Abhinavaguptacarya explains the term thus: ‘This kind of dance is called bhujanga trasa, because in it, the dancer suddenly lifts up his leg as though he discovered a snake very near him and appears to be on an unsteady gait. In this, one arm should be in dolahasta (hand hanging down freely from the somewhat drooping shoulder in the form of patakahastd) and the other in the kataka pose’.

(2) The Sandhya Tandava:

The second dance is Sandhya Tandava. The ‘muyalakan’ is absent. The left hands hold peacock feather and vismaya (wonder) pose in which the palm is held up but is bent forward a little curved, the first and the second fingers being bent forward together whilst the third and the fourth fingers and the thumb stand separated. Dr. Ananda Coomaraswami refers to this as one of these three dances—the evening dance, the Tandava on the cremation ground and the Nadanta dance and writes as follows:—“One is an evening dance in the Himalayas with a divine chorus described as follows in the Shiva pradosa stotras: ‘Placing the Mother of the three worlds upon a golden throne, studded with precious gems, Sulapani dances on the heights of Kailas, and all the gods gather round Him’:. .‘Sarasvati plays on the "Vina”, Indra on the flute, Brahma holds the time-marking cymbals, Laksim begins a song; Visnu plays on a drum, and all the gods stand round about’. Gandharvas, yaksas, patagas, uragas, siddhas, sadhyas, vidyadharas, amaras, apsaras and all the beings dwelling in the three worlds assemble there to witness the celestial dance and hear the music of the divine choir at the hour of twilight”. “This evening dance is also referred to, in the invocation preceding the Katha Sarit Sagara”: “In the pictures of this dance, ‘Shiva is two handed, (Mr. Gopinatha Rao questions this) and the cooperation of the gods is clearly indicated in their position of chorus. There is no prostrate asura trampled under Shiva’s feet”.

The Pradosa stotras may be compared with Karanagama: “On the top of the Kailas mountain, in front of Goddess Gauri, who is seated on jewelled throne, Shiva with the crescent on His head dances in the evenings. All the Devas attend the dance. Brahma plays on cymbals, Hari (Visnu), on a pataha, Bharali, on the lute, the Sun and the Moon, on flutes. Tumburu and Narada supply vocal music and Nandi and Kumara bear drums.” Mayamata mentions in addition, Vighnesa, Kalt and seven mothers.

A story is told about this dance and this is referred to in one of the verses of Agamattirattu in Tamil: “The Lord swallowed the poison; He remained quiet without saying anything for a moment. The Devas were worshipping without any pause. That was a day of the 11th phase of the moon—Ekadasfr. The next day—dva-dasi—the Devas broke their fast and became perfect. On that day, placing the gold creeper of Himavan—the Mother—at head, for four hours, Sankara danced whirling the trident. The four Vedas speak of it as Pradosa”. The Silpasangraha and Mayamata further state that this was performed under the banyan tree. This is found represented in the Lalitd mode of dance. But the Mayamata speaks of this as Bhujangatrasa.

(3) The Uma Tandava:

The third is Uma Tandava. Shiva has six hands, i.e., two more to what had been already mentioned. The additional right hand holds trisula; the additional left, a skull. The left leg is placed on apasmara. The right leg sweeps to the right. Umadevi stands on the left of Shiva. The Purva Karanagama, in the enumeration of the seven dances mentions Muni Tandava instead of Uma Tandava. The Dance of marriage is spoken of as a separate dance and this is called the Dance of the Dances, the Uma Tandava. In describing the Sandhya Tandava, the Tamil work Agamattirattu, we noted, mentions a Trisula; perhaps because of this, Gauri Tandava is known sometimes as Sandhya Tandava. All these are pointed out tp show that the descriptions have not become authoritatively definite. and the variations have been the rule.

(4) The Gauri Tandava:

The fourth Tandava is the Gauri Tandava. This is like the Ananda Tandava. The important feature is the holding of the serpent in one of the left hands. Some of the dances are characterisd by the persons standing by.the side of Nataraja. In this dance Nandi stands on the right side and Gauri on the left. If the Mother’s presence is taken as an inevitable concomitant, the presence of Nandi seems to be the characteristic feature of this dance. Mayamata describes this as Bhujanga lalita, probably because of the playing with the serpent held in one hand. It further states that in the position of the legs, the fire in the hand is blown into a blaze and the braided locks are spread out into 5, 7 or 9. It places Nandi on the right but Visnu on the left instead of Gauri.

(5) The Kalika Tandava:

The fifth dance is Kalika Tandava. Shiva has two eyes only but 8 arms of which the three, on the right, hold the Msula, pasa and utukkai, the three on the left hold kapala, fire and the bull, whilst the remaining right arm is held in an abhaya pose and the left in gajahasta pose. Mr. Krishna Sastry in his ‘South Indian Images’, speaks of the “Kattu catai Nataraja” of Nallur as representing this dance. But, as he himself points out, the position of the legs and the abhaya and gajahasta poses are found reversed in this image of Nallur; for, Shiva there stands on the right leg, raising up the left, whilst the abhaya pose and the gajahasta pose are held by the right and left arms respectively. In this figure ‘muyalakan’ sits facing forward with his two legs stretched in front of him. The drum (utukkai) is nearer the ear, and Shiva is found bending His head slightly towards it. The Kalika Tandavam is according to Tirupputtur-p puranam performed at Thiruvalangadu. But, the form of the image as found at that place is that of Urdhva Tandava. The Tiruvalankattu-p puranam speaks of the Lord standing on His right leg and sending up His left leg to reach the Heavens. But we know of no Urdhva Tandava image in which the left leg is sent thus higher up except one at Agastisvaram temple. The Trivikrama form, where also the image is found standing on one leg whilst raising the other to the Heavens, has to be differentiated from the Urdhva Tandava form. Rea’s plate CXXIII gives, the Urdhva Tandava form as fig. 3, and the Trivikrama form as fig. 7. Here the most important differentiation consists in the different legs raised skywards, the left in the case of Trivikrama and the right in the case of Ordhva Tandava. This is in accordance with the theory, that the left half is the Vaisnnvite or Sakti half, whilst the right side is Shiva’s half. Whatever this may be, Urdhva Tandava of Thiruvalangadu is as old as Karaikkalammaiyar.

(6) The Tripura Tandava:

The sixth dance is Tripura Tandava. Shiva has 16 arms. There is the Mother on the left and the child Murukan (Murugan) on the right. According to Silparatna however, the child stands on the same side as the Mother holding her by the hand and expressing fear, love and wonder in his face. This dance we had already described in describing Tripura Dahana.

(7) The Samhara Tandava:

The seventh dance is the Samhara Tandava. It is the dance of involution. God has 3 eyes and 8 arms. The left leg crushes down apasmara and the right leg is raised. The right hands are holding the Utukkai, the pas a, the trisula and the abhaya pose and the left hands hold the fire, the skull, the vismaya and gajahasta poses. Here also Nandi stands on the right side and Gauri on the left. The eight hands differentiate this form from Gauri Tandava form.

(8) The nine types of Dance:

The Naya Sastra enumerates 108 modes of dances and all these poses are found sculptured on either side of the doorway of the Cidambaram temple. The Agamas assert that Shiva danced in all these modes but they describe only 9 out of them probably as being the most celebrated amongst them. The first is the Ananda Tandava form. The Uttarakamikagama, as already noted, speaks of this as Bhujangatrasita and Bhujangalalita. It is this figure, which has gathered round it, all the esoteric and mystic significance.

In the second form of dance, the only differentiating feature mentioned by Amsumadbhedagama is that Ganga is made to stand with an anjali pose on the jatds flowing on the right side of Shiva.

In the third mode of dance, the left foot is found placed on the apasmara whilst the right leg is lifted up. This is ‘Kalmariyatal’ described in the ‘Kalmari atiya patalam’ of Thiruvilaiyadal Puranam. According to this Puranam, the Pandya at the idea of God eternally dancing without any pause, standing on His left leg, is overpowered by the feeling of sympathy and he begs of the Lord to change the posture and to dance standing on the left leg. The Lord alters His posture to please him and dances as rquested. The image in the Velliampalam represents this altered posture.

In the fourth mode of dance, the jatas are required to be in the form of a jatamandala, i.e., they had to spread round the crowned head of Shiva, in the form of a circular disc. It will thus be seen that all these four dances are one and the same except for slight variations.

The fifth mode of dance represents the Lord resting His slightly bent left leg on the apasmara, whilst the right leg is lifted straight up to the crown of His head. He has 8 hands, the four on the right holding the trident, the noose, the utukkai and the abhaya pose, whilst the other four on the left hold the fire, the skull, the bell and the gajahasta pose.

The sixth variety is differentiated from this only by its 16 arms; the right arms hold utukkai, vajra, trident, noose, tanka, danda and a serpent and the abhaya pose. Instead of vajra, tanka, danda and snake, He may hold the sword, the pataka, the vetala and the suci pose. The left hands exhibit the fire, the quoit, a double headed instrument—mithuna, pataka, the bell, the khetaka the skull and the gajahasta pose. Instead of the mithuna, quoit, pataka, He may hold the sword, vismaya and suet poses. His consort, with a face expressive of fear, wonder and love, stands with anjali on the left carrying in her left arm Murukan (Murugan), who, terrified at the sight catches hold of the breast and abdomen of his mother and this last feature reminds us of the Tripura Dance. In the fifth and the sixth, Shiva has only two eyes as in the Kalika dance.

In the seventh mode of dance, Shiva has 8 arms, but 3 eyes. The jatamandala is spread out. The right hands exhibit trident, noose, utukkai and abhaya pose whilst the left show skull, fire, gajahasta and vismaya poses. There is a bend in the body and the mother is standing on the left. The left leg of Shiva is placed upon the Apasmara and the right is lifted up fully stretched as far as the head.

The eighth form, an Urdhva Tandava, is similar to the seventh. Shiva has six instead of eight hands with abhaya pose, utukkai and trident on the right and gajahasta, vismaya and the skull on the left reminding us to that extent of the Uma Tandava.

The ninth reminds us of the Sandhya Tandava. Shiva has 4 arms, 3 eyes and jatamakuta. The hands on the right exhibit utukkai and abhaya pose, the hands on the left spear, fire and gajahasta pose. The left foot is not on any apasmara but on the pitha. The great toe of the right foot also rests upon the pitha, the left leg and the right leg making a cross as it were.

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