India, Tamil Nadu
H. 26 3/4 x W. 21 1/2 x D. 10 in. (H. 67.9 cm)
Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, 1979.20
One form of the Hindu god Shiva, Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Shiva Nataraja), is particularly associated with the reign of the Chola rulers of South India. According to one myth, Shiva visited a group of sages in order to punish them for the inadequacies of their devotion. In an attempt to resist Shiva, the sages threw weapons at him: a tiger, snakes, fire, a drum, a skull, and the demon of ignorance. Shiva subdued all of these. As a result, Shiva as Lord of the Dance is shown standing atop a demon dwarf and wearing snakes around his arms and shoulders and a striped garment, the remnants of the tiger, around his hips. In his upper left hand he holds the fire and he uses the drum, seen in his upper right hand, to beat the rhythm of his victory dance. The fire and Shiva's dancing pose also refer to his role as the creator and destroyer of the universe. Above Shiva's right hand is a small image of Ganga, the personification of the Ganges River, with her hands in the gesture of prayer (anjalimudra). This figure refers to the story of how the Ganges River, which originally flowed in the heavens, came to flow on earth. When the gods permitted it to come down, in answer to the prayers of a yogi, Shiva agreed to break the crushing fall of its descent to earth by catching it in his hair.