Shiva Nataraja – LACMA / Wikimedia Commons

The most famous form of Shiva is the Lord of the Dance, ‘Nataraja’, the form in which all other forms of Shiva are included. In one sublime pose, in one movement, one dance, is described the whole process of life and death, of ignorance and understanding. Ananda Coomaraswamy remarks: “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. … Its deepest significance is felt when it is realized that it takes place within the heart and the self.” This is Shiva’s secret, buried in what is our most intimate and well known experience: consciousness. It is said that this dance encompasses all of our human experience and the spiritual processes at work on the path to realising our true nature. Indian ancient scriptures divide them in five, namely creation, preservation, destruction, veiling, and grace. I have gathered here many quotes and pointers from various spiritual teachers and poets, that remind us of the eternal truth behind Shiva’s main appearances. Let’s have a taste of it or, in more Indian terms, feel the significance and rasa of Shiva’s eternal dance:


O my Lord, Thy hand holding the sacred drum 
has made and ordered the heavens and earth 
and other worlds and innumerable souls. 
Thy lifted hand protects both the conscious and unconscious order of thy creation. 
All these worlds are transformed by Thy hand bearing fire. 
Thy sacred foot, plated on the ground, 
gives an abode to the tired soul 
struggling in the toils of causality.
It is Thy lifted foot that grants eternal bliss 
to those that approach Thee.
These Five-Actions are indeed Thy Handiwork
~ Chidambara Mummani Kovai




When the Actor beateth the drum,
Everybody cometh to see the show;
When the Actor collecteth the stage properties
He abideth alone in His happiness
~ Manikkavacakar (9th-century Tamil poet)




Shiva, the Great Yogi’:

When we say ‘Shiva’, there are two fundamental aspects that we are referring to. The word ‘Shiva’ means literally, ‘that which is not’. Today, modern science is proving to us that everything comes from nothing and goes back to nothing. The basis of existence and the fundamental quality of the cosmos is vast nothingness. The galaxies are just a small happening – a sprinkling. The rest is all vast empty space, which is referred to as Shiva. That is the womb from which everything is born, and that is the oblivion into which everything is sucked back. Everything comes from Shiva and goes back to Shiva.”
~ Sadhguru


The reason for removing or letting go of all objective experience, all thoughts, images, feelings, sensations and perceptions is to reveal that aspect of the mind that cannot be removed from itself, that cannot be let go of, that is to reveal the essential, irreducible essence of mind. That essential, irreducible essence of mind is inherently free of all objective qualities.” 
~ Rupert Spira




Consciousness does not just perceive Reality.
It is Reality
~ Rupert Spira



Bhairava, the terribly fearful’:

Suffering depends upon ignorance, that is, the ignoring of the true nature of experience. It thrives on inadvertence. It cannot stand being clearly seen. It vanishes like a shadow when light is shone on it. It can never be found. That is why in India they refer to the ‘illusion of ignorance’ rather than simply ‘ignorance’.”
~ Rupert Spira


Understanding destroys [the] false beliefs once and for all and with their destruction the mind’s armoury is slowly dismantled until all that is left is open unknowing.” 
~ Rupert Spira




Shiva-Shakti, the Tantric Approach’:

As we grow in our understanding, it becomes clear that the essential numinous empty openness of the mind is not just present behind the objects of experience, but that it is present within all experience. And at this point in our understanding our fight with experience comes to an end. The thoughts, images, feelings, sensations and perceptions which once seemed to veil the inherent peace and freedom of our mind are now felt to shine with it. The image which once seemed to veil reality, now shines with reality. The veiling power of experience is transformed into a revealing power. Shakti is no longer Shiva’s temptress, she is his lover.”
~ Rupert Spira


The source of all that is, is the Infinite Possibility, the Supreme Reality, which is in you and which throws its power and light and love on every experience.”
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj


Pure knowing is Shiva. Thinking, sensing and perceiving are Shakti. Shakti emerges out of Shiva but never leaves Shiva. Shakti dances in Shiva. Thinking, sensing and perceiving emerge, not out of pure knowing but within pure knowing, and dance in knowing.”
~ Rupert Spira


If I make a distinction between Shiva, as the creator, and Shakti, as the creation, there is still a duality. The resolution of this duality is Parabrahman. In this resolution Shiva gives himself into Shakti. It is like a banyan seed that grows into an immense tree. The great tree is the manifestation, Shakti. The tiny seed, the invisible seed, stands for the origin, Shiva. It is not that Shiva and Shakti exist independently of each other; rather Shiva has become Shakti, and then Shakti becomes Shiva. That’s what Jesus means when, talking about the light, he says, ‘It is a movement and a repose.’ The movement is Shakti and the repose is the presence.”
~ Francis Lucille


Knowing is bathed in this colourful wash called ‘thinking-sensing-hearing-seeing’. In fact, it is this knowing that vibrates within itself at a particular frequency and assumes the colours, the forms of ‘thinking-sensing-hearing-seeing’. ‘Thinking-sensing-hearing-seeing’ is just another name for pure knowing. Shiva has become Shakti. Shakti has become Shiva. In fact, they haven’t become one another, because they were always identical to one another, always married, always in love. Only thought seemed to separate them.” 
~ Rupert Spira


Look at the mechanism. As long as you live in like and dislike, the pain-pleasure structure, you’ll find resistance. Ultimate satisfaction comes when the perceiver loses all volition. When attention loses its grasping, volitional quality, the perceived is freed and dissolved in the perceiver. But the perceiver must first be free of all will in order for the perceived to be released. In the Kashmir tradition the perceiver is Shiva and the perceived is Parvati, or Shakta and Shakti. When Shakta still retains residues of will and Shakti is not completely freed, you have the moment which may be compared with St. John of the Cross’s ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, where the object no longer interests you but is still not completely unfolded. Energy is not freely flowing. It is a terrible period where volition has lost its dynamism, the world has lost its charm, but energy is not fully integrated. It is important to see that resistance is only an idea. The image of being somebody is very deeply rooted. It is the image which refuses.”
~ Jean Klein


In marriage you are neither the husband nor the wife; you are the love between the two.” 
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj


Pure knowing is outrageously promiscuous. He sleeps with everyone he comes in contact with. He makes love with everyone and everything, intimately and indiscriminately. He’s not choosey. If she shows up as Shakti, that’s fine. If she shows up as Kali, that’s fine.”
~ Rupert Spira


Don’t let thought tell you a story about a mind, a body or a world. See that Shiva and Shakti are at all moments happily married. It is only one of their offspring, a single thought, an adolescent thirteen-year-old boy, who causes conflit between them and seems to separate them.”
~ Rupert Spira




Just as an artist cannot contain his delight within himself,
but pours it out into a song, or a poem,
even so Parama Siva pours out the delightful wonder of
His splendour into manifestation
~ Kshemaraja (Translation Jaideva Singh)



Nataraja, the Lord of Dance’:

It is our essential nature of pure Knowing that, modulating itself in the form of thinking, seems to become a mind; modulating itself in the form of sensing, seems to become a body; and modulating itself in the form of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling, seems to become a world; but never is, knows or becomes anything other than itself. … This process of evolution and involution is the dance of Oneness, That Which Cannot Be Named taking shape and dissolving, vibrating in every nuance of experience and dissolving itself into itself, transparent, open, empty and luminous.” 
~ Rupert Spira


The dancing foot, the sound of the tinkling bells, 
The songs that are sung and the varying steps, 
The form assumed by our Dancing Gurupara — 
Find out these within yourself, then shall your fetters fall away
~ Tirumular (Tamil Shaivite mystic)




Dakshinamurti, the Supreme Guru’:

Only in the beginning of penetrating the highest Truth one distinguishes between both aspects (Shiva and Shakti)“. 
~ Vijñana Bhairava Tantra (Treatise on Self Realization)




Smaller photos by Alain Joly

Speaking of Shiva: A playful exploration into Shiva’s many identities.
Shiva Nataraja: A Study in Myth, Iconography, and the Meaning of a Sacred Symbol – by Richard Stromer, Ph.D.

– ‘Being Aware of Being Aware’ – by Rupert Spira – (Sahaja Publications)
– ‘Transparent Body, Luminous World’ – by Rupert Spira (Box Set with 6 CDs – Sahaja Publications)
– ‘The Dance of Shiva: Fourteen Essays’ – by Ananda Coomaraswamy – (Rupa & Co)

Shiva (Wikipedia)
Shivas Sahasranama (1000 names of Shiva)
Nataraja (Wikipedia)

Rupert Spira
Francis Lucille
Ananda Coomaraswamy

List of Websites


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