Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja)

India, Tamil Nadu10th/11th century

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago, United States

Shiva, one of the most important Hindu divinities, is here depicted as the Lord of the Dance (“nataraja”), an iconic image in Indian art. Shiva’s cosmic dance sets in motion the rhythm of life and death; it pervades the universe, as symbolized by the ring of fire that is filled with the loose, snakelike locks of the god’s hair. One pair of his arms balances the flame of destruction and the hand drum (“damaru”) that beats the rhythm of life, while another performs symbolic gestures: the raised right hand means “Fear not,” and the left hand (“gajahasta”) pointing down toward his raised left foot signifies release from the ignorance that hinders realization of the ultimate reality. Shiva is shown perfectly balanced, with his right leg planted on the demon of darkness (“apasmara”), stamping out ignorance. The tiny figure of the personified river goddess, Ganga, is caught up in his matted flowing locks. Hindus believe that Shiva breaks the fall of the great Ganges River as it descends from the Himalayas by standing beneath the waters, which divide over his hair, becoming the seven holy rivers of India. This classic bronze comes from the Chola period in the south of India. Icons such as this were carried in procession during religious ceremonies.


  • Title: Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja)
  • Creator: India, Tamil Nadu
  • Date Created: 10th/11th century
  • Physical Dimensions: 69.3 × 61.8 × 24.1 cm (27 1/4 × 24 1/4 × 9 1/2 in.)
  • Type: Sculpture
  • External Link: The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Media: Bronze, The Art Institute of Chicago, Kate S. Buckingham Fund, 1965.1130
  • Culture/Place: India, Tamil Nadu
  • Artist: India, Tamil Nadu

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps