The great writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, The Perennial Philosophy and The Doors of Perception, describes the "Dancing Shiva" - Nataraja of the Hindu tradition and its immense significance and comprehensiveness. This is from an interview with Mr. Huxley which was done in 1961 in London and was recorded and distributed under the title "Speaking Personally".
The Nataraja image shown here is the one on permanent display at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the huge particle accelerator/collider that recently discovered the Higgs Boson, a fundamental breakthrough in physics.
When you think of the staggering symbols that the Indians produced, I mean, the Dancing Shiva for example, we have never produced anything as comprehensive as this. The Dancing Shiva, those little bronze statues, it is the Shiva with four arms dancing with one foot raised. Well, I go into the details, they are really quite extraordinary. The figure stands within a great circle, sort of halo, which has flames going out of them, the symbols of flame and this is the circle of mass energy, space, time, I mean this is the material world. The great world of all embracing material world with its flames, within this Shiva dances. He is called Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, and he dances. He is everywhere in the universe. This is his dance, the manifestation of the world called his Leela, his play. His sense of reign upon the just and the unjust and he is not beyond good and evil, of course, it is all an immense manifestation of play. He has this long hair, which is the hair of the yogi, contemplative and it streams out to the limits of the universe. Therefore, this sort of yogic knowledge of this contemplation includes everything.
He has four arms. In the upper right arm, he holds a little drum, which is the drum which summons things into creation, you beat upon this drum things come into existence. In his left arm he holds a fire, which is what destroys everything. He both creates and destroys. His lower right hand is held up in this attitude, which means be not afraid in spite of everything, it is all right. The other hand points down at his feet and one foot is planted squarely on the back of a repulsive dwarf, this infinitely powerful dwarf called Muyalaka, who is the ego, and he has to break the back of the ego, you see. What he is really pointing at is the other foot, which is raised, and this means this foot is raised against gravitation and is the symbol of spiritual contemplation. The whole thing is there, you see. The world of space and time, and matter and energy, the world of creation and destruction, the world of psychology, I mean, how do you get out of this, I mean, if you don’t break the back of the ego you are lost, and if you don’t practice contemplation, there will be no liberation for you. I mean, we don’t have anything remotely approaching such a comprehensive symbol, which is both cosmic and psychological, and spiritual.
It is really most unfortunate that we have such miserable symbols. This is a part of the regular Hinduism, that is specifically Shiva and then one of the manifestation of course is called Bhairava of Shiva, who is also dancing, but he dances in cemeteries to remind us that the dance of life isn’t always spiritually, I mean, that he dances just as much in misery and death as in life in relation. This has to be accepted and of course again it is only by the lifted foot that we can accept it. I mean it is actually is in completely compatible with the modern scientific idea. I mean, it includes the world you see of mass, energy, space, and time, and the idea of the infinite energy dancing timelessly and forever through this world, dancing through human mentality too, I mean, that the world is felt to be, of course a kind of outrage because the play goes on even inside ourselves although we are senti and beings, and yet the hand is raised, everything is finally all right in spite of everything if as Buddha says, ‘I will show you sorrow in the ending of sorrow.’ The ending of sorrow is putting your foot on the back of the dwarf and raising the other foot against gravity into the state of contemplation. The whole thing is there stated in this single, extremely elegant, I mean, these Shiva images from the south of India are very, very elegant, they are the most beautiful pieces of sculpture, the best of them. But it is a shame that we don’t have any good symbols like this to remind us who we are and what we can do about it of anything.
No, we are very, very poor in it, I mean, we have some of the Christian symbols which are not really, which simple [indiscernible] symbol of the cross is fairly good, but it doesn’t take into account this sort of cosmic side of life. I mean, it doesn’t take in regard mass energy, space and time, which is essential. It doesn’t take into account, I mean, as it stands it doesn’t take into account the importance of contemplation. I mean, there are other symbols of course within Christianity which do, but a single comprehensive symbol like the Shiva symbol, we do not have and it is very unfortunate.
This whole business of the organized manipulation of symbols, I mean, the human mind is a symbolific instrument, it exists to manufacture symbols and turn immediate experience into symbols with the purpose of managing in fairly convenient way. The question is, can we get on with fairly scientific symbols, realistic symbols, and then concentrate on the immediate experience. I don’t know. I mean, I simply don’t know whether this is possible, as I thought general attitude towards the world. I think it is certainly possible isolated into videos, but whether in fact, it will turn out be something which appeals to great numbers of people, I have no idea.
(Transcribed by Sastha Prakash)
Shiva Nataraja (Lord of Dance)
India, Tamil Nadu
Chola period, 11th century bronze
Guimet Museum, Paris.