Tag Archives: Shiva

symbolism behind natarajasana

Image

Depicted in southern Indian art dating back to the 10th through 12th centuries, Shiva Nataraja dances at the center of the wheel of samsara, a cosmic ring of fire that symbolizes the eternal cycle of birth, life, and death.

The name Shiva derives from a Sanskrit root that means “liberation,” and liberation or freedom is what the dancing four-armed Shiva Nataraja expresses. He can’t stop the passage of time or the fire that surrounds him, but he can find bliss amid the chaos. His dreadlocks shake as he balances on the demon of avidya, or ignorance. In one of his hands, he holds a drum on which he beats the passage of time. Another hand holds a conch shell, recalling the power of the sound of Om that reverberates through the universe. In a third hand, the flame of vidya, or knowledge, reveals the internal light of our true nature. One of Shiva’s right hands is held up in Abhaya Mudra, a gesture of fearlessness. It’s the fearlessness that comes from knowing one’s own transcendent nature—that though the mortal form you inhabit will change and die, there is an energy within you that will continue on, like the pulsation of an atom or the light from the supernova of a dying star that reaches earth with its beauty.

Shiva’s heart is the center of the wheel; the hub that stabilizes him within the great cycles of cosmic change.  When you make the shape of the pose, you embody both the wheel of samsara and the hub. As you settle into this backbend, balanced steadily on your standing leg, your heart lifted and open, feel free to reach a hand forward in one of several positions. Either hold the hand up in a “stop in the name of love” kind of gesture that is the equivalent of the gesture of fearlessness that Shiva uses; or join the first finger and thumb in Jnana Mudra, the yogi’s “okay” symbol. Or simply turn the palm up in a gesture that signifies you are ready to surrender to the change that is afoot.

The beauty of working toward a difficult pose is that, in the best of circumstances, the desire for the form of the pose eventually falls away. Along the way, the fire of the practice may leave you free from desire for the final pose, as you embody steadiness and joy in your own Shiva’s dance.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal article Joy to the World by Alanna Kaivalya


kali

Image

The Dark Tantric Goddess by Rabi Behera

The worship of a mother goddess as the source of life and fertility has prehistoric roots, but the transformation of that deity into a Great goddess of cosmic powers was achieved with the composition of the Devi Mahatmya (Glory of the goddess), a text of the fifth to sixth century, when worship of the female principle took on dramatic new dimensions. The goddess is not only the mysterious source of life, she is the very soil, all-creating and all consuming.

Kali makes her ‘official’ debut in the Devi-Mahatmya, where she is said to have emanated from the brow of Goddess Durga (slayer of demons) during one of the battles between the divine and anti-divine forces. Etymologically Durga’s name means “Beyond Reach”. She is thus an echo of the woman warrior’s fierce virginal autonomy. In this context Kali is considered the ‘forceful’ form of the great goddess Durga.

Kali is represented as a Black woman with four arms; in one hand she has a sword, in another the head of the demon she has slain, with the other two she is encouraging her worshippers. For earrings she has two dead bodies and wears a necklace of skulls ; her only clothing is a girdle made of dead men’s hands, and her tongue protrudes from her mouth. Her eyes are red, and her face and breasts are besmeared with blood. She stands with one foot on the thigh, and another on the breast of her husband.

Kali’s fierce appearances have been the subject of extensive descriptions in several earlier and modern works. Though her fierce form is filled with awe- inspiring symbols, their real meaning is not what it first appears- they have equivocal significance:

Kali’s blackness symbolizes her all-embracing, comprehensive nature, because black is the color in which all other colors merge; black absorbs and dissolves them. ‘Just as all colors disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in her’ (Mahanirvana Tantra). Or black is said to represent the total absence of color, again signifying the nature of Kali as ultimate reality. This in Sanskrit is named as nirguna (beyond all quality and form). Either way, Kali’s black color symbolizes her transcendence of all form.

Kali’s nudity has a similar meaning. In many instances she is described as garbed in space or sky clad. In her absolute, primordial nakedness she is free from all covering of illusion. She is Nature (Prakriti in Sanskrit), stripped of ‘clothes’. It symbolizes that she is completely beyond name and form, completely beyond the illusory effects of maya (false consciousness). Her nudity is said to represent totally illumined consciousness, unaffected by maya. Kali is the bright fire of truth, which cannot be hidden by the clothes of ignorance. Such truth simply burns them away.

She is full-breasted; her motherhood is a ceaseless creation. Her disheveled hair forms a curtain of illusion, the fabric of space – time which organizes matter out of the chaotic sea of quantum-foam. Her garland of fifty human heads, each representing one of the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, symbolizes the repository of knowledge and wisdom. She wears a girdle of severed human hands- hands that are the principal instruments of work and so signify the action of karma. Thus the binding effects of this karma have been overcome, severed, as it were, by devotion to Kali. She has blessed the devotee by cutting him free from the cycle of karma. Her white teeth are symbolic of purity (Sattva), and her lolling tongue which is red dramatically depicts the fact that she consumes all things and denotes the act of tasting or enjoying what society regards as forbidden, i.e. her indiscriminate enjoyment of all the world’s “flavors”.

Kali’s four arms represent the complete circle of creation and destruction, which is contained within her. She represents the inherent creative and destructive rhythms of the cosmos. Her right hands, making the mudras of “fear not” and conferring boons, represent the creative aspect of Kali, while the left hands, holding a bloodied sword and a severed head represent her destructive aspect. The bloodied sword and severed head symbolize the destruction of ignorance and the dawning of knowledge. The sword is the sword of knowledge, that cuts the knots of ignorance and destroys false consciousness (the severed head). Kali opens the gates of freedom with this sword, having cut the eight bonds that bind human beings. Finally her three eyes represent the sun, moon, and fire, with which she is able to observe the three modes of time: past, present and future. This attribute is also the origin of the name Kali, which is the feminine form of ‘Kala’, the Sanskrit term for Time.

Kali’s dwelling place, the cremation ground denotes a place where the five elements (Sanskrit: pancha mahabhuta) are dissolved. Kali dwells where dissolution takes place. In terms of devotion and worship, this denotes the dissolving of attachments, anger, lust, and other binding emotions, feelings, and ideas. The heart of the devotee is where this burning takes place, and it is in the heart that Kali dwells. The devotee makes her image in his heart and under her influence burns away all limitations and ignorance in the cremation fires. This inner cremation fire in the heart is the fire of knowledge, (gyanagni), which Kali bestows.

The image of a recumbent Shiva lying under the feet of Kali represents Shiva as the passive potential of creation and Kali as his Shakti. The generic term Shakti denotes the Universal feminine creative principle and the energizing force behind all male divinity including Shiva. Shakti is known by the general name Devi, from the root ‘div’, meaning to shine. She is the Shining One, who is given different names in different places and in different appearances, as the symbol of the life-giving powers of the Universe. It is she that powers him. This Shakti is expressed as the i in Shiva’s name. Without this i, Shiva becomes Shva, which in Sanskrit means a corpse. Thus suggesting that without his Shakti, Shiva is powerless or inert.

Excerpts from Article Mother Goddess as Kali – The Feminine Force in Indian Art by Nitin Kumar


dance of shiva

Image

In the Hindu tradition, gods and goddesses dance as a way of expressing the dynamic energy of life. The image of Nataraja represents the god of gods, Shiva, as the Lord of the Dance, choreographing the eternal dance of the universe as well as more earthly forms such as Indian classical dance (which is said to have originated from his teachings). In Hindu mythology Shiva is also Yogiraj, the consummate yogi, who is said to have created more than 840,000 asanas, among them the hatha yoga poses we do today. While a cultural outsider may not relate to these mythic dimensions in a literal way, dancers in India revere the divine origins of their dances, which were revealed to the sage Bharata and transcribed by him into the classic text on dance drama, the Natya Shastra (circa 200 c.e.). What many practitioners of yoga do not know is that one of the central texts of yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, written around the same time, was also inspired by an encounter with Nataraja.

Srivatsa Ramaswami, Chennai-based yoga teacher, scholar, and longtime student of yoga master T. Krishnamacharya, includes a pivotal story of how Patanjali came to write the Yoga Sutra in his book Yoga for the Three Stages of Life. In Ramaswami’s account, Patanjali, a young man with a great yogic destiny, is drawn to leave home to do tapas (intensive meditation) and receive the darshana of Shiva’s dance. Eventually Shiva becomes so taken by Patanjali’s ekagrya (one-pointed focus) that he appears before Patanjali and promises to reveal his dance to the young yogi at Chidambaram, a Nataraja temple in present-day Tamil Nadu. At Chidambaram, Patanjali encounters a golden theater filled with many divine beings and sages. To Patanjali’s wonderment, Brahma, Indra, and Saraswati start to play their sacred instruments. Shiva then begins his ananda tandava (“dance of ultimate bliss”). As Ramaswami tells it, “The great tandava starts with a slow rhythm and in time reaches its crescendo. Engrossed completely in the divine dance, the great sages lose their separate identities and merge with the great oneness created by the tandava.” At the end of the dance, Shiva asks Patanjali to write the Mahabhasya, his commentaries on Sanskrit grammar, as well as the Yoga Sutra, the yogic text most widely used by Western yoga practitioners today.

Another area where dance and hatha yoga meet is in the actual sadhana (practice), where there are many parallels between the two arts in both the technique and spirit (bhava) of the dance. The tradition is passed from guru to shishya (student) in a live transmission; the teacher gives the proper adjustments and guides the students into the inner arts of the practice. All of Indian classical dance refers back to the Natya Shastra text for an elaborate classification of the form. If you thought the technique of asana was detailed, you should peruse the Natya Shastra: It not only describes all the movements of the major limbs (angas)—the head, chest, sides, hips, hands, and feet—but also offers a detailed description of the actions of the minor limbs (upangas)—including intricate movements of the eyebrows, eyeballs, eyelids, chin, and even the nose—to create specific moods and effects. As in hatha yoga, one begins with the basics of body mechanics and gradually moves toward the subtler aspects of the art.

The karanas, dance counterparts of asanas, are linked into a sequence known as angaharas. Ramaa Bharadvaj compares angaharas to the flowing yoga of vinyasa, in which the “dance” of yoga is experienced as the linking of one asana to the next through the breath. “Even though a posture can be held,” she says, “it is really part of a flow. It’s like the Ganges coming down from the Himalayas: Although it passes Rishikesh and then Varanasi, it doesn’t stop; it keeps flowing.” Like the alignment of asanas, the karanas are based on the center line of the body in relation to gravity and include not only placement of the body but also attention to the pathways of energies that flow through the body.

Ultimately, yoga is about connecting to the Big Dance, which one can experience either abstractly, through the lens of spiritual culture, or more intimately, as did physicist Fritjof Capra. In his book The Tao of Physics, he describes the experience he had while he was sitting on the beach and watching the waves, observing the interdependent choreography of life: “I ‘saw’ cascades of energy coming down . . . in which particles were created and destroyed. I ‘saw’ the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy. I felt its rhythm and ‘heard’ its sound and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva.”

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article The Divine Dance by Shiva Rea


lasya vinyasa

According to tantric lore, Shiva’s dance was first performed at Chidambaram, the mystical center of the universe. Within the microcosm of the human being, the center of the universe—the stage for this divine dance—correlates to the heart itself. Thus, the spirit of natarajasana inspires a fluid sequence that opens the heart and invites conscious awareness.

The term Lasya, in the context of Hindu mythology, describes the dance performed by Goddess Parvathi as it expresses happiness and is filled with grace and beauty. She is believed to have danced the Lasya in response to the male energy of the cosmic dance of Tandava performed by Lord Shiva. In a literal sense, Lasya means beauty, happiness and grace.

Lasya Vinyasa

From adho mukha shvanasana (downward-facing dog pose), move very slowly and in synchronization with the breath as follows:

Image

Inhaling, extend the right leg back and up, externally rotating the hip and bending the right knee, while rooting the left heel down.

Exhaling, release the right foot to the floor about mat-distance to the left of the left foot, toes pointing backward.

lasya_2

Inhaling, sweep the right arm around in a wide counter-clockwise circular motion toward the sky.

Exhaling, continue the arm movement to bring the right hand back to the mat.

Inhaling, extend the right leg back and up to its original elevated position in three-legged downward-facing dog.

Image

Exhaling, draw the shoulders over the wrists as you move toward plank pose, while drawing the right knee toward the chest; then extend the right leg to the left, crossing it underneath the left leg at a 90-degree angle and planting the outer edge of the foot on the floor.

Inhaling, root the left heel in and down and the right hand evenly into the floor, while sweeping the left arm up and around in a wide clockwise circular motion toward the sky

Exhaling, continue the circular motion of the arm to release the left hand back to the mat.

Repeat on the other side before resting in adho mukha shvanasana.

 A Heart Opening Sequence for Natarajasana by Mark Stephens


myth origin: ardha chandra chapasana – sugarcane pose

Image

Kama, in the mythology of India, the god of love. During the Vedic age (2nd millennium–7th century bce), he personified cosmic desire, or the creative impulse, and was called the firstborn of the primeval Chaos that makes all creation possible. In later periods he is depicted as a handsome youth, attended by heavenly nymphs, who shoots love-producing flower-arrows. His bow is of sugarcane, his bowstring a row of bees. Once directed by the other gods to arouse Shiva’s passion for Parvati, he disturbed the great god’s meditation on a mountaintop. Enraged, Shiva burned him to ashes with the fire of his third eye. Thus, he became Ananga (Sanskrit: “the Bodiless”). Some accounts say Shiva soon relented and restored him to life after the entreaties of Kama’s wife, Rati. Others hold that Kama’s subtle bodiless form renders him even more deftly omnipresent than he would be if constrained by bodily limitation.

From Encyclopaedia Britannica Article Kama


virabhadra

Origins of Virabhadrasana

Shiva: Shiva and family with Nandi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shiva and his family at the burning ground.  Parvati, Shiva’s wife, holds Skanda while watching Ganesa (left) and Shiva string together the skulls of the dead.  The bull Nandi rests behind the tree.  Kangra painting, 18th century; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Kumara sambhava ( Sanskrit: “Birth of Kumara”) is an epic poem by Kalidasa written in the 5th century ce. The work describes the courting of the ascetic Shiva, who is meditating in the mountains, by Parvati, the daughter of the Himalayas; the conflagration of Kama (the god of desire)—after his arrow struck Shiva—by the fire from Shiva’s third eye; the wedding and lovemaking of Shiva and Parvati; and the subsequent birth of Kumara (Skanda), the war god.

Virabhadrasana is commonly known as Warrior Pose.  In Light on Yoga, Iyengar tells the story of Kumara sambhava, which he gives as the origin of this asana’s name:

Daksa once celebrated a great sacrifice, but he did not invite his daughter Sati nor her husband Siva, the chief of the gods. Sati, however, went to the sacrifice, but being greatly humiliated and insulted threw herself into the fire and perished. When Siva heard this he was gravely provoked, tore a hair from his matted locks and threw it to the ground. A powerful hero named Virabhadra rose up and awaited his orders. He was told to lead Siva’s army against Daksa and destroy his sacrifice. Virabhadra and his army appeared in the midst of Daksa’s assembly like a hurrican and destroyed the sacrifice, routed the other gods and priests and beheaded Daksa. Siva in grief for Sati withdrew to Kailas and plunged into meditation. Sati was born again as Uma in the house of Himalaya. She strove once more for the love of Siva and ultimately won his heart. The story is told by Kalidasa in his great poem Kumara sambhava (The Birth of the War-Lord).

Sreenivasarao S. provides additional insight into the mythological Virabhadra:

  • Virabhadra the auspicious hero raging like flaming fire is Shiva‘s ferocious instrument for destruction of ignorance, ritualism and dogma. Virabhadra, the Great Warrior,is the sublimation of Shiva’s impatience and anger; the embodiment of his resolute might; and is therefore regarded an aspect of Shiva in blazing mood burning down delusion and falsehood (samhara –murti).
  • Virabhadra also symbolizes the sharp incisive power of discrimination, potent in each of us, to sever  attachments to conceited values, misplaced faith and the routines that we all run through thoughtlessly.  He points out to our adulation of that which should not be esteemed; and to our neglect of that which ought to be valued.  Virabhadra’s message is to open our heart, to embrace everything that life has given us, without fear or prejudice.
  • Shiva represents pure-consciousness (jnana shakthi); Devi is the creative energy, the thought within his consciousness, the will to intend an act (itccha shakthi); and Virabhadra is the power of action (kriya-shakthi) the determined might to transform that will into an act.  Virabhadra, the action-hero, personifies implicit faith, absolute devotion and reverence as also the ruthless efficiency in carrying out the command of his creator.
  • The origin and the relevance of Virabhadra have to be appreciated in the context of the running feud between Daksha and Shiva spread over many eons, manvantara.  The two mighty personages represent two different realities, two divergent faiths, two separate streams of understanding and two opposed world orders.  Daksha meaning ‘able, competent, skilled in performing rituals’, is rooted in the propriety and the relevance of elaborate rituals; and in their techniques as prescribed in the scriptures.  Shiva, in contrast, was beyond the pale of normal society; and stood for everything that Daksha dreaded.  Shiva was a Vratya, and the most distinguished among them, Ekavratya, an unorthodox hermit, who lived by his own rules, not always acceptable to traditional society.  He refused to conform to the ways of the world.