Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja)

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Tamil Nadu

Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja), Chola period, c. 10th/11th century

69.3 x 61.8 x 24.1 cm (27 1/4 x 24 1/4 x 9 1/2 in.)
Kate S. Buckingham Fund, 1965.1130

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.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2013, p. 116.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Chicago, Ill, Art Institute of Chicago, Gallery 135, June 24, 2005-November 21, 2008.

Publication History

The Essential Guide (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2013), p.116.

The Essential Guide (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2009), p.102.

Tanya Treptow, Shiva Nataraja, "The Silk Road and Beyond: Travel, Trade and Transformation", Museum Studies, 33, 1 (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007), pp. 42-3.

The Essential Guide, rev. ed. (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2003), p. 88.

Pratapaditya Pal, Sculptures from South India in Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Studies, 22, 1 (1996), p. 26, fig. 6.

The Essential Guide (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1993), p. 88.

Recent Acquisitions of Asian Art by American Museums, Archives of Asian Art (1965-66), p. 85, fig 5.

Ownership History

Sold to the Art Institute of Chicago by William H. Wolff Incorporated, New York City, September 15, 1965.