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Shiva as Lord of Dance (Nataraja), 11th century

India: Tamil Nadu, 1000-1099
32-3/4 x 24 x 11-1/2 in. (83.2 x 61.0 x 29.2 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

Shiva as the Lord of Dance (Nataraja) is the quintessential deity of the Tamil country of south India. Extant examples in stone and bronze suggest that the Nataraja icon developed in the early 10th century, during the Chola dynasty. However, devotional hymns mention the dancing form of Shiva as early as the sixth century. Appar, a seventh-century Shaiva saint, describes the beauty of Shiva’s dance of bliss:

If you could see
the arch of his brow,
the budding smile
on lips as red as the kovvai fruit,
cool matted hair,
the milk-white ash on coral skin,
and the sweet golden foot
raised up in dance,
then even human birth on this wide earth
would become a thing worth having.

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