Indian statues often appear baroque, folkloric... in any case most of the time confusing: some see in them the expression of a naive world, not to say backward, primitive world based on irrational beliefs that our scientific western world, impregnated with the Age of Enlightenment and objective reason, has long since surpassed. Others may be amazed by a totally different expression that may seem to come from a dreamlike imagination: bird man (Garuda), man with an elephant head (Ganesh), deities with arms or multiple faces (Ganesh, Hanuman...), gods represented in animal form (Hanuman, the monkey God) or in various forms: Shiva Yogi, Shiva Nataraja, Shiva Lingam. ..and taking many names: Maharadjah, Mahesvara, Mahesha: great god or great lord, Pashupati, master of the herds, Yogarâja, master of yoga, Shankara, the one who gives bliss, Shambhu, the blessed one... Just to mention just one of them.
In the same way, the deities are accompanied by animals that are unusual or even incongruous, to say the least: snakes, rats (Ganesh's mount), geese, sea monsters... not to mention the famous sacred cow!
Moreover, Indian sacred art is not only confused by its forms but also by the multitude and flamboyance of its colours: the deities are represented with multiple colours, often vivid and sometimes not closely related to reality: the blue face and body of Shiva, of Krishna... because blue symbolizes courage, the capacity to overcome the forces of blindness; the orange very present in India represents the fire that destroys ignorance, that allows renewal and purification.
In fact, what is important in the representation of a deity in India is not the resemblance with reality (when it is possible, for example for Shiva, yogi or Parvati his parèdre...) but the message that is transmitted through this sacred image (called Murti in India).
In fact, the important thing in the representation of a divinity in India, it is not the resemblance with reality (when it is possible, for example for Shiva, yogi or Parvati its parèdre…) but the message which is transmitted through this sacred image (called Murti in India).
Thus everything is codified, each form taken by a deity has a very precise meaning: each name of a deity corresponds to one of the aspects of the absolute and this divine manifestation will show characteristics proper to the teaching linked to it. This form will take a posture, accomplish gestures, put on ornaments, colors, wear attributes and weapons, be accompanied by an environment, mounts that transmit a very precise message.
The example of the statue of Shiva Natajara
In this form, which is of the purest Chola style - South India (9° to 13° A.D.), Shiva is represented as a cosmic dancer: what is emphasized in this aspect is movement: life is movement, ceaselessly, birth/death cycles are at work: it is an evidence for biologists, scientists, cells of our body die at every moment and new ones are born and so on, continuously. This is also true in existence: a day begins, it ends, the baby gives way for the young child who makes way for the teenager and then the young adult...
Posture: Shiva Nataraja is represented standing dancing: this dance represents movement, perpetual renewal.
Gestures : right arm and bent elbow holding the Damaru (drum) : the sound of the damaru represents the primordial sound, the one that generates a new beginning but also the rhythmic impulse of the universe in opposition to the left hand that deploys the fire that destroys and renews.
These two symbols placed in opposition underline the incessant movement of creation/destruction that constantly animates life.
The second right arm, elbow bent with the hand makes the gesture of protection (shrishti), of the absence of fear.
The left foot of Shiva crushes the dwarf Apasmâra who represents ignorance and oblivion (of our true nature), the raised right foot represents refuge from the turmoils of the world (in connection with Shrishti of the hand) and grace.
Face and hairstyle: The face is serene, immutable in the midst of this whirlwind, it symbolizes peace in the midst of turmoil, our divine nature not subject to the vagaries of existence. The high bun symbolizes the divine nature of Shiva.
Clothing: Shiva wears the sacred cord (yajnopavita) - he is only dressed with a loincloth symbolizing movement. Shiva is often depicted naked or simply dressed in animal skin: the message conveyed is the necessary stripping of the spiritual seeker who embarks on the path of discovery of his true nature.
Attributes and weapons: the wheel of fire or wheel of the universe (birth/destruction).
It is one more symbolic image: to be free, we must cross the circle of flames, that is to say, burn the inner obstacles that prevent us from seeing our true nature that is already present. It is a powerful symbol of inner purification.
In a statue, in an image, the teachings can be numerous, that of Shiva Nataraja, is particularly rich in symbols, hence his fame. The role of the Brahmins, the sages, is among others to transmit and explain these symbols. The Indians are bathed in this tradition, every day, they venerate their Ishata Devata in order to remember the divine essence of life.