Nataraja is synonymous to Indian art. Dancers worship him and artisans are never tired of carving him in stone or fashioning him in metal.

His form fascinated Chola Kings of yore. Modern art collectors have spent millions in acquiring his timeworn antique statues.

Nataraja – the king of dancers, is Shiva.

Another form of Shiva precedes his Nataraja form. The Bhikshatana Shiva – Alms collecting Shiva.

Going back in time to a nameless eon, there lived in a forest a congregation of rishis who were masters in Vedic ritualism. They were unfalteringly devoted to ritual and their wives were purest of women, true to their husbands.

These rishis could achieve anything. They could command nature and mould destiny through Vedic rituals. Consequently they declared Karma supreme and Ishvara redundant. When Karma could achieve everything why Ishvara?

They all turned Naastik (atheists), their wives included.

All was well before a strange couple entered their dwelling. A handsome youth; unabashedly naked, accompanied by an enchantress.

The woman went among the rishis and the man went to their hermitages, going hut-to-hut begging their wives alms.

He would formally ask for alms, collect them indifferently and then move on. His beauty mesmerized the women. Their intense desire for this man melted their fidelity to their husbands in no time. All their merit evaporated.

Their husbands on the other hand were already fighting among themselves over the enchantress, who was really Vishnu in his Mohini form.

She then suddenly disappeared from among the commotion and rishis realized it all to be a trick. Enraged they went looking for the man and found him surrounded with their wives fussing over him.

Seeing their chaste wives behaving like available women in his company, they decided to destroy the young man.

They invoked sacrificial fire right on the spot and created a tiger that was anger embodied.

The youth tackled the pouncing tiger, ripped off his skin and covered him with it.

The rishis then created a fierce cobra that was violence personified. The boy calmly picked it up and wore it around his neck.

Finally they created Apasmara. A mean dwarf, dark and fat. He was utter ignorance that made all living beings experience fear and death.

The boy picked him up and threw on the ground. He crushed Apasmara with his foot and revealing his true Shiva form started dancing on him joyfully.

He smiled benignly at the rishis and their wives, instantly ridding them of their petty pride. They saw all ritual and karma grounded in Ishvara.

Shiva’s form was breathtaking.

His hair was flowing with the energy of his dance. The mighty Ganga, frolicking within seemed like a droplet. Young crescent moon on his forehead shone like an ornament.

All the worlds rushed to witness lord’s dance, the Ananda Taandava.

Nandi drummed to the rhythm of his dance. Vishnu played flute, Brahma clanked cymbals and Indra clapped. Shesha Naga prayed to be born so he could witness Ananda Taandava again in another event.

Lord’s dance is described in Natya Shastra, the ancient treatise by Rishi Bharata. It is called Bharat Natyam.