Tandav - The Cosmic Dance of Lord Shiva

Tandav - The Cosmic Dance of Lord Shiva

Deepthi K

Hindus refer to Lord Shiva as the cosmic dancer. The cosmic dance is known as tandav. Performed with brisk and vigorous movements, it symbolises five core aspects of the universe—liberation, illusion, creation, destruction, and preservation. Shiva is primarily associated with two types of tandav viz., rudra tandav and ananda tandav

Shiva is said to have performed rudra tandav in the court of King Daksha in reaction to the loss of his first wife Sati, who had immolated herself due to the insults she received at her father’s hands. 

Shiva first performed his ananda tandav on earth in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. According to legend, Shiva and Vishnu, in the form of a mendicant and his consort Mohini, were once roaming through a mangrove forest here where some sages and their wives were performing some rituals using magic. The ladies were enchanted by the handsome mendicant. This enraged the sages and they invoked a few serpents, a tiger, an elephant, and a demon one after the other to kill the mendicant. Shiva killed the animals and immobilised the demon with a smile. He went on to perform the Ananda Tandav and finally revealed himself. Today, the place where he performed the tandav is a mandap in the famous Nataraj temple in the town and hosts the annual dance festival called Natyanjali during Maha Shivaratri. 


Read on to know more about these two dance forms of the lord.

Rudra Tandav

Rudra tandav is the dance performed by Lord Shiva in a state of anger. This dance is called the dance of destruction and represents the destruction of the cosmos. However, the destruction is done in a constructive sense. It portrays the release of anger suppressed inside an individual and the elimination of evil within to help attain moksha without going through the cycle of birth and death.

Shiva is depicted to be dancing in a state of fury when he performs the rudra tandav in the form of Rudra. He transforms himself into a vicious form that highlights his violent nature. The dance starts with portraying him as the creator of the universe and moves on to depicting him as its destroyer or as death. 

According to mythology, there are wild thunderstorms everywhere in the universe and all the stellar bodies are crushed when the lord performs this dance. This dance is said to affect the stability of the entire universe directly leading to large-scale destruction.

Ananda Tandav

Lord Shiva is said to perform ananda tandav or the dance of bliss in a happy or joyful mood in the form of Natraj. Natraj is portrayed to be performing his tandav in a circle of flames indicating that the universe is under his control. The flames also denote the cosmic fire that can create or destroy anything.

He has a skull among the strands of his hair locks that sway wildly with his moves. The skull represents the defeat over death. His eyes represent the sun and the moon while the third eye is the symbol of knowledge.

His right upper hand has an hour glass shaped drum called a dumroo. Shiva dances to the rhythm of the sound produced from the dumroo and recreates the universe with his moves. The lower right hand is held in the abhaya mudra with the fingers facing upwards and the palm outward signifying the fear not gesture.

His upper left hand has a vessel of fire. The flames from this fire engulf the sins of an individual and free him/her from the bonds of illusion. The lower right hand is stretched across the chest like an elephant’s trunk. It’s bent at the wrist with the fingers pointing downwards to indicate concealment.

His left leg is raised with the foot positioned flat to bestow eternal bliss on anyone who approaches him. The right leg is shown stamping the dwarf demon Apasmara who is considered to represent ignorance.

Some people associate seven types of tandav with the lord. However, there are also those who insist that there are at least 16 dance forms. Irrespective of the discrepancy, Hindus agree without dispute that the rudra tandav and ananda tandav are the most popular tandav. They depict the lord in two extreme states of mind. In other words, they mirror two diverse but distinct natures of Lord Shiva.