Shiva as 'cosmic dancer':on Pallava origins of the Nataraja bronze.

Publication Type:

Journal Articles


World Archaeology, Taylor & Francis Ltd, Volume 36, Number 3, p.432–450 (2004)



archaeometallurgy, bronze, cosmic dance, Nataraja, Pallava, Shiva, Tamil poems.


This paper explores the origins of the Nataraja cult in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India. The trajectory of the dancing Shiva is traced: from the processional worship of metal icons outside the sanctum to the cultic elevation of the Nataraja bronze into the sanctum at Chidambaram. Archaeometallurgical, iconographic and literary evidence discussed shows that the Nataraja bronze, depicting Shiva?s anandatandava or ?dance of bliss?, was a Pallava innovation (seventh to mid-ninth century), rather than tenth-century Chola as widely believed. That this formulation was informed of ?cosmic? or metaphysical connotations is also argued on the basis of the testimony of the hymns of Tamil saints.


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