Arudra, also known Thiruvathirai is a festival celebrated in South India, especially in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This festival celebrates the Cosmic Dance of Shiva, Tandava.
Arudra – Ananda Tandava
There are many types of Tandava dance, the prominent ones being Ananda Tandava or blissful dance and Rudra Tandava or a fierce dance. Rudra Tandava is associated with Rudra, the destructive form of Shiva, while the Ananda Tandava is associated with the blissful form of Shiva, also called Arudra, i.e A-Rudra – opposite of Rudra. This festival being called Arudra implies that this festival is observed to commemorate the Ananda Tandava of Shiva.
Arudra is also a star in the sky. The Betelgeuse star, in Orion constellation is known as Arudra, in Indian Astronomy. This star is linked with Shiva. And as per Indian legends, there is a tale of Shiva chasing a deer. Shiva is very closely associated with a deer or Mrga. And we find the same thing being depicted in the skies.
What is Tandava?
Shiva is a Universal phenomenon, a formless phenomenon, a Cosmic form and the body of the cosmos itself. His dance is therefore nothing but the dance of the cosmos itself. The icon of Shiva in dance pose is known as Nataraja. Nataraja today adorns the lawns of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, in Switzerland, the centre in Europe researching on creation.
Nataraja in CERN
The classic piece of this iconography of Nataraja is in the Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu. This temple is one of the PanchaBhutha temples where it represents the Akasha, Space concept. It was sculpted during the Chola period around 1000 years ago when iconography was at its zenith. Chola art, that too bronze art is considered to be very refined.
Nataraja idol, Chidambaram
Of all these Chola bronze works, Nataraja is considered to be a cut above all other forms.
And of all the Nataraja figurines, the Nataraja icon in Chidambaram is considered to be par excellence.
Nataraja – Path to Bliss
Nataraja is the divinity who dispels ignorance and shows the path for true bliss or Ananda. This realization and understanding is what this Ananda Tandava Nrttya of Nataraja is expected to convey to those who see this idol. This is also the message of the Arudra festival.
More on Arudra, Shiva and Tandava in our book and film, “Understanding Shiva”.