Shiva – the artistic side of Hinduism

In Samskrit, Shiva is generally defined as “शं करोति इति शंकरः”(Sham karoti iti shamkarah). शं meaning Welfare or Good. In Samskrit, शं is also synonymous to मङ्गलम् or कल्याण्. करोति means Doer. Thus the definition of Shiva is “One who does Good is Shiva”. Shiva evolves from such simplistic view point in basic etymological roots.

Shiva is one of the Trimurtis or Trinity. The trinity are responsible for three parts of a World – Creation, Operation and Destruction. Brahma takes care of creation part, Vishnu takes care of Operations, Shiva takes care of Destruction. Talk of Management! To put it in Samskrit “श्रुष्टि”, “स्थिति, “लय”.

Generally, Shiva is represented in all references as “the Destroyer”. The word “लय” is generally referred to as “Destruction” or “End”. Another important synonym that is almost always forgotten is “Rhythm”. Laya is the most important pattern that can be seen in Universe. In human breath, there is laya. In blowing wind, there is laya. You can find this pattern everywhere. For example, Fibonacci Series is a Rhythm. This is laya. Divine Proportion is Rhythm. This is laya. Any mathemtical progression has a Rhythm. Sine Wave  has a Rhythm. Everything has a pattern – a laya. It is not often that you see Shiva referred to as Laya Kara or “Provider of Rhythm” in literature.

This post will give three instances where the artistic stand point is traced back to Shiva.

First. You must have heard about this before. It is called “Samskrit”. It is a popular legend that Panini was given 14 sutras to prepare his ensemble of 3978 formal rules of Samskrit. I would like to refer to these 14 sutras as “Axioms” and those 3978 rules as “Theorems”. These 14 axioms are :

1)अइउण् 2)ऋलृक् 3)ए ओड् 4)ऐ औच् 5)हयवरट् 6)लण् 7)ञमडणनम् 8)झभञ् 9)घढधष् 10)जबगडदश् 11)खफछठथचटतव् 12)कपय् 13)शषसर् 14) हल्

अइउण् ऋऌक् एओङ् ऐऔच् हयवरट् लण् ञमङणनम् |

झभञ् घढधष् जबगडदश् खफछठथचटतव् कपय् शषसर् हल् ||

Looking at Samskrit as a well proven Formal System, one should fundamentally be able to formally prove that all 3978 Theorems framed by Panini using these 14 Axioms.

Second. Dance. Shiva’s tandavam is not unknown to any Indian. In fact, one of the most important prayers in a Hindu household is “Shiva Tandava Stotram”. Though it was written by Ravana, Shiva Tandava Stotram quickly found acceptance as a prayer. Speaks a lot about a common Hindu’s Modularity – to quote Alvin Tofler’s idea of a Modular Man. Heres a performance of Shiva Tandavam. Bharata Natyam traces its roots to Kaisiki Style of dance. Kaisiki Style of dance traces to Shiva. The legend goes something like this:

Bharata Natyam is the manifestation of the ancient idea of the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the material body. Some Bharata Natyam techniques can be traced back to the Kaisiki style. The Natya(I.44) reads, “… I have seen the Kaisiki style during the dance of the blue-throated lord (Shiva). It consists of elaborate gestures (“Mridu Angaharas”, movements of limbs), sentiments (Rasas), emotional states (Bhavas). Actions (Kriyas) are its soul. The costume should be charmingly beautiful and love (Sringara) is its foundation. It cannot be adequately portrayed by men. Except for women, none can practise it properly”. [Taken from Wikipedia Page on Bharata Natyam]

Also, Natya Shastra has some clearly mentioned traces of Shiva. Read this:

Natya Shastra Adhyaya 1 - Bharata muni's prayers and introduction

Natya Shasta Adyaya 1 – Bharata muni’s prayers and introduction

The complete first Adhyaya mentions 1) why Natya Shastra was required 2) how Bharata Muni get to know how to formulate Natya Shastra and 3) how Tandu explains techniques of Natya Shastra to Bharata Muni. There is a Hindi Translation of this treatise available on Google Books. Do read the first two pages. Explains the presence of Shiva Tandavam in all Bharatiya Dance cultures.

Note: Please note in the above snapshot of Natya Shastra Adhyaya 1 that there is reference of Krutha Yuga, Thretha yuga. This means Bharata Muni was after Thretha Yuga and possibly in Dwapara Yuga. However, he is generally placed on Georgian Calander at around 200 BC. Laughable! Kapila Vatsayan goes so far as to say Bharata Muni may be a psuedonym and that there might never have been a Bharata Muni. Well, they get their Rajya Sabha seats and Padma Awards for doing this!

Tandu, who observed Shiva performing Tandava Nritya taught about Nrithyam to Bharata Muni, which finally resulted in Natya Shastra.

Third. Yoga. I can go on and on about Yoga. But it is quite well known that Patanajali came about with his Yoga Sutras based on what he learnt from his ancestors on how Shiva performed his meditation. I will not further on this topic. Big wigs have already covered enough. I will leave you with this pic though.

Shiva seal seated in Muladhara Pose. Inscription from Mohenjadaro

This is Pasupathi in the famous Muladhara Pose. This is a famous inscription from Indus Valley Civilization. Need we say more on where Yoga comes from! Yoga bases itself on breathing or Pranayama. Pranayama bases itself on Rhythm. Rhythm is laya. Laya kara is Shiva.

These are just three instances of Shiva’s presence in life in the form of Laya or Rhythm. There are several other instances. Vatsayana traces everything he wrote in Kamasutra to Shiva. Rudraprasna places numbers in a rhythmic pattern showing some properties of numbers.

Rhythm is everywhere. You just need to find it. This Rhythm is Shiva. On this Shiva Ratri, take note of the brilliant concept called Shiva – the Laya Kara or the one who maintains Rhythm in the world.

To all dear Atheists. One can understand if you dont prefer to see Shiva as an almighty and all powerful super being. But Hinduism doesnt preach at such low level. The philosophical treatment and symbolic representation is just pure awesomeness! Imagine Shiva as your breath! Isnt that something? This is the reason why Hinduism and Hindu Philosophical is so great.

I leave you with this brilliant animation of Siva Tandavam.

And this depiction of Siva from a National Award winning Telugu Movie called Anji.

Om Namah Shivay!


Good friend on Twitter @NR_Tatvamasi pointed me to Charana Rahita Chidambara Nataraja Stotram. It was written by Patanjali. It seems Patanjali was a regular at Chidamabra Nataraja Temple, which is a very famous temple at Chidamabaram. Heres a video of Stotram with performance by O S Arun.



  1. Superb post JKV…and very engrossing too. Thanks.
    Om Namah Shivay!

    1. Thank you sir 🙂

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