Last week I talked about the Batman quilt I am making for my brother, and I mentioned how it all started with that center panel. Well, I have an idea for my next quilt, and the concept is similar. I have another centerpiece that I need to design around. I don’t know where it originated, but I stumbled upon it at the Goodwill in Champaign, IL.
This is the Nataraja. The name comes from the words nadanam, meaning “dance” and raja, meaning “lord” or “king”. The image is of the Hindu god Shiva dancing tandava, which has the power to destroy and re-create the universe.
Now, I am not Hindu, in fact, the only thing I ever learned in High School about Shiva was that he is “The Destroyer” and is part of the trinity in Hinduism (Brahma – The Creator, Vishnu – The Preserver, and Shiva – The Destroyer) and that he pretty much just tore up the universe and was this destructive force. I have, however, done my own research and reading since then.. and I find the legends and the stories fascinating, and just because I may not worship a particular deity, does not mean I shouldn’t treat it with proper respect.
And so it is that while wanting to incorporate this Nataraja panel into a quilt, I feel I should approach the design with that respect in mind. What kinds of symbols are important? Are there any mantras or poojas (prayers) that belong to him that would be appropriate to applique somewhere? Being the script lover I am, I think it would be beautiful to try to work some text into the design.. but I want to make sure it’s appropriate before I just do it. So, I’ve been trying to do some research this afternoon, trying to learn more about Shiva and the tandava dance.
Here are the basic characteristics of the nataraja, according to Source 4:
Though there are minor variations, the characteristic features of Nataraj are as follows: he is shown with four hands, two on either side. The upper left hand holds a flame, the lower left hand points down to the demon Muyalaka, who is shown holding a cobra. The demon is being crushed by Shiva’s right foot; the other foot is raised. The upper right hand holds a drum, the lower one is in the abhaymudra, ‘be without fear’. Shiva’s hair is braided and jewelled, but some of his locks whirl as he dances; within the folds of his hair are a wreathing cobra, a skull, and the figure of Ganga. The entire figure stands on a lotus pedestal and is fringed by a circle of flames, which are touched by the hands holding the drum and the fire.
There is so much symbolism in that image alone, and because I do want the image to be the central focus, I want to be careful not to make the background too busy. Here are a couple of very simple concept drawings:
With this first concept, I am considering the fact that Shiva brings about both creation and destruction. One corner begins as solid blue and increasingly breaks apart (becomes destroyed) as it moves closer toward the center (where Shiva is). As it progresses onward toward the other corner, pieces of pink begin to form, solidifying more as you arrive at the bottom corner (something new has been created). I chose the colors blue and pink not only because they are present in the panel and will look nice, but also because Shiva in one sense (Ardhanareeswara) is also both male and female.^3 I have also put columns on either side of the main panel where I might be able to incorporate appropriate text (depending on space, this could be appliqued or embroidered).
This second concept incorporates some other symbols related to Shiva. Specifically, he has a crescent moon on his head from which the Ganga (the Ganges River) is supposed to flow. According to source 3:
Shiva bears on his head the crescent of the panchami (fifth day) moon. This is placed near the fiery third eye and this shows the power of Soma, the sacrificial offering, which is the representative of moon. It means that Shiva possesses the power of procreation along with the power of destruction. The moon is also a measure of time, thus Crescent also represent his control over time.
The other symbol is the snake, which Shiva wears as a necklace (though in the nataraja images the snake is around his waist). This is supposed to signify that:
Shiva is beyond the powers of death and is often the sole support in case of distress. He swallowed the poison kalketu for the wellbeing of the Universe. The deadly cobra represents that “death” aspect that Shiva has thoroughly conquered. The cobras around his neck also represent the dormant energy, called Kundalini, the serpent power. The snake curled three times around the neck of Lord Shiva depicts the past, present and future time. The snake looking in the right direction of Lord Shiva signifies that the Lord’s perpetual laws of reason and justice preserve natural order in the universe.
As yet I am not entirely satisfied with either of my concepts, but it is a starting point. I’m now more interested in doing this quilt than I was previously… I have always been keenly fascinated by duality- good/evil, creation/destruction.. and I find it a fitting link to the fact that a lot of the textile work I do involves creating new projects from old clothes or other fabrics.. destroying several pairs of jeans to cut out small diamond pieces and shaping them into a star, tearing apart an old dress and re-inventing it with some lace.
1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bksp8mpTeYY – A basic intro video about Lord Shiva
2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nataraja – The Wiki article about the Nataraja (Shiva in his dancing form)
3) http://www.mahashivratri.org / – A very informative site with legends and festival info as well.
4) http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Religions/Avatars/Natar.html – The main site itself provides a wide variety of information about India, on everything from religion to social issues to history to the diaspora. Very good, and created by a History Professor at UCLA.
5) http://www.deeshaa.org/tandava-shivas-cosmic-dance/ – A blog post which breaks down Shiva and Nataraja in such a way that it is easily understandable by someone not totally knowledgeable about him (i.e. Me).