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Poster Project: Shiva Natarāja

Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by spending some time with this graceful south Indian sculpture of Shiva Natarāja, featured in the Poster Project. The great Hindu god Shiva is the deity who destroys the cosmos so that it can be renewed again. Shiva has many aspects or forms. Here he appears as Natarāja, who dances the universe into existence. Natarāja’s right foot stands on the demon of ignorance and egotism. His pose embodies knowledge as balance and movement. The drum in his right-hand beats the rhythm of the heart and the universe. The flames in his left hand signify destruction and purification. His face is calm and lucid, yet his wild, matted hair suggests the frenzy of his dance. 

As Portland Creative Laureate and Bharatanatyam dancer Subashini Ganesan observes in her wonderful Artist Talk, Natarāja’s lifted leg and arms create an open space, inviting us into the mystery of liberation, consciousness, contentment, and strength. In the words of Ganesan’s mentor, Douglas Brooks, Natarāja embodies “life surging forth into its own desire to live.”

As we enter the eleventh week of the shutdown and begin to make plans for our communities to reopen, this feels like a good time to contemplate cycles of destruction and renewal—and a great time to get up and move. Let’s try to get a sense of what it feels like to be this form of Shiva. Start by warming up.

  1. Stand with space around you.
  2. Roll your shoulders—backwards, forwards, backwards. Swing your arms, moving from the waist.
  3. Begin with the top of your head and roll down, vertebra by vertebra, until you touch your toes, shins, or knees. Roll back up.
  4. Plant your feet hip-distance apart. Without moving your feet (or falling over!), shift your weight: forward, backward, right side, left side. One circle clockwise, one counterclockwise.
  5. Now, pose as Shiva Natarāja: Bend your knees. Lift one leg. Position your arms like his—you choose which two arms. Breathe. Move. What will be the next step in your dance?

@portlandartmuseum #museumfromhome 

The Poster Project is supported by the PGE Foundation.