Photo: Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, a bronze sculpture admeasuring 30 × 22.5 × 7 in (76.2 × 57.2 × 17.8 cm) dated between 950 CE and 1000 CE located at the South and Southeast Asian Art Department, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), USA.
The above photograph of the bronze sculpture depicts Lord Shiva in his cosmic dance pose as Shiva Nataraja, the god of all dance and dramatic arts. Apart from the symbolic meanings of the expressions of his legs, hands, face and other body parts, and the objects held by him, the lord is enclosed in a ring of flames. He is shown as lifting his left leg while balancing himself with the other leg on a dwarf demon that is interpreted as symbolic of ignorance. His flowing, whirling hair on both sides of his head shows the spread of cosmic energy.
You can get the correct but varied interpretations of all the artwork related to Nataraja from various scholars especially from Indian scholars who excelled from 12th century onwards and also scholars from other countries who are specializing in Indology and also Indian art and dance forms.
With slight variations of depiction, Shiva-Nataraja figures can be seen, including in temple art and paintings, mainly from the sixth century onwards. The art and culture of many countries such as Indonesia (Siwa in Bali and Java), Thailand, Cambodia (Nrittesvara), and even some central Asian countries were influenced by this form of dancing Shiva. Nataraja is praised, worshiped and revered as the god who created dance and drama, especially, as this form of Shiva in his dancing style is sculpted as per the Hindu texts such as Natya Shastra (attributed to sage Bharata) that describes various aspects of performing arts.
The style and form for all dancing Shiva depictions is the one at Chidambaram Temple in Tamilnadu. The same form is depicted in several Shiva temples in the southern states of India.
In the area comprising and around today’s Tamil Nadu, around the tenth century, the dancing Shiva became a symbol of royalty, and an unavoidable part of Hindu religious practices and festivals. The Cholas who became a major military and economic power during this period were followers of Shaivism. May be for this reason, rightly or wrongly, the Nataraja Bronzes are often referred to as Chola bronzes.
Some scholars, quoting archeological and other evidences also associate the dancing Shiva to the Pallava dynasty (275 to 897 CE).