These words by Ananda Coomaraswamy introduce the essential features of the Shiva image in Veda mythology. Of all the Hindu deities, none has been more meaningful than Shiva dancing in the circle of fire. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 89)
Amongst the greatest of the names of Shiva is Nataraja, Lord of Dancers, or King of Actors. The cosmos is his theater, there are many different steps in his repertory, he himself is actor and audience:
How many various dances of Shiva are known to his worshipers I cannot say. No doubt the root idea behind all of these dances is more or less one and the same, the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy. . . .
What then is the meaning of Shiva's Nataraja dance, as understood by Shivites? . . . The dance, in fact, represents his five activities viz.: 1) overlooking, creation, evolution; 2) preservation, support; 3) destruction, evolution; 4) veiling, embodiment, illusion, and also, giving rest; 5) release, salvation, grace. . . .
He dances to maintain the life of the cosmos and to give release to those who seek him. Moreover, if we understand even the dances of human dancers rightly, we shall see that they too lead to freedom. But it is nearer the truth to answer that the reason of his dance lies in his own nature, all his gestures are own-nature-born, spontaneous, and purposeless - for his being is beyond the realm of purposes.
It may not be out of place to call attention to the grandeur of this conception itself as a synthesis of science, religion and art. How amazing the range of thought and sympathy of those rishi artists who first conceived such a type as this, affording an image of reality, a key to the complex tissue of life, a theory of nature, not merely satisfactory to a single clique or race, nor acceptable to the thinkers of one century only, but universal in its appeal to the philosopher, the lover, and the artist of all ages and all countries. How supremely great in power and grace this dancing image must appear to all those who have striven in plastic forms to give expression to their intuition of Life!