Nataraj is shown dancing on a dwarf, a symbol of ignorance. A cobra uncoils from his lower right forearm, and the crescent moon and a skull are on his crest. The upper right hand holds a small drum shaped like an hourglass that is called a ḍamaru, it symbolizes sound originating creation. The upper left hand contains Agni or fire, which signifies destruction.
Shiva’s victory over Ignorance
The opposing concepts in the upper hands show the counterpoise of creation and destruction. The second right hand shows the Abhaya mudra (meaning fearlessness in Sanskrit), bestowing protection from both evil and ignorance to those who follow the righteousness of dharma. The second left hand points towards the raised foot which signifies upliftment and liberation.The dwarf on which Nataraja dances is the demon Apasmara, which symbolises Shiva’s victory over ignorance (ego).
As the Lord of Dance, Nataraja, Shiva performs the tandava, the dance in which the universe is created, maintained, and dissolved. Shiva’s long, matted tresses, usually piled up in a knot, loosen during the dance and crash into the heavenly bodies, knocking them off course or destroying them utterly. Shiva devotees in India are often easily recognised on account of their dramatic appearance, including dreadlocks, like those in the second photo, that may reach almost to the floor.
The fire surrounding Nataraj
The surrounding flames represent the manifest Universe, also, the circle of fire symbolizes the cycle of endless births and rebirths that the ego goes through before attaining salvation. The snake swirling around his waist is kundalini the Shakti or divine force thought to reside within everything. The stoic face of Shiva represents his neutrality, thus being in balance.