The Dance of Shiva – A Study on The Tiruvalangadu Nataraja at Madras Museum, by Auguste Rodin

The dancing form of Shiva has been written about by many, for its spiritual, metaphysical concepts. But, I have been always wanting to see how it would appeal to an artist, a creator and a sculptor. As luck could have it chanced on a small note in the Catalogue of Hindu Metal Images of the Madras Museum, which talked of a study of a bronze by French sculptor Auguste Rodin. A frenetic search ended in discovering this abstract – a sheer poetry of a study.

At a period when southeast asian art was just about finding its place in the art world, for an European master to shower such praise this sculpture, i have read that the true test for a diamond is for it to be scratched against another diamond – for glass would be scratched, while two diamonds would come out intact, is indeed a perfect test – for both. But today i see both competing to add luster to each. It takes a great craftsmen and above it a pure heart and love for art, to appreciate a thing of beauty – though not your own, for often you reserve the best for your work, and tend to put yours or maybe your countrymen’s work or your period’s work in higher esteem, while attempting such a comparison. But the highlight of this study, is maybe the comparison to Venus De Meidici!! read on and enjoy.

Rodin studied two bronzes – the one that is featured below and another from Velankanni area – which i will try and showcase in the coming days. Since these are exhibited under museum lighting inside glass cases and we didn’t have the privilege of photographing with tripods ( images by me and arvind) – we were handicapped on occasions in not getting the right shots and also constantly experimenting with flash on and off!!

Written in 1913 and first published in 1921, Rodin’s The Dance of Shiva considers
a bronze statue of the Hindu god, through a carefully-crafted set of written impressions. This short work showcases the unique passion and melodrama of Rodin’s written voice.

The Dance of Shiva
by Auguste Rodin

Looking upon the whole of Shiva

In the full flower of life, the flow of living, the air, the sun, the
sense of being is a rushing torrent. Thus appears the art of the
Far East to us!

The human body attained divinity in that age, not because
we were closer to our origins—for our forms have remained
the same—but because we believed in freeing ourselves completely
from the constraints of now, and we spun away into the
heavens. It is a pleasure sorely missed…

From a certain angle, Shiva is but a slender crescent.
What endowment; what pride of body!
Today it is perpetual beauty in bronze. The imperceptible
movement of the light. One can sense the immobile muscles,
bathed in luminescence, ready to erupt into action if the light
should shift…

The shadows move nearer and nearer, cloaking the masterpiece,
lending it the enchantment of the deep melancholy of
darkness, of that place where it has lingered so long…
These hints of perfection! The mist of the body! As in some
divine creation, there is no trace of rebellion in this body; one
senses that everything is just as it should be. In it, we can understand
the rotation of the arm, even in repose, by examining
the shoulder blade, its protuberance, the rib cage, the admirable
attachment of the ribs, closely contoured to hold the shoulder
blade in place, the arm ready for action. The side, the line of
the torso continuing; narrow here, strong there, widening to
articulate two thighs, two rods, two levers; the angles perfect,
the legs delicate as they dance lightly upon the earth…

Looking upon a profile of Shiva

They are admirable, these two hands that separate the breast
from the stomach in a gesture that could rival that of the
Venus de’ Medici, shielding her beauty with her arms, in its
gracefulness. So, with the same clever movement, does Shiva
protect himself.

This straight shadow that divides the torso into two parts, gilding
the length of the thighs, one half in darkness and the other
entirely in chiaroscuro, within full reach of the shadow. The
pubis cannot be seen, cloaked as it is in this darkness…
In sum, it is the virtues of depth, of opposition, of lightness, of
power, that matter here—but none of them are worth anything
alone; they are useless embellishments except in relation to

These legs with their elongated muscles contain only speed.
The close-drawn thighs, a double caress, jealously guarding
the mysterious shadows; the beautiful field of darkness rendered
more marked by the light gleaming on the thighs.

Facing Shiva directly

It is a pose often used by artists, but there is nothing common
about it—for there is nature in every pose, and such distance!
There is, above all, what many people cannot see—the unknown
depths, the core of life. There is grace in elegance;
beyond grace there is perfection; but this goes farther still.

We may call it gentle, but it is powerfully gentle! Words do
not suffice…
There are garlands of shadows stretching brokenly from shoulder
to hip, and from hipbone to thigh at right angles…

On another profile of Shiva

These two legs with their differing illumination; this thigh that
casts a long shadow upon the other leg.
If there were no interior perfection, the contour could not be so
full and supple; it would be sharp, with that straight shadow.

On the supposedly barbarous art of Shiva

The ignorant man simplifies and sees crudely; he draws back
from superior art in order to love the inferior; he realizes
nothing. One must study more deeply to be interested, and
to see…

Upon lengthy contemplation of the head of Shiva

This swollen mouth, bulging, abundant in its sensual expressiveness…
The tenderness of the mouth and eye are in harmonious accord.
These lips, like a pleasure lake bordered by noble, thrilling nostrils.
The mouth undulates in moist pleasure, sinuous as a snake; the
eyes are closed, swollen, closed amidst a drapery of lashes.
The wings of the nose, delicately drawn against the fullness of
the face.

The lips that form words, that move when they escape. Such a
succulent serpent in action!
The eyes that have only a corner in which to hide have the
purity of line, the tranquility, of twin stars.

The sunlit tranquility of these eyes, the tranquil lines, the tranquil
joy of this calm.
The curves converge and end at the chin.
The expression continues with one ending that turns back into
another. The movements of the mouth are lost in the cheeks.

The curve that runs from the ear, echoing a small curve that
tugs at the mouth and a bit at the wings of the nose; it is a circle
that passes under the nose and the chin, and reaches all the way
to the cheekbones.
The curving, upturned cheeks.
Still before the eloquent head of Shiva

This eye rests level with its companion in an auspicious shelter;
it is voluptuous, luminous.
The eyes, closed in the sweetness of passing time.
These eyes, drawn with the purity of an enamelled jewel.

The eyes, within the jewel-box of the eyelids; the arch of the
eyebrows, and that of the sinuous lip.

The mouth, home to the sweetest thoughts, but a volcano of
fury no less.

The physicality of the soul imprisoned within this bronze,
captive for centuries. The desire for eternity is on these lips, in
these eyes so ready to see, to speak.

Life, always entering and leaving through the mouth, just as
bees come and go continually from the hive; the soft, perfumed

This lovely lost profile has a profile of its own, but one in which
its expressiveness ends—is frozen—leaving the alluring cheeks
curving downward to join with the muscles of the neck.

Translation courtesy: Tina Kover
Venus image – from web sources.

20 thoughts on “The Dance of Shiva – A Study on The Tiruvalangadu Nataraja at Madras Museum, by Auguste Rodin

  1. மானாட மழுவாட மதியாட புனலாட மங்கை சிவகாமியாட,
    மாலாட நூலாட மறையாட திறையாட
    மறைதந்த பிரம்மனாட,
    கோனாட வானுலகு கூட்டமெல்லாமாட,
    குஞ்சர முகத்தனாட,
    குண்டலமிரண்டாட தண்டைபுலியுடையாட
    குழந்தை முருகேசனாட,
    ஞானசம்பந்தரொடு யிந்திராதி பதினெட்டு
    முனியட்ட பாலகருமாட,
    நரை தும்பை யறுகாட நந்திவாகனமாட
    நாட்டியப் பெண்களாட,

    Now I understand why all the above started dancing, they must have already got Rodin’s same thought.

    Great thoughts and great post


  2. thanks dhivakar sir. reminded of the quote in the book:

    Nataraja in Art, Thought And Literature ” by C.Sivaramamurti.

    Siva’s dance cannot be comprehended by lesser masters. It is only the great ones like Brahma, Bharata, Hari, Narada or Skanda who can understand or appreciate his dance. An inscription on the cave temple at Saluvankuppam has a verse to elucidate not only the distinction of Siva’s dance, but also to enumerate the great celestial exponents of natya and sangita and their ability, as the right audience, to appreciate Siva’s dance: yadi na vidhata bharato yadi na harir narado na va skandha boddhum ka iva samarthas sangitam kalakalasya (Epigraph. Ind. 10, p. 12). The word used here sangita includes music, both vocal and instrumental, and dance. Poetry, music, literature and dance are time arts, while painting, sculpture and architecture are space arts (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition. Vol. X). The word Kalakala, emphasizing the concept of time and eternity of Siva, appropriately makes him the master of sangita, including music and dance. Ratnakara goes one step further, when he describes even elements like water, personified in the heavenly stream, Ganga, on his head, applauding, as he imagines, his excellence in dance. Siva’s dance movements, wherein the excels, are loudly applauded it would seem by the deep rumbling sound of the waves of the heavenly stream entering the hollows of the garland of skulls on his head: kukshipravishtasuranir-jharinitarangajhankarataraninadair nrikapalapanktih nritsatisayasvamandam (Haravijaya 2.57).

  3. This is a crucial input, to be cherished for all times to come. Rodin was an embodiment of aesthetics of his own inimitable style. I am saring this with some artistically-inclined friends here, in England. thanks, Vijay.

  4. Rodin not only a sculptor but a great poet !!! Reading his description of Dancing Siva brings immense joy and bliss !!!

    Its an ecstasy !!!

  5. மொழிபெயர்ப்பில் என்னோட பெயரைப் போட்டிருந்தாலும் நீங்கள் செய்திருக்கும் இந்த நல்ல மொழிபெயர்ப்பு அதைத் தூக்கிச் சாப்பிட்டு விட்டது. நான் பார்த்தது ஆன்மீகக் கோணத்திலே தான், என்றாலும் இன்னமும் அதன் தாக்கம் என் மனதை விட்டு நீங்கவில்லை. சில இடங்களில் Rodin உணர்வுகளை வார்த்தைகளில் சொல்லமுடியவில்லை என்றாலும் பூரணமாய் உணர வைத்தது. மிக்க நன்றி இந்த அருமையான பதிவுக்கு. கொஞ்சம் தாமதமான பின்னூட்டத்துக்கு மன்னிக்கவும்.

  6. கீதா அம்மா,

    I wanted to stick true to what Rodin had said and wanted to say. Yours was fantastic and i had the best of yours+ satheesh’s to come up with this.



  7. Great insight, typical Rodin. I read Rodin’s biography, “Naked came I” over forty years ago and remember the passion and commitment Rodin had to capture the human body in its grandeur, the hard work he put in to understand the movement of muscles beneath the skin. His comments on Shiva are breathtaking.

  8. Excellent post. Amazing. I shall visit the museum soon and enjoy the magical experience …
    Well done. My hearty congratulations.

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