Lord Shiva as Nataraja (Dancing Shiva) was first illustrated in the Chola bronze statues where he was shown dancing on an aureole of flames, with one foot on the dwarf, Apasmara and the other in the air. The dwarf is considered to be the symbol of ignorance. Holding a ‘dumroo’ in the upper right hand indicating that he is the source of the sound, the Nada-Brahman. The lower right hand is for giving blessing which confers protection. The upper left-hand carries the instrument for the ultimate destruction of the Universe, fire. The lower left-hand points to the left foot, indicating that his feet are the sole refuge of the individual souls. The lifted foot stands for release from illusion.
Illustrating a legend in which Shiva accompanied by Vishnu camouflaged as a beautiful woman, embark their attempt to pacify ten thousand holy men living in a nearby forest, Nataraja is a very popular image in the Hindu Dharma. The connotation of the word ‘Nataraja’ can be derived by breaking the word, ‘Natya’ meaning dance and ‘Raja’ meaning King. So, in entirety, Nataraja means the King of Dance.
When Lord Shiva started his cosmic dance called ‘Anandatandava’, the Dance of Bliss, the holy men became angry and annoyed. They summoned a fierce tiger out of a sacrificial fire but Shiva thrashed it and wore its skin as a cape. Subsequently, he was attacked by a poisonous snake hut Shiva tamed it and wore it around his neck. At last, the dwarf, Apasmara was sent. He was the symbol of ignorance and could not be killed because that would disrupt the balance of the Earth as that would mean one can attain knowledge without effort, hard work and dedication. So, Lord Shiva put his foot on him and performed the cosmic dance that symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction. The holy men acknowledged Shiva as their master.
Thus, Lord Shiva, through his divine act of dance, in the form of Nataraja, takes away the ignorance from our minds. The representation of Shiva’s dance, Tandava can be interpreted in multiple ways. It may display Shiva as the moving force of the universe and his five acts of creation, preservation, destruction, embodiment, and release (of the souls of men from illusion). The ring of flames around Lord Shiva can be linked to the fire of the cremation ground.
Recommended – Shiva Tandava Stotram