The Scientific Symbolism of the Statue of Shiva Nataraja at CERN, Switzerland

Lord Shiva is one of the most important deities in the Hindu religion. He is known by many names such as Mahadeva, Neelakantha, Rudra, Shambhu, Nataraja. Shiva’s form of Nataraja symbolizes the cosmic dance of creation and destruction. More interestingly, CERN which is located at Geneva, that lies on the French/Swiss border is the European Organization for Nuclear Research whose primary function is the oversight of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). It is one of the biggest and greatest scientific research centers in the world and interestingly it has a statue of Shiva Nataraja.

Shiva Nataraja at CERN

The statue was gifted to CERN by the Government of India to celebrate the research center’s long association with India. The statue was unveiled on June 18, 2004, which is 2 meters tall and was made in India. The statue is on permanent display in the square between buildings 39 and 40, a short distance from the Main Building. They said that since India was one of the institute’s observer states, it represented CERN’s multiculturalism with scientists from across the globe.

The Symbolism of the Statue of Nataraja

Lord Shiva is one of the three primary deities of the Hindu trinity and is worshiped as the destroyer and transformer of the world. Furthermore, the symbolism of Shiva Nataraja is a unique yet profound merge of religion, art, and science as one. In God’s endless dance of creation, preservation, destruction, and paired graces is hidden a deep understanding of our universe. Nataraja’s dance is not just a symbol, it is phenomenon taking place within each of us, at the atomic level, this very moment. The Agamas proclaim, “The birth of the world, its maintenance, its destruction, the soul’s obscuration and liberation are the five acts of His dance.”

Tandava, a dance believed to be the source of the cycle of creation, preservation, and destruction is the dance portrayed in the statue of Lord Shiva. This Tandava dance of shiva is best described in Shiva Tandava Stotram. The dance exists in five forms which shows the cosmic cycle from creation to destruction. It is believed that Lord Shiva danced the Universe into existence, motivates it, and will eventually extinguish it.

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Scientific Overview of The Symbolism

Physicist Fritjof explains the significance of the statue at the CERN on a plaque next to the statue. The quote by Fritjof Capra, explains; “Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronzes. In our time, physicists have used the most advanced technology to portray the patterns of the cosmic dance. The metaphor of the cosmic dance thus unifies ancient mythology, religious art, and modern physics.”

Moreover, in The Tao of Physics which first published in 1975 and still in print in over 40 editions around the world, the Physicist explained; “The Dance of Shiva symbolizes the basis of all existence. At the same time, Shiva reminds us that the manifold forms in the world are not fundamental, but illusory and ever-changing. Modern physics has shown that the rhythm of creation and destruction is not only manifest in the turn of the seasons and in the birth and death of all living creatures but is also the very essence of inorganic matter.”

“According to quantum field theory, the dance of creation and destruction is the basis of the very existence of matter. Modern physics has thus revealed that every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction. For the modern physicists then, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter, the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena.”

Shiva Nataraja at CERN

Furthermore, a post-doc student working at CERN, Aidan Randle-Conde,  wrote: “So in the light of day, when CERN is teeming with life, Shiva seems playful, reminding us that the universe is constantly shaking things up, remaking itself and is never static. But by night, when we have more time to contemplate the deeper questions Shiva literally casts a long shadow over our work, a bit like the shadows on Plato’s cave. Shiva reminds me that we still don’t know the answer to one of the biggest questions presented by the universe and that every time we collide the beams we must take the cosmic balance sheet into account.”

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Initially, the one who introduced this idea in the West was Popular scientist Carl Sagan through his show Cosmos. He had said: “Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the cosmos itself undergoes an immense and infinite number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, no doubt, by accident, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half of the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still.”