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Nataraja and nuclear research blend at CERN, Geneva
At European Organization for Nuclear Research, Geneva, is installed the imposing idol of Nataraja.

Patron deity of all dance exponents, it stood for the primal rhythmic energy and the cosmic dance of the universe. According to CERN, the Nataraja stands as a symbol of not only the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, but also the daily rhythm of birth and death which is seen in Indian mysticism as the basis of all existence. The statue gifted in 2004 by the Indian government celebrates India's close involvement with Centre, which among other things is on a quest to arrive at the ultimate God particle, by colliding particles at the speed of light! (See inset)

From college days, my fascination with Nataraja was sparked by a chance discovery of a dusty book in our family library. The 'Dance of Shiva' was authored by Massachusetts based Sinhalese philosopher and art critic, Anand K. Coomaraswamy. He wrote: 'The Lord of Tillai's Court a mystic dance performs; what is that my dear? Amongst the greatest of the names of Shiva is Nataraja, Lord of Dancers or King of Actors. The cosmos is His theatre; there are many different steps in His repertory. He Himself is actor and audience.'

My imagery of Nataraja was enhanced a thousand times, when around 1950 at my father's behest I went to the National Museum, near Jantar Mantar. There stood Nataraja embodied in bronze. '12th century, Chola Dynasty', announced the placard. The museum catalogue further elaborated with: 'This massive yet elegant statue cast in bronze, an uncompromising hard alloy not easily yielding such large sizes, represents the Shiva as passionately engaged in ecstatic dance, a form of his image known as Nataraja in iconographic tradition, and the dance, as 'Ananda-tandava'. 'Tandava' is the dance that Shiva performs to dissolve but destruction being the forerunner of creation Shiva performs it with delight, and hence, the 'Ananda-Tandava'. …... As contends metaphysical tradition, 'Tandava' represents 'panchakrityas' - five essential acts that Shiva performs: 'Srishti' - creation, 'Sthiti' - preservation, 'Samhara' - destruction, 'Tirobhava' - veiling, and 'Anugraha' - grace, and it is this cosmic activity that constitutes the central motif of Shiva's 'Tandava'.

When posted in Madras, I frequently had to go to Neyveli Lignite mines. Once, we took a long detour to visit the temple at Chidambaram, for our salutations to possibly the first ever representation of Shiva as Nataraja! My awe and curiosity towards the Imperial Chola dynasty, knew no bounds.

At Higginbotham's on Mount Road, I was intrigued by a book 'Tao of Physics' by Austrian physicist Fritjof Capra. Referring to the cycles of Nature and the Universe, he concluded:  'For the modern physicists, then, Shiva's dance is the dance of subatomic matter.' 'Tao of Physics' became a cult book, what with its impact full cover showing sub atomic particles spinning all around the dancing Lord!

My interest in exploring the Cholas was further fuelled by Shyam Benegal's magnum opus, 'Bharat, ek khoj'. A 1988 DD presentation inspired by Nehru's Discovery of India, it covered more than 5000 thousand years of our history. The episode on Kannagi, personified 'Hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned'! She is the central figure in Silappadikaram (The Tale of an Anklet). An excellent English translation by Lakshmi Holstrom, introduced me to the richness of Sangam literature.

Shyam Benegal also presented the setting up of " style="margin:0px;text-decoration:none">Brihadeswara temple at Thanjavur. DD Bharati repeatedly airs a detailed documentary on interesting details of this magnificent edifice, built over 1000 years ago. Another sign post of the creations of the Chola period! Two separate panels show a European with a top hat. Another standing figure is unmistakably Chinese. This temple was built 500 years before Vasco da Gama touched our Western coast. It is postulated that King Raja Raja Chola's court was visited by Europeans and Chinese, even much before Vasco da Gama touched our western coast!

I am still exploring the Cholas, Pallavas, Vijayanagara, Kakatiyas and other fascinations of the South!

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