Contained within a border : a vine with a flower with eight petals, red and black alternating, and a pair of leaves – one of the most popular border-styles in folk arts, the painting represents Lord Shiva in a dance mode identified in Shaivite iconography as Tandava or Ananda-tandava, and the Shiva’s form, as Nataraja, a combination of two terms, the ’Nata’ and ’Raja’, the latter meaning ’king’, and the former, variously a ’dancer’, ‘stage performer’ and sometimes also an ‘acrobat’, thus, ‘Nataraja’, the king of the dancers. The ever first teacher of dance – Adiguru, Shiva is known to have danced to create, dissolve, delight as also to teach. With his right leg shot into air, and left, turned to the right, the face turned to left, the trident-holding upper right, ‘damaru’ – double drum, holding upper left, and the two lower, flung to right – the established iconography of Nataraja, Lord Shiva is engaged in a passionate dance. The normal left hand gesticulated to reveal the gesture of dissolution, the essence of Shiva’s Tandava, defines the dance as his cosmic act of dissolution. There enshrines on the figure’s face a divine bearing and in its anatomy – unfurling locks of hair and various body parts, the ecstasy that has cosmic dimensions.
As is the established tradition, the figure of Lord Shiva has been conceived as Bhairava with a large snake around his neck, a pair of them rings-like on his forearms and others crawling on his body, and a garland of skulls hung on his breast. While skulls symbolise death and decay, the essential outcome of Tandava and dissolution that it effects, snakes stand for long and incessant life, symbolic of creation and life after dissolution for Shiva dissolves only to create. Flames of fire are another essential element of the Ananda-tandava iconography which this art-piece seems to apparently miss. The pace of movement being the essence of Ananda-tandava and the movement that Tandava involves being faster than winds produces the ultimate cosmic energy which constitutes the fire-element in Tandava iconography.
Not manifestly represented, characteristic to Madhubani art style the flames of fire have been symbolised in the form of halo around his face, along with rays radiating from it, which by its fire-like bright red indicates the burst of divine energy that dissolves and creates and is the ultimate. In Ananda-tandava Shiva dances over the body of Apasamarapurusha – inertness or forgetful personified, suggesting that Apasamarapurusha awaits Ananda-tandava for after the Ananda-tandava has been accomplished, inertness or forgetfulness shall have its regime. Again typical to Madhubani art style this painting manifests inertness in the form of rocks which are dually meaningful, one as suggestive of the Himalayas, Shiva’s regular abode, and two, as the dead stony mass, the inertness in its ultimate form.
Shiva, even in his awful form as Bhairava or when performing the dance of dissolution, is considered as the most innocent among all Hindu gods. This painting, incidentally by the artist named Goluji, a term that is usually used for someone child-like innocent in nature and plumpish and flabby in build, represents Lord Shiva much like the name of its artist suggests. He has the same child-like innocent round face, body-figure, curious eyes and craze to adorn with whatever at hand. Hair has been set in proper proportion, a part of it knotted as a tiny 'jata-mukuta' to hold the crescent and the river Ganga emitting from it, and the rest, to fall on and around the shoulders and unfurl.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.