The Cosmic Dance

Tandav, or also known as Tandava Natyam, is a divine dance form attributed to Hindu mythological deities. There are various Godheads ascribed to Tandav, but Rudra Tandav, is by far the most prominent known for Rudra’s (Shiva) anger and destructive emotion. There are various mythological accounts as to what spurred the most revered deity on the sub-continent to beat his little drum, called the ‘damroo’ and break into a destructive trance while destroying everything in sight through his mystical vertical third eye on his forehead.

It is interesting to note that a life size statue of ‘Natraj‘ (depiction of Shiva in a dancing pose) stands gracefully outside one of the buildings at CERN. The Natraj signifies ‘life force’ according to various ancient texts from the sub-continent but one wonders the profoundness of the deity outside one of the largest physics laboratory on the planet?

Well renowned Austrian-born American physicist, systems theorist and deep ecologist, Fritjof Capra, in his book The Tao of Physics, explains that “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.”

“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.”

Fritjof draws comparisons between Shiva’s trance and quantum physics further by arguing that “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.” Rudra Tandav, as described earlier, is seen and understood to be Shiva’s destructive dance in common folklore and religious context but metaphysically, the dance symbolizes the universal cycle of creation, preservation and destruction.

“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.” – Fritjof Capra

The dance exists in five forms which shows the cosmic cycle from creation to destruction.

Let’s see this cycle in terms of biological lifeform, human for sake of argument. Evolution in mother’s womb and child birth being the ‘srishti’ stage. The child is nurtured and supported by the mother in the ‘stithi’ stage. The child grows through youth ages to adulthood chasing one mirage (illusion, maya) after another till old age takes hold, ‘Tirobhava’ – three stages of life – childhood, adulthood and old age. Death knocks on the door and physical form is obliterated, hence ‘samhara’. Ultimately, soul energy is emancipated, ‘anugraha’, from physical realm to supreme universal energy source where it initially originated from.

Now let’s see this same cycle in terms of star life cycle. A star, like our Sun, forms when clouds of gas containing hydrogen and helium from remnants of previously exploded stars, called nebulae, are gravitationally conditioned during the ‘srishti’ stage. Irregularities in the density of the gas causes a net gravitational force that pulls the gas molecules closer together. When the pressure and temperature in the core become great enough to sustain nuclear fusion – bonding of hydrogen atoms under extreme pressure, the outward pressure acts against the gravitational force. The remaining dust envelope surrounding the star heats up and glows brightly in the infrared part of the spectrum. At this point the visible light from the new star cannot penetrate the envelope. Eventually, radiation pressure from the star blows away the envelope and the new star has undergone its ‘stithi’ phase. The properties and lifetime of the new star depend on the amount of gas that remains trapped. A star like our sun has a lifetime of about 10 billion years which equates to ‘tirobhava’ phases of childhood (beginning), adulthood (midlife) and eventually old age (end life) of the star. When the star runs out of fuel (hydrogen) to sustain fusion reaction, the equilibrium between gravitational forces and pressures destabilizes causing the star to swell through its outer layers while the core shrinks undergoing it’s death spiral or its ‘samhara’ phase. Eventually, the remaining core overtime destabilizes further and explodes into a supernova releasing clouds of gas for the cycle to begin again, hence the ‘anugraha’ phase.

In conclusion, metaphor between the cosmic dance as a whole inspired by each and every subatomic particle performing Rudra Tandav is the basis and the essence of the universe as we know it. Signing off with excerpt from Capra that makes this metaphorical connection aptly, he explains that “if physics leads us today to a world view which is essentially mystical, it returns, in a way, to its beginning, 2,500 years ago. This time, however, it is not only based on intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.”

“If physics leads us today to a world view which is essentially mystical, it returns, in a way, to its beginning, 2,500 years ago. This time, however, it is not only based on intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.” – Fritjof Capra

Let us all celebrate this cosmic dance in and around our physical, biological and chemical realms and strive to match our stride to the rhythm of this divine Tandav!

Please leave a comment or feedback if this post struck a chord!

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