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Ananda Thandavam, the symbol of Bharatha Natyam

The temples of South India are famous for tower sculptures. The tall kopurams (towers) of the temples are full of sculptures. So too within the temples, in the temple pillars, temple walls, and in and around the mandapams and madams, there are sculptures. Most of the sculptures on the temple towers depict the puranic stories and epic. The sculptures in the temples, mainly depict the dance poses of various gods, as well as the humans.

Of all the sculptures the most famous are found on the tower of the Chidambaram temple. The outstanding fact about the Chidambaram kopura (tower) sculptures is that they depict 108 Thandava Karnas of Lord Siva. Ananda Thandava is the symbol of Bharatha Natyam which is not included in the 108 thandava karnas of Lord Siva.

The popular belief is that Lord Siva danced the 108 Thandava Karnas in 64 temples. But all have been brought together in the Chidambaram temple kopura sculptures. A remarkable feature is that all these karnas, are danced by women dancers only.

In the famous Bragatheeswarar temple in Thanjavur, the same Thandava Karnas are depicted, by the Lord, himself. Unfortunately, only 83, Thandava Karnas (poses) still exist at the Bragatheeswarar temple.

It is believed that Emperor Raja Raja Cholan, who built the Thanjai Bragatheswarar temple, installed the sculptures of 83 karnas of Lord Siva. With the end of his rule, these works ceased. Among the 108 karnas, some are difficult while others are easy.

In Bharatha Natyam, generally, the Ananda Thandava pose is used to symbolise Lord Siva as the symbol of Bharatha Natyam.

This particular Ananda Thandava pose of Lord Siva is commonly known as Lord Nataraja. Lord Siva is generally believed to have performed five functions, namely creation, protection,--in two Thandavas, (bestowing happiness), and (protection from sorrow), destruction, dispelling egoism, sins, and illusion and bestowing blessings, are the five main functions of the Lord. All five were expounded in the six Thandavas. The six Thandavas are finally expounded in one single Thandava, namely, Ananda Thandava, together with the sixth thandava, the Ananda Thandava, becomes the seventh thandava. The seven thandavas are collectively called Sabtha Thandavams.

The Ananda Thandava is used in Bharatha Natyam, because it embraces, all the essential five functions of the creator of the universe.

Besides this, the Lord Nataraja bears the five important Pancha Boothams (the five elements) which are believed to be the most important elements for the creation of the world. The five elements are sky, water, fire, wind, and earth.

The Lord bears the moon on his head, which indicates the sky; similarly the river Ganga flows from the terrace of the Lord which indicates water.

In his left hand, the Lord bears the fire, in his right hand the Lord holds the Udeki, from where the wind originates, and he presses the right leg on the earth which reveals the earth. These five elements are the basic fundamental aspects of the world's origin.(To replace tresses)

Each Pancha Bootham is connected to different temples.

The sky is connected to Kanchipuram Sivan temple; water is connected to the Thiruvaanaika Sivan temple, wind is connected to Kilsha temple and earth is connected to Kanchipuram. Hence, all the Pancha boothams are connected to the five important Sivan temples.

The dancer of the Ananda Thandava is called by several names connected with dance, namely, Lord Nataraja King of dance); kuthapiran, Kootharasan, Aadal Valaan, Ampala Koothan, are some of the other names of the dancing deity.

In almost every Bharatha Natyam recital, this particular dance pose of Lord Nataraja, adorns the stage. It is the universally acknowledged symbol of Bharatha Natyam

The dancer of the Ananda Thandava is called by several names connected with dance, especially by the name Nataraja (Lord Nataraja, King of dance).

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