On June 18, 2004, an unusual new landmark was unveiled at CERN, the European Center for Research in Particle Physics in Geneva, a 2m tall statue of the Indian deity Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of Dance. The statue, symbolizing Shiva’s cosmic dance of creation and destruction, was given to CERN by the Indian government to celebrate the research center’s long association with India.
In choosing the image of Shiva Nataraja, the Indian government acknowledged the profound significance of the metaphor of Shiva’s dance for the cosmic dance of subatomic particles, which is observed and analyzed by CERN’s physicists. The parallel between Shiva’s dance and the dance of subatomic particles was first discussed by Fritjof Capra in an article titled “The Dance of Shiva: The Hindu View of Matter in the Light of Modern Physics,” published in Main Currents in Modern Thought in 1972. Shiva’s cosmic dance then became a central metaphor in Capra’s international bestseller The Tao of Physics, first published in 1975 and still in print in over 40 editions around the world.
A special plaque next to the Shiva statue at CERN explains the significance of the metaphor of Shiva’s cosmic dance with several quotations from The Tao of Physics. Here is the text of the plaque:
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, seeing beyond the unsurpassed rhythm, beauty, power and grace of the Nataraja, once wrote of it “It is the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of.”
More recently, Fritjof Capra explained that “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,” and that “For the modern physicists, then, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter.”
It is indeed as Capra concluded: “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.”
Nithyaya trigunatmane purajithe kathyayani sreyase
Sathyaadhi kudumbhine munimana pratyaksha chinmuthaye
Mayasrushta jagantrayaya sakalamnayantha sancharine
Sayam thandava sambramaya jatine seyam nathissambhave.
O The one who is Eternal
Who has the three qualities of Inertness, Expansion and Returning to the Source
Who is the Truth
Who is the original source of entanglement
Who appears in the inner space of the sages
Who created all the three worlds from his illusion
Who is dances the cosmic dance,
O Shambu – I Salute Thee!
Source: Verse No. 56, Sivanandalahari by Sri Adi Sankara)
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