|The traditions of sculptural representation of the
gods, as they emerged during these centuries, served both
theological and narrative functions. First, Hindu images were
visual "theologies," and they continue to be "read" as such by
Hindus today. For example, the icon of the four-armed Shiva
dancing in a ring of fire reveals the many aspect of this god in one
visual symbol. The flaming circle in which he dances is the circle
of creation and destruction called samsara (the earthly round
of birth and death) or maya (the illusionary world). The Lord
who dances in the circle of this changing world holds in tow of his
hands the drum of creation and the fire of destruction. He
displays his strength by crushing the bewildered demon underfoot.
Simultaneously, he shows his mercy by raising his palm to the
worshiper in the "fear not" gesture and, with another hand, by
pointing to his upraised foot, where the worshiper make take refuge.
It is a wild dance, for the coils of the ascetic's hair are flying
in both directions, and yet the facial countenance of the Lord is
utterly peaceful and his limbs in complete balance. Around one arm
twines the naga, the ancient serpent which he has
incorporated into his sphere of power and wears now as an ornament.
In his hair sits the mermaid River Ganga, who landed first on Siva's
hair when she fell from heaven to earth. Such an image as the
dancing Shiva engages the eye and extends one's vision of the nature
of this god, using simple, subtle, and commonly understood gestures
Diana Eck. Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India.
Chambersburg, PA: Anima Books 2nd ed.(1985) p. 41.