The Tandava takes its name from Tandu, the attendant of Shiva, who instructed Bharata (author of the Natya Shastra) in the use of Angaharas and Karanas, modes of the Tandava at Shiva's order. Some scholars consider that Tandu himself must have been the author of an earlier work on the dramatic arts, which was incorporated into the Natya Shastra. Indeed, the classical arts of dance, music and song may derive from the mudras and rituals of Shaiva tradition.
The 32 Angaharas and 108 Karanas are discussed by Bharata in Chapter 4 of the Natya Shastra, Tandava Lakshanam. Karana is the combination of hand gestures with feet to form a dance posture. Angahara is composed of seven or more Karanas. 108 karanas included in Tandava could be employed in the course of dance, fight, and personal combats and in other special movements like strolling.
The dance is a pictorial allegory of the five principal manifestations of eternal energy:
Thus Tandava symbolizes the cosmic cycles of creation and destruction, as well as the daily rhythm of birth and death.
- 'Shrishti' - creation, evolution
- 'Sthiti' - preservation, support
- 'Samhara' - destruction, evolution
- 'Tirobhava' - illusion
- 'Anugraha' - release, emancipation, grace
Tandava, as performed in the sacred dance-drama of southern India, has vigorous, brisk movements. Performed with joy, the dance is called Ananda Tandava. Performed in a violent mood, the dance is called Rudra Tandava. In the Hindu texts, at least seven types of Tandava are found: Ananda Tandava, Tripura Tandava, Sandhya Tandava, Samhara Tandava, Kali (Kalika) Tandava, Uma Tandava and Gauri Tandava. However, some people believe that there are 16 types of Tandava.
How many various dances of Shiva are known to His worshipers I cannot say. No doubt the root idea behind all of these dances is more or less one and the same, the manifestation of primal rhythmic energy. Whatever the origins of Shiva's dance, it became in time the clearest image of the activity of God which any art or religion can boast of. --Ananda Coomaraswamy
The dance performed by Goddess Parvati in response to Shiva's Tandava is known as Lasya, in which the movements are gentle, graceful and sometimes erotic. Some scholars consider Lasya to be the feminine version of Tandava. Lasya has 2 kinds, Jarita Lasya and Yauvaka Lasya.
The Hindu scriptures narrate various occasions when Shiva or other gods have performed the Tandava. When Sati (first wife of Lord Shiva, who was reborn as Parvati) jumped into the Agni Kunda (sacrificial fire) in Daksha's Yagna and gave up her life, Shiva is said to have performed the Rudra Tandava to express his grief and anger. The Shivapradosha stotra says when Shiva performs the Sandhya Tandava, the other gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Sarasvati, Laxmi and Indra play musical instruments and sing Shiva's praises. Ganesha, the son of Shiva, is depicted as Ashtabhuja tandavsa nritya murtis (Eight armed form of Ganesha dancing the Tandava) in temple sculptures. . The Bhagavata Purana talks of Krishna dancing his Tandava on the head of the serpent Kaliya . According to Jain traditions, Indra is said to have performed the Tandava in honour of Rishabha (Jain tirthankar) on the latter's birth. .