Why Is That Guy Standing on a Baby?

Written by on April 11, 2017 in Conscious Evolution, Conscious Living, Meditation with 0 Comments

Shiva NatarajOnce, as I was about to begin a yoga class, I asked the class if they had any requests for poses before we started.  One who was relatively new, raised his hand and asked, pointing to the 4.5 ft. Shiva Nataraj statue behind me, “Why is that guy standing on a baby?”

What a fantastic question! And suddenly I began to wonder how many people walk in and out of yoga studios each day and see these beautiful symbols like this imposing statue of Siva with his many arms, surrounded by a wreath of fire, a snake around his belly, dancing dreadlocks, standing on an impish creature and wonder what is it’s all about.

Yoga synthesizes ancient wisdom with our modern circumstances to provide a practice for being in the world and for understanding ourselves. Plus, it just feels good. Yoga’s many ancient symbols and philosophical tenants can provide beautiful insight to our modern world and personal journey of self discovery. They can also seem not only confusing to modern, western practitioners, but also down right alienating. So what does all this ancient wisdom and symbolic iconography have to do with waking up each morning, dragging my butt outta bed, and going out into the world to live another day?”

The Dancing Siva, or Siva Nataraj (meaning royal dancer), is a statue that tells many stories. To understand the mystery of the squashed baby, maybe we could look at several of the symbols in this statue.

First, the statue represents an idea of the creator of the Universe, one who propels the continuous dance of all things. Shiva’s limbs illustrate this cosmic dance of birth, life, death, and rebirth.In his first hand, Shiva’s holding a drum, laying down the beat, the vibration that quickens everything in the universe. Modern science says that everything is vibration, frequency, from the smallest particle to the largest galaxy. As a musician, I like that idea of the universe being created by DJ Shiva laying down a steady backbeat that makes everything in the universe pulse.

Abhaya MudraNext Shiva is holding out his hand, fingers up, palm out, in the Abhayamudra. A mudra is a symbolic and energetic hand gesture. This mudra represents sustaining. By this mudra, Shiva’s saying, “Hey, man. I got you.” Things were created and then are sustained or stay in motion.

Shiva’s third hand and holds a flame. It says not to get too attached because everything changes. Things wilt, fade, and die. Physics 101: energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed, rather energy may simply take on a different forms: leaves fall, become mulch, soil, nutrients, reabsorbed , become another leaf, etc. This might be a practical understanding of reincarnation. Let’s not get into that here. What I’m getting at is that Shiva is suggesting that change is the program.

Shiva’s fourth arm crosses his chest concealing his heart. He’s telling us that you don’t get a free ride to know the heart of God, or understand your own deep divinity. To know God’s heart or your own Divine heart, you have to do the work to see it. And translate “God” however you want, the divine part of yourself, a supreme being, you choose. Either way, you can’t be a wall flower in this cosmic dance of existence. To really appreciate the fact that everything is moving you gotta to join the dance, gotta shake your booty, gotta be willing to scuff your shoes and sweat. But hey, the dance is what enthralls us.

RiverdanceOk. This still doesn’t explain why Shiva is doing Riverdance on this poor creature’s back. So, with one leg, Shiva is standing on a creature known as Apasmara. It looks like a baby, sometimes a demon, sometimes pig-like, and while this seems a little callous of Shiva, this action is actually quite compassionate. That’s because this ApasmaraApasmara isn’t a baby but a creature that represents our own ignorance. Shiva knows our divine potential and won’t stand for (or on) anything less. So, while one leg stands on this demon-thing, his other leg is lifting in a gesture that invites us to rise from that old, ignorant self into a new understanding of ourselves. He’s revealing our true nature and with that higher perspective, also revealing to us a new relationship with our old circumstances. He is the dance partner inviting us to rejoin the dance of our life, with new understanding, through the continuous dance of birth, sustaining, death, and rebirth. He’s telling us to constantly reinvent our relationships, our jobs, and our passions.

And THAT is why Shiva is standing on that thing that looks like a baby. My hope is at very least we understand this symbol a little better. Maybe when we are practicing yoga, or if we find ourselves  under Shiva’s calm gaze, in all his dynamic magnificence, we might remember some of the reasons we practice yoga. Maybe we can use the symbol of Shiva standing on Apasmara to allow this transforming practice of yoga to give us the strength, hope, and clarity, to take action in our lives and commit to reinvent it over and over again in this wild dance of our own existence.


Scott Moore is a senior teacher of yoga and mindfulness in Salt Lake City, Utah and when he’s not teaching or conducting retreats, he writes for Conscious Life News, Elephant Journal, Mantra Magazine, and his own blog at scottmooreyoga.com. Scott also loves to trail run, play the saxophone, and travel with his wife and son.


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