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The Dancing Nataraja: Finding Home in the West

Historical, Shrines   |   November 4, 2019

On a cold and rainy day in March of 1991, a group of religious dignitaries gathered at the highest point of Yogaville to celebrate the inauguration of the Kailash shrine. The shrine was built to house the seven-foot-tall bronze moorti (sacred statue), depicting Lord Siva manifested as Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer; gifted to the ashram by Dr. Karan Singh. On that memorable day, as rain poured over the sides of the makeshift tarp, Dr. Singh was reported to have joyously proclaimed;

“Ahh, now this is Kailash weather!”

Dr. Karan Singh was born a prince, heir to his father, the maharaja (great king) of one the largest Indian states, Jammu and Kashmir. However, he was more interested in serving than ruling and worked tirelessly as a public servant in various positions for the Indian government and the United Nations. One of his many ambitions in life was to bring his family’s Nataraja moorti to the West. However, for many years he searched without finding a worthy site.

While serving as U.S. Ambassador from India, in 1989, Dr. Singh visited the ashram of his friend, Sri Swami Satchidananda, in rural Virginia. The two met previously while serving together on the advisory board of an interfaith organization; the Temple of Understanding. Upon seeing the Light Of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS) and the high hilltop overlooking LOTUS and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Dr. Singh realized his search had finally ended. He decided the site would be the perfect home for Lord Nataraja, a true Mount Kailash of the West.

A loyal devotee of Sri Swami Satchidananda, Mitra Metro, served as site supervisor for the construction. Mitra recounts that Dr. Singh and Sri Swami Satchidananda made a deal regarding the Nataraja.

“I’ll give him a home,” Sri Swami Satchidananda promised, “if you bring him here.”

Dr. Singh agreed happily and construction plans began immediately.

The original design for the shrine was a glass pyramid, however the plan was revised as it required an extensive ventilation system. In order for the dancing Nataraja to represent the cosmic dance, Sri Swami Satchidananda wanted the statue to “dance” or spin and decided to model the building after a music box. Importantly, the shrine would have to align with Chidambarum and LOTUS on the north to south axis line. The entire sangha (spiritual community) rallied to help with the project. 

Sri Swami Satchidananda and Mitra Metro 

First, Siva Moore, Yogaville’s current executive director, bulldozed and leveled the earth. As site supervisor, Mitra Metro ensured workers were supplied with needed materials and that the project met the ambitious deadlines. From the beginning, Sri Swami Satchidananda took part in all aspects of the construction process, challenging and guiding sangha members until its completion.

“Every day was a test or a lesson of some kind, and most of them I am still figuring out today.”  -Mitra Metro

Sri Swami Satchidananda installs the dancing Nataraja with sangha members.
Sri Swami Satchidananda inspects the dome roof.

On March 10, 1990, to celebrate the completion of the concrete foundation, ceremonial prayers were offered to Mother Earth and a gem box full of blessed crystals was sealed within the foundation.

Next, the steel frame structure was built and the fiberglass dome roof assembled. After collecting the dancing Nataraja from the Baltimore Harbor, Mitra strapped the heavy package down in the sagging flat bed of his pick-up truck. He drove all the way back to the ashram, grateful he had heeded his Guru’s subtle hint for new tires. With the help of many strong hands, Mitra and Sri Swami Satchidananda moved and installed the moorti. Afterwards, the glass windows were closed, sealing the shrine.

Finally, the vision of Dr. Singh and Sri Swami Satchidananda had come to fruition. Undoubtedly relieved to have completed the project succesfully on time, Mitra was given the honor of leading the first puja (Hindu worship service) to celebrate and bless the dancing Nataraja.

Following the shrines’ inauguration, construction continued for the next two years. First, the porch roof was built to guard against those rainy days on Mount Kailash. Afterwards, members built two enclosures to house marble moortis of Lord Ganesha, Lord Siva, Lord Krishna, and Sri Durga (Parashakti). Additionally, one bronze moorti of Sri Swami Satchidananda was added to sit at the opposite end of the awning. And, as was envisioned, the Nataraja “dances” rotating nine times at noon, 6 p.m., midnight, and 6 a.m.

Left: A lingam (the universal symbol of Lord Siva).  Right: The Dancing Nataraja adorned after a puja.
At the feet of Lord Nataraja the lingam is seen along with other smaller moortis  of Nandishwara Deva (Sri Nandi), Sri Ganesha, Sri Subramanyam (Lord Muruga), and Sri Sivakami Mata, his consort.

As a result of the hard work accomplished thirty years ago, today, all can visit the completed Kailash, a testament to the great friendship between Dr. Singh and Sri Swami Satchidananda and the unyielding determination of the Yogaville community.

Written by Kṛtajña Kerby 

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