Many Hindus celebrate Maha Shivratri on March 7 in accordance with the Hindu calendar to venerate Lord Shiva who is considered one of the most important deities in the religion. Interestingly, Shiva, who is also known as Nataraj and symbolises the ‘life force’, has a statue at CERN, Switzerland, home to the Large Hadron Collider and one of the premiere research institutes in the world.
Why does one of the world’s premier research institutes have a statue of Shiva?
Unveiled on June 18, 2004, the two-metre-tall statue was a gift from the Government of India. A plaque next to the statue, with a quote by Fritjof Capra, explains its significance: “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.”
Physicist Fritjof Capra further explained in The Tao of Physics: “The Dance of Shiva symbolises the basis of all existence. At the same time, Shiva reminds us that the manifold forms in the world are not fundamental, but illusory and ever-changing. 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.”
“According to quantum field theory, the dance of creation and destruction is the basis of the very existence of matter. Modern physics has thus revealed that every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction. For the modern physicists then, Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter, the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena.”
Writing about the statue, Aidan Randle-Conde, a post-doc student working at CERN wrote: “So in the light of day, when CERN is teeming with life, Shiva seems playful, reminding us that the universe is constantly shaking things up, remaking itself and is never static. But by night, when we have more time to contemplate the deeper questions Shiva literally casts a long shadow over our work, a bit like the shadows on Plato’s cave. Shiva reminds me that we still don’t know the answer to one of the biggest questions presented by the universe, and that every time we collide the beams we must take the cosmic balance sheet into account.”
The statue captures Shiva performing the Tandava, a dance believed to be the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and destruction.The dance exists in five forms which shows the cosmic cycle from creation to destruction:
- ‘Srishti’ – creation, evolution
- ‘Sthiti’ – preservation, support
- ‘Samhara’ – destruction, evolution
- ‘Tirobhava’ – illusion
- ‘Anugraha’ – release, emancipation, grace
CERN has actually gotten some flak for putting up the statue, more so because it has been accused of playing God by conservative Christians, particularly when they identified the Higgs-Boson in 2013, which has been called the God Particle. CERN even went as far as to explain why they decided to put a statue of ‘The Destroyer’. They said that since India was one of the institute’s observer states, it represented CERN’s multiculturalism with scientists from across the globe.
Popular scientist Carl Sagan was the one who introduced this idea in the West through his show Cosmos. He had said: “Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, no doubt, by accident, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half of the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still.”