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Dance of God Particle

It is not merely out of some art connoisseur’s fancy that a two-meter high statue of dancing Natraja gets the pride of place in front of the headquarters of the CERN collider project in Geneva. Lalit Mohan writes.

india Updated: Aug 01, 2012 00:39 IST
Lalit Mohan
Lalit Mohan
Hindustan Times

It is not merely out of some art connoisseur’s fancy that a two-meter high statue of dancing Natraja gets the pride of place in front of the headquarters of the CERN collider project in Geneva. The statue, symbolising the cosmic dance of creation and destruction, was installed in 2004. Shiva's frenzy was seen as a metaphor for the flux of the subatomic, or ‘God’, particles being observed by CERN's physicists.

The dance is the central theme in physicist Fritjof Capra's bestseller The Tao of Physics. A special plaque next to the statue at CERN explains the metaphor of Shiva's dance with quotations from Capra’s work: “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," and that "For the modern physicists, then, Shiva's dance is the dance of subatomic matter."

He further writes: “Hundreds of years ago, Indian artists created visual images of dancing Shivas in a beautiful series of bronze. 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."

Indian religious iconography often provides inspiration to scientists as they seek answers to questions that lie beyond our own dimension of time and space.

When the first explosion of the atomic bomb took place, J. Oppenheimer, the father of the project, recalled a verse from Bhagvadgita to describe the scene: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One….Now I have become the destroyer of the worlds.”

The ‘damaru’ in Shiva’s upper right hand heralds the new beginning, but the stoic expression on the dancer’s face makes the exercise an objective reality, devoid of any ‘meaning’ or purpose. This is the spirit that imbued the researchers at CERN.

First Published: Aug 01, 2012 00:38 IST