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sacred image meriting adoration

he response to religious art is predicated upon individual faith, pronounced dogma, religious attitudes toward the image, and aesthetic quality projected by the work of art. The operative principle should be that as the embodiment of the sacred, a religious image provides for immediate and permanent access to the deity. Such a response, however, would require the believer’s receptivity to the power of images and the primacy of sacred nature. The practical reality is that even one work of religious art can garner a diversity of responses, each of which is dependent upon the believer’s preconceptions regarding religious encounter and the image. As an example of this multiplicity of response to one image, consider that of Śiva Nataraja, the divine dancer who creates and destroys the universe with each footstep. Śiva is invited to enter an image of himself at the beginning of ritual prayer or ceremonies; his presence may be perpetual or fleeting, although the physical image endures through the work of art. Throughout the ritual both Śiva and his sacred energy reside within the image but depart when the ritual comes to a close. The image remains as a visual aid for personal devotion and prayer and as a visual remembrance of the god’s activity so that Śiva’s sacred presence is known even in his absence. The artistic rendering of Śiva Nataraja functions as a visual reminder of the divinity’s existence rather than an embodiment or temporary receptacle of the sacred; it thereby becomes a centering point for meditation, prayer, ritual, or religious experience. For many devotees, such an image is simply the point of initiation toward their individual “goal” to transcend materiality and to ascend to a mystical state of imageless union with the divine. Other believers find such an image to be simply a pedagogical object but not relevant for personal prayer, devotions, or mystical experiences. For an iconoclast, such an image of Śiva Nataraja should be denied, if not destroyed, as much out of a fear of idolatry as a simple distrust of images.