apasmāra-puruṣa

(‘cretinous person’)

To the uninitiated, idols or pictures of the Hindu gods with their wives and children, queer mounts and obsolete weapons is an enigma. It is no more so when it is conceded that they are often symbolical and when the symbolism itself is understood from competent sources.

Though Lord Śiva, the great God of dissolution and the last of the Hindu Trinity, is generally worshipped in the form of the liṅga, idols depicting him in various poses are not uncommon. They are, invariably, sculptured on the walls or pillars of temples, but not formally worshipped in the sanctum sanctorum.

Out of such images of Śiva, that of Naṭarāja, ‘the king of dancers’, is the most enchanting. In this, he is shown as tramp-ling upon a dwarf-demon called ‘apasmāra-puruṣa.’ He symbolises ignorance.

Apasmāra, strictly speaking, is epilepsy. However, in this context, cretinism is perhaps nearer the intended sense. Just as cretinism makes a man underdeveloped both in body and in mind, even so does ignorance stunt one’s spiritual growth.

The icons of Dakṣiṇāmūrti Śiva also show him as trampling upon the apasmāra-puruṣa.

See also DAKṢIṆĀMURTI and NAṬARĀJA.