This week the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the third run of their Large Hadron Collider, which started Tuesday 5 July.

While most people focussed on the exciting physics discoveries this entails, in a dark corner of the internet conspiracy theories started to blossom around CERN’s statue of Lord Shiva The Destroyer and its potential meaning.

We’ve already covered a few of the conspiracies surrounding CERN’s Large Hadron Collider third run, their alleged “doomsday” countdown and the hoax claiming CERN scientists apologised for “ending the world in 2012”.

Now, we’re exploring the myths and possible meaning of CERN’s infamous statue: Who is Shiva The Destroyer? How did CERN get this statue and why is it displayed on their campus?

Photo credit should read SHAUN CURRY/AFP via Getty Images

Who is Lord Shiva?

Shiva is one of the main deities of the Hindu religion and takes many forms – from a pacific one with his family, to a naked ascetic, a yogi, a beggar to the cosmic dancer known as Nataraja, which is displayed on CERN’s campus.

In Hinduism, Shiva is often a dual figure – he’s ascetic and presides over fertility, the master of both medicine and poison, a benevolent shepherd and merciless slaughterer of his “flock”, meaning the human souls in his care.

Depicted in his cosmic dancer form – Nataraja – as he appears at CERN, Shiva represents the source of movement in the universe, of its creation and destruction. He is depicted as graceful, wild-haired and four-armed as he dances on top of a smaller creature, a symbol of human ignorance.

As the Nataraja, Shiva embodies not just The Destroyer but also the creator of the universe.

Why does CERN have a statue of Shiva The Destroyer?

The statue is a gift from India, in honour of their collaboration with CERN, which first started in the 1960s. CERN installed the statue of Shiva The Destroyer on their campus between buildings 39 and 40, just a short walk from their Main Building.

According to a press release, the gift was unveiled in June 2004, in a special ceremony. The statue was made in India, from poured metal with an aged finish.

The statue gained some international attention in 2016 with a viral video claiming to depict scientists performing a human sacrifice ritual in front of the Shiva statue. The video was proven to be a hoax and a spokesperson for CERN said the organisation “does not condone this type of spoof”.

They added the hoax was very likely the work of CERN employees or visiting scientists, as these would be the only people with the necessary security clearance to access the campus at night.

The statue has special meaning to CERN

To CERN, the statue of Shiva The Destroyer is loaded with special meaning. Along with celebrating their decades-long scientific collaboration with India, the Nataraja’s cosmic dance represents the movement of subatomic particles.

Astronomer Carl Sagan first drew the metaphor, which is enshrined on a plaque by the statue. Alongside it is a quote by physicist Fritjorf Capra reads: “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.”

Modern physics has demonstrated, he explains, that the cycle of birth and death present in the natural world is mirrored at a subatomic level. The Nataraja’s dance encompasses both these processes, so, the meaning behind CERN’s Shiva statue is that “Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter.”

Theories, myth and meaning behind CERN’s Shiva statue explored

The wildest conspiracy theories about the Shiva statue concern its associations with death and destruction and occult symbolism.

The symbolism in the Nataraja’s dance, however, is not occult in Hinduism – the dance represents Shakti, or life force, and the objects in Shiva’s four hands stand for the god’s different faces and functions within the religion.

Some theories claim Shiva dances his cosmic dance atop a baby. However, that’s not true – the small figure the Nataraja is dancing on is a creature called Apasmara. The term means “heedlessness” or “forgetfulness” and stands for human ignorance.

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