Indic Cosmology

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Indic Cosmology, 13.2Ga

"Siva's Dice Game"

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In Indic cosmology the Hindu god Siva is thought to be absorbed in cosmic play or Līlā (see left), specifically a dice game with his consort, Parvati. The image above is a depiction of this activity in the Elephanta Caves in India. Siva wagers various things during the game, almost always losing. The results of this play is Time itself: the creation and evolution of the universe. Siva's play with Parvati contrasts with many Western conceptions of god, such as Aristotle's "unmoved mover," Baruch Spinoza's immanent god, or the Christian god who is usually characterized as omnipotent and omniscient being. This figure of the dice game resonates with the long history of games of chance (up to contemporary obsessions like gambling and lotteries), as well as the notion that chance and indeterminacy are real factors in the evolution of the cosmos.

Hindu Concept of Līlā

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"Nataraja: Siva as Cosmic Dancer"

  • The Hindu concept of Līlā is a very complex idea that is used to describe divine play, game play (as with the dice game), dance, sport play (in stories of Krishna; see below) and erotic flirtation or sex play (as in the Mahabharata). In the above image Siva becomes "Nataraja" and engages in a whirling dance that destroys the universe so that it can be recreated. The concept of līlā not only brings together many forms of "play" that emerge and develop throughout human history - game play, dance, sport, erotic play, roleplay, and sacred ritual, it also underscores the disruption-as-creation theme in discussions of play activity. For, as Huizinga argues, whatever play is, it is not dead mechanism. In this sense play phenomena can be viewed as destructive forces in relation to the tendency of things, cultures, systems to become rigid and uniform.

Chance and the Play of Matter

In this video theoretical physicist Michio Kaku discusses Einstein's famous comment that "God doesn't play dice with the universe" by way of Newtonian physics and the notion of determinism. Kaku explains how Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle" and the nature of electrons in quantum physics subverts Einstein's claim, reasserting the role of chance and indeterminacy as a constituent part of the universe. These ideas thematically connect to the theme of chance in many forms of play. Alea, which is the Latin name for the game of dice, is one of the four play forms identified by Roger Caillois in Man, Play and Games (1961), associated with games of chance.

Krishna's Rasa Līlā

In this clip from the film Lagaan (2001) Krishna, the avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, engages in a form of "rasa līlā" with his consort Radha. Rasa (aesthetics) Līlā (play; see left) is aesthetic play - a dance, and Krishna's rasa līlā is the "dance of divine love." In Hindu stories about Krishna the dance with Radha lasts approximately 4.32 billion years. The story of Krishna and his rasa līlā connects the idea of play to aesthetic feelings, joy, dance, and love. This figure of play emphasizes the significance of aesthetic experience and embodiment, an emphasis that is re-emerging within video game culture by the incorporation of new controllers and sensors that place the body at the center of experience (as opposed to just the hands) and extend traditional "gameplay" to include what game designer Steve Swink refers to as "game feel" and "virtual sensation."


  1. Handelman, Don & David Shulman. God Inside Out: Siva's Dice Game. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  2. Handelman, Don & David Shulman. Śiva in the Forest of Pines: An Essay on Sorcery and Self-Knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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