By Swami Harshananda
Apasmāra-puruṣa literally means ‘cretinous person’.
To the uninitiated, idols or pictures of the gods with their wives and children, queer mounts and obsolete weapons is an enigma. So when it is conceded that they are often symbolical, the symbolism itself is understood from competent sources.
Though Lord Śiva, the great God of dissolution and the last of the Trinity is generally worshiped 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 trampling upon a dwarf-demon called ‘apasmāra- puruṣa.’ He symbolises ignorance.
Apasmāra, strictly speaking, is epilepsy. However, in this context, cretinism is perhaps nearer to the intended sense. Just as cretinism makes a man underdeveloped both in body and in mind, even so does ignorance stun's one’s spiritual growth. The icons of Dakṣiṇāmurti Śiva also show him as trampling upon the apasmāra-puruṣa.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore