: In Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu
Associated With: Lord Nataraja Or Shiva In
His Ananda Tandava Pose
Significance: Akasha Lingam
Festivals Celebrated: Two Annual
Bhramotsavams Celebrated During The Months Of Margazhi (December 15 -
January 15) And Aani (June-July) And The Natyanjali Festival Celebrated
one of the most ancient and most celebrated shrines in India located in
Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu. It is of great religious as well as
historic and cultural significance. Chidambaram is associated with Lord
Nataraja or Shiva in his "Ananda Tandava" pose (the Cosmic
Dance of bliss) in the cosmic golden hall and the hall of consciousness
Lord Shiva is
worshipped here in the "formless form" of the Chidambara
Rahasyam, and the temple is known for its "Akasha" Lingam (Sky
Lingam), an embodiment of Shiva as the formless Space. This is one of
the few temples where Shiva and Vishnu are enshrined under one roof.
The origins of
this vast temple are buried in antiquity. Literature talks of a
tradition of Shiva (Nataraja) worship in existence even as early as the
Sangam period (very earlier on in the Christian era), and the Tamil
Saints have sung its fame when an established worship tradition was in
place. The later Chola Kings (Aditya I and Parantaka I) adorned the roof
of the shrine with gold, and the other Chola Kings treated Nataraja as
their guardian deity and made several endowments to the temple as temple
The Pandya Kings
who followed them, and the later Vijayanagar rulers made several
endowments to the temple. There is a stone image of Krishnadevaraya in
the North Gopura, which he is said to have erected. In the wars of the
18th century, this temple was used as a fort, especially when the
British General Sir Eyre Coote unsuccessfully tried to capture it from
the Mysore Kings. During this period, the images of Nataraja and
Shivakamasundari were housed in the Tiruvarur Tyagaraja temple for
Deekshitar, one of the foremost composers in the Carnatic Music
tradition sings the glory of this temple in his Kriti 'Ananda Natana
Prakasam'. The Alwar Poems of the Naalayira Divya Prabandam sing the
glory of Lord Vishnu, whose image is also housed in this temple, and his
shrine is referred to as 'Tiruchitrakootam'.
Adi Shankara is
said to have presented a Spatika Lingam, which is still under worship in
this temple. Sekkizhaar's Periya Puranam, describing poetically the life
of the Saivite Saints (63 in number) was composed in the 1,000-pillared
hall, and was expounded by the author himself in the presence of the
Chola emperor Kulottunga II, who had commissioned the work, amidst great
festivity and fanfare.
Each of the four
most revered Saivite Saints (Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and
Manikkavacakar) has worshipped at Chidambaram, and the bulk of
Manikkavacakar's work is in praise of Shiva at Chidambaram. Accordingly,
their images are placed in the temple entrances corresponding to their
points of entry into the temple (Sambandar - South, Appar - West,
Sundarar - North and Manikkavacakar - East).
Associated With The Temple
Aadi Sesha, the
serpent (couch) of Vishnu, heard from Vishnu the grandeur of Shiva's
cosmic dance. Filled with irrepressible desire to witness this dance in
person at Chidambaram, Seshan descended to the earth as Patanjali (the
one who descended). Vyagrapaadar, another devotee of Shiva prayed to
obtain the tiger's claws so that he could obtain with ease the sacred
Vilva leaves meant for Shiva's worship at Chidambaram.
At the appointed
hour, Shiva (with Shivakami) granted to Patanjali and Vyagrapaadar, a
visual treat in the form of his Cosmic Dance of Bliss, to the
accompaniments of music played by several divine personalities in the
This Dance of
Bliss is said to have been witnessed by Vishnu, and there is a
Govindaraja shrine in the Nataraja temple commemorating this. The dance
of bliss of Shiva is also said to have been enacted upon Shiva's (Bhikshatana)
victory over the married ascetics of Daruka Vanam.
Dance Duel of Lord Shiva And Goddess Kali
legend, commemorating the dance duel between the doyens of dances Shiva
and Kali is associated with Chidambaram. Shiva is said to have lifted
his left foot towards the sky in the Urdhuva Tandava posture, a definite
male gesture, which out of adherence to protocol, Kali could not
reciprocate, thereby causing Shiva to emerge victorious, delegating Kali
to the status of a primary deity in another temple in the outskirts of
Chidambaram. This legend is portrayed in the Nritta Sabha, one of the
halls within the Chidambaram temple.
There is another
recent legend associated with this temple. The sacred Tamil works of the
Nayanmaars had been missing for several years, and it was during the
period of Rajaraja Chola (the builder of the Grand temple at Thanjavur)
that formal research was initiated to trace these fine works of
devotional literature. These works of the Saivite Saints - rich in
musical content were recovered in a dilapidated state in one of the
chambers in this vast temple, after the monarch brought images of the
Saint trinity in procession to the temple.
Tandavam - Dance of Lord Shiva
The dance of
bliss, or the Ananda Tandavam of Shiva is said to symbolize the five
divine acts ("Pancha Krityas") - creation, sustenance,
dissolution, concealment and bestowment of grace. The dance of Shiva has
been frozen in metal and held in worship in Nataraja Sabhas, in
virtually all of the Saivite temples in Tamil Nadu.
Five of the
foremost Sabhas (Pancha Sabhas) are at Chidmbaram (Kanaka Sabha-the hall
of gold), Madurai (Rajata Sabha-the hall of Silver), Tiruvalangadu near
Chennai (Ratnasabha - the hall of rubies), Tirunelveli (Tamrasabha - the
hall of copper) and Kutralam near Tirunelveli (Chitrasabha-the hall of
pictures). Other dance halls of significance are "Adri Sabha"
(the Himalayas), "Aadi Chitsabha" (Tiruvenkaadu near
Chidambaram) and "Perur Kanakasabha" (Patteeswarar temple at
Perur near Coimbatore).
Of The Temple
temple was built during the 6th-8th centuries. There are four tall
Gopurams and on the eastern tower, rising to 40.8 meters, are carved the
108 dance poses of Bharatanatyam. The whole temple spreads to around 40
acres. The temple is built based on the strict "Kundalini Chakra"
orientation and according to the "Shiva Siddhanta" philosophy.
Nataraja temple is a specimen of the assimilation of several
architectural styles. The Nataraja Temple has five halls - the Nritta
Sabha, Deva Sabha, Kanaka Sabha, Chit Sabha and Raja Sabha
sanctum of the temple, houses the grand images of Shiva (Nataraja) and
Parvati (Shivakami) in the Chit Sabha or the hall of consciousness,
adjoining which is the KanakaSabha or the Golden Hall, both these
structures resting on a raised platform. The innermost Prakaram
surrounds the Chit Sabha, and to the South West of Nataraja, is the
shrine of Govindaraja Perumal facing east.
The Holiest Place Of The Temple
The Chit Sabha,
the holiest shrine in the temple, is a wooden structure supported with
wooden pillars, with a hut shaped roof. It is in this hall, that the
images of Nataraja and Shivakami are housed, in front of a set of two
curtains, the inner (invisible) one being red in color, the outer one
being black in color.
To the right of
Shiva, is the revered Chidambara rahasyam - or a representation of
emptiness garlanded with golden vilva leaves. The curtain in front of
the Chidambara Rahasyam, representing Lord Shiva (and Goddess Parvati)
in the formless form ("Aroopam") is lifted ceremoniously
during worship services, with offerings of lamps.
five eternal elements, the temple at Tiruvannamalai has a fire lingam,
Kanchipuram has the earth lingam, Kalahasthi, the wind lingam,
Jambhukeshvar (also spelt as Jambhukeshva) is water and Chidambaram, the
sky lingam. So when the priest draws back the curtain from the inner
shrine of the presiding deity in the Chit Sabha, there is no lingam or
dancing Nataraja to be seen. Only space. This is the charming mystery of
Chidambaram - 'Rahasyam'. The other meanings of this Rahasyam (secret)
are passed on from disciple-Guru (teacher) basis, but can be found in
books like 'Chidambaram mahatmyam' written in Sanskrit.
Also in the
Chitsabha are images of Ratnasabhapati (Nataraja of Ruby), the 'Spatika
Lingam' of Chandramauleeswara, Swarnakarshana Bhairavar, Mukhalingam,
Or The Golden Hall
The Golden Hall,
or Kanaka Sabha is immediately in front of the Chit Sabha, both being on
an elevated platform as mentioned before, with silver panelled doors in
front. The Chit Sabha itself is a meter or so higher than the Kanaka
Sabha and is reached by a flight of 5 silver plated steps, marking the
five 'Aksharas' (syllables) of the "Panchakshara Mantram" (the
five syllabled NamaShivaya).
Or The Hall Of Dance
Across from the
Nataraja shrine in the second Prakaram is the Nritta Sabha or the hall
of dance with some fine pillars, housing an image of Shiva in the 'Urdhva
Tandava' posture, winning over Kali in a dance duel, and an image of
Sarabheswara, another form of Shiva. The Nritta Sabha with fine pillars
is in the form of a chariot drawn by horses.
Deva Sabha Or
The House Of Gods
The Deva Sabha or
the house of Gods is also in the second Prakaram, housing festival
images of the Pancha Murtis (Somaskandar, Parvati, Vinayaka, Subramanya
and Chandikeshwara) and other deities. Mulanathar, or the representation
of Shiva as a Lingam is housed in the second Prakaram.
Prakaram is home to the grand Shivakami Amman temple, the Shivaganga
tank and the 1000-pillared hall or the Raja Sabha, where Nataraja is
brought during two annual festivals.
1,000-pillared hall (ayiram-kal- mandapam) of Raja Sabha, measuring 103m
long and 58m wide witnessed the victory celebrations of the Chola and
Pandya kings. It is a great place for meditation
The sacred water
of the Shivaganga Tank, thronged by bathing pilgrims, has healing powers
and has cured a king's leprosy.
Shivakami Amman shrine is a temple in its own right. Ceilings on the
Mukhamandapam of this temple have paintings from the Nayaka period.
There are friezes of dancers, drummers and musicians all along the
enclosing walls of this temple. The thousand-pillared hall has witnessed
several grand events in history. This hall is also designed in the form
of a chariot. Its entrance features two elephants, and on the basement
there is a frieze of dancing figures.
The 1000 pillared
hall, also in the outermost Prakaram is also of artistic value, as is
the shrine of Subramanya, which dates back to the Pandya period. The
Subramanya shrine is also in the form of a chariot, and is referred to
as the 'Pandya Nayakam'.
The Towers In
Perhaps the most
magnificent structures in the temple are the four lofty Gopurams or
towers in the four cardinal directions, piercing the walls of the
outermost Prakaram. Each is a gigantic masterpiece in itself - about 250
feet in height, with seven tiers. The Western tower is the oldest one.
In the towers, on either side of the gateways there are representations
of the 108 poses of the classical Bharatanatyam Tradition as enunciated
in the Classic Natya Shastra.
The towers are
embellished with images from Hindu mythology. From the second tier
onward, on each of the Gopuram, are seen images of various
manifestations of Shiva such as "Bhikshatana", "Kankala"
(both being ascetic forms), "Kalyanasundara", "Somaskanda",
etc. (bestowers of prosperity). There are no representations of Nataraja
on the temple towers, as this image is reserved for the innermost shrine
Offered To The Lord
services are offered in this temple each day at the shrine of Nataraja -
the last of which is the "ArdhaJaama Puja" (the most special
one), where the padukas (footwear) of Nataraja are ceremoniously taken
to the "Palliarai" (night chamber) of Shiva and Parvati after
elaborate rituals. It is believed that the entire pantheon of divine
figures in the Hindu system of beliefs is present during this occasion.
The first puja in
the morning involves the waking up of Shiva, and a transport of the
padukas back to the main shrine, followed by fire rituals and ablutions
to the crystal Shivalingam. The worship services that follow at about
9:30 am, and then at noon, and at 5.00 pm in the evening and at 7.00 pm
involve a combination of rituals involving ablutions to the Crystal
Lingam and the ceremonial show of lamps to Nataraja and Shivakami amidst
the chanting of Vedic and Tamil hymns.
Agama" system of temple rituals followed in almost all of the
Shaivite temples in Tamil Nadu is not followed at Chidambaram. It is a
unique worship protocol said to have been prescribed by Patanjali that
is followed at this temple.
Bhramotsavams At Chidambaram Two annual Bhramotsavams at Chidambaram
are of great significance, as they involve colorful processions of
festival deities in the car streets. The grandest of these occurs in the
month of 'Margazhi' (December 15 - January 15), concluding on the full
moon day corresponding to the Arudra Darisanam festival (Arudra
Darisanam is celebrated in Shaivite temples all over Tamil Nadu).
This ten day
festival at Chidambaram involves a grand scheme of traditional
observances commencing with the hoisting of the temple flag on the first
day, followed by colorful processions of the five deities ("Pancha
Murtis") on the first eight days on various mounts.
The fifth day
features Mount Kailasam, while the sixth day features the Elephant
mount. It is only on the ninth day that Nataraja leaves his sanctum, and
is taken in a procession through the car streets, in the grand temple
car. This is a special occasion and crowds throng to see it.
communities traditionally offer gifts to Nataraja during this
procession. Nataraja then returns to the Raja Sabha of the temple, where
in the pre-dawn hours of the next day, while the moon is full, special
Abhishekams are performed to Nataraja, in the presence of thousands of
devotees, and the royal audiences of Nataraja in the Raja Sabha follow
this ritual. In the afternoon, Nataraja returns to the shrine
ceremoniously from the Raja Sabha, amidst an enactment of the Ananda
Tandavam (also spelt as Tandava) or the Dance of Bliss.
The second of the
Bhramotsavams happens in the month of Aani (June-July), and it concludes
with Aani Tirumanjanam on the tenth day, in a manner similar to Arudra
Darisanam in Margazhi. It is interesting that these annual Bhramotsavams
or festivals happen in the months immediately preceding the summer and
winter solstices (i.e. Gemini and Sagittarius).
performances have been introduced to the temple recently, in the form of
annual dance festivals. The Natyanjali festival dedicated to the Cosmic
Dancer (Lord Shiva) is celebrated every year during February-March.
Natyanjali festival opens on the auspicious occasion of the Maha
Shivaratri day and of course in the right kind of venue - the 'Prakara'
of the Chidambaram temple. The magnificent temple dedicated to Lord
Shiva, built a thousand years ago, provides a beautiful backdrop for the
This is an
opportunity for all dancers, from all over India, to perform and to pay
their tribute to Lord Nataraja. Natyanjali festival is jointly organised
by The Department of Tourism, Government of Tamil Nadu, The Ministry Of
Tourism, Government of India and The Natyanjali Trust, Chidambaram. The
festival lasts for 5 days.
HOW TO GET
Air: The nearest
airport is at Trichy (168-km).
is on the Chennai Tiruchirappalli main line, between Villuppuram and
Thanjavur and is well connected by rail with Trichy, Madurai, Chennai,
Road: Bus routes
connect Chidambaram to various places in Tamil Nadu like Trichy, Madurai,
Chennai, Thanjavur, Kumbakonam, Nagappattinam etc. Taxis, auto-rickshaws
and city bus service are available for local transportation.
WHERE TO STAY
available at the moderate class and small budgeted hotels in Chidambaram