Chidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu (Aakash /Sky)
Chidambaram Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the heart of the temple town of Chidambaram,Tamil Nadu).The temple , 78 km south of Pondicherry and 235 Km from Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state of southeastern India. Chidambaram is one of the most ancient and celebrated Shiva shrines in India. It is associated with Nataraja Shiva in his Ananda Tandava pose. The Chidambaram temple houses the Nataraja (Shiva in Ananda Tandava pose; the Cosmic Dance of bliss) statue. It is of great religious, historical and cultural significance. Chidambaram is one of the foremost Shaivite shrines in India. Chidambaram is one of the Pancha bhoota signifying the 5 elements of wind water, fire, earth and space.
The three eyes of the god represent the sun, moon and fire. The deity has four arms, in the rear right hand, he holds a drum (damaru) the symbol of sound and creation as from it emanates the sounds that gave birth to music. The palm of the front right hand is raised in a gesture of protection and blessing. The rear left hand holds a pot of fire signifying destruction while the other points downwards to the left foot raised in a dance pose. The hand is the source of divine grace and bliss while the raised foot represents salvation. The right foot firmly represses Mauyalka, embodiment of human cruelty and ignorance, victory over whom leads to salvation. Surrounding the figure of the dancing god is an aureole of flames, representing wisdom, truth and the vital forces of creation sustained by the cosmic energy generated by the divine dancer. And so, the dance becomes a metaphor of life, wherein are balanced good and evil, creation and destruction.
The garland of sacred bilva leaves hanging in the sanctum actually represents the invisible ‘chakra’, symbol of the divine union of Shiva and Parvati as Nataraja and Sivakami and is known as Chidambaram’s Rahasyam (secret). Leaves of the bilva or bel tree, (Indian wood apple, Aegle marmilos) are always offered to Shiva in a tradition begun by Lord Vishnu himself. Legend tells us that once, when Vishnu ran out of offerings while worshipping Shiva, the goddess Lakshmi came to his rescue and using the powers of her austerity created the Bel tree, the leaves of which were then used by Vishnu to complete his pooja.
The Sangam classics refer to Viduvelvidugu Perumtaccan, respected clan of traditional Vishwakarmas, as being the chief architect of the temple renovation. There have been several renovations in its history, particularly during the days of Pallava/Chola emperors in ancient and pre-medieval periods.
The word Chidambaram may be derived from chit, meaning "consciousness", and ambaram, meaning "sky" (from aakasam or aakayam); it refers to the chidaakasam, the sky of consciousness, which is the ultimate aim one should attain according to all the Vedas and scriptures.Another theory is that it is derived from chit + ambalam. Ambalam means a "stage" for performing arts. The chidakasam is the state of supreme bliss or aananda and Lord Natarajar is the symbolic representation of the supreme bliss or aananda natanam. Saivaites believe that a visit to Chidambaram leads to liberation.Yet another theory is that it is derived from the word chitrambalam, from chithu meaning "play or dances of God" and ambalam meaning "stage",
The temple has 9 gateways and four of these have towering pagodas or gopurams each with 7 levels in the East, South, West and North. The eastern pagoda has all the 108 postures (karnams) of the Indian dance form – Bharathanatyam sculpted on it. The Nataraja Temple has five halls, Kanaka Sabha, Chit Sabha, Nritta Sabha, Deva Sabha and Raja Sabha. Shiva Nataraja and his consort Parvati Sivakami preside over the garba-griham or the sanctum sanctorum in the Kanaka Sabha while the sanctum of the Chit Sabha houses the Akasalingam (Lingam of Space). Interestingly, there is no image or representation of Shiva because here the god is worshipped in his all-encompassing ‘formless’ state.
The Hall of Dance, the Nritta Sabha is the most outstanding of all the halls – designed like a horse drawn chariot; it has 56 pillars portraying 108 poses of Bharatnatyam, the classical dance form associated with Shiva and with Tamil Nadu. Festivals were organised in the Deva Sabha, the hall of the gods. The thousand pillared pavilion, the Rajya Sabha was the venue for victory celebrations and thanksgiving ceremonies during the reigns of the Pandya and Chola dynasties.
As per legend , Adi Sesha, the serpent (couch) of Vishnu, heard from Vishnu the grandeur of Shiva’s cosmic dance. Filled with irrepressable desire to witness this dance in person at Chidambaram, the Seshan descended to the earth as Patanjali (the one who descended). Vyagrapaadar who is 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 Sivakami) 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 Hindu pantheon. This Dance of Bliss is said to have been witnessed by Vishnu, and there is a Govindaraja shrine in the Natarajar 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.
According to yet another legend commemorating the dance duel between the doyens of dance Shiva and Kali is associated with Chidambaram. Lord 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, Kaali could not reciprocate, thereby causing Shiva to emerge victorious, delegating Kaali 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 one more 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 Raja Raja Chola (the builder of the Grand temple at Tanjavur) 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.
Timings of Temple
Morning 6.00.a.m to 12.00 noon
Evening 5.00.p.m. to 10.00 night
Best Time to Visit
Best Season to visit the temple is from October to March. There are Two annual Bhrammotsavams at Chidambaram which are of great significance. They are Anithirumanjanam which is held in June-July, and Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai held in December-January. During these festivals, the sacred shrine of Lord Nataraja is taken in a procession through the car streets, in the grand temple car, followed by a long anointing ceremony. These festivals are attended by large number of people. The Natyanjali Festival is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is held every year during February-March in the temple premises. It begins on the auspicious occasion of Maha Shivaratri and lasts for five days. During this festival, dancers from all over India, participate to pay their tribute to Lord Nataraja.
Festivals celebrated at Temple
The Natyanjali Dance Festival is held on the temple grounds in February with performances by eminent dancers. The 5 day long festival is held during the Mahashivratri celebrations in February, and attracts the finest classical dancers who perform in the 'prakararam' in the temple grounds.
Rituals at Temple
The temple is managed and administered hereditarily by the Chidambaram Dikshitar – a class of Vaideeka Brahmins whom, legends say, were brought here, from Mt. Kailas, by Saint Patanjali, specifically for the performance of the daily rituals and maintenance of the Chidambaram temple.
The Deekshithars were supposed to be 3000 ( 2999 actually, with the Lord totaling 3000 ) and were called the Tillai Moovayaram. Today they number around 360. These Deekshithars follow the Vedic rituals, unlike the Sivachariyars or Adhisaivars – who follow the agamic rituals for the worship of Lord Shiva. The rituals for the temple were collated from the Vedas and set by Patanjali, who is said to have inducted the Deekshithars into the worship of Lord Shiva as Nataraja.
In general, every married male member of the Deekshithar family gets a turn to perform the rituals at the temple and can serve as the chief priest for the day. Married Deekshithars are also entitled a share of the temple's revenue.
The day begins with the Chief priest of the day, performing required rituals to purify himself and assume the Shivoham bhava, after which he enters the temple to do the daily rituals. The day begins with the Lord’s footwear (padukas) being brought at 7:00am from the Palliyarai (or bedroom) to the sanctum sanctorum in a palanquin accompanied by devotees with cymbals and chimes and drums. The Priest then begins by performing the daily rituals with a yagna and a ' Go pujai' (worship of a cow and her calf).
Worship (Pooja) is done 6 times in a day. Before each pooja, the Spadika linga (Crystal linga) – the 'aru uruva' or the semi form state of Lord Shiva is anointed with ghee, milk, curds, rice, sandal paste and holy ash. This is followed by presenting the neivedhyam or offering of freshly prepared food and sweets to the Lord and the deeparaadhana, a ritual of showing varied and decoratively set lamps, the reciting of Vedas in Sanskrit and the Panchapuranam (a set of 5 poems from a set of 12 works in Tamil – called the panniru thirumurai). The pooja ends with the priest parting the curtains of the sanctum sanctorum to reveal the Chidambara Rahasyam.
Before the 2nd pooja, apart from the regular anointing of the crystal linga, a ruby Nataraja deity (the Rathinasabhapathy) is also anointed. The 3rd pooja is at around 12.00 noon, after which the temple closes until around 4:30pm. The 4th pooja is performed at 6.00 PM, the 5th at 8:00pm and the last pooja of the day is performed at 10:00pm, after which the Lord’s footwear is taken in a procession for Him to ‘retire’ for the night. Before the 5th pooja at night, the priest performs special rituals at the Chidambara Rahasya, where he anointed the yantra with aromatic substances and offers 'neivedhyam'.
The last pooja, called the Arthajaama pooja in Chidambaram is done with special fervor. It is believed that the entire divine force of the universe retires into the Lord, when he retires for the night.
Places of Interest
Getting there and around
Vaitheeswaran Koil - Located at a distance of 24 km from Chidambaram, the place is famous for the Siva temple dedicated to Vaidyanatheeswarar, the healer of all diseases and his consort Thaiyalnayaki. It is believed that a bath in the holy waters of the Siddhamirtham tank within the temple complex will cure all diseases. Nadi Jothidam is a traditional skill popular here. The temple is also known as “Pullirukkuvelur”, (Pul - Irukku - Vel - Ur, the words in Tamil meaning Bird (Jatayu), Rig Veda, Lord Murugan and Sun respectively) is one of the important Shiva temples in the South.
- Thillai kali Amman Temple - is located near the northern end of the main Nataraja Temple. This temple is mainly dedicated to Goddess Kali with the main idol having four faces. The Thillaikali Amman Temple was built during the 13th century by Kopperunjingan.
- Chathapurinathar Temple - is situated at Tirukolakka, which is located a kilometre away to the west of Chidambaram. The main deity in this temple is Lord Chathapurinathar or Lord Shiva, along with Osai Kodutha Nayagi. Visited by thousands of tourists every year, this temple has received special mention in the pathigams of Appar, Sundarar and Sambandar.
- Tirunallurpperumanam Temple - is situated near the Nataraja Temple and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This temple lies on the main Mayiladuthurai railroad and was the seat of the Anglo-French wars. In 1744, this temple came under the control of British after the defeat of the Thanjavur army.
- Tirunelvayil Temple - is situated just 2 km from Chidambaram and is mainly dedicated to Lord Shiva. This temple is located close to the Tiruvetkalam Temple which is situated near the Annamalai University. The temple is situated towards the eastern side of the town and is famous for its five tiered Rajagopuram at the main temple entrance.
- Tiruvetkalam Temple - is located close to the Annamalai University in Chidambaram. It is a 16th century temple dedicated to Pasupateshwar or Lord Shiva.
- Sivakamiamman Temple - is famous for its Sivaganga Tank as well as its thousand-pillared hall. There is also a brightly illuminated garbha griha adorned with rave sculptural pieces and a granite idol of the Goddess.
By Air - The nearest airport to Chidambaram is airport at Tiruchirappalli (195km) and is well connected to Chennai airport by regular flights.
By Rail - Chidambaram is well rail connected to all major cities in India through Chennai and Tiruchirappalli.
- By Road - National Highways (45A, 227) link Chidambaram to the rest of the country. Chidambaram is connected by buses to all the major towns and cities in Tamil Nadu and also connected to cities in Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
There are no cottages or choultries which are under the maintenance of temple. Chidambaram is small kind of city. The Hotels and Lodges are available near by the bus stand and railway station.
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