Chidambaram is 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 ('Chit Sabha').
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 inscriptions testify.
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 safety.
Muthuswami 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).
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 Hindu pantheon.
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.
Yet another 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.
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).
The original 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.The Chidambaram 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
The innermost 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 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.
Worshipping the 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, etc.
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).
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.
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.
The outermost 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.
The 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.
The vast 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'.
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 alone.
Six worship 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.
The "Shiva 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.
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.
Local fishermen 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).The Natyanjali Festival
Live dance 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 event.
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.
The nearest airport is at Trichy (168-km).
Chidambaram is on the Chennai Tiruchirappalli main line, between Villuppuram and Thanjavur and is well connected by rail with Trichy, Madurai, Chennai, etc.
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.
The town of Chidambaram is situated in the east-central part of Tamil Nadu state of southeastern India extending 11.24°N and 79.44°E. The town is in the Coleroon River Valley on the Madras-Thanjavur road and rail system. The climate of Chidambaram is tropical with mercury touching up to 37°C in the summers and around 20°C in the winters.
The nearest airports are Tiruchirapalli (195 km) and Chennai (245 km). From Tiruchirapalli, Indian Airlines flights can be taken to Chennai (Madras). Chennai is connected to all the major cities in India and abroad through regular flights.
Chidambaram is situated on the Madras-Tiruchirapalli main line of the Southern Railway. It is connected with Tiruchirapalli, Madras, Madurai (335 km), Rameshwaram (575 km), Bangalore (340 km), and Tirupati (290 km).
Frequent bus services are available to various places in Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Pondicherry states from Chidambaram. There are non-stop bus services and express bus services to major cities like Chennai.
|Distances from Chidambaram to :|
Chidambaram (also Thillai) literally means the sky permeated by an atmosphere of intelligence and wisdom. According to legend, it was once a forest of tillai, a mangrove species of trees. There was once a small shrine on the banks of a tank. The saints Vyagrapada and Patanjali are said to have worshipped at this shrine, now called Thirumoolanathar. It is believed that their penance attained fruition with the revelation of Shiva's cosmic dance by Lord Nataraja on the auspicious Thai Poosam day.
The temple is ideally located in the centre of the town covering an area of 40 acres. It is one of the oldest temples of Tamil Nadu. The roof of the temple is covered with gold plates. The presiding deity of the temple is represented by air, one of the five elements of the universe and is known as "Akasa Lingam".
The Eastern tower rises to a magestic height of 40.8 metres. 108 Bharatha Natyam dance gestures can be seen engraved on the Eastern towers as well as Western tower. The Northern tower rises to a height of 42.4 metres.
The Sivaganga tank, the thousand pillar hall are the other highlights features of the temple.
The Thillaikaliamman temple is located on the northern end of the town. It was constructed by Kopperunjingan, who ruled between 1229 AD and 1278 AD.
It is a residential University founded by the Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar. It is a great centre of Tamil learning and Carnatic music; now offers educational facilities in various disciplines including Medicine, Agriculture, Engineering etc.
Pichavaram, 16 kms. east of Chidambaram, ranks among the most exquisite scenic spot with abundant and varied tourism resources. The backwaters which are interconnected by the Vellar and Kollidam system offer abundant scope for water sports - parasailing, rowing and canoeing.
It is about 30 kms. from Chidambaram via Vadalur. It is one of the biggest industrial complexes in the country. The lignite mined here is utilized for thermal power generation. Apart from fertilisers ceramic wares and Leco (cooking coal), a number of by-products are also produced from lignite.
Kalvarayan Hills :
The Kalvarayan hills are situated 150 kms north west of Chidambaram on the western side of Kallakurichi Taluk. Covering over an area of 600 sq. kms. approximately with the height ranging from 315 mts. to 1190 mts. these hills offer a temperate climate and a peaceful atmosphere. There is a beautiful botanical garden on the hills. There are two waterfalls here. The area is best suited for trekking. A summer festival is also held every year in the month of May.
Once the site of a Danish settlement, Tarangambadi has the remains of the Dansborg fort built by Ore Gedde, the commander of the Royal Dutch Navy, in the 17th century. The fort constructed in 1620 with two storeys was the most important building which housed the top echelons of the Danish officials. Apart from the ramparts, the rest of the buildings are in good condition.
Chidambaram is the seat of the cosmic dancer Nataraja (Ananda Tandava pose ; the Cosmic Dance of bliss). Chidambaram is one of the foremost Saivite shrines; the very name Kovil refers to Chidambaram, where Natarajar is enshrined in the Chit Sabha or the Hall of Consciousness, in the Ananda Tandavam (Dance of Bliss) pose. Chidambaram is one of the Panchabhoota Stalams signifying the 5 elements of wind water , fire , earth and space. The Moovar (Sambandar, Appar and Sundarar) as well as Manikkavacakar have sung praises of Chidambaram. Several literary works praise the glory of Chidambaram.
Chidambaram is 250 Kms south of Chennai. It is on the railway main line. Roughly this is in the middle, between Chennai and Tiruchirapalli. Chidambaram can be reached by bus. Bus routes connect this town to various places in Tamil Nadu.
This temple was concealed behind the veil of mystery for centuries,but its known sublimity in records begins with the visit of Hiranya Chakravarthi of Kashmir around 500 A.D. The king is believed to have been cured of his leprosy with a single dip in the temple pushkarini, Sivaganga thirtham . The four eminent saiva acharyas Appar, Sambandar, Sundarar and Manikkavachakar are bonded with this holy temple and produced master pieces eulogising their respective paths - Charya, Kriya, Yoga and Gnana. This kshetra is said to have given 'moksha' (liberation) to infinite devotees - notable amongst them are Nandanar, Tirunilakandanayanar, Vyagrapada, Patanjali.
Chidambaram is located 235 Kms from Chennai (Madras), Tamilnadu State, South India and 43 Kms from Cuddalore (Cuddalore District Headquarters).
The temple town of Chidambaram, 58 km south of Pondicherry greets the visitors, with a beautiful temple, dedicated to Lord Nataraja - Lord Shiva in the enthralling form of a Cosmic Dancer. This is one of the few temples, where Shiva and Vishnu are enshrined under one roof. Chidambaram is also called Thillai, since the place was originally a forest of Thillai shrubs. It is one of the five Shaivite mukti sthalams, the other four being Kalahasti, Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai and Tiruvanaikaval. A unique feature of Chidambaram is that a person of any race or religion can visit the shrine and pray.
The Nataraja temple at the heart of the town, covering an area of 40 acres, is one of the ancient temples in Tamil Nadu. It has a gold plated roof, towering over the presiding deity, Akasa Lingam - the Lingam of Space. The Lord is worshipped in different temples as representing the five elements - earth, water, wfire, wind and ether. Chidambaram is unique in that, there is no lingam made of stone in the sanctum of this temple, for here Shiva was seen in His formless form. One of the main features of this temple is a magnificent bejewelled Nataraja image. Details of the Natya Sastra are carved on one of the four tall gopurams, each rising to 40.8 metres. 108 Bharatanatyam dance poses also can be seen on each tower.
Another fascinating morsel about the temple is the Chidambara Rahasyam, the secret of Chidamabaram. The union of the Lord and his consort forms a chakra, which is invisible. To symbolise this chakra, a garland of Bilva leaves is hung in the sanctum sanctorum.
The Sivakamiamman temple, the Sivaganga tank, the thousand pillar hall are the other important features of the t emple.Kali Temple
This temple is situated on the northern end of the town. It was built by Kopperunjingan, who ruled between 1229 AD and 1278 AD.Annamalai University
On the eastern outskirts of the town is this residential University, founded by Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar. A great centre of Tamil learning and carnatic music, it offers educational facilities in various disciplines including Medicine, Engineering etc.
20 kms from Chidambaram, Seerkazhi has three shr ines - Sree Brahmapureeswarar, Sattanathar and Thoniappar shrines; the Goddess Tirunilai Nayaki shrine and; the shrine of God Child, Gnanasambandar.Pichavaram
Pichavaram, 16 kms east of Chidambaram, ranks among the most exquisite scenic spots, with islands rich in mangroves and avianfauna, dotting the back waters. The back waters which are interconnected by the Vellar and Coleroon system, offer abundant scope for water sports - parasailing, rowing and canoeing. The mangroves, here, are considered to be the healthiest mangrove occurrence in the world. The area is about 2800 acres, and is separated from the sea by a sand bar, which is a patch of extraordinary loveliness.Poompuhar
About 40 kms from Chidambaram in Tanjavur district, is Poompuhar, once the biggest port on the east coast. This is the place where the Tamil classic, 'Silappathikaram', has been created to the immense pleasure of the Tamils. The Cauvery, merging with the bellowing sea, was known as Puhar, but due to the exquisite beauty of the port town, it came to be called Poompuhar. Another name of Poompuhar was Kaveripoompattinam. The greatness of this city is brought out in some of the poems in Sangam literature, and also by Silapathikaram and Manimekalai, among the epics. In order to conjure up the divine scenic beauty of Poompuhar, the art gallery, here, exudes a 2nd century AD ambience, with the creation of ilanji Manram, Pavai Manram, the Buddhis t School, Arugan Kottam, Tirumal Kottam and Murugu Kottam etc.Festival
The Natyanjali festival, which brings all the prominent dancers of India, together on the same platform, opens on the auspicious occasion of Mahasivaratri, in the month of February. It is performed at the 'Prakara' of the temple, and the dancers, full of intense bliss and devotion, with their evocative abhinaya, offer their dance to the great divinity, Lord Nataraja.How to Get There
Chidambaram is connected by road to all major towns. Rail connections to Trichy, Madurai and Madras. Nearest airport is Trichy.
Hotel Tamil Nadu, Railway Feeder Road. Hotel Saradharam, VGP Street. Hotel Akshaya, East Car Street.
Government of Tamil Nadu Tourist Office, Railway Feeder Road, Chidambaram.
Chidambaram greets us with a beautiful temple, dedicated to Lord Nataraja - God Siva, in the form of a cosmic Dancer. This is one of the few temples where Siva and Vishnu are enshrined under one roof. Dedicated to Lord Nataraja, this ancient temple of the Cholas is unique not only it is devoted solely to the art of Bharatanatyam, but also it is one of the rare temples where Shiva is represented by an idol rather than the customary Lingam. Spread over an area of 40 acres with a gopuram on each side, the temple is distinguished by five sabhas or courts.
The temple located in the centre of the town covers an area of 40 acres. It is one of the ancient temples of Tamil Nadu. The roof of the sanctum sanctorum is covered with gold plates. The presiding deity of the temple is represented by air, one of the five elements of the universe and is known as Akasa Lingam.
The Eastern tower rises to a height of 40.8 metres. 108 Bharatha Natyam dance gestures can be seen on the Eatern towers as well as Western tower. The Northern tower rises to a height of 42.4 metres.
The Sivakamiamman temple, the Sivaganga tank, the thousand pillar hall are other important features of the temple.Kali Temple
The Thillaikaliamman temple is on the northern end of the town. It was built by Kopperunjingan, who ruled between 1229 AD and 1278 AD.Annamalai University
It is a residential University founded by the Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar. It is a great centre of Tamil learning and carnatic music; now offers educational facilities in various disciplines including Medicine, Agriculture, Engineering etc.