Chidambaram Temple

Chidambaram is also known as Thillai, since the place was originally a thillai (excecaria agallecha) shrub forest.  the famous Sri Nataraja temple is located here.  Dedicated to Lord Shiva in His Cosmic Dance of Bliss, this is one of the rare temples where Shiva is represented by an idol rather than the usual lingam.  The Cosmic Dance takes place in the Cosmic Golden Hall and the Hall of Consciousness (Chit Sabha).  He is also worshipped here as the formless form, the essence of what is known as Chidambara Rashasyam.  the temple is also known for its Akasa Lingam, the embodiment of Shiva in space.  While the antiquity of the temple is matter of debate, reference to Nataraja is found in ancient Sangam literature (roughly about 2,000 year ago).  Many are the ancient Shaviaite saints who have sing in praise of the temple.  The present temple, however, owes its greatness to the Imperial Cholas, who gold-plated the roof of the Kanaka Sabha.  The Pandyas and the Vijayanagar rulers also made handsome endowments, as inscriptions testify.  An image of Sri Krishnadeva Raya can be found on the north gopuram.

There are several legends involving this temple, but the most interesting one relates to the Cosmic dance between Shiva and Shakti.  It is said that Shiva lifted his left foot towards the sky, which the Devi could not replicated out of female modesty.  As Shiva emerged victorious, Shakti moved out to a temple in another part of Chidamaram.  The Nritta Sabha in the temple portrays this episode.  Shiva's dance symbolizes the pancha kriya (five divine acts): creation, sustenance, dissolution, and bestowing of grace.

The Chit Sabha, a wooden structure in the inner sanctum, houses the image of Lord Nataraja and Goddess Sivakamisundari.  To Shiva's right is Chidambaram Rahasyam, a representation of emptiness, garlanded with gold bilwa leaves.  Also here is a Nataraja in ruby (Ratnasabhapati).  Many are the Shiva temples that embody the Nataraja Sabhas, but Chidambaram is distinguished by five sabhas or courts.  The Kanaka Sabha (Hal of Gold) is the most prominent among the five.  This hall is in front of the Chit Sabha.  In the second prakaram is the Nritta Sabha or the Hall of Dance, where Shiva is said to have won over Shakti in their Cosmic dance.

Sri Sivakami Amman

Sri Sivakami Amman shrine is in the outermost prakaram, and is a separate temple by itself.  There are several carvings on the walls, which depict dancers and musicians, while the ceiling depicts murals, obviously belonging to the Nayak period.  The adjoining 1000 pillared hall is shaped like a chariot, with elephants at the entrance also here is the shrine for Sri Subramanya, a later addition.

Another unique thing here is that there is a shrine for Sri Govindaraja Perumal very near the Nataraja temple.  It is one of the 108 Vaishnava Divya desams.  Its presence in the temple compleex represents a sort of fusion between Vaishnavism and Saivism.  There is also a separate shrine for His consort, Sri Pundareegavalli Thayar. According to legends, Lord Vishnu, as Sri Govindaraja Perumal, witnessed Lord Nataraja's stunning dance performance at Ponnambalam, as Chidambaram was then known.  The Lord is in a reclining posture here, relaxing while witnessing the celestial dance.  He is attended by the divine consorts, Periya piratti, Bhoomi Devi and Neela Devi, while other devas surround Him.  It is also said that Lord Rama had come here, while searching for Sri Sita, who had been abducted by Ravana. One of the utsavars here is Sri Rama. Is in his vanavaasa (forest dweller) attire.

The temple complex is spread over an area of 40 acres with a gopuram on each side. The four lofty gopurams are over 75m tall (250 feet).  The 108 poses of Bharatanatyam are carved on the eastern and western towers.  The Natyanjali dance festival is held in Chidambaram during Maha Shivaratri in February.
Sri Thillai Kaliamman temple, built by king Kopperunjingam (1229 - 1278), is at the northern end of Chidambaram.  This is the shrine where Shakti reins supreme, and where She went to after Here defeat (or shall we say, tactical retreat) in Chidambaram.

How to get there :

Chidambaram is 238 km south of Chennai, the nearest airport.  Easily accessible by road, it is 43km from Cuddalore, and 78km from Pondicherry. 
Accommodation:  The two is awash with hotels, to suit all tastes and purses.

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