Nataraja Temple, East Gopuram Chidambaram
Chidambaram is combination of "chitt", which means conscience and "ambara" another name for "Akash" (or "ether") Like Tiruvannamalai represents fire, Chidambara is ether. Sense of perception associated to this element is the power of hearing.
The Temple town of Chidambaram lies 234 km south of Chennai and 58 km south of Pondicherry on Eastern Coast highway. Chidambaram has been a main pilgrimage center for all the devotees of Lord Shiva since about the ninth century, at that time Chidambaram was known as Thillai, as per broken History records, a Kashmiri’s king who was suffering with a terminal disease bathed in the temple tank 1500 years ago and was cured. In appreciation to the deity, He is said to have enlarged the temple. Chidambaram is known for its Phallie-Shaped ungams of light, which are set in bases of the vulvic goddess; they are primary iconic symbol of Shiva.
Nataraja Temple, East Gopuram, the granite base
The history of Chidambaram mentions the overwhelming transformation from a local to a regional sacred place and soon after it became famous throughout the India. Chidambaram is identified as a cult of Shiva as the ‘King of dancers (Nataraja). The origin of cult seems to have been the worship of a stone at a pond which subsequently became the temple tank. The stone was later identified as a Shiva lingam and was worshipped as Mulasthana (‘the place of origin’). There was also the cult of a goddess whose shrine was called Perambalam (‘Great Hall’). In addition, there was a Chidambalam (‘Little Hall’), associated with the cult similar to that of Murugan, a god served by priests who dance in the state of trance. The whole sacred complex was called Puliyur (‘Tiger Town’) in Tamil.
Ratha ( Chariot ) at Chidambaram : Front of Nataraja Temple
Chidambaram is also known as Kovil i.e “the temple”, As per ancient Hindu scriptures Chidambaram lies between the river Velar (Sventanadhi according to puranas) on the north, the Bay of Bengal on the east, the Coleroon on the south and Veeranam tank on the west. Temples of Chidambaram are among the oldest in India and some of them epitomize magnificent Dravidian architecture, though the majority now forms part of later structures.
Chidambaram was originally a forest of Thillai shrub that’s why it was called Thillai. It is one of the five Shaivite Mukti sthalams. The other four are Kalahasti, Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai and Tiruvanaikaval. The unique freedom of Chidambaram is that a person of any race or religion can visit the shrine and pray.
Among Tamil Nadu's countless temples; Nataraja temple at Chidambaram stands a unique place as the home of Nataraja, the dancer form of Lord Shiva. This is now one of the most worshipped images of any Hindu deity, popular throughout India and all over the world. The story of the dance competition that took place in the Golden Hall (or Chit Sabha) at Chidambaram emphasizes the iconography of Nataraja and the architectural formation of the temple itself. Image and temple of Nataraja was built under the Chola kingdom in the 9th-12th centuries, though the story of the dance competition is much older. Nataraja Temple is the interrelationship of legend, history, art, and architecture. It is one of the few temples where both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities are enshrined in one place.
Nandi at Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram
Nataraja temple is one of the most important and ancient in southern India and devotees from all parts of country visit the temple all the year round. The idol of Nataraja (Shiva in his dancing aspects) is separated from the holy of Holies by a veil which is removed only on specified occasions of worship. Behind the veil is revealed mere space, out of which the heavenly Nataraja is said to have emerged.
Chidambaram Shivaganga, sacred water place of the Nataraja temple
The Nataraja temple is situated at the heart of the town, covering an area of 40 acres. It has a gold plated roof, towering over the presiding deity, Aksha Lingam- the lingam of space. The Lord is worshipped in different temples as representing the five elements- earth, water, fire, wind and ether. Chidambaram is unique in that, there is no lingam made of stone in the sanctum in this temple, for here Shiva was seen in his formless form. The invisible linga of Shiva and a complex of temples grew up in the ancient times around the hallowed spot. One of the key features of this temple is magnificent bejeweled Nataraja image. Details of Natya sastra are carved on one of the four tall gopurams, each rising to 40.8 meters. 108 Bharatnatyam dance poses also can be seen on each tower. Each figure is nine inches high and stands in its own niche. Nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world. Another fascinating aspect about the temple is the Chidambara rahasyam, the secret of Chidambaram. The union of the Lord and his consort forms a chakra, which is invisible. To symbolize this chakra, a garland of bilva leaves is hung in the sanctum sanctorum. The Sivakamianmman temple, the Sivaganga tank, the thousand pillar hall are the other important features of the temple.
Internal view at Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram
The temples are constructed on an alluvial plain between two rivers. There is no trace of building stone within forty miles, so that all building material had to be transported great distances. The temple enclosure contains shrines to Ganesa which has the largest image of the elephant god in India.
Between 1595 and 1685 the hall of thousand pillars (actually 984) was added. The eastern gateway of the temple commemorates the incident of the raja’s vision, and is dedicated to Shiva as Lord of the Dance (Nataraja and Nateswara).
The Chit sabha of the temple is located within it in the position of the heart in a human body, the man lying with his head to the south. The hall serves the position of the sanctum in other temples. The temple is longer from north to south, unlike the generality of temples which measure longer from east to west.
Sculptures at West Gopuram at Nataraja Temple
Kali Temple: This temple is situated on the northern end of the town. It was built by Kopperunjijgan, who ruled between 1229 A.D. and 1278 A.D.