Also known as Thillai Nataraja Temple, our trip to Chidambaram temple from Pondicherry was a divine one! The place derived its name from the surrounding Thillai forest. These trees are not seen in Chidambaram now, but can be seen at Pichavaram, east of Chidambaram in the backwaters. A two hour drive from Pondicherry, this temple is a purely a divine place to visit known for its scientific facts and mythological stories. Built in the 10th century, Chidambaram was considered to be the capital of Chola Dynasty. The temple has five main Halls or Sabhas namely the Kanaka Sabha, the Cit Sabha, Nritta Sabha, Deva Sabha and Raja Sabha.
There were times, when I as a kid used to hear stories from my mother and grandmother. We were lucky enough to have met Mr. Balu in Chidambaram, who unfortunately lost his job during the pandemic and guided us well through out the temple and shared the stories unheard.
Let's look at some of the interesting facts and stories that would make one desirous of visiting this place.
Chidambaram temple depicts the accurate engineering, geographical and astrological knowledge of the ancient architecturers. The temple has nine gateways among which four of them have gopurams in the East, West, North and South respectively.
The eastern gopuram/pagoda has all the 108 dance postures of Bharathanatiyam. The eastern Gopuram, was claimed to have been constructed by the Pallava King, Koperunsingan II. The southern gopuram was constructed by Pandya king. This is evident from the sculpted fishes (flag of Pandya king) in the ceiling. The smallest gopuram is the western gopuram, that was constructed in 1150; but there is no evidence available to know the construction of this gopuram. However, there are sculptures depicting the Goddess fighting with buffalo demon. The northern gopuram was constructed around 1300 AD with the brick portion constructed by the Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya in the 16th century.
Who can beat the science? Well, this temple has so many scientific facts that one couldn't have thought of!
This temple is located at the Center Point of world 's Magnetic Equator.
Of the "Pancha bootha" i.e. 5 temples, Chidambaram represents the Skies, Kalahasthi represents Wind and Kanchi Ekambareswar represents land. It is an astronomical fact that these three temples are located in a straight line at 79 degrees 41 minutes Longitude and the same can be verified using Google. Unbelievably magical especially at a time when there was no satellite to detect locations!
This temple is based on the Human Body having 9 Entrances representing 9 Openings of the body. Do you know the 9 openings in a human body? If not, then why don't you think about it ? Did you get the answer ?
The roof of the temple is made of 21600 gold sheets which denotes the breaths taken by a human being each day. (15 breaths * 60 minutes * 24 hours)
These 21600 gold sheets are fixed on the Gopuram using 72000 gold nails which denote the total no. of Nadis (Nerves) in the human body.
Ancient Tamil Scholar Thirumoolar states that man represents the shape of Shivalingam, which represents Chidambaram which represents Sadashivam which represents HIS dance !
"Ponnambalam " (Golden Hall) is placed slightly tilted towards the left. This represents our Heart. To reach this, we need to climb 5 steps called "Panchatshara padi " "Si, Va, Ya, Na, Ma " are the 5 Panchatshara mantras.
Ponnambalam has 28 pillars denoting the 28 "Ahamas "as well as the 28 methods to worship Lord Shiva. These 28 pillars support 64 +64 Roof Beams which denote the 64 Arts. The cross beams represent the Blood Vessels running across the Human body.
Kalasas on the Golden Roof represent the 9 types of Energies. The 6 pillars at the Artha Mandapa represent the 6 types of Sashtras. The 18 pillars in the adjacant Mandapa represents 18 Puranams.
The dance of Lord Nataraja is described as Cosmic Dance by Western Scientists.
Credit source: Mr. Balu and https://cuddalore.nic.in/
How it all started....
According to the mythology the temple was first constructed by a king called Shveta Varman. Shveta Varman was suffering from an incurable disease - leprosy during that period. According to the legend, Shveta Varman took a holy dip in the Shiva Ganga, which is the sacred water place. Shveta Varman was instantly healed of leprosy by bathing in the sacred pond in the Thillai forest and witnessed the Cosmic Dance. His skin became golden after which he was called Hiranya Varman. This king was the first who built the building of the roof of the Cit Sabha and the instituting of the temple and the formal worship of the Nataraja are all attributed to this Kin.
The Cosmic Dance Competition :
Once, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi argued about who was more powerful of the two and agreed to settle the dispute by arranging for a dance competition in Chidambaram in Nritta Sabha (dance hall). Apparently, Lord Brahma was the judge to announce the winner. Shiva, in the form of Nataraja, and Parvathi, into Kali, was able to match him move for move. Both were equally good performers and Brahma was confused to make a choice on the winner. He threw a ring on the ground and asked both the dancers to pick it up without the use of hands.
On the verge of being defeated, Shiva performed a dance move that Kali could not replicate — he raised his leg above his head to lift it. Shiva is said to have lifted his right foot towards the sky in the Urdhuva Tandava posture, a definite male gesture. The posture of the same is at the main entrance of the Temple.
Kali could not reciprocate the same step — as she feared of exposing herself in public. So Kali admitted defeat, and was expelled to a temple on the outskirts of the town of Chidambharam, and Shiva was announced the victor.
The story of two sages:
Two sages- Vyaghrapada and Patanjali were inspired in different ways to long to see Shiva’s Cosmic Dance. They devoted themselves and eventually arrived through different paths in Thillai where they awaited Shiva’s arrival.
Vyaghrapada was the first one to arrive Chidambaram.
One day, Vyaghrapada asked his father the way to get rid of the cycle of birth and death and attain moksha. His father advised him to worship the Great God Shiva in the Thillai forest to attain moksha. Vyaghrapada moved to Chidambaram and dedicated his life to worship the Shiva linga present under the banyan tree every day by offering flowers. In the course of collecting flawless flowers and tender bilva leaves, Vyaghrapada often used to get wounded by the thorns and rough surfaces of the trees. However, his dedication towards Lord Shiva continued even from the deepest parts of the forest. After many years, he even started to lose his vision thereby wounding himself. Unable to collect flowers in this situation, he prayed Lord Shiva for help. Shiva then gave the boon of having tiger legs and eyes in the hands and feet. Vyaghrapada felt very happy and continued to offer the flowers to the great God and waited to witness the Ananda-tandava.
Even today, there is a myth that one who visits Chidambaram would attain moksha.
Legend has it that Patanjali, (Aadi-Seshan) the serpent (couch) of Vishnu, heard Vishnu's exhilarating description of Shiva's Dance of Bliss. Filled with irrepressible desire to witness this dance in person at Chidambaram, Seshan descended to the earth as Patanjali (the one who descended). Patanjali, a great Maharshi well known for his teachings on yoga sutras and Sanskrit grammar also came to Chidambaram to see the Ananda-tandava became a great friend of Vyaghrapada. Patanjali has the lower body of a cobra and sometimes also a five-headed cobra as a hood behind his torso.
Later, one day, God Shiva, gave his presence in Chidambaram and performed the divine dance of joy (Ananda Tandava) in the kanaka sabha and gave Moksha to Vyaghrapada, Patanjali. The two sages spent their time in prayer and meditation - in anticipation of Shiva's Ananda Tandavam.
Well, we all have kept secrets some day or the other. Do you know there lies a secret in this temple too, popularly known as Chidambaram Rahasyam (secret) ? Chidambaram secret is a belief that there is a secret message conveyed through the embossed figure near the shrine of Shiva in the temple.
Since ancient times, it is believed that Lord Shiva and Parvathi are present here, but are invisible to the naked eyes of normal people. Chidambara Ragasiyam is hidden by a curtain (Maya). One can witness the Rahasyam only when priests open the curtain (or Maya) for special poojas. People who are privileged to have a darshan of Chidambara Ragasiyam can merely see golden vilva leaves (Aegle Marmelos) signifying the presence of Lord Shiva and Parvathi in front of them. It is also believed that devout saints can see the Gods in their physical form, but no such cases have been officially reported.
The myth of Chidambaram Rahasyam is that there is a place in the temple which is hidden and once you visit that hidden place, you learn that there is actually nothing. It is just an empty space. We all look for different things. There are a set of people who believe in God with form and some believe that the God is formless. Do you believe this secret? Do you believe in God? Well, all this depends on one's own interpretations.
After a detailed visit to the divine temple of Chidambaram, our stomachs started to rumble and we headed straight to a popular restaurant - Palagaram. There was no menu card and the waiter was quick enough to offer us meals during the lunch time. This was one of the best meals one could ever have especially after a tiring journey. The stomachs were happy and so were we :)
Our main agenda in mind was only to visit Chidambaram which in itself was very satisfying. We were back to our hotel room - Maison Perumal in Pondicherry well in time just for a hot cup of filter coffee and snacks.
Do share your thoughts with us and share your valuable feedback.
Visit http://www.chidambaramnataraja.org/ for more details!
Om Namah Shivaya!