Basic information about the temple
|Moolavar:||Natarajar||Ambal / Thayar:||Sivakami, Umaiambai|
|Timing:||6 to 12.30 & 4.30 to 10||Parikaram:|
|Temple group:||Paadal Petra Sthalam (Kaveri Vada Karai)||–|
|Sung by:||Temple set:|
|City / town:||Chidambaram||District:||Cuddalore|
|Maps from (click):||Current location||Mayiladuthurai (43 km)||Cuddalore (49 km)|
|Kumbakonam (74 km)||Viluppuram (79 km)|
The temple is located in the heart of Chidambaram.
Sthala puranam and temple information
In Saivism, the temple is considered the first among the Siva temples, or the “moola kovil“, also resulting in the name of the moolavar deity – Tirumoolanathar. “Kovil” often refers only to the Chidambaram Thillai Natarajar temple, and is generally regarded as the foremost place for the worship of Lord Siva, just as Srirangam is to Vaishnavas.
No write up can do justice to the beauty, magnificence, history, tradition legends, art, architecture, religion and spirituality associated with the Thillai Natarajar temple at Chidambaram.
The Thillai Natarajar temple is a Paadal Petra Sthalam, built on a vast complex – over 50 acres – and is most known for the Thillai Natarajar (Thillai refers to the mangrove trees that used to exist and still do, in the surroundings), depicting Shiva as Natarajar, performing the cosmic dance. (The cosmic dance is ubiquitous across Tamil Nadu at least, being frozen in metal and worshipped in and held in worshipped in Nataraja Sabhas at all Siva temples.)
Covering an area in excess of 50 acres, this is one of the largest, if not the largest, temple complexes in India. (To put that in perspective, the Murugan sannidhi at this temple is just a little bit smaller than the Kapaleeswarar temple in Mylapore, Chennai!).
While the moolavar is Adimulanathar or Tirumulanathar, the temple is best known for Natarajar, who quite unusually, faces south. This has also given rise to the thought that He is facing his favourite people – those from Southern India – as is popularized in the invocation தென்னாடுடைய சிவனே போற்றி! எந்நாட்டவர்க்கும் இறைவா போற்றி! (Thennadudaya sivane potri ennatavarkum iraiva potri, meaning, Hail Siva, the lord of the South, Hail the Lord of all peoples!).
A Siva shrine existed at the site when the town was known as Thillai, after the mangrove forests that covered this area which was then called Thillai-vanam (mangrove forest). The site became a Chola capital in the 10th century CE, and was renamed Chidambaram during that time.
The puranam of Chidambaram is closely connected with the legend of Bhikshatanar – Lord Siva as a naked mendicant / beggar. One day, Lord Siva (as Bhikshatanar) was strolling in the forest of Thillai, accompanied by Lord Vishnu in the form of Mohini. In the forest was a group of Rishis (purva mimamsakas, who believed that penance was everything, and were egotistic to the point that they believed they could even control the Gods through the power of penance). When Bhikshatanar and Mohini entered the hermitage of the rishis, the wives of the rishis were enchanted by His naked form and handsomeness, which severely annoyed the rishis. Through their power of magic, they conjured poisonous snakes to attack Bhikshatanar, but He simply wore them on his body as garlands and ornaments. They then sent a tiger, but the Lord killed it and wore its skin on His body. Finally they sent the demon Muyalagan, but Lord Siva decimated him and performed the Ananda Tandavam on his body. The Rishis finally realized that this was none other than the Lord and begged for forgiveness.
Lord Vishnu saw Siva’s Ananda Tandavam, and his body grew heavy with pleasure. Adiseshan, on whom Lord Vishnu rests, found it difficult to bear the weight of Vishnu, and asked the Lord why he was so heavy. Lord Vishnu told him about the Ananda Tandavam, and immediately, Adiseshan wished to witness it. After much penance, Lord Siva asked him to go over to Thillai as sage Patanjali and await Him. Maadyanthinar, son of sage Madyanthinar, came to the Thillai forest to pluck flowers, but found that the bees had sucked out the honey early, making the flowers unusable for worship, and this delayed the puja. He prayed to Lord Siva to help him pluck flowers before daybreak, for which he needed keen eyesight (to see in the darkness), and hands and feet that could navigate the thorny forest. Siva blessed him with the limbs of a tiger, and so Maayanthinar came to be known as the sage Vyaghrapada (tiger-footed, and referred to in Tamil as puli-kaal munivar). Vyaghrapada joined Adiseshan and were given the privilege of witnessing the divine Ananda Tandavam.
This is the place where the dance-duel between the Lord and Kali took place, the Lord winning it by performing the Urdhva Tandavam (one leg raised straight up), which Kali could not perform (but only due to the needs of adhering to modesty). The temple wall carvings display all the 108 karanas from the Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni, and these postures form a foundation of Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance. There is also a legend that the Ananda Tandavam was enacted to celebrate Lord Siva’s victory over Kali in the dance-duel.
Once, Lord Brahma conducted a yagam in Satya Lokam, to which he invited the 3,000 Brahmins living in Chidambaram (Thillai vaazh andhanars). The Brahmins refused, stating they were happier in Chidambaram where they could witness the Ananda Tandavam. Lord Siva appeared and advised them to go to Satya Lokam, where He would present the dance for their benefit.
The temple’s architecture symbolizes the connection between the arts and spirituality, creative activity and the divine.
Over time, the town has come to be known by various names, including references in literary texts. Some of these names are: Koil (or Kovil, as above), Pundarikapuram, Vyaghrapuram, Sittrampuram, Puliyur, Darukavanam (Daruka is Sanskrit for mangrove) and Chitrakutam. In the Pallava Era, and other North Indian texts, the names Kanagasabhai, Ponnambalam, and Brahmapuri are also used to denote Chidambaram. The town’s present name – Chidambaram – quite literally means place of wisdom. Specifically, Chit means wisdom, thought or consciousness, while Ambalam means atmosphere, space, location or even stage, and hence, Chit-Ambalam (now Chidambaram). This composite word comes from its association with Nataraja as Siva, the cosmic dancer.
One of the Pancha Bootha sthalams representing the sky (akasa Lingam) and one of the Pancha Sabhai (Por Sabhai or the Golden Hall), the temple is best known as the home of Lord Siva’s Ananda Tandavam or the dance of bliss, which is said to symbolize the five divine acts of creation, sustenance, dissolution, veiling and grace.
The grace of all the Siva temples is said to converge at the Tirumulanathar lingam of Chidambaram in the evening, and maybe related to this, is possibly why Chidambaram temple has the last puja of the day (Arthajama puja) after all other temples.
Lord Nataraja and Goddess Sivakami are housed in the innermost sanctum which is on a raised level (referred to as the Chit-sabhai). The Chit-sabhai is accessed through 5 silver-clad steps, representing the Panchakshara Mantram. This is where Manikkavasagar’s Tiruvasagam was found by the deekshitars. The imageless (arupa) form of Lord Siva – the Chidambara Rahasiyam or the Secret of Chidambaram) is behind a screen to the left of the moolavar.
Sekkizhar was a devout Saivite and a minister during the reign of Kulothunga Chola II. In order to wean the king away from the philosophy of the Jain text Jivaka Cintamani, Sekkizhar wrote the Periya Puranam – a compilation of the lives of the 63 Saivite Nayanmars, sitting in the thousand-pillared hall of this temple. Legend has it that the Lord himself provided Sekkizhar with the first feet of the first verse as a divine voice from the sky declaring Ulakellaam (“உலகெலாம்”, Tamil, meaning “all the world”).
Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manikkavasagar have prayed and sung at this temple. Appar entered through the eastern gate as he followed the servant’s route. Sambandar entered through the southern gate as he followed the Satputra route. Sundarar came through the North gate entrance as he was a friend of the Lord, and Manikkavachagar came through the western gate as he followed the route of the disciple.
The Srichakram yantra in the Ambal shrine was installed by Adi Sankarar.
It is generally regarded that a visit to this temple is incomplete without also visiting the Thillai Kali temple nearby.
Outside the Chit-Sabhai is the Divya Desam shrine of Govindaraja Perumal.
Other information for your visit
Lately, several budget and mid-range accommodation options have come up in and around Chidambaram. There are also options on websites like Airbnb.