ART-0503 Chidambaram

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Chidambaram is most closely related to Shiva in his form as Nataraja (See the Teachers’ Book, pages 48 and 52).

Chidambaram Temple is in South India. ‘Cid’ means ‘consciousness’ and ‘ambaram’ means “expanding skies”. ‘Chidambaram’ can be translated as ‘expanding consciousness’.

Chidambaram is a home of famous Nataraja, Shiva as the ‘Celestial Dancer’. The temple was built by King Vira Chola, also known as Simhavarman, in the 10th century. Before he was crowned king, he suffered prolonged disease. While touring the country, he came across a hunter who told him about a self-manifested Shiva-linga in the Tallai forest at Chidambaram. Simhavarman went there and met the sages Vyaghrapad and Patanjali. They told him to bathe in the sacred lake called Shivagangi (presently the large tank on the north side of the temple) and to worship the Shiva-linga. He did so and was immediately cured. His bodily complexion became golden yellow and from this time on he was also known as Himayavarman. After coronation he returned to this forest and with his great wealth built a temple for Lord Shiva and other deities who had witnessed Shiva’s dance in previous ages. His successors continued the worship and additional construction within the area. But the history of this holy place is much older.

Kali was once the patron goddess of the Tallai Forest and she didn’t like Shiva’s presence there. Therefore she challenged him to a dancing competition, and the loser was required to vacate the forest. Lord Vishnu was the judge. Kali was dancing beautifully, but only until that point when Shiva began his ananda-tandavam dance. When she saw it, she didn’t wait for the decision, but immediately left. Vishnu declared Shiva to be the best dancer in the universe. Nataraja is Lord Shiva as “The king of All Dancers’ and his dance form ‘ananda-tandava’ with one leg raised and four arms became the model for many other murtis all over the world. According to the Puranas, Chidambaram is the place where Shiva first manifested this joyful form of the dancer.

The temple is monumental and attractive because of its almost 50 metres tall gopurams (towering gates). The East and West gopuram are decorated with 108 Shiva statues in classical dancing postures. Shiva is said to have invented 108 dancing styles and “tandava” is the most famous.

The Chidambaram Temple is unique because from one place in the sanctum one can have darshan of both Nataraja (Shiva) and Vishnu at the same time. Near the main Shiva temple there is a smaller Govinda Raj (Vishnu) Temple. Deities of Partha Sarathi (Krishna driving Arjuna’s chariot) are also worshipped there. From this we can understand that Vaishnavas can offer respect to Lord Shiva and Shaivites are equally happy to respect Lord Vishnu. Both communities live peacefully next to each other.

The temple complex covers 13 hectares and it is located in the center of the city. One can see also a hall of 1000 monolith granite pillars, which is opened only at certain times of the year. The priests worship also another aspects of Lord Shiva including his Rudra (angry) form; there is a shrine dedicated to Nandi, Shiva’s bull carrier, and one of the biggest Deities of Ganesh, one of Shiva’s two sons. We can see also sculptures of two Shiva’s devotees: sage Patanjali in snake body and Vyaghrapada in human body with tiger’s legs and the Svayambhu (self-manifest) linga, which they worshipped. On their request Shiva agreed to accept worship in his formof Nataraja for the benefit of the world and his devotees.

In Chidambaram we can see practically how local people can live in peace and harmony in today’s world of changes. 300 families are employed in the temple to help with its functioning. Puja (worship) is done strictly according the Vedic rites and brahmanas (priests) receive no salary for their service. The temple holds several festivals a year, but most important is, of course, Shiva Ratri, lasting 10 days.

Chidambaram is 68 km from the coast.