Our road trip through the land that was once ruled by the Cholas brought us to Chidambaram, where the most revered temple of the Cholas, the Nataraja temple is located. The temple dates back to when history was just being recorded.
From its humble beginnings as a temple made of wood sometime during the Sangam era, it was expanded and patronised by the early Chola kings who ruled this part of the country in 1st-2nd Centuries A.D, from there on every dynasty expanded the temple. The later Cholas of the 10th Century A.D considered it their primary temple and made great contributions in bringing the temple to its current state, a massive temple associated with divine legends and myths and mystic secrets.
This was our 3rd visit to temple since 2006 and to this day, we have not been able to figure out the temple layout and it is hard to even describe the temple. With no photographs to help, our attempts only sound like a school kid’s composition !
The dance of creation and destruction
One can read up the stories associated with the Chidambaram temple on the internet. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, worshipped as an Akasa Linga, representing the never ending space but you associate Chidambaram with Lord Nataraja, the Lord of dance, performing the Cosmic dance of creation and destruction of the universe and the life within it.
The Nataraja form of Lord Shiva probably evolved under the Cholas, who mastered the art of making bronze statues, Nataraja was their favourite Deity. As per myths, Lord Shiva is believed to have performed his Ananda Tandava at Thillai, which has come to known as Chidambaram.
When you enter the grand temple of Chidambaram through the gopurams, the first thing that strikes you is the gold tiled roof of main shrine, the sloping roof make it look like a golden hut ! It is interesting to note that, the early forms of temple architecture resembled thatched huts. Considering the antiquity of the Chidambaram temple, it is quite possible that the shrines were built when temple architecture was still in its nascent stage.
The roof is believed to have covered in gold during the times of Parantaka I, one the earliest Imperial Chola king during the 9th Century A.D, who lived 4 generations before Raja Raja Chola. Temple building was in the Chola DNA, we suppose ! When you visit the Chidambaram temple, remember, the gold that you see glittering under the sunlight is more than 1000 years old !
Under this gold roof is the “Chit ambalam” or the assembly hall of wisdom, which is the sanctum sanctorum and houses the majestic idol of Lord Nataraja. Chidambaram gets its name from “Chit ambalam” Unlike other temples, where you have the usual entrance mandapas, assembly halls and the sanctum, at Chidambaram temple, walking around the temple, trying to understand the structure, you suddenly come face to face with Lord Nataraja in his Tandava pose, quite clearly telling you who is the boss ! For a closer darshan, you need to get a special darshan ticket.
At specific timings during the day, a Spatika Linga puja is performed followed by Harathi. It is believed that the Spatika Linga was gifted to Chidambaram temple by Adi Sankara. The puja is nothing short of a spectacle, loud announcements are made “Swamy varaar” (“The Lord is coming”), people are expected to move aside and make way for the Lord, the Spatika Linga is brought out in a decorated box, abhishekam performed amidst chanting of the Vedas and then the Harathi is performed. The entire process takes about 20 minutes and some kind of a mystic aura seems to take over the entire surroundings. We have had the experience twice during our visits. The timings for the puja can be checked on the temple website.
If you happen to visit the temple around the time of the Spatika Linga pooja, one can witness what is popularly known as the Chidambaram Rahasyam or the “secret of Chidambaram”. Thanks to the internet, this mystic secret is no longer a secret. The ancient secret reveals the true nature of God.
Right next to the Nataraja idol, there is a perforated window behind which there is a black curtain. After the Harathi, the black curtain is removed and then one can see gold vilva leaves arranged in the form of Shiva Linga. This is the Akasa Linga or the Shiva Linga representing the element of ether. This is also the Chidambaram Rahasyam which means, when you remove the curtain of your ignorance, you will realise that the Supreme Force that we call God is formless, omnipresent and is the unending cosmic energy. How wonderfully this eternal truth has been explained symbolically ! In today’s world of strife, people will do well to realise this truth of God.
During this trip, we did not get a chance to view the Chidambara Rahasyam or the Spatika Linga puja, we had a darshan of Lord Nataraja and did a tour of the vast expanse of the temple, the temple tank and visited Goddess Sivakami’s shrine. We must have said this before, when you view the Goddess’ idols in these ancient temples under the dimly lit oil lamps, the feeling is surreal !
This visit was only a touch and go kind of trip to Chidambaram. It was late evening by the time we finished visiting the temple, there is so much to see in this temple that a two hour visit cannot do justice. You definitely cannot write a proper blog because the sheer size, the architecture, history, mysticism, traditions are all too overwhelming. The only way to know more about the Chidambaram temple is to actually visit it and experience that feeling ! Three visits and we still feel we need to visit it once again !
This is the only picture that we managed to click of the chaotic lane at the entrance of the temple. We did not even carry our mobile phones inside the temple because we are very rule abiding citizens, so we have no other visual records of our trip.
Our trip to Chidambaram done, we headed to Pondicherry, the last leg of our Tamil Nadu trip. Heavy traffic on the Pondicherry route meant by the time we reached our resort, it was quite late in the night and we had just about enough time to freshen up and hit the sack.
- Chidambaram is a 5 hour drive from Chennai, being an important pilgrim town it is easy to find buses, trains and cabs to Chidambaram.
- You would need atleast 3 hours if you wish to explore the entire temple. We suggest you do a bit of a research on the internet about the temple, so you know what to see and know.
- http://www.chidambaramnataraja.org this is the temple website, check the puja and harathi timings to view the Chidambara Rahasyam. We for sure know that there is a Spatika Linga puja and Chidambara Rahasyam darshan at around 5.45 PM every day.
- One can find accommodation in Chidambaram, there are plenty of hotels.
- Plan a weekend trip to Chidambaram from Chennai to include Pichavaram, Vaitheeswaran Koil, Gangaikondacholapuram.
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