Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Chidambaram Natrajar Temple




Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu



One of the few temples where both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities are enshrined in one place



Opens at 6am to 12noon daily.

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Chidambaram Natrajar Temple is located in the temple town of Chidambaram, 60 km north of Karaikal in Cuddalore District, the east-central part of the Tamil Nadu state. It is dedicated to Shiva Nataraj, in the enthralling form of a Cosmic Dancer. An exquisite example of Dravadian architecture, the temple is one of the oldest temple complexes in the south India. Along with temples to Vishnu, Parvati, and Ganesh, the complex covers an area of 40 acres. Chidambaram temple is one of the few temples where both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities are enshrined in one place.

In Tamil sacred geography, one of the three major energy pathways in the human body i.e Susumna Nadi runs through Chidambaram, ending at the power spot of the temple. One of the major pilgrimage destinations in Tamil Nadu, the temple is founded in the Chola Era.

The magnificent gold roofed temple is situated within a quadrangle of enclosure walls surrounded by four broad 'chariot' streets used for chariot festivals at various times throughout the year. The four gopuras are considered as the finest of the Chola period and Sages, guardians and attendants are adorned on all the Gopuras. Among them, the North and South ones being about 45 m high. The towers are divided into seven diminishing storeys each covered with brick and plaster sculptures. The towers are capped by vaulted roofs with arched ends. The North Gopura has an inscription which shows that it was built by the Vijaynagar King Krishna Deva Raya.

On entering through this gate one can see in front and to the right a large rectangular Sivaganga tank. Two shrines standing within an independent walled compound are located in the northwest corner of the enclosure. A spacious paved court is reached after passing through the Gopuras. In the temple complex, there are temples dedicated to Subramanya and the 12th century Shivakumusundari Shrine dedicated to Parvati the wife of Shiva. At the south end of this outer compound, there is a shrine to Ganesh.

One can enter the main temple through the Eastern gate, the oldest gopura. The 108 poses of Bharathanatyam classical dance are carved on the walls of eastern tower. The space inside has been filled with colonnades, passageways, which are used to stone images used in processions and sub shrines many dating from the 19th century. The temple has five sabhas known as Kanakasabha, Chit sabha, Nritya sabha, Deva sabha and Raja sabha.

The Nritya Sabha is situated in the south corridor. It is a 13th century hall, elevated on a double basement adorned with rows of dancers, dwarfs and yalis. The columns of the Nritya Sabha are intricately carved with miniature temple facades and the ceiling is paneled with fully modelled lotuses. It also houses the images of Nataraja in Urdhava Tandava pose, image of Sarabheswara. In the north corridor there is Devi Shrine.

The idol of Nataraja is enshrined in the Chit Sabha or the 'Hall of Consciousness. It is said that the temple and the town get their names from this name. It is a plain wooden building. Immediately behind the Nataraja idol, there is Akasha Linga, fashioned of crystal. Also known as the Chidambaram secret, it represents the invisible element space. Lying adjacent to the Chit Sabha is Kanaka sabha or golden hall, where poojas are offered. Raised on a common masonry platform, its two chambers ceiling are gold plated.

The Deva Sabha was the hall of festivals and meeting place of the administrators and it houses the festival images of the Pancha Murtis (Somaskandar, Parvati, Vinayaka, Subramanya and Chandikeswara) and other deities. On the right of Sivaganga tank is Raja Sabha, a 1,000 columned hall.

Founded in the 12th Century, it seems to have served a royal ceremonial purpose and is linked with the Chola kings. Large elephants with attendants are sculpted in this hall. In the innermost shrine, there are two images of Siva, the Nataraja and the lingam. A later Vishnu Shrine was added to Govindaraja by the Vijayanagar kings. 

Said to be the oldest complex in southern India, the famous Natyanjali festival is celebrated every year in this temple premises. During this time leading dancers from all parts of India congregate and dance in the temple as an offering to Nataraja. Many dancers think it is a blessing to be able to perform their 'arangettam' (first stage performance) in the vicinity of the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Nataraja in Chidambaram. The festival lasts for 5 days.