Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram
Overview of Chidambaram Thillai Nataraja Temple
Chidambaram Nataraja Temple or Thillai Nataraja Temple, one of the oldest temples of Tamil Nadu, is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of Nataraja – the Lord of Dance. The temple is administered by learned Brahmins called Dikshitars who live in Chidambaram.
Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram is one of the Pancha Sabhai (representing the five primordial elements symbolizing earth) marking the place where Lord Shiva performed the Cosmic Dance in the form of Lord Nataraja. Of the Pancha Sabhai, Chidambaram denotes the Skies or Aakasha.
Chidambaram is a temple town located 5 kilometres north of the Kollidam River and 15 kilometres west from the coast of the Bay of Bengal.
Chidambaram – Etymology
The town of Chidambaram was originally known as Thillai. The word Thillai is derived from the mangrove of Thillai trees that grow in the region.
The place was renamed Chidambaram after it became the capital of Cholas in the 10th century. The Cholas built the current temple dedicating it to their family deity, Lord Nataraja.
The word Chidambaram is derived from the Tamil word ‘Chitrambalam’. ‘Chitthu’ means ‘consciousness’ or ‘wisdom’ and ‘ampalam’ means ‘atmosphere’. The term literally means ‘atmosphere of wisdom’ and relates to the atmosphere of art.
History of Chidambaram Thillai Nataraja Temple
The earliest textual evidence trace the ancient existence of Lord Shiva temple at Chidambaram.
- Texts belonging to the Sangam tradition (pre 5th century) suggest the existence of a temple at this site. Although the texts do not show the town being named as Chidambaram.
- The 6th and early 7th century texts by Appar and Sambandar mention the ‘dancing God of Chidambaram’ as Lord Shiva.
- The Skanda Purana dated in the period between 7th and 10th century includes the Suta Samhita that mentions the Chidambaram Dance.
- Inscriptions and texts found during the rule of Aditya Chola I in the early 10th century and the rule of Chola king Parantaka provides a historical evidence of Shiva temple at Chidambaram.
- It is believed that Raja Raj Chola I traced the hymns of the 63 Nyanmars inside the chambers of the second precinct in the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple.
- The structures, mandapas, pillar carvings, gopurams, water pool, shrines and sculptures were built during the reign of late Chola and early Pandya kings in the 12th and 13th century.
- The various legends associated with the temple are contained in the 12th century text – Chidambara Mahatmya.
According to the text contained in Chidambara Mahatmya, Lord Shiva (in the form of a beggar) is said to have visited sages in a pine forest accompanied by Mohini (an avatar of Lord Vishnu). Mohini provokes lustful temptations among the sages while Lord Shiva performs the ‘dance of bliss’ or Thandava. Thus the triggered sages realize how outward their austerities were and that God cannot be controlled by rituals or magic. The sages by name Patanjali and Vyaghrapada wanted to see Lord Shiva’s ‘dance of bliss’, for which they meditated on Lord Shiva. Impressed by their penance, Lord Shiva appeared before them in Chidambaram and performed the dance.
Architecure of Chidambaram Thillai Nataraja Temple
- The temple is built in Dravidian style of architecture and covers 40-acres of area. The temple is embedded within 4 concentric courtyards.
- The temple is believed to have been constructed in such a way so as to resemble the human body.
- The temple has 5 Sabhas or halls:
- The Chit Sabha – the sanctum sanctorum housing idol of Lord Nataraja and his consort Goddess Shivagamasundari.
- The Kanaka Sabha – in front of Chit Sabha
- The Natya Sabha – to the south of temple’s flag mast
- The Raja Sabha – 1000 pillared hall
- The Deva Sabha – housing the Pancha Moorthis
- The core part of the vast temple complex is the gathering halls called Chit Sabha and Kanak Sabha.
- The temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja Shiva consists of mandapams, pillared halls, nine Gopurams, several water pools and various shrines.
- Each of the Gopurams has been designed colourfully narrating stories from Hindu traditions.
- Apart from the main shrine of Lord Nataraja, the temple includes other shrines of Goddess Devi, Lord Vishnu, Subramanyar, Ganesha, Nandi, and Lord Surya.
- The main form of Lord Shiva in the temple is as Nataraja. Two other forms of Lord Shiva represented in the temple are Lingam form and as an empty space.
Chidamabara Rahasyam has been an ever mysterious Hindu belief. Rahasyam in Tamil means ‘secret’. Chidambara Rahasyam is the formess representation of Lord Shiva as the divine self that is present everywhere and in everything.
The sanctum sanctorum houses the idol of Lord Nataraja and an empty curtained space which is opened for special poojas. Many myths and interpretations about the Rahasyam have been stated over time.
Temple Timings of Chidambaram Nataraja Temple
The temple is open in the morning from 6:00 AM to 12:00 PM and in the evening from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM.
Pooja Timings in Chidambaram Nataraja Temple
|Paal Nivedyam||6:30 AM|
|Maha arathi||7:00 AM|
|Kalasandhi Pooja||7:45 AM to 9:00 AM|
|Irandam Kalam||10:00 AM to 11:00 AM|
|Uchikalam||11:30 AM to 12:00 NOON|
|Saayaratchai||5:15 PM to 6:00 PM|
|Irandam Kalam||7:00 PM to 8:00 PM|
|Artha Jama Pooja||9:00 PM to 10:00 PM|
Chidambaram Nataraja Temple Festivals
The major festivals observed in the temple are –
- Marghazhi Thiruvadhirai in the Tamil month of Thiruvadhirai (December-January)
- Chaturdasi or fourteenth day after new moon in the Tamil month of Masi (February-March)
- Chitirai Thiruvonam in the Tamil month of Chitirai (April-May)
- Aani Thirumanjanam in the Tamil month of Aani (June-July)
- Chaturdasi in the Tamil month of Aavani (August-September)
- Chaturdasi in the Tamil month of Puratasi (October-November)
How to Reach Chidambaram Nataraja Temple
Frequent buses to Chidambaram are available from all major cities in Tamil Nadu. It’s a four hour drive from Chennai to Chidambaram. Chidambaram has its own railway station (at walkable distance) which is connected to other cities. The other railways stations close to Chidambaram are at Mayiladuthurai (41 kilometres away) and at Villupuram (65 kilometres away).
The nearest airport is at Trichy (195 kilometres away) and Chennai (235 kilometres away).