Thillai Natarajah Temple, Chidambaram (Chidambaram Thillai Natarajar-Koothan Kovil or Chidambaram temple) is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva located in the town of Chidambaram, East-Central Tamil Nadu, South India. The temple is known as the foremost of all temples (Kovil) to Saivites and has influenced worship, architecture, sculpture and performance art for over two millennium. The temple is referred to in all devotional literature as Bhooloka kailasam, or kailasam , the lord siva's abode that manifests on earth. The Sangam classics list chief architect Viduvelvidugu Perumtaccan as directing an early renovation of the shrine.
A major shrine of Shiva worship since the classical period, there have been several renovations and offerings to Chidambaram by the Pallava, Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagara and Chera royals in the ancient and pre-medieval periods. The temple as it stands now is mainly of the 12th and 13th centuries, with later additions in similar style. Its bronze statues and stone sculptures depicting various deities and the famous Thillai trees of the surrounding forest reflect the highpoints of early Chola and Pallava art while its famed gold plated gopuram towers are medieval structural additions by the royals Aditya I, Parantaka Chola I, Kopperunchinga I, Krishnadevaraya and Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan. King Kocengannan Chola was born following prayers his parents offered at the temple and later in his life he refined its structure. The shrine gave the town its name.
The deity that presides here is Thillai Koothan. Chidambaram is the birthplace of the sculpture and bronze image representation of Shiva as the cosmic dancer, a Tamilian concept and motif in Chola art that has since become notable as a symbol of Hinduism. The shrine is the only Shiva temple to have its main deity represented in this anthropomorphic form, as the supreme being who performs all cosmic activities. The consort deity here is Sivakami Amman. Two other forms of Shiva are represented close to this in the vimana (inner sanctum) of the temple - as a crystallised lingam - the most common representation of Shiva in temples, and as the aether space classical element, represented with empty space and a garland of fifty one hanging golden vilvam leaves (Aegle marmelos).
Shiva is captured in pose as Nataraja performing the Ananda Tandava ("Dance of Delight") in the golden hall of the shrine Pon Ambalam. The sculptures of Chidambaram inspired the postures of Bharatha Natyam. The Chidambaram complex is admired for its five famous halls (ambalam or sabhai), several grand smaller shrines to the Hindu deities Ganesh, Murugan, Vishnu and Sivakami Amman which contain Pandyan and Nayak architectural styles, and for its endowment from many water tanks, one of which links it to the Thillai Kali temple. Chidambaram is one of the five Pancha Bootha Sthalams, the holiest Shiva temples each representing one of the five classical elements; Chidambaram represents akasha (aether). Chidambaram is glorified in Tirumular's Tirumandhiram and was visited by Patañjali and Pulikaal Munivar.
It is the primary shrine of the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams - Shiva Sthalams glorified in the early medieval Tevaram poems by Tamil Saivite Nayanar saints Tirunavukkarasar, Thirugnana Sambandar and Sundarar. Hailed in the Tiruvacakam series by Manikkavacakar, these very volumes of the Tirumurai literature canon were themselves found in secret chambers of the temple. The Periya Puranam, a biography of these Nayanar saints by Sekkizhar commissioned by emperor Kulothunga Chola II, was written in the shrine's Thousand Pillared Hall. In Kanda Puranam, the epic authored by Kachiyappa Sivachariar of Kanchipuram, the Chidambaram shrine is venerated as one of the three foremost Shiva abodes in the World, alongside Koneswaram temple of Trincomalee and Mount Kailash.
The temple is the only great temple complex to date mainly from the later Chola period, and contains the earliest examples of a number of features that are found in many later temples, including "the earliest known Devī or Amman shrine, vŗtta (dance) maṇḍapa, Sūrya shrine with chariot wheels, hundred-and-thousand pillared maṇḍapas, even the first giant Śiva Gangā tank". A classical Shiva temple as per Agama rules will have five prakarams or circuits each separated by walls one within the other. The outer prakaram will be open to the sky except the innermost one. The innermost one will house the main deity as well as other deities. There will be a massive wooden or stone flag post exactly in line with the main deity. The innermost prakaram houses the sanctum sanctorum. The temple is supposed to be located at the lotus heart of the Universe: Virat hridaya padma sthalam. This gold-roofed stage is the sanctum sanctorum of the Chidambaram temple and houses the Lord in three forms:
The temple has nine gateways, and four of these have gateway towers or gopurams each with 7 storeys facing the East, South, West and North. The South gopuram called the Sokkaseeyan Thirunilai Ezhugopuram was constructed by a Pandya king identified from the presence of the dynasty's fish emblem sculpted on the ceiling. The Pandyas sculpted two fishes facing each other when they completed gopurams (and left it with one fish, in case it was incomplete). The earliest and smallest of the four is West gopuram constructed around 1150 and there are no reliable evidence on the construction. The sculptures shows goddess fighting the buffalo-demon and warlike Skanda astride his peacock. The North Gopuram was initiated around 1300 A.D. with the brick portion constructed by the Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya (1509-1530 A.D.) in the 16th century.
Religious Significance Of The Temple:
Pancha Bhoota Stalam refers to the five Shiva temples, each representing the manifestation of the five prime elements of nature - land, water, air, sky, fire. Pancha indicates five, Bhoota means elements and Stala means place. All these temples are located in South India with four of these temples at Tamil Nadu and one at Andra Pradesh. The five elements are believed to be enshrined in the five lingams and each of the lingams representing Shiva in the temple have five different names based on the elements they represent. In the temple, Shiva is said to have manifested himself in the form of sky. The other four manifestations are Prithivi Lingam at Ekambareswarar Temple, Appu Lingam at Thiruvanaikaval, Agni Lingam at Annamalaiyar Temple and Vayu Lingam at Srikalahasti Temple.
Aathara Stala indicates the Shiva temples which are considered to be divine impersonification of Tantric chakras associated with human anatomy. Nataraja temple is called the Anthaga stalam associated with Anthagam - the third eye. Pancha Sabhai refers to the five places where Shiva is said to have displayed his cosmic dance and all these places have stages or ambalams, also known as Sabhai. Apart from Chidambaram which has the Ponna Ambalam - the Golden Hall, the others are the I-Ratthina Ambalam - the Jeweled Hall at Thiruvaalangadu (rathinam – ruby/red jewelled), the Chitra Ambalam - the Painted Hall at Thirukutralam (chitra – painting), the Velli Ambalam - the Silver Hall at Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple (velli – silver) and the Thaamira Ambalam - the Copper Hall at Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli (Thaamiram – copper).
A whole year for men is said to be a single day for the gods. Just as six poojas are performed in a day at the sanctum sanctorum, six anointing ceremonies are performed for the principal deity - Nataraja in a year. They are the Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai (in December - January ) indicating the first puja, the fourteenth day after the new moon (chaturdasi) of the month of Masi (February - March) indicating the second pooja, the Chittirai Thiruvonam (in April- May), indicating the third pooja or uchikalam, the Uthiram of Aani (June–July) also called the Aani Thirumanjanam indicating the evening or the fourth puja, the chaturdasi of Aavani (August - September) indicating the fifth puja and the chaturdasi of the month of Puratasi (October - November) indicating the sixth pooja or Arthajama.
Of these the Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai (in December - January) and the Aani Thirumanjanam (in June - July ) are the most important. These are conducted as the key festivals with the main deity being brought outside the sanctum sanctorum in a procession that included a temple car procession followed by a long anointing ceremony. Several hundreds of thousands of people flock the temple to see the anointing ceremony and the ritualistic dance of Shiva when he is taken back to the sanctum sanctorum. Siva in his incarnation of Nataraja is believed to have born on full moon day in the constellation of Ardra, the sixth lunar mansion.
Siva is bathed only 6 times a year and on the previous night of Ardra, the bath rituals are performed on a grand scale. Pots full of milk, pomegranate juices, coconut water, ghee, oil, sandal paste, curds, holy ashes, and other liquids and solids, considered as sacred offering to the deity are used for the sacred ablution. There are references in Umapathy Sivam's Kunchithaangristhavam that the Maasi festival also had the Lord being carried out in procession, however this is not in vogue these days. Natyanjali is a prominent festival celebrated during February every year when Bharatnatyam dancers from all over the country converge to present dance offering to Nataraja.
The Chidambaram temple is well endowed with several water bodies within and around the temple complex.
Sivaganga tank is in the third corridor of the temple opposite to the shrine of Shivagami. It is accessed by flights of stone steps leading from the shrine.
- Paramanandha koobham is the well on the eastern side of the Chitsabhai hall from which water is drawn for sacred purposes.
- Kuyya theertham is situated to the north-east of Chidambaram in Killai near the Bay of Bengal and has the shore called Pasamaruthanthurai.
- Pulimadu is situated around a kilometer and a half to the south of Chidambaram.
- Vyagrapatha Theertham is situated on to the west of the temple opposite to the temple of Ilamai Akkinaar.
- Anantha Theertham is situated to the west of the temple in front of the Anantheswarar temple.
- Nagaseri tank is situated to the west of the Anantha thirtham.
- Brahma Theertham is situated to the north-west of the temple at Thirukalaanjeri.
- Underground channels at the shrine drain excess water in a northeasterly direction to the Shivapiyai temple tank of the Thillai Kali Temple, Chidambaram. Due to poor maintenance, it has not been in use.
- Thiruparkadal is the tank to the south-east of the Shivapiyai tank.