Chidambaram is one of the holiest and most venerated temples
in Tamilnadu dedicated to Lord Natarajah. When people refer to
'koil' (the Tamil word for temple) the word denotes the
temple in Chidambaram. Chidambaram is referred to in Hindu
scriptures by other names such as Thillai, Puliyur, Chittambalam,
Vyagrapuram and Pundareekapuram. The temple has attained such
sanctity and sacredness due to its antiquity and its association
with so many miracles mentioned in Hindu scriptures. Many sages,
saints and religious savants have sung in praise of the presiding
The Eastern Tower
The Golden Roof (Ponnambalam)
Chidambaram is about 250 km south of Chennai (Madras) and is
easily reached by rail and road. The town is situated on the main
railway route between Chennai and Trichi about halfway between
these two towns. There are buses from all the major towns of
Tamilnadu to this temple town.
The temple occupies an area of about 51 acres. Four imposing
towers rise on the four sides of the temple. Each of these towers
rises to about 135 ft and are comprised of 7 storeys and are
topped with 13 copper 'Kalasam' (finials). The entrances
at the base of these towers are quite large rising at least to a
height of 40 ft. The outer perimeter wall is about 30 ft high
enclosing the outer 'street' (veedhi) and the inner
The shrines of Mukkuruni Vinayagar, Katpaga Vinayagar,
Subramanya, Somasundarar, Sivakamasundary and Pandyanayagar are
all built along this outer 'street'. The sacred tank
'Sivaganga' and the thousand-pillared mandapam -
'Raja Sabah' - are also situated along this
'street'. The second 'praharam' (enclosure) is
connected to the outer 'veedhi' by two entrances, one on
the west and the other on the east.
On entering the second praharam you can see the shrine of
Kalasamhara moorthy, Oorthavathandava moorthy, Luxmi and
Thandayuthapani. The Flagstaff can be seen on the southern
section and the 'Nrithya sabah' houses the idol of
Oorthavathandava moorthy. The shrine of 'Pollapillaiyar and
the shrines for the four 'Nayanmars' Appar, Sundarar,
Sambanthar and Manikkavasagar are seen here. The 'Deva
Sabah' is also situated along this corridor.
At the entrance to the inner enclosure the golden roof of
'Chittambalam' comes into view. It is in this
'manadapam' that Lord Nadarajah performs his dance (the
Anandathandavam) eternally. The Chitsabah and the Kanakasabah are
linked together and are called 'Ponnambalam'. This is
also called as 'Chittambalam' and 'Gnanasabah'.
There is a small entrance to the right of the Dancing Siva
('Nadarajah'). During 'pooja' the curtain hung at
the entrance is drawn aside and 'araathi' is shown. There
are no images inside but only a garland of golden 'vilva'
leaves is seen. This represents the 'Chidambara Rahasyam'
representing the Lord in the form of space. Chidambaram thus
represents one of the five elements (ether) and is called
'Aakasa sthalam'.As you stand in front of the
'Chitsabah' at the entrance to the inner circuit you can
see the South facing Nadarajah and the East facing Govidaraja
Perumal (Vishnu). There is no other temple in the south where you
can see both the Saivite god Shiva and the Vaishnavite god Vishnu
from the same spot.
Rishi Madyandinar had a son. He, under the direction of his
father, came to the forest of Thillai and worshipped the
'Lingam', which had appeared there. He usually got up
early before daybreak to collect flowers with which to perform
his pooja. One morning he could not collect the flowers early as
it was dark and cloudy and he could not see the flowers. After
daybreak he went to collect the flowers and found that the
flowers had been polluted by the bees and was grief stricken.
Lord Shiva on seeing his devotee grief stricken took pity on him
and gave him the eyes and limbs of a tiger so that he could see
in the dark and climb trees easily to collect the flowers. Thus
he came to be known as 'Vyagrapadar' and the forest where
he lived as 'Vyagrapuram' or 'Puliyoor'.
During this time the rishis living in the forest known as
'Tharukavanam' became very arrogant as they had mastered
all the 'Vedas', 'Agamas' and 'Shastras'
and could raise powerful creatures from the sacrificial fires to
do their bidding. Lord Shiva wished to show these rishis their
limitations and appeared as a handsome mendicant with Vishnu as
his wife 'Mohini'. This created chaos in
'Tharukavanam' as the wives of the rishis fell under the
spell of this charming, handsome mendicant while the youthful
rishis fell for the allure of Mohini. The older rishis became
very angry and wanted to destroy the pair. They raised a
sacrificial fire ('Homam') from which appeared a tiger
which was directed at the pair. Lord Shiva killed the tiger,
peeled off its skin and tied it around his waist. Then the rishis
produced a poisonous serpent, which Lord Shiva caught and wore
around his neck. The rishis also sent a demon 'Muyalakan'
against Lord Shiva whom he crushed under his feet. Then the
rishis sent the sacrificial fire against him which he put on his
left hand. The rishis having lost the fire sent the vedic
'mantras' which the Lord wore around his ankles. At this
the rishis conceded defeat and the Lord revealed himself by
dancing the 'Oorthava thandavam' with his matted hair
unfurling in all eight directions and the world reverberating to
Lord Vishnu described this incident to Adishesa, the serpent
on which Lord Vishnu reposes. Adishesha wished to see this dance
and taking leave of Lord Vishnu went and prayed to Lord Shiva to
grant him the honour of witnessing his dance. Lord Shiva advised
Adhishesha to go to Vyagrapuram where he would one day perform
this dance. Adishesha was then born on this land and was given
the name Pathanjali. Pathanjali approached Vyagrapadar and told
him of his quest. As Vyagrapadar himself was eager to see the
Lord's dance he was delighted to receive Pathanjali and
accompanied him to the temple of Lord Shiva and prayed for the
Lord's appearance. On an auspicious day the celestial beings
arrived at Thillai along with other Rishis, and sages and
assembled where Vyagrapadar had his temple. The heavenly
musicians too arrived. Then Lord Shiva appeared with one of His
right hands beating the drums and the other hand bestowing grace.
With His left hand holding the fire and the other pointing to his
right leg trampling Muyalakan under the foot, He appeared with
His left leg raised in a dancing pose.
The guardian of the forest in Thillai, Goddess Kali, refused
to allow Lord Shiva to dance in Her domain. Lord Shiva therefore
challenged Her to a dance competition on condition that if He won
then She would be banished from that area. The competition began.
While Naradha played the veena, Nandikeswara played the drums and
other celestial musicians accompanied with their instruments Lord
Shiva danced with his hair flung in all directions. With the
'vedas' as his anklets, the serpent as his waist band,
the tiger skin as his attire with Ganga and the crescent moon on
his crest, He performed the 'Ananda thandavam'. At one
stage Lord Shiva took a pose with His left foot raised above His
head but modesty prevented Goddess Kali matching the same pose.
Thus She lost the competition and had taken residence in the
northern end of Chidambaram in the Thillaiamman temple. Every
devotee who comes to Chidambaram after worshipping at the
Natarajar temple visits this temple too. Pathanjali and
Vyagrapadar prayed to Lord Shiva to remain at Thillai as the
eternally dancing god 'Lord Natarajar' so that all the
earthly beings could witness his dance and receive his grace and
The temple is open from 6 am to 12 noon and then from 5 pm to
It is said that the Ponnambalam rests on 64 wooden rafters to
represent the 64 types of different art forms and the 21600 tiles
forming the roof indicate the number of breaths taken by a human
being in a day. The Ponnambalam is designed to represent the
human body. The sanctum is not in the centre but slightly to the
left denoting the heart. The entrance to these shrines is not in
the front but on the side drawing parallel to the flow of blood
into the heart.
The five steps leading unto the Chitsaba is said to represent
the five syllables of the 'Panchakshara mantram'
(Na,Ma,Si,Va,Ya). The dancing figure of Lord Nadarajah itself is
the subject of many long theses by scholars of the past and
present giving various interpretations of Hindu philosophy.
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