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Indian Culture And Traditions

Chidambaram Temple And The Podu Dikshitars
By T R Ramesh, August 2011 [[email protected]]

Chapter :

The Koyil
  The Lord resides at Chitrambalam
  The Lord resides at Chidambaram
  The Lord resides at Tiruvambalam
  The Lord resides at the Splendorous  Podu
  -   Tirumantiram – the Tenth Tirumurai; Song  869 - Saint Tirumoolar, 3rd century CE

For Tamil Saivites across the world,  Chidambaram Sri Sabhanayagar Temple is known as “the Koyil” or “the Temple”.  For them, no Siva Temple is or could be more important or sacred than this  Temple of Sri Nataraja at Chidambaram where the Lord performs his Cosmic Dance  in the Hall of Wisdom.

Indeed it is the belief of Saivites  and other Hindus that after the last pooja of the day (Artajama Pooja), the  Siva Jyoti present in the Sivalinga of every other Siva temple converge in  Nataraja, the presiding deity of this Supreme Siva Temple. The words Chitrambalam,  Chidambaram, Tiruvambalam and Podu all denote that this place of worship was  only the Dancing Hall of Siva in the beginning.

Origin of Sri Sabhanayagar Temple
“Sri Sabhanayagar Temple or Sri  Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram is an ancient temple of great importance to  Saivites all over India.” - Statement of Case by Government of Madras in  Civil Appeal 39/1953 in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

This Temple is very ancient one and  apart from Epical history no historical evidence could be traceable in respect  of the details of its founding and age. - Document no. 30 at page 101 of the  Government’s submissions before the Hon’ble Division Bench of the Madras High  Court in W.A.181 of 2009.

Admittedly, the Chidambaram Nataraja  Temple is one of the most ancient temples in India whose origin is lost in  antiquity. Chidambaram temple is a hoary temple that goes back to the period of  Sages Patanjali and Vyagrapadha. Sage Vyagrapadha is the father of the great  Siva Devotee Upamanyu. Shri Upamanyu is the ‘Deeksha Guru’ of Sri Krishna.

“The Koyil” rose on an ancient site,  some of the inner portions being of the remotest antiquity, was preserved with  care by the Podu Dikshitars and enriched by Kings of yore through the efforts  of the Podu Dikshitars. The first true building on this worship site would seem  to be the sacred central shrine, which is still the heart of the temple. What  started as a small Dancing Hall (‘Citrambalam’, meaning ‘small hall’) of Siva  later became a huge temple complex. As the Temple grew in size, importance and  fame, the town too grew big and became a ‘Taniyur’, an independent  self-governing town.

Epigraphical and other records show  that Chidambaram occupied in former centuries much larger limits than now. A  12th century inscription mentions it as Perrumpatrapuliyur-Taniyur, a large  self-governing local unit comprising 23 hamlets with a radius of eight miles.  By that time (and now) the Temple Complex comprised an area of almost 40 acres.  The Raja Gopuras present now in the temple were built at various periods,  spanning many centuries. It is marvellous to note that all four Gopuras are  uniform in size, structure and form. All Gopurams are 7-storeyed and 135 feet  tall. All have 13 Copper Kalashas on them. They are uniformly 90 feet long  and 60 feet wide at the bottom and the entrances are 40 feet high. All Gopurams  have beautiful statues depicting various postures of Natya or Dance Karanas.  This uniformity has been possible only due to the continuous presence and  administration of the Podu Dikshitars from the inception of the temple.

The innermost part of the temple  where the Dancing Hall of the Lord is present is a very ancient structure that  is very early in tradition. It is a wooden structure in rectangular shape with  a thatched roof covered with gold leaves. Such a style is unknown or cannot be  seen in other temples in Tamil Nadu. The closest resemblance to this structure  is found in a relief panel from Nagarjunakonda, north of Tamil Nadu and dates  from about the 3rd century.

Citrambalam
The gold-roofed stage or dancing  hall is the sanctum sanctorum of the Chidambaram temple and houses  the Lord in three forms:
•the ‘form’ or anthropomorphic form  of Lord Nataraja, called the Sakala thirumeni
•the ‘semi-form’ or  semi-anthropomorphic form as Crystal linga Chandramouleswarar, the Sakala  nishkala thirumeni
•the ‘formless’ as the Space in  Chidambara Rahasyam, an empty space within the sanctum sanctorum, the  Nishkala thirumeni

The Dancing Lord
“Every part of the Nataraja  image is directly expressive not of any superstition or dogma, but of evident  facts. No artist of today however great, could more exactly or more wisely  create an image of that energy which science must postulate behind all  phenomena. It is poetry; but nevertheless science”
  - Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

The Chidambaram Temple is unique  since the presiding deity worshipped is a metal icon of Lord Nataraja in  contrast to statues of deities made of stone found in other temples. But in the  same sanctum, the ethereal or Akasa linga is present and is worshipped along  with the Nataraja. There is also a Spatika Linga for which the six daily kala  poojas are done.

This Sanctum is the Kanakasabha or  the Golden Hall where Nataraja, as Kanakasabhapati, Lord of the Golden Hall,  performs his Dance of Bliss, the Anandatandava. It is important to note that in  this Sanctum there is a screen of golden Bilva leaves which hangs to the right  of Nataraja and the screen when moved aside reveals empty space that represents  Akasa or Space. The removal of the screen is the removal of ignorance and  behind the veil is the real truth – Sat, Chit and Ananda – which is the subtle  ethereal form of Nataraja. This is known as the Chidambara Rahasya.

The Dancing Lord Nataraja while  dancing enacts the five activities known as Panchakritya – Srishti (creation),  Sthiti (preservation, continued maintenance), Samhara (destruction, involution),  Tirobhava (veiling, incarnation), and Anugraha (release, salvation).

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