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.
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).