Chidambaram Temple and the Podu Dikshitars

Pooja Rituals
The Pooja rituals and tenets found  in the Chidambaram Temple are very special and are found nowhere else in the  Hindu world. Chidambaram temple poojas are based on Vedic rituals in  contrast to agamic rituals found in most other temples. Further, the Podu  Dikshitars follow a unique set of tenets for their poojas and festivals. This  is the only temple where Vedic traditions as expounded by the Sage Patanjali  are the tenets of the Podu Dikshitars, and only these are used in worship and  rituals in the Chidambaram temple. The Podu Dikshitars’ ritual and pooja  traditions have not changed for over two millennia. It is among the very few  temples where one can witness Vedic traditions followed by sages and rishis of  ancient days.

The Podu Dikshitars take turns to be  the Chief priest of the day. This turn may come to them once in about 300 days.  Only married male members above 25 years of age, who have gone through an  initiation called “Diksha” and whose wives are alive are eligible to be the  Chief Priest of the day. Before performing the kala poojas and poojas to Lord  Nataraja performing the “Dance of Bliss” in the Sanctum Santorum, the  designated ‘Chief Priest of the Day’ takes a bath in the holy temple tank  called Sivaganga. After bath he performs the fire ritual before starting the  kala poojas. The Vedic modes of rituals with chanting of Vedic mantras are  integral parts of these pooja rituals.

The “Rahasya Pooja” done in the  evening is not open for public darshan as are the other poojas. Only the Chief  Priest of the Day and his assistant who is also a Dikshitar would be present to  conduct and witness that pooja. The public and other Dikshitars are excluded  from this every day.

Dikshitars and Tamil
Tamil is the mother tongue of Podu  Dikshitars. It is the language spoken in their homes and used by them in their  administrative records in the temple and in their communications. There have  always been Tamil scholars in every generation of Dikshitars. Saint Umapati  Sivam, a Tillai Vaazh Antanar of extraordinary merit has authored many Saiva  Sastra works in Tamil and has sung the History of Chidambaram (Temple) in  Sanskrit as original and has rendered it in Tamil, naming the Tamil work “Kovil  Puranam”.

Many Dikshitars have erudition in  the Tamil Canonical works known as Tirumurai. Many publications and research  works have been authored by Podu Dikshitars on Tamil Tirumurais. Besides Vedas,  Tamil Tirumurai are accorded great importance by Dikshitars at the Chidambaram  Temple. Recitation of “Pancha Puranas” or five songs from the 12 Tirumurais in  a prescribed manner during the allotted puja times is unique to Chidambaram.

Similarly, honouring the Tamil Saint  Manikkavasagar during the Arudhra festival days by reciting 20 of his hymns and  performing special aradhanas after reciting each hymn is unique and special to  Chidambaram Temple.

In Chidambaram, the collection of  the first Seven Tirumurais were found and preserved. In Chidambaram the eighth  Tirumurai – Tiruvachakam and TiruKovaiyar were written. The ninth Tirumurai  consists of songs which are mostly in praise of Chidambaram Temple, Nataraja and  Podu Dikshitars. The tenth Tirumurai is the earliest Tamil work which mentions  Chidambaram, the Dancing Hall and Nataraja. The eleventh Tirumurai too has many  songs on Chidambaram temple, Nataraja and Podu Dikshitars. The Eleventh  Tirumurai clearly records that Chidambaram Temple is the temple of the Podu  Dikshitars. It clearly states that Nataraja came to Chidambaram with the Podu  Dikshitars and took the Dancing Hall as His dwelling place.

The twelfth and final Tirumurai –  Periya Puranam – was written by the chief minister of the Chola Kingdom, St.  Sekkizhar at Chidambaram. In this hagiology St. Sekkizhar has recorded the  greatness of the Podu Dikshitars and how devoted are they to the temple and to  the Lord. St. Sekkizhar also records that all services to the Lord and the  temple belong rightfully to Podu Dikshitars.

Temple Administration and the Denomination of Podu  Dikshitars
As early as 1890, a Division Bench  of the Hon’ble High Court of Madras consisting of the first native High Court  Judge of India, Justice Muthuswamy Aiyer and Justice Sheppard, clearly recorded  that the Podu Dikshitars of Chidambaram have held both the offices of Trustee  and Archaka in the temple from time immemorial. The Division Bench also clearly  recorded that the net income of the temple is their recognized means of  livelihood:

“About 250 families of Dikshadars  reside at Chitambaram, and the nett income of the temple, which is derived from  general offerings, is their recognized means of livelihood. According to their  usage every Dikshadar becomes entitled, on marriage, to take part in the  management, to do puja or perform service in the minor shrines, and to share in  the emoluments of the institution. He is, however, considered not qualified for  performing service in the principal shrines, until he is twenty-five years old  and initiated in a ceremony called Diksha.”

“It is not denied that the  institution has been used as a place of public worship from time immemorial but  it is said that the public worship in it by permission of the dikshadars.”

[Justices Muthuswamy Aiyer and  Sheppard of the Hon’ble Madras High Court - ILR 14 MAD 103 (17/03/1890)]

Both religious and administrative  duties and rights of the Podu Dikshitars are inseparably intertwined. The  Division Bench upheld this inseparable nature of both the offices in ILR 14 MAD  103. Their Lordships held the pooja rights were, according to the usage of the  institution, appurtenant to their status as dharmakartas and the interests of  the temple would be but inadequately protected if the two rights were severed…

 Again in CRP.121/189, Justice  Muthuswamy Aiyer reinforced the above decision by stating, “ The right to  perform Pooja being appurtenant to plaintiff’s status as Dikshidar and trustee  and the two rights being inseparable, he cannot divest himself of the character  of the trustee and at the same time insist on his right to perform Pooja.”

This inseparable nature of  trusteeship and archaka was further confirmed when the Hon’ble Division Bench  of the Madras High Court, in 1952 I MLJ 557 equated them with Matathipathis  since there can be no demarcation of religious and administrative duties of the  Podu Dikshitars.

The nomenclature “Podu Dikshitar”  refers to individual Dikshitars of Chidambaram when they indulge in mundane or  pooja activities. It refers to the body of Podu Dikshitars when they attend to  the administrative duties of the temple. The administration of the Chidambaram  Temple is carried according to the constitution of the temple framed by  Dikshitars centuries ago and printed for the first time in 1849. This temple  law is known as “Shri Sabhanayagar Koil Sattam”. The Hon’ble Division Bench of  the Madras High Court was awe-struck at the elaborate rules and the  thoughtfulness and planning that had gone into framing them.

Podu Dikshitars strictly follow the  temple traditions and ensure that the temple rituals and practices are conducted  without any deviation from the traditions. Poojas and rituals are conducted on  time every day. Administrative meetings are held once in twenty days and a lamp  is brought from the sanctum of Nataraja to denote the presence of the Lord who  is the leader of the Podu Dikshitars. The administrative decisions are taken in  the presence of the lamp in a democratic manner and all Dikshitars have equal  rights in the administration.

The unflinching loyalty of the Podu  Dikshitars to Nataraja and to their temple, their strict adherence to rituals  and their excellent administration have been recorded by scholars,  institutions, Central and State Ministers, Hon’ble Judges of the High Courts  and the Supreme Court, Government officials and Devotees.

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