Famous temple didicated to 'Cosmic Dancer' (Shiva), Chidambaram, India

Gold plated roof,Nataraja temple,Chidambaram, TN ,India.tripadvisor.in
The Nataraja temple at Chidambaram – the abode of cosmic dancer is one of the most famous among the Hindu temples of great antiquity in India representing the rich, ancient  cultural heritage of India and Tamil Nadu in particular for over two millennium. Built mainly in the 12th and 13th centuries, it has close association with music and dance  and is well known for its Saivite  festival traditions; the only Shiva temple where the main deity representing in the anthropomorphic form, as the supreme being  performing all cosmic activities.

Brass idol of Sri Nataraja,Nataraja temple,Chidambaram,India.lotussculpture.

  Water tank,Nataraja temple,Chidambaram,TN, India.eventseeker.com

It is one the  five Panchabootha sthalams (five elements of nature - air, water, fire, earth and sky) temples.         
Chidambaram is a huge temple complex spread over 40 acres (160,000 m2) in the heart of the city. The main complex dedicated to Lord Shiva - Nataraja also has shrines for deities such as Shivakami Amman, Ganesh, Murugan and Vishnu in (Govindaraja Perumal).

There are five  Ambalams or Sabhas (halls) inside the temple:
Long Corridor Nataraja temple,Chidambaram,Indiayts.nichitecture.com
Chit Ambalam or Chit Sabhai, the innermost sanctum of the temple; it houses the grand images of Shiva (Nataraja) and His consort Parvati (Sivakami) in the Chit Sabha or the hall of consciousness. It represents 5 achhara – indestructible syllables–"SI VA YA NA HA",  

Pon Ambalam or Kanaka Sabhai (the Golden hall) in front of chit ambalam where daily temple rituals are held. Here 28 pillars representing the 28 agamas or set of rules for the worship of Lord Shiva. 64 beams  in the roof representing  64 forms of art and is held by several cross-beams representing the innumerable blood vessels. The roof laid with  21,600 golden tiles with the word 'SIVAYANAMA' inscribed on them representing 21600 breaths; the golden tiles  fixed with  72,000 golden nails represent the number of nadis that exist in human body. Nine sacred pots or kalasas atop the roof representing the 9 forms of energy.   

Nrithya sabhai or Natya sabhai (dance hall), a 56-pillared hall near flagmast or dwaja sthambam. In the dance duel Nataraja out smarted Kali (goddess).

Raja sabhai or the 1000-pillared hall which symbolizes the yogic chakra of thousand pillared lotus or Sahasraram where the union with he divine force can be achieved by concentration on thousand Chakra (wheel).

Deva Sabhai, which houses the Pancha moorthis (pancha - five, moorthis  - namely the deities of Ganesh, Somaskanda (seated posture of Lord Shiva with Pavarthi and Skanda), Sivananda Nayaki, Muruga and the image of Chandikeswarar.

The Chit sabha, the holiest shrine in the temple with a hut shaped roof,  has the images of Nataraja (and Sivakami) in three forms namely 1. the anthropomorphic form as an appearance of Nataraja, called the Sakala-thirumeni, 2. the "semi-form" – the semi-anthropomorphic form as the Crystal linga of Chandramaulishvara, the Sakala-nishkala-thirumeni, 3. the "formless" – as the space in Chidambara-rahasyam, an empty space within the sanctum sanctorum, the Nishkala-thirumeni. 

Nataraja in Ruby  and  Spatika (quartz) Lingam of Chandramauleeswara (another name of Shiva) is enshrined in this holy shrine. 

The revered Chidambara rahasyam ( the secret of God or Holy Spirit) - the concept of nothingness (space) in the form of a garland with golden vilva leaves hanging in mid air signifying ''No Aathi and no Aantham,''(no beginning and no end). Visitors can see it during  services.

At various periods, donations of gold jewels, etc were made by various kings, rulers and patrons of the temple from 9th to 16th century - including the Maharaja of Pudukottai,  Ramnad - Sethupathy (the emerald jewel still adorns the deity) and also the British. The golden tiled roof for the Chit Ambalam (the vimanam) was laid by the Chola King Parantaka I(907-950 CE)

Kings Rajaraja Chola I (reign 985-1014 A.D.) and Kulothunga Chola I (1070-1120 A.D.) gave  significant donations to  the temple. Gold jewles, etc to the temple were donated by Rajaraja Chola's daughter Kundavai II.  Chola king Vikrama Chola (1118-1135 A.D.) gave donations for the conduct of the daily rituals.

As per Agama rules (temple design rule),  there are five prakarams (closed precincts or corridors of a temple) or circuits, each separated by walls one within the other. Nritta Sabha or the hall of dance and The Deva Sabha or the house of Gods  are in 2nd prakara.  The outermost prakaram has Sivakami Amman temple, the Sivaganga tank and the 1000 pillared hall or the Raja Sabha, where Nataraja is brought during two annual festivals.

The paintings on the ceiling in  the vast Sivakami Amman  temple - mukha mandapam date back to Nayak period. There are images of dancers, drummers and musicians all along the enclosing walls of this temple.

There is a sannadhi (shrine) for Sri Govindaraja perumal (Vishnu) adjacent to Nataraja's. Here  lord Nataraja  personifies cosmic dance of bliss in his 'Kanaga Sabhai' (golden hall) and is well represented  with traditions related to Aarudra Darisanam.

Tit Bits:

This old Shiva  temple  personifies  Chidambara Ragasiam ( divine secret) - the universal concept of invisible creator - the almighty  as mentioned earlier. It simply means the God is omnipresent and omnipotent and  He has no beginning and no end. He is invisible and is in every form - living and non-living things, a basic concept of all religions; but the paths taken by them may be different just like rivers taking different courses crisscrossing various terrains in their journey, ultimately reaching the ocean

As for humans, after the last leg of journey in this world, their final destination is blissful eternal sleep in the lotus feet of the Lord. 


Tourist guide to Tamil Nadu (2007), Tourist guide to Tamil Nadu, Chennai: T. Krishna Press.