Name of the Temple
Sri Thillai Natarajar Temple
Period of origin
Before 3000 years
Name of deity
Ambal: Umayambikai, Sivakama Sundari
Sthala Theertham: Shivaganga, Paramananda Koopam, Vyakrapada Theertham, Anantha Theertham, Nagacheri, Brahmma Theertham, Shivapriyai,Pulimedu, Kuyya Theertham, Tiruparkadal
Sthala Virksham: Thillai
Devaram: Gnanasambandar, Tirunavukkarasar, Sundarar and Manickavasagar
The story of Chidambaram begins with the legend of Lord Shiva strolling into the Thillai Vanam (Vanam meaning forest and thillai trees, a species of mangrove trees – which currently grows in the Pichavaram wetlands near Chidambaram. The temple sculptures depicting the Thillai trees date back to the 2nd century CE).
In the Thillai forests resided a group of saints or ‘rishis’ who believed in the supremacy of magic and that God can be controlled by rituals and ‘mantras’ or magical words. The Lord strolls in the forest with resplendent beauty and brilliance, assuming the form of ‘Pitchatanadar’, a simple mendicant seeking alms. He is followed by his Grace and consort who is Lord Vishnu as Mohini. The rishis and their wives are enchanted by the brilliance and the beauty of the handsome mendicant and his consort. On seeing their womenfolk enchanted, the rishis get enraged and invoke scores of ‘serpents’ by performing magical rituals. The Lord as the mendicant lifts the serpents and dons them as ornaments on his matted locks, neck and waist. Further enraged, the rishis invoke a fierce tiger, which the Lord skins and dons as a shawl around his waist. Thoroughly frustrated, the rishis gather all their spiritual strength and invoke a powerful demon Muyalakan – a symbol of complete arrogance and ignorance. The Lord wearing a gentle smile, steps on the demon’s back, immobilizes him and performs the Ánanda Thaandava (the dance of eternal bliss) and discloses his true form. The rishis surrender, realizing that this Lord is the truth and he is beyond magic and rituals.
The Ananda Thaandava
Adhisesha, the serpent who serves as a bed for the Lord in his manifestation as Vishnu, hears about the Änanda thaandava and yearns to see and enjoy it. The Lord blesses him, beckons him to assume the saintly form of ‘Patanjali’ and sends him to the Thillai forest, informing him that he will display the dance in due course. Patanjali who meditated in the Himalayas during krita age joins another saint, Vyagrapathar / Pulikaalmuni (Vyagra / Puli meaning “Tiger” and patha / kaal meaning “feet” – referring to the story of how he sought and got the feet and eyesight of a tiger to help climb trees well before dawn to pick flowers for the Lord before the bees visit them). The story of sage Patanjali as well as his great student sage Upamanyu is narrated in both Vishnu Puranam as well as Siva Puranam. They move into the Thillai forest and worship Lord Shiva in the form of Shivalinga, a deity worshipped today as Thirumoolataneswarar (Thiru – sri, Moolatanam – primordial or in the nature of a foundation, Eswarar- the Lord). Legends say that Lord Shiva displayed his dance of bliss (the Aananda Thaandavam) – as Nataraja to these two saints on the day of the poosam star in the Tamil month of Thai (Jan – Feb).
Lord Shiva is in three forms in Chidambaram, as visible idol form, formless as Akasha or space and form and formless as a Spatika Linga.
What is Chidambara Rahasyam – secret: There is small entrance near Lord Sabanayaka in the Chit Saba. The screen is removed and an arati is offered. There is nothing in a form inside. But there hangs a golden Vilwa garland without a Murthi. The secret is that Lord is here as Akasha which has no beginning or an end. This can be understood only by experience. Of the Panchabhoodha Sthals, Chidambaram belongs to Akasha.
Chit + Ambaram= Chidambaram. Chit means wisdom. Ambaram means broad open space not measurable. “We have nothing with us” is the lesson from this philosophy.
The reputation of Chidambaram is still greater, because it is here that the hymns of three great Saivite Saints were discovered. They sang thousands of hymns in many Shiva Sthals they visited. Where were they for the use of the devotees? Tirunarayur Nambiandar Nambi and king Tirumurai Kanda Chozhan fell at the feet of Lord Polla Pillayar – Vinayaka to guide them in the matter. With the blessings of Lord Vinayaka, they came to know that all these great spiritual literature with the signatures of the respective authors are hidden in this temple. They rushed to Chidambaram and worshipped the authors with respectful festivals. They found the palm leaves covered by anthill and mostly consumed by insects. Yet they picked up the available full leaves and saved them. All these invaluable spiritual literature would have been totally lost but for the painstaking and devout labor of Nambiandar Nambigal and Tirumurai Kanda Chozhan.
Chidambaram Lord Nataraja probably is the first social reformer. Nandanar, a dalit farm worker was a staunch Shiva devotee. He desired to have the darshan of Lord but could not secure a holiday from his upper caste boss who said that as a low born he was not entitled for the privilege. Nandanar did not lose hope. Naalai Pohalam – Let me go tomorrow – was his hope. After many tomorrows, he finally reached Chidambaram but could not enter the temple due to his community problem. He tried to have the glimpse of Lord, but Nandhi the bull vehicle of Lord Shiva blocked the view. Lord asked Nandhi to move and enabled Nandanar to have his darshan. Nandanar attained salvation here and merged with Lord to the shock and surprise of the upper class.
It is said that the four Saivite Saints entered the temple through the four entrances of the temple, Manickavasagar through the east, Gnanasambandar from south, Appar from west and Sundarar from the north. Appar-Tirunavukkarasar did his Angapradakshina in the car strees (Ratha Veedhi) of Chidambaram.
Saint Manickavasagar cured the dumb daughter of the Buddhist king of Lanka with the blessings of Lord in the temple. There are five Sabhas in the temple – Chittrambalam, Ponnambalam, Perambalam, Niruddha Sabha and Rajatha Sabha. The shrines of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are so structured that the devotee can have twin darshan from one spot in the temple. This is a temple where Brahmma, Vishnu and Rudra grace the devotees together.
Saint Arunagirinathar had praised Lord Muruga of this temple in ten of his Tirupugazh hymns.
Many believe that Lord Nataraja is the presiding deity of this temple. The presiding deity is Adhimoola Nathar in the Linga form. Sages Patanjali and Vyakrapada wished that people of this earth too should have the chance to view and enjoy the great dance of Lord Shiva performed at Mount Kailash. They came to earth and sat in penance on Adhimoolanathar for the purpose. Responding to their selfless penance for the common people, Lord Shiva along with Tri Sahasra Muniswaras – 3000 sages came to this place and granted His dance darshan in Thai month (January-February) on Poosam Star day at 12.00 a.m. These 3000 Muniswaras then came to known as Thillai Moovayiravar.
Chidambaram is a holy place that ensures total salvation to the souls. For salvation, one should have his/her birth at Tiruvarur or live in Kanchi or think of Tiruvannamalai or die in Kasi. If one worships Lords Tirumoolanathar and Nataraja at Chidambaram at least once in life time, salvation is reserved for the soul. Despite strong opposition to Nandanar to enter the temple due to community reasons, he entered the temple with all honours and merged with the Lord. His bhakti-devotion was too deep and true that transcended all blockades of caste discrimination.
Every one in the world, irrespective of race, colour, country, language, religion throng he temple for Lord Nataraja darshan and also participate in pulling the car-rath.
Lord Brahmma organized a yajna and invited the 3000 Muniswaras to join in the pujas. They simply replied that no great soulful gain could be achieved by attending the yajna than the darshan of Nataraja at Thillai Chidambaram. Lord advised them to go and attend the yajna and promised to appear there at the end of the yajna. That form of His appearance in the Brahmma Loka is praised as Rathna Sabapathy. This idol is under the Nataraja idol. Every day, between 10.00 a.m and 11.00 a.m. Arati is shown to Lord Rathna Sabapathi, both at front and back.
There is a similarity in the design of Nataraja shrine and the human body, it is said. The 21,600 golden tiles engraved with the Na Ma Shi Va Ya mantra represent the number of times one breathes each day. The 72,000 nails used in the Ponnambalam represent the number of nerves of the human body. The 9 entrances represent the nine conveniences in the body activating our movements. Five steps to Ponnambalam represent the five letters of Na Ma Shi Va Ya Mantra. Wooden supports numbering 64 represent 64 arts, 96 windows the 96 philosophies, the pillars the 4 Vedas, 6 Sastras and Panchaboodas.
Sri Chakra installed by Acharya Adi Sankara is in the Ambica shrine. The Arthajama puja in the temple has its own significance when, it is believed that all other Gods assemble here for worship. Great Saivite poet Sekkizhar released His magnum Opus Periapuranam in this temple. Saint Arunagiriar had praised Lord Muruga of this temple in his Tirupugazh hymns.
Chidambaram is also referred to in various works such as Thillai (after the Thillai forest of yore in which the temple is now located), Perumpatrapuliyur or Vyagrapuram் (in honour of Saint Vyagrapathar).The temple is supposed to be located at the Lotus heart of the Universe”: Virat hridaya padma sthalam. On the spot where the Lord displayed his dance of bliss, the Änanda Thaandavam – a spot exactly south of the “Thirumoolataaneswar temple”, today is the Ponnambalam/ Porsabai (Pon meaning gold, Ambalam/Sabai meaning stage) housing the Lord Shiva in his dancing form. The Lord is also hence referred to as the Sabhanayakar, meaning the Lord of the Stage.
This gold-roofed stage is the sanctum sanctorum of the Chidambaram temple and houses the Lord in three forms:
the “form” – the anthropomorphically form as an appearance of Lord Nataraja, called the Sakala thirumeni.
the “semi-form” – the semi-anthropomorphically form as the Crystal linga of Chandramouleswarar, the Sakala nishkala thirumeni.
the “formless” – as the Space in Chidambara Rahasyam, an empty space within the sanctum sanctorum, the Nishkala thirumeni.
Pancha Bootha Sthalas
Chidambaram is one of the Panchabootha Sthalas, where the Lord is worshipped in his manifestation as sky or Aagayam (“pancha” – meaning five, bootha – meaning the elements: earth, water, fire, wind and space and “sthala” meaning location).
The others are:
the Ekambareswarar temple at Kanchipuram, where the Lord is worshipped in his manifestation as Earth
the Jambukeswarar temple at Thiruvanaikaval, in Tiruchirapalli, where the Lord is worshipped in his manifestation as Water
the Annamalaiyar Temple at Tiruvannamalai, where the Lord is worshipped in his manifestation as Fire
the Kalahasti temple at Srikalahasthi, where the Lord is worshipped in his manifestation as air/wind.
Chidambaram also is one of the five places where Lord Shiva is said to have displayed his dance and all these places have stages/ sabhais . Apart from Chidambaram which has the Por sabhai, the others are the Rathina sabhai at Thiruvaalangadu (rathinam – ruby / red) , the Chitra sabhai at Courtallam (chitra – painting), the Rajatha sabhai or the Velli ambalam at Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple (rajatha / velli – silver) and the Thaamira sabhai at Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli (thaamiram – copper).
The temple complex spread over 50 acres in the heart of the city. It is an ancient and historic temple dedicated to Lord Shiva Nataraja and Lord Govindaraja Perumal, one of the few temples where both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities are enshrined in one place.To the followers of Shaivism (Saivism) or the saivaite, the very word koil refers to Chidambaram. In the same way, to the followers of Vaishnavism it refers to Srirangam or Thiruvarangam.
A unique feature of this temple is the bejeweled image of Nataraja. It depicts the Lord Shiva as the Lord of the dance Bharatanatyam and is one of the few temples where Shiva is represented by an anthropomorphic murthi rather than the classic, anionic Lingam. The Cosmic Dance of Lord Nataraja symbolises the motion of the universe as sustained by Lord Shiva. The temple has five courts.Aragalur Udaya Iraratevan Ponparappinan (alias Vanakovaraiyan) rebuilt the Siva temple at Chidambaram around 1213 AD. The same Bana Chief also built Tiruvannamalai temple.The temple has been traditionally administered by an endogamous group of shiavite brahmins called Dikshitar, who also officiate as its priest.
The Chidambaram Natarajar temple is a specimen of the assimilation of several architectural styles. The innermost sanctum of the temple, houses the grand images of Shiva (Nataraja) and Parvati (Sivakami) in the ChitSabha or the hall of consciousness, adjoining which is the KanakaSabha or the Golden Hall, both these structures resting on a raised platform. The innermost prakaram surrounds this holiest of shrines, and to the South West of Nataraja, is the shrine of Govindaraja Perumaal facing the East.
The Chitsabha, the holiest shrine in the temple, is a wooden structure supported with wooden pillars, with a hut shaped roof. It is in this hall, that the images of Nataraja and Sivakami are housed, in front of a set of two curtains, the inner (invisible) one being red in color, the outer one being black in color. To the right of Shiva, is the revered Chidambara rahasyam – or a representation of emptiness garlanded with golden vilva leaves. The curtain in front of the Chidambara Rahasyam, representing Shiva (and Parvati) in the formless form (Aroopam) is lifted ceremoniously during worship services, with offerings of lamps. Also in the Chitsabha are images of Ratnasabhapati (Nataraja of Ruby), the Spatika Lingam of Chandramauleeswara, Swarnakarshana Bhairavar, Mukhalingam etc
The Golden Hall, or KanakaSabha is immediately in front of the ChitSabha, both being on an elevated platform as mentioned before, with silver panelled doors in front. The ChitSabha itself is a meter or so higher than the Kanakasabha and is reached by a flight of 5 silver plated steps, marking the five aksharas (or syllables) of the Panchakshara Mantram (the five syllabled Namasivaya).
Across from the Nataraja shrine in he second prakaram is the Nritta Sabha or the hall of dance with some fine pillars, housing an image of Shiva in the Urdhva tandava posture, winning over Kaali in a dance duel, and an image of Sarabheswara, another form of Shiva. The Nritta Sabha with fine pillars is in the form of a chariot drawn by horses. The Deva Sabha or the house of Gods is also in the second prakaram, housing festival images of the Pancha Murtis (Somaskandar, Parvati, Vinayaka, Subramanya and Chandikeswara) and other deities. Mulanathar, or the representation of Shiva as a Lingam is housed in the second prakaram.
The outermost prakaram is home to the grand Sivakami Amman temple, the Sivaganga tank and the 1000 pillared hall or the Raja Sabha, where Nataraja is brought during two annual festivals. The vast Sivakami Amman shrine is a temple in its own right. Ceilings on the mukhamandapam of this temple have paintings from the Nayaka period. There are friezes of dancers, drummers and musicians all along the enclosing walls of this temple. The thousand pillared hall has witnessed several grand events in history. This hall is also designed in the form of a chariot. Its entrance features two elephants, and on the basement there is a frieze of dancing figures. The 100 pillared hall, also in the outermost prakaram is also of artistic value, as is the shrine of Subramanya, which dates back to the Pandya period. The Subramanya shrine is also in the form of a chariot, and is referred to as the ‘Pandya Nayakam’.
Perhaps the most magnificient structures in the temple are the four lofty gopurams or towers in the four cardinal directions, piercing the walls of the outermost prakaram. Each is a gigantic masterpiece in itself – about 250 feet in height, with seven tiers. The Western tower is the oldest one. In the towers, on either side of the gateways there are representations of the 108 poses of the classical Bharata Natyam Tradition as enunciated in the Classic Natya Sastra. The towers are embellished with images from Hindu mythology. From the second tier onward, on each of the Gopuram, are seen images of various manifestations of Shiva such as Bhikshatana, Kankala (both being ascetic forms), Kalyanasundarar, Somaskandar etc. (bestowers of prosperity). There are no representations of Nataraja on the temple towers, as this image is reserved for the innermost shrine alone.
Six worship services are offered in this temple each day at the shrine of Nataraja – the last of which is the ArdhaJaama Puja (the most special one), where the padukas (footwear) of Nataraja are ceremoniously taken to the Palliarai (night chamber) of Shiva and Parvati after elaborate rituals. It is believed that the entire pantheon of divine figures in the Hindu system of beliefs is present during this occasion. The first puja in the morning involves the waking up of Shiva, and a transport of the padukas back to the main shrine, followed by fire rituals and ablutions to the crystal Shivalingam. The worship services that follow at about 9:30, and then at noon, and at 5 in the evening and at 7 pm involve a combination of rituals involving ablutions to the Crystal Lingam and the ceremonial show of lamps to Nataraja and Sivakami amidst the chanting of Vedic and Tamil hymns. The Shiva Agama system of temple rituals followed in almost all of the Saivite temples in Tamilnadu, is not followed at Chidambaram. It is a unique worship protocol said to have been prescribed by Patanjali that is followed at this temple.
Two annual Bhrammotsavams at Chidambaram are of great significance, as they involve colorful processions of festival deities in the car streets. The grandest of these occurs in the month of Margazhi (Dec 15 – Jan 15), concluding on the full moon day corresponding to the Arudra Darisanam festival (Arudra Darisanam is celebrated in Saivite temples all over Tamilnadu). This ten day festival at Chidambaram involves a grand scheme of traditional observances commencing with the hoisting of the temple flag on the first day, followed by colorful procesions of the five deities (Pancha Murthys) on the first eight days on various mounts. The fifth day features Mount Kailasam, while the sixth day features the elephant mount. It is only on the ninth day that Nataraja leaves his sanctum, and is taken in a procession through the car streets, in the grand temple car. This is a special occasion and crowds throng to see it. Local fishermen communities traditionally offer gifts to Nataraja during this procession. Nataraja then returns to the Raja Sabha of the temple, where in the pre-dawn hours of the next day, while the moon is full, special abhishekams are performed to Nataraja, in the presence of thousands of devotees, and this ritual is followed by the royal audience of Nataraja in the Raja Sabha. In the afternoon, Nataraja returns to the shrine ceremoniously from the Raja Sabha, amidst an enactment of the Ananda Tandavam or the Dance of Bliss.
The second of the Bhrammotsavams happens in the month of Aani, and it concludes with Aani Tirumanjanam on the tenth day, in a manner similar to Arudra Darisanam in Margazhi. It is interesting that these annual Bhrammotsavams or festivals happen in the months immediately preceding the summer and winter solstices (ie. Gemini and Sagittarius).
Live dance performances have been introduced to the temple recently, in the form of annual dance festivals.
This temple is Aathara Stalam.This place is called Anthagam meaning Brain directly behind eyebrow
located in the heart of the temple town of Chidambaram,
78 km south of Pondicherry
235 Km from Chenna
100km from Thanjavur
6.00 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 4.30 p.m. to 10.00 p.m.
Temple Telephone Number:
+91- 94439 86996
Sri Thillai Natarajar Temple,