One of the most revered temples in South India and a well-known center of Hindu worship world-wide. The headquarters of Saivaite movement in Tamil Nadu: famous for the ‘’Nataraja’’ concept of Lord Shiva.
There is an interesting legend behind this Nataraja worship. In ancient time the present day Chidambaram was a forest infested with a special species of trees called ‘’Thilla’’.
There was a group of Saints in this forest, though learned men, was arrogant about their scholarship; they practiced black magic too. They thought, by their knowledge and black magic they can tame even Lord Shiva.
So Lord Shiva decided to teach them a lesson. He took the form of a young, handsome mendicant. Along with Lord Vishnu as a Mohini (a young attractive woman) he went to the ashram of the Saints. In course of time the youngsters of the Ashram became attracted to Mohini and their young wives became fans of the young mendicant. The Ashram routine and discipline began to disrupt.
This created havoc in the ashram. The senior Saints decided to eliminate the Young mendicant and Mohini by using their black magic.
They tried several tricks to defeat Lord Shiva but all went in vain. They raised a sacrificial fire from which appeared a tiger. Lord Shiva killed the tiger, peeled off its skin and tied it around his waist. Then the Saints created a poisonous serpent, which the Lord wore around his neck. The Saints sent a demon called Muyalakan against the Lord whom he crushed under his feet. Then the saints sent the sacrificial fire against Lord Shiva, which he put on his left hand. The Saints having lost the sacrificial fire sent Vedic ‘mantras’ which the Lord wore around his ankles.
Finally, the sages realized that the young man is not an ordinary one. They pleaded ignorance. Lord Shiva appeared before them in the form of Nataraja wearing all the things that the saints sent against him. He performed the cosmic dance Thandava Nritham before the Saints.
After his mission over, Lord Vishnu went back to the Vaikundam- his abode on the milky ocean. He described the splendid dance performance of Lord Shiva to Aadi Sesha- the cosmic serpent on which Lord Vishnu lies. Enthused, Aadi Sesha wished to see the dance in person.
Lord Vishnu advised the serpent to go to the earth and meet a Saint called Vyagrapadar. The Serpent came to the earth as the Sage Patanjali.
The story of Vygrapaadar goes like this. In the Thillai forest there was a boy who was ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. Every day, before sunrise, he used to go to the forest to collect flowers and fruits to worship the Lord. One day, he was little late in going and could not see the flowers and fruits because of fog and dim light.
Disappointed, he prayed to Lord Shiva to find a solution. Pleased with his devotion, Lord Shiva appeared before him. He gave the boy the eyesight and limbs of a tiger so that he can spot flowers even during night and climb the tree to pluck the fruits with the limbs of the tiger. Thus he came to be known as Vyagrapadar.
When Sage Patanajali met Vyagrapadar, both of them went to the place (present Chidambaram) where Vyagrapadar used to worship Lord Shiva. They meditated Lord Shiva. The Lord appeared before them and performed the famous Nataraja Nrithyam or AnandaThandavam there.
This divine dance is said to symbolize the five divine acts of creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and bestowment of grace.
The spot where this dance is performed is now called Kanaka Sabha. The adjoining spot where Sage Vyagrapadar had his Shiva Linga worshipped became Chit Sabha now. Both these Sabhas are held in high reverence.
The Chit Sabha is the Sanctum Sanctorum. Here, one can see a garland of golden Vilva leaves. This represents the Linga of Lord Shiva here because the element Space or ether has no form of its own.
Lord Shiva in his manifestation of formlessness is worshipped in Chidambaram. The lord is said to continuously dance in a state of eternal bliss ‘’AanandaThandavam’’ with his consort Sakti or energy called Sivagami. A curtain covers this space, which when drawn, reveals strands of golden Vilva leaves hung to indicate the Lord’s presence.
A noteworthy thing about the Chidambaram temple is that it also houses a Vishnavite shrine. A unique seen in South India where you can see both Saivaite and Vaishnavite shrines side by side in the same temple. The Vishnu temple here is known as Govinda Raja temple. It is considered as one of the 108 Divyadesam shrines of Lord Vishnu.
The mammoth temple spans into 40 acres. In representing the rich cultural heritage of India, Chidambaram temple is second to none. Be it in terms of antiquity, architectural and sculptural splendor, in its association with music and dance and also in terms of richness in worship and festival traditions this temple holds a unique position.
The temple complex, as it stands today, goes back to the Chola period.
The earliest literary reference can be seen in Sangam literature. The archeological evidences go even further. The present structure received many additions and alterations from time to time by various rulers like Pallavas, Cholas, Pandyas and Vijayanagaras.
The priests of this temple are known as Dikshitars. They were appointed by the Sage Patanjali who prescribed the rules of worship at this temple.
The temple is 70 kilometers from Pondicherry.