(Element of Sky)
Natarajar temple is one of the five Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and is located in Chidambaram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The five Shiva temples represent a primordial natural element – Fire, Earth, Air, Water, – with the Natarajar temple representing Sky. The Nataraja temple in Chidambaram is located in the south-eastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north of the Kollidam River (Kaveri), 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) west from the coast of Bay of Bengal.Chidambaram is a temple town, with the Nataraja complex spread over 40 acres (0.16 km2) within a nearly square courtyard in the centre. Its side roads are aligned to the east–west, north–south axis. It has double walls around its periphery with gardens. It has had entrance gateways on all four sides. 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.
Meaning of Chidambaram
The word Chidambaram may be derived from chit, meaning “consciousness”, and ambaram, meaning “sky” (from aakasam or aakayam); it refers to the chidaakasam, the sky of consciousness, which is the ultimate aim one should attain according to all the Vedas and scriptures.Another theory is that it is derived from chit + ambalam. Ambalam means a “stage” for performing arts. The chidakasam is the state of supreme bliss or aananda and Lord Natarajar is the symbolic representation of the supreme bliss or aananda natanam. Saivaites believe that a visit to Chidambaram leads to liberation.Yet another theory is that it is derived from the word chitrambalam, from chithu meaning “play or dances of God” and ambalam meaning “stage”. The story of Chidambaram begins with the legend of Lord Shiva strolling into the Thillai Vanam (Vanam meaning forest and thillai trees – botanical name Exocoeria agallocha, 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’ (Sanskrit: Nāga) 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).The Ananda Tandava Posture.The Ananda Tandava posture of Lord Shiva is one of the famous postures recognized around the world by many (Cosmic Dance). The demon under Nataraja’s feet signifies that ignorance is under his feetThe Fire in this hand (power of destruction) means destroyer of evilThe raised hand signifies that he is the saviour of all life.The Ring at the back signifies the cosmos.The drum in his hand signifies the origin of Life.
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 anthromorphological form as an appearance of Lord Nataraja, called the Sakala thirumeni.the “semi-form” – the semi-anthropomorphological 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. Chidambara Ragasiyam/Rahasyam (Tamil for “secret of Chidambaram”) is a Hindu belief that there is a secret message conveyed through the embossed figure near the shrine of Shiva in Chidambaram temple.Since ancient times, it is believed that this is the place where Lord Shiva and Parvathi are present, but are invisible to the naked eyes of normal people. In the Chidambaram temple of Lord Nataraja, Chidambara Ragasiyam is hidden by a curtain (Maya). Darshan of Chidambara Ragasiyam is possible only when priests open the curtain (or Maya) for special poojas. People who are privileged to have a darshan of Chidambara Ragasiyam can merely see golden vilva leaves (Aegle Marmelos) signifying the presence of Lord Shiva and Parvathi in front of them. It is also believed that devout saints can see the Gods in their physical form, but no such cases have been officially reported.The phrase “Chidambara Ragasiyam” really means something different. The pharse literally means a secret associated to Chidambaram – the place. Behind this is a real meaning to a secret. As described above there is a particular curtain kind of curtain which when removed enables us viewing the secret. The real significance of doing so is that, when the curtain which is “maya” is removed one can see his real self. And the seeing of oneself removing the curtain of maya is viewing the secret. According to legend, “Chidambara Ragasiyam” will never be revealed as it is the secret relating to a particular person who sees it removing the screen of “maya”. In the temple, when the poojas are performed and the screen is removed, one will be able to see the secret only when he applies this to his mind and soul.
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, Air and Sky and “sthala” meaning location).The others are:th Ekambareswarar temple at Kanchipuram, where the Lord is worshipped in his manifestation as Earth.the Jambukeswarar temple at Thiruaanaikaval, in Tiruchirapalli, where the Lord is worshipped in his manifestation as Water.the Annamalaiyar Temple at Tiruannamalai, 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 town and temple name appears in medieval Hindu texts by various additional names such as Kovil (lit. “the temple”), Pundarikapuram, Vyagrapuram, Sirrampuram, Puliyur and Chitrakuta. Additional names for Chidambaram in Pallava era and North Indian texts include Kanagasabainathar, Ponnambalam, Brahmastpuri and Brahmapuri.