The Chidambaram temple houses the Nataraja (lord Shiva in Ananda Tandava pose; the Cosmic Dance of bliss) statue. It is of great religious, historical and cultural significance. Chidambaram is one of the foremost Shaivite shrines in India. It is interesting to note that the word "Koyil" or temple in the Tamil Shaivite tradition refers to Chidambaram, where Natarajar is enshrined in the Ananda Tandavam (Dance of Bliss) pose.

Chidambaram is one of the Panchabhoota sthala, signifying the 5 elements of wind water, fire, earth and space. The famous Tamil poets like Sambandar, Appar, Sundarar as well as Manikkavacakar have sung verses in praise of Chidambaram temple. Besides the above-mentioned poets, there are many other literary works that praise the glory of Chidambaram.

Lord Nataraja  is believed to have performed many kinds of Thaandavas (dances) under different circumstances. Significant among these are Aananda, Urdhwa, Bhujangatrasa and Ajabha Thaandavas.

Nata Raja means King of Dance. Saivite saints Appar, Sundarar, Sambandhar and Manickavasagar have sung the glory of Lord Nataraja. Sekkizhar, a Tamil poet and minister in the court Anapaaya Chola, a 11th century Chola king, conducted the exposition of Periya Puranam, his monumental work on the 63 Saivite saints or Nayanmars. It was Nambi Aandaar Nambi, who discovered the palm leaf manuscripts of Thevaaram (devotional hymns) from the Chidambaram temple precincts, compiled them in the present form and gifted it to the Tamil literary world. The temple is also closely associated with the miracles of Saivite saints Thiruneelakantar and Nandanaar.

The Temple of Nataraja is a massive complex containing sculptured halls of 1000 and 108 pillars. There are four Gopuras. The east and west towers are full of sculptures depicting the 108 postures of Natya Shastra. The north and south towers contain dance and other poses of Lord Shiva.

Though the temple structures were built during different periods, they retain a surprising element of symmetry. THE SANCTUM A gold-plated Vimana adorns the roof of the sanctum of Lord Nataraja, who gives darshan in His Aananda Thaandava posture.

Nataraja Thathva: The Cosmic Dance by the Lord is a symbolic representation of the five-fold activities of the Almighty Creation, Preservation, Destruction, Veiling and Blessing. The following few points explain the Chidambara or Nataraja Thathva (principle). The tiger skin which the Lord wears is symbolic of His having killed Ahankaara or Ego. When Ahankaara is crushed, Man will enjoy the Inner Self or State of Eternal Bliss. Chidambaram is considered the Centre of Universe or of the Human Heart. The Lord holds different things on His hands. The right hand holds a Drum, which represents the origin of Sound (the Pranava Mantra Om) Agni on a left hand symbolises Jyoti or Aatman the Deer is symbolic of the Mind, which keeps wandering or galloping the Cobra thats adorning the Lords neck represents the Kundalini Shakti the Crescent Moon on the matted Hair represents Blissfulness of the Self the Skull is symbolic of the Lords power of Destruction and the flowing Ganga signifies Wisdom or the State of being Cool. The three eyes of the Lord signify the Sun, Moon and Agni. With one Foot He is crushing Muyalaka, signifying the wiping out of Illusion. The raised right Foot represents renunciation.

The sanctum is known as Ponnambalam or Kanaka Sabha. Patanjali and Vyagrapada stand sentinel outside the sanctum. The divine consort is Devi Sivakama Sundari, who is enshrined to the left of the main sanctum. To the right of Sri Nataraja sannadhi is the Chidambara Rahasyam, the abode of Akaash Linga. It is interesting to note that only a Prabha or Thiruvaasi (circular arch) and a Vel (spear) with a golden Bilva maala are worshipped.

This is one of the Pancha Bhutha Sthalas representing Akaash or Ether. This shrine remains curtained. The five silver-plated steps leading to the shrine represent the five mystic letters of the Panchaakshara Mantra, Na-Ma-Si-Va-Ya. It is said that the Lords dance is the same as the one He performed for Patanjali and Vyagrapada.

According to Dr A.K. Coomaraswamy, an eminent scholar, The essential significance of Shivas dance is three-fold first, it is a symbol of His rhythmic play as the source of all movements within the cosmos, represented by the arch of Thiruvaasi second, the purpose of the dance is to release the countless souls of men from the snare of illusion third, the place of the dance Chidambaram, the centre of the Universe is within the heart. The Natraja temple chidambaram is unique in that the shrine houses all the Pancha Sabhas of Lord Shiva.




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