Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Actual Blog on the Temple !!

Legends For The Above Layout:
A. Chit Sabha with the Golden Roof
B. Kanaka Sabha
C. The four Gopurams
D. Nritta Sabha
E. Deva Sabha
F. Thousand Pillars Hall or Raja Sabha
G. Shrine of the Mulasthana Lingam
H. Shrine of Brahma-Chandikeshvara
I. The flagmast of the Nataraja temple
J. Shrine of Vishnu GovindarajaK. Shrine of the Navagrahas, the Nine planets
L. Ganesha temple
M. Nandi
N. Hundred Pillars Hall
O. Temple of Devi Shivakamasundari
P. Pandya Nayakam temple, dedicated to Murukan
Q. Shivaganga, the holy tank
R. The temple of the Nine Lingas
S. The Yaga Shala, where Yajnas are performed
T. The Kalyana Mandapam, or Mariage Hall
U. The gallery dedicated to the 63 Nayanmars or Saints
V. The East entrance to the temple with the 21 steps and the two Purusha Mukha of Sphinxes
guarding on either side.

Temple opening hours and Puja timings:

The four outer gates of the temple are open from the time of the first ritual of the day till the conclusion of the evening procession.
The outer doors of the Nataraja temple are closed between 12.00 and 16.00 hours.
The doors to the innermost courtyard are closed between 12.00 and 16.45 hours. The Vishnu temple has the same opening hours.
All other shrines open from 07.30 till 11.00 hours, and from 17.30 till 20.00 hours.
06.45 In the morning Shiva, represented by his holy sandals or Padukai, is taken from the Bedchamber to the Cit Sabha by palanquin. This is called the Awakening ceremony.
08.30 - 09.00 A yagna or fire sacrifice is performed in the Kanka Sabha, according to Vedic doctrine.
10.00 - 11.00 Abishekam or ablution is performed to the Crystal Linga and a replica of the Dancing Shiva in ruby form.
11.30 - 12.00 Puja with lamps and ritual objects.
18.00 - 18.45 Puja with lamps and ritual objects.
20.00 - 20.30 Puja with lamps, chanting and hymns.
22.00 - 22.30 Puja with lamps, hymn and music. After which Shiva, represented by his holy sandals, is taken in a procession with a palanquin to the Bedchamber.

The mysterious Friday evening:

Friday evenings the procession at 22.00 is a special experience. The bells ring the Omkara, the sacred sound OM. The lights of the lamps are a dazzling sight. The perfumed smoke of incense envelops the crowd.

The palanquin is taken around the two inner courtyards, accompanied by the chanting of Vedas, and of the music of nadasvarams and drums. Finally to join the cosmic energy of Shakti, his consort, in the Bedchamber, realising the cosmology.

An unforgettable experience of a vision of the divine.

CHAPTER I : The temple and its history:

The early history of the temple lies hidden in the mists of time. It reached its present form under the patronage of the kings of the Chola dynasty in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. From the aerial view we can see the total surface area of the temple covers 13 hectares or 35 acres. Placing it among the largests temples in the whole of India. It is designed with five concentric Prakaras, or circumambulatory temple courtyards. These are associated with the Five Elements. The innermost Prakara is not visible. It lies within the sanctum with the golden roof, and can only be entered by the Deekshithars. The architecture and the rituals of this temple reflect its history and doctrine.
Where we now find this beautiful and ancient temple, was once an impenetrable forest of Tillai trees, which is a kind of mangrove. This forest gave Chidambaram its firs and most ancient name, Tillai. Within this spawling forest was a lotus pond, and at the southern bank of this pond existed a Svayambhu Linga. A linga is a representation of Lord Shiva which unites both the concepts of Form as well as of Formless in itself. In modern terms this formless-form might be called an abstraction.
Svayambhu means ‘self existent’, signifying that the linga was not made by human beings, but came into existence by itself, from nature. To this lotus pond in the Tillai forest came two saints, named Vyagrapada and Patanjali. They came from very different backgrounds and from very different directions, but they came for the same reason: to witness Shiva’s Cosmic Dance. It had been foretold to them that if they would worship the linga on the bank of the lotus pond in the forest, Lord Shiva would come to perform His Dance.

Eventually this great event took place. Nataraja came to perform His Dance on a Thursday, when the moon was in the asterism Pushan, in the Tamil month of Tai, long before the Christian era. This dance is called the Ananda Tandava or Dance of Bliss. The saints achieved liberation, and on their special request Shiva promised to perform His Dance for all time at that place. For the full narration of the myth the reader is referred to chapter III.

The story of the origin of the worship of Shiva Nataraja in Chidambaram is told in the Chidambaram Mahatmyam. The Sacred History of Chidambaram, which is part of the Skanda Purana, one of the 18 great Puranas or collections of mythology. From one of the saints, Vyagrapada, which means Tiger Footed, Chidambaram received its second name, Puliyur, meaning ‘City of the Tiger’.
Its third name, Chidambaram, refers to the philosophy and doctrine of the temple. It means consciousness or wisdom. Ambaram signifies ether in Sanskrit, but in Tamil the ambalam means hall. The name unifies two aspects of the doctrine. Meaning both Hall of Wisdom, as well as the place of the Ether of Consciousness.

The edifice which now includes within its garbhagriha or sanctum this Svayambhu linga form of Shiva, situated on the southern bank of the sacred pound, is called Mulasthana. This Sanskrit term means ‘place of origin’ or ‘root place’. It can be found in the third courtyard, within the Nataraja temple proper. Facing east, it is a conventional temple with a garbha-griha or sanctum containing the linga, and an ardha-mandapa, a hall in front of the sanctum.

In this ardha-mandapam we find the images of the two saints, Vyagrapada and Patanjali. They stand with their hands folded, worshipping. A sanctum placed at an angle to the linga shrine, facing south, houses the consort of Shiva, the goddess Uma-Parvati. On the western wall of the shrine we find a relief sculptured of the Kalpa Vriksha or Wishing Tree of Paradise. This shrine achieved its present form probably under the middle and later Cholas in the 11th and 12th century.

The main edifices of the temple are the five Sabhas or Halls: the Cit Sabha, Kanaka Sabha, Deva Sabha, Nritta Sabha, and the Raja Sabha.

At the centre of the temple is situated the sanctum sanctorum or holy of holiest, called the Cit Sabha or Cit Ambalam. This means the ‘Hall of Wisdom’. It is the main shrine where Lord Shiva Nataraja accompanied by his consort Parvati performs His Cosmic Dance, the Ananda Tandava or Dance of Bliss.

The world is the embodiment of the Virat Purusha, the colossal human form. Chidambaram is the centre of this form, the place of the heart, where Shiva performs the Cosmic Dance.
The Chidambaram temple is laid out as a Purusha. For this reason the devotees may approach the central shrine from two sides. As blood flows to and from the heart. The nine stupas topping the golden roof represent the nine orifices of the human body, and also symbolise the nine Matrikas or goddesses. The roof is made of 21.600 tiles, representing inhalations and exhalations of breath. The links and side joints symbolise the connecting veins.

The five main steps at the entrance to the shrine stand between the devotees and the image of Shiva, covered in silver. They are the five seed words or syllables of the mantra. ‘Om Nama Shivaya’. By chanting these syllables, the devotee can cross the ocean of bondage and attain to the Lord. The granite plinth of the shrine is called Parvadam, because it does duty for Mount Kailasa in providing a support for Lord Shiva. On all special occasions puja or worship is performed to this plinth.

The name, Hall of Consciousness or Hall of Wisdom, refers to the quality of wisdom which pervades the atmosphere, bestowed upon the worshippers by the Dance of the Lord. His boon is the experience of the Cosmic Dance.
A unique feature is that the structure of the actual Sabha is made of wood, which has so far not been botanically classified. It is rectangular in form and here Shiva is worshipped in his three aspects:

· As Form ---> Nataraja the murti or image of Shiva
· As Formless-Form ---> The crystal linga called Chandramaulishvara
· As Formless ---> The yantra which is the Akasha Linga

From the platform opposite the Sabha one can see the image of the Dancing Shiva, situated in the middle of the Sabha. Shiva is facing south, unlike most other Hindu deities. This signifies he is the Conqueror of Death, dispelling the fear of death for the humanity.

The Crystal Linga called Chandramaulishvara is Shiva as Formless-Form. This Crystal Linga was formed from the essence of the crescent moon in Shiva’s matted hair, for the purpose of daily worship. This murti is taken from its keeping place at the feet of the Nataraja six times a day, and abhishekam of holy ablution is performed to him in the hall called Kanaka Sabha in front of the Cit Sabha.

Immediately to the proper right of the Nataraja is the Chidambaram Rahasyam, the ‘mystery’ of Chidambaram. Here, behind a silk curtain which is black on the outside and red on the inside, is the Akasha Linga, in the form of a yantra. An abstract geometrical design, on which the deity is invoked. Behind the curtain, before the yantra, hang a few strands of golden vilva leaves. This signifies the act of creation. One moment nothing exists, the next instant the All has been brought into existence. At regular timings the curtain is removed to allow the devotees to worship the Akasha. The Ether which is the vehicle of the Absolute and Consciousness.

The Cit Sabha houses one more unique form of Shiva. This is the Ratna Sabha Pati, the Ruby Lord of the Sabha: a relica of the Nataraja murti in ruby form. This murti appeared out of the fire of the sacrifice in response to the devotion of the Deekshithars.

Once a day, as part of the 10.00 o’clock morning puja ritual, after the abhishekam of the Crystal Linga, abhishekam is also performed to the Ruby Shiva. As conclusion of this ceremony the Ruby Nataraja is placed on the edge of the Parvadam of the Kanaka Sabha and Mangala Arati is offered. This is the burning of camphor on a special plate which is shown both in front and behind the Ruby Nataraja. This brings out the special quality of translucence of this murti, creating a mystical spectacle for the onlookers.

Nobody knows when the worship of Nataraja was established here, or when the Cit Sabha was build. The original wooden structure is doubtless the oldest structure in the temple complex, as the shrine of the Mulasthana Linga is a later construction under the Chola Kings. The Sabha has no features that could help to date it. It is unique and no other structure is known like it anywhere else in Indian architecture. Analysis by the C 14 method would be unreliable because it is known to have been regularly renovated during the centuries. But the origins of the temple of Shiva Nataraja in Chidambaram definitely lie back in prehistoric times.

According to the mythology the temple was first constructed by a king called Sveta Varman. This king was healed of leprosy by bathing in the sacred pond in the Tillai forest and witnessed the Cosmic Dance. The first guilding of the roof of the Cit Sabha and the instituting of the temple and the formal worship of the Nataraja are all attributed to this King.

The first historical references can be found in the Skanda Purana, especially in the Suta Samhita part. Here Shanmukha, the six-faced son of Shiva and Parvati, is described as worshipping his parents in Chidambaram, before going to do battle with a demon called Surapadma. This text can be dated to the second century b.c.

The Cit Sabha, Shiva’s dance and Chidambaram are also prominently mentioned in the Tirumantiram of Tirumular, an important religious and philosophical text in ancient Tamil, dating from the beginning of the Christian era. A few centuries later the temple and its Lord are often mentioned by poets of the Tevaram, especially Appar and Sambandar (7th century) and by Manikavasakar (8th century).

The first historical kings to claim having guilded the roof of the Cit Sabha are the Chola Aditya I (871-907) and his son Parantaka I (907-955). By this time the temple had already become important. The place where kings were crowned, and where they came to worship and receive counsel. How the guilding of the roof was done is a knowledge that was sadly lost with time. But it is without doubt one of the great technical achievements of ancient times.

Immediately in front of the Cit Sabha is the Kanaka Sabha, or golden hall. Its roof is made of copper, although Kanaka means gold. This is the gold of spiritual treasure: to experience Shiva’s dance from so near.
In this Sabha are most of the daily rituals of worship for Nataraja performed. The Yagna of the morning rituals. The rituals with lamps and ritual objects. And the abhishekam of the Crystal Linga and Ruby Nataraja. The public can enter certain areas of the Kanaka Sabha for worship of the Nataraja and the Akasha Linga at specified hours of the day.
It is a controversy whether this Sabha was originally constructed together with the Cit Sabha, or some time later.

The Nritta Sabha is the shrine in the form of a ratha or chariot, pulled by two stone horses. It is situated opposite the Cit Sabha, in the third courtyard. It is the place of the dance contest between Nataraja and the goddess Kali.

Shiva conquered the goddess, who would not calm down after she destroyed a powerful demon, by lifting his right leg straight up towards the sky. This dance is called the Urdhva Tandava. Then and there Kali suddenly remembered who she really was, the peaceful Parvati, consort of Shiva, and she was able to leave her furious mood and returned to her peaceful self. This scene is depicted in the sanctum inside the Sabha. We see Shiva performing his Urdhva Tandava, his leg lifted straight above his head, Kali calmed down in one corner, both accompanied by Vishnu playing the talam, the instrument which is used to accompany dance.

The chariot form of the Sabha commemorates Shiva as Tripurasamhara murti, the Destroyer of the Three Demon Cities. Several divine powers joined together to create Shiva’s chariot. Thus the sun and moon became the wheels, the Vedas the horses etc. After destroying the Three Cities he descended from his chariot, having landed opposite the Cit Sabha, and ascended into the Sabha to commence His Dance. From this the Nritta Sabha is also called Edir Amabalam or opposite hall.
This Sabha has several distinguishing features aside from its shape and its function. Its columns are unique to the chariot hall. They are square, and although carved from the hardest granite they are covered with exquisite miniature relief’s, depicting dancers, musicians and all kinds of mythological figures.

One other feature sets this edifice apart from any other hall within the temple complex and from all other temple halls in India. This Sabha is mysteriously connected to the Sphinx. Just under the floor surface of the raised platform which is the body of the Sabha is a belt or pattika, surrounding the whole Sabha. Here we see lions and sphinxes alternating in pairs, girdling the Sabha. Also the pillars of the two pavilions on the western side of the Sabha are supported by four sphinxes which function as caryatids.

The Nritta Sabha is considered by tradition the second oldest building in the complex, without any real indication of its age. It is reported in inscriptions as having been renovated by the Chola King Kulottunga I in the 11th century.

The Deva Sabha can be found in the third prakara or courtyard. The festival deities are kept during the year, and worship is performed for them daily. This is done inside the Sabha, and is not open to the public. The age and history of this Sabha is also hidden in the mists of time. There is some evidence the Deva Sabha was once used as an audience hall by visiting kings of the different governing dynasties of the Cholas, Pandyas and others during the several phases of history. No other information is available.

The Raja Sabha is the Thousand Pillar Hall in the second courtyard. It is the architectural representation of the Sahasradara, or Crown Chakra. Which is the seventh spiritual energy point in the astral body. The Nataraja and the goddess Sivakamasundari, his consort, dance here on the 9th and 10th day of the Chariot Festival.
About this Sabha too, we have very little historical information. It is first mentioned as the place where the medieval poet Sekkilar premiered his great work on the lives of the 63 Nayanmars or Saiva saints, the Periya Purana, before the Chola king Kulottunga II or III, in the 12th century.
Its base is encircled by relief’s of dancers and musicians, as it were participating in a procession.
The most imposing feature of the temple, which can be seen soaring above the plain from miles away, are the four temple gateways or gopurams, located in the second wall of enclosure at the cardinal points. They are considered among the earliest examples of such structures and are in their present form dated to the 12th and 13th century. Scholars disagree about the dates of individual gopurams, or about which one was build first. Some consider the west gopuram as oldest, some the east gopuram.

In between the sculptures decorating the inside of the west gopuram we find a musician playing a standing double drum. This could point to an early date for this gopuram. On the outside of the granite bases of the gopurams are found sculptures of many important as well as less well known deities in niches in a particular order. The inside walls of passages through all the four gopurams are decorated with the 108 karanas, the dance movements of Shiva, from the Natya Shastra, the world’s most ancient treatise on dance, drama and theatre. Besides in Chidambaram these karanas are depicted in only four other temples, all in Tamil Nadu.

The four gopurams, together with the golden dome of the central shrine are the five towers which represent the five faces of Shiva, with the Cit Sabha symbolising the masterful face. These four gates symbolise and invoke a distinct attitude in the worshipper. The four Nayanmars, Shaivite saints and poet-composers of the Tevaram, the traditional body of sacred hymns to Shiva, each close to enter the temple through a different gate, according to his distinct relationship with Lord Shiva.

Saint Manikavasakar entered the temple through the east gateway. Situated on the proper left side of the Nataraja this gopuram invoked the feeling of love, tenderness and softness, as of being His beloved. This sentiment is mirrored in Manikavasakar’s compositions.

Through the south gateway the soul approaches the Lord directly, as only a child can do. It was the saint Jnanasambandar who related himself to the Lord and goddess as a child and entered the temple through the south gateway.

The western gateway symbolises the place of the friend, on the Lord’s right-hand side. Through this gateway entered saint Sundaramurti.

One who enters the temple through the north gateway follows the Lord from behind. This is the place of the slave. Saint Tiruvanukarasar entered through this gate, and we find this attitude throughout his work.

The east gateway is Tat Purusha, or the Lord Himself. It is also called the Sthulalinga, or Totality of the Form of God, the images within the temple being the minor forms that take their powers from the greater source. Therefor, when the gods go in procession, they are not carried through the main entrance itself, but use a subsidiary entrance at its side.

Each fifty meter high gopuram is composed of seven upper levels which taper as they ascend. These represent the development of mankind. Whereas the base of the gopurams is made of granite, the upper body is made of bricks and stuccowork or plaster. This upper part therefore needs to be renovated on a regular basis.

In the innermost courtyard, at a right angle with the golden Sabha, we find the shrine of Vishnu, as Govinda Raja. Reclining on the Cosmic Snake, he is in the yogic state of consciousness, enjoying the vision of Shiva’s dance. The coexistence of the worship of both Vishnu and Shiva within one temple is unique. The worship of Vishnu was established in the earliest times and was originally performed by the Deekshithars themselves. In the later medieval period, with a shifting political situation under pressure of Muslim invasions, there was possibly a discontinuation of the worship for a long period, after which it re-instated by the king Achyuta Raya (1539) of the Vijayanangara empire. The worship of Vishnu Govinda Raja has since then been in the hands of Vaishnava priests, and was no longer performed by the Deekshithars.
Within the inner courtyard, to the east of the Sabha, we find a small shrine which houses the murtis of both the Creator god Brahma, of the Hindy Trinity, and Chandikeshvara, a deified saint. The presence of Brahma (a deity almost never worshipped) establishes the worship of all three deities of the Hindu Trinity with-in the one complex.
The temple of goddess Shivakamasundari, consort of Shiva, is situated on the west side of the Shivaganga tank.
A flight of steps leads down into its courtyard. The goddess is worshipped here as the Jñana Shakti: the energy and power of wisdom. On the frontal portion of the pillared hall, on the ceiling of the right and left wings, the finest eye-capturing fresco paintings of approximately a thousand years old, illustrate the Leelas or Sacred Deeds of Shiva. The galleries surrounding the temple are decorated with a procession of dancers and musicians, sculptured in relief.
This temple was possibly build in the 11th century under the Chola king Kulottunga I.
The Shiva Ganga is the sacred water place or tank. It is famous for healing the ancient king Sveta Varman of his skin disease. His skin became golden after which he was called Hiranya Varman. In this tank we find a stone representation of the Linga of Tiruvanaikaval, which represents the Element Water. In the dry season it becomes visible as the water level in the tank is reduced.

The Pandya Nayaka temple is dedicated to Murugan, the second son of Shivan and Parvati. This shrine is also shaped as a chariot, pulled by horses and elephants.
This temple was according to tradition build by a king of the Pandya dynasty from Madurai, which superceded the rule of the Cholas in the 13th century. His name was Sundarar Pandya, and the temple is named after him.

In the middle of the 18th century this temple was renovated with the support of Dutch merchants, who had a trading post in nearby Porto nuovo. According to an inscription on copperplates they donated a share of their profit for this purpose.

Chapter II : Temple Doctrine

In the Chidambaram temple the Dancing Shiva is the Presiding Deity, and all rituals are conducted on the basis of the Vedic doctrine. These are the two features which distinguish the Shiva Nataraja temple from all other temples in India. Shiva Nataraja’s dance is seen as the visualisation of the processes of cosmos. In his murti or physical image we can see his five activities.
a) creation:
Visualised in the small, hourglass-shaped drum, called damaru, which he holds in his upper right hand. It represents the vibration of the Big Bang, which is the sacred sound OM.
b) preservation:
Is seen in his lower right hand. It signals protection; fear not. Nataraja faces south and thus dispels the fear of death for the humanity.
c) dissolution:
Is symbolised by the flame in his upper left hand. At the end of the lifetime of the universe everything will be dissolved in fire.
d) illusion:
Is in his stable right leg, which dances on the dwarf, pressing him down. This symbolises his conquest of Maya, Illusion.

e) Salvation:His lower left hand points the attention of the devotee towards his raised, dancing left foot. Here in his dance one can realise the Salvation he offers to the humanity.

His dance also makes the five Elements out of which the universe is formed, become visible. The damaru represents the Element Air. The air inside it makes the sound, the vibration, possible. The flame in his left hand represents the Element Fire. The goddess Ganga, in his matted hair, from which flows the sacred river Ganges, represents the Element Water. The Element Earth is the dwarf on whom he dances. The fifth Element, Akasha or Ether, is invisible to us. It is the empty space, the Void, between his stable right leg and his lifted foot.

There are 108 steps in the Dance of Creation. This number is of great significance and is generally considered highly auspicious. There are 108 names of Shiva, and 108 rudraksha beads on a mala (rosary) for Shiva worship. The south Indian Bharata Natyam dance is also made up of 108 steps, as is the Karali Paittu, the Kerala system of self-defence. It is noteworthy that the Chinese T’ai Chi system of self defence also comprises of 108 postures. Therefore we may wonder whether there is a transcultural connection, or whether the number is of intrinsic significance within these separate systems.

In reality though, the Cosmic Dance has one more step. The last step which is not represented in the physical dimension, since it is the culminating act of creation itself. As the expert in martial art performs certain movements as a prelude to striking, thereby concentrating his energy and defining his direction, so the 108 steps of the Cosmic Dance can be seen as preparatory. They define the elements of life that will be concentrated into the one unimaginable act of Creation.
It is said ‘neither is created, nor destroyed, the one taking the other form’.

The chanting voices fall silent, and a new dance begins. A dance of perfect stillness. Where the whole world is tosseling, silent and sleeping, His Shanti Kuttu, or Dance of Peace, is going on under the golden roof of Chidambaram. We are drifting everywhere. As long as we allow ourselves to drift He appears to be still. As soon as we make ourselves empty and silent, we can begin to experience and see His Cosmic Dance.

Chidambaram is also known as the Akasha Kshetra. In southern India there are five Shiva temples especially dedicated to each one of the five Elements -
At Kalahasti we find the temple dedicated to Air.
At Tiruvanamalai exists the temple dedicated to the Element Fire.
At Tiruvanaikaval the temple is dedicated to Water.
At Kanchipuram the great Shiva temple is dedicated to the Element Earth.
The Chidambaram temple is dedicated to Akasha or Ether.

In the Sabha with the golden roof, to the proper right hand side of the Dancing Lord, is situated the Chidambaram Rahasyam, the Mystery of Chidambaram. Behind the black and red curtain is an empty space, marked on the physical plane only by a few strings of golden vilva leaves, hanging down before what seems to the human eye only empty space. Here is invoked by mantras or sacred found formulas, on a formless yantra, the Akasha Linga, the Linga of Ether.

The Vedic doctrine teaches that the primary forms of matter are the five Elements, Akasha, Wind, Fire, Water and Earth. Whereas Western pre-Christian doctrine was based on the existence of only four primary Elements. Akasha or Ether is described as a ‘subtle and ethereal fluid, filling and pervading the universe and known to be the peculiar vehicle of life and sound’, and of divine consciousness.

The Akasha yantra is Shiva as Formless. The Crystal Linga is Shiva as Formless-Form. And the Shiva Nataraja Murti is Shiva as Form. These are the three manifestations of the divines on the material plane of our physical universe. These three are all represented in the Cit Sabha or Hall of Wisdom establishing a complete presence of the divine with in the one complex.
The Chidambaram temple is also one of only a very few temples in India which follow the Vedic rituals, where most other temples follow the Agamic doctrine, as expressed in texts called Agamas.

The Vedic doctrine centres on the performance of the Yagna (Yajña) or fire sacrifice. This doctrine has been preserved by the Deekshithars community of hereditary priests in an unbroken oral tradition.

The fire sacrifice is performed in a fire pit which has the shape of an inverted step pyramid. The procedure and effect of the ritual are based on the presence of an energy point in every pyramid. The subtle energy of the sacrificial substances together with the sound energy of the mantras, the energy of the fire itself, and the spiritual energy of the performer towards the ritual, all together constitute the transformation and transportation of the essence of the sacrifice to the plane of the divine.

Every morning a fire sacrifice is performed in the Kanaka Sabha (the hall in front of the Cit Sabha) between eight and nine o’clock as part of the puja ritual. At the time of the Chariot Festival every morning and evening fire sacrifices are performed in the Yaga Sala, situated in the North-Eastern corner of the third prakara or courtyard, before the procession is taken out. These rituals may be witnessed from outside by the visitors.

Chapter III : Chidambaram Mahatmyam

Throughout all of eternity Lord Vishnu, the preserver, rests on Shesa, the Cosmic Snake, in Vaikuntha. Once his weight suddenly seemed to have greatly increased. Shesa asked Vishnu “why are you so much heavier, Lord?” The Lord answered “I have had a vision of Shiva dancing his Cosmic Dance. I have expanded with happiness at the sight.” Shesa requested Vishnu to tell him all about Shiva’s Dance. And Lord Preserver told him everything.

In the forest called Daruvanna live a community of Rishis or Seers in a hermitage. Through the performance of rituals they had achieved great knowledge and power, but they had not realised the importance of Divine Grace. Shiva requested Vishnu to accompany him to enlighten the Rishis, by showing them human power and knowledge were helpless without Divine Grace. To accomplish this purpose the two deities applied their power of Maya or Illusion.
Shiva entered the hermitage of the Rishis as Bhikshatana or Mendicant. With dazzling beauty, wearing only a mendicant’s sandals or padukai, the wives and daughters of the Rishis fell madly in love with him, forgetting everything else, and completely loosing themselves.

Vishnu transformed himself into a beautiful woman called Mohini, and an alluring dancer. As soon as the Rishis saw Mohini dance before them, they too lost all sense and rationality and with desire burning in their hearts they followed Mohini around like madmen. When some of the Rishis realised what was happening they became enraged and started a great magical fire sacrifice against Shiva-Bhikshatana. First they called from the fire tiger, but when it attacked Lord Shiva he laughed, and killed the ferocious animal with his hands, tearing off its skin and wearing it for a loincloth. Next the Rishis send poisonous snakes, which he draped around his arms and neck, as jewellery. Then Shiva prepared to perform his Cosmic Dance. His two other arms appeared and his third eye shone in his forehead. The Rishis called a fierce dwarf from their magical fire, but Shiva’s dancing foot simply took him for a pedestal and danced. Finally the Rishis send the fire itself to destroy the Cosmic Dancer, but he just took it on to his left hand. And from the mantras that the Rishis used against him he made his anklets. Then the Lord danced his Tandava or Cosmic Dance.

Its full power made the Rishis fall to the ground. It made Vishnu shake, and even Parvati, the goddess consort of Shiva, who joined them to witness her husbands dance, was overcome with fear. But the Lord danced smiling, showing his raised foot. The Rishis understood the Lord’s Divine Grace, and attained realisation. They started to dance themselves and all of creation danced with them.

After Vishnu has told Shesa about his vision of Shiva’s Cosmic Dance, Shesa longs for only one thing: to see Shiva’s dance himself. Vishnu grants him permission to leave him for a while, so Shesa too will be able to experience Shiva’s dance.

After Shesa performed austerities for long ages, Shiva appeared before him, and offers him the fulfilment of any wish. Shesa has only one wish: to witness Shiva’s Tandava. In fulfilment of Shesa’s wish, Shiva announced to him that he will dance at the appropriate and tangible moment on earth in the Sabha in the Tillai forest.
This forest is situated on the middle point of the earth, and constituted its heart centre, the Lotus Space. Through it passes the main energy nadi, or vein, of our mother planet. This place is called Cit Ambara, the Ether of Consciousness. Shiva told that he, Shesa, would be born on earth from human parents, and that he would be called Patanjali. After growing up he will travel to Tillai, where he will meet another saint, called Vyagrapada the Tigerfooted. And both will perform tapas and worship, until the appointed time for Shiva to perform his Cosmic Dance in the Sabha has arrived.

All these things foretold by Shiva to Shesa come to pass. As Patanjali reached the Tillai forest he found on the southern bank of the lotus pond the saint Vyagrapada, worshipping the Mulasthana Linga and performing austerities. Vyagrapada had come to the Tillai forest following the advice of his father, the Rishi Madhyandina. To worship the Mulasthana Linga he used to gather flowers in the early morning, but however early he collected the flowers, insects had already damaged them. Deeply upset that his worship was not as complete or perfect as he aimed for, he cried to Lord Shiva to help him. In answer to his prayer Shiva gave him tiger claws for hand and feet, enabling him to find his way through the thick forest at night to gather flowers long before daybreak, before the insects could inflict their damage.
From then on both saints did the worship and the austerities together, as they waited for the appointed time for Shiva to dance in the Sabha. As that time approached also the 3000 munivaras (later called Deekshithars) arrived in the forest to await the Lord’s dance.

When that day arrived, it was announced with the sound of drums and conches. A rain of flowers fell from heaven, and in the Sabha appeared a light of a thousand suns and moons. In the middle of this light mass appeared Shiva’s form, dancing his Ananda Tandava, and showing his Lotus Foot. His is an un-earthly beauty, while his peaceful smile shines on all. He was together with Parvati, who witnessed his dance. All those present, Devatas, demons and humans rejoiced, almost fainting, and all joined in his dance, dancing themselves.

Then Shiva offered the two saints to make a wish. They wished that Shiva would forever perform his Ananda Tandava or Dance of Bliss in the golden Sabha of Chidambaram, for the entire world to experience. So that any human who desired this could also reach His lifted Lotus Foot and realise liberation.

Soon after the king Sveta Varman came to the Tillai forest. This king was forced to give up his kingdom after being infected with a skin disease called ‘white spot’, a form of leprosy. Lord Nataraja ordered the two saints Vyagrapada and Patanjali to let the king take a bath in the lotus pond, now called the Shiva Ganga, that he may be healed. After re-emerging from the water the king’s skin had become golden, his name becoming Hiranya Varman or ‘golden coloured’. And he was taken to the Sabha to see Nataraja’s Ananda Tandava. Overtaken with emotions the king fell on earth and offered his life-long service to the Dancing Shiva. He was consecrated by the 3000 munivaras, and received from Vyagrapada the Tiger banner, signifying his kingship and valour. The king then rebuilded the beautifull temple and the city around it and established the main festivals of the yearly cycle in the temple.

Chapter IV : Features

I would like to draw the visitors’ special attention to three very rare visual treasures of the Chidambaram temple -
[1] We start with the sphinxes or Purusha Mriga. Unique composite mythological beings,
which play a significant role in both the architecture and ritual of this temple.
[2] Then we focus our attention on the ancient frescos on the ceiling of the temple of
Devi Sivakamasundari. These recount the Leelas or sacred deeds of Lord Shiva in the visual
[3] Finally we will turn to the relief’s of Karanas or dance movements which adorn many
parts of the temple.
The Nataraja temple in Chidambaram is the only temple in India, as far as I have been able to ascertain, whose entrance is guarded by a pair of sphinxes. As the visitor enters the temple of the Nataraja proper, the main shrine within the complex, through its east entrance, he descends the twenty-one steps that lead into the heart of the temple. There he encounters on either side of the entrance on a raised platform, the images of the two sphinxes. They are called Purusha Mukha (human faced), or Purusha Mriga (man-wild beast). They are sitting with their lion bodies in an upright watchful, position. Their human faces surrounded by full manes. They are part of the ritual practice of the temple and the people burn lamps for them. As, upon entering, our eyes meet theirs, they purify us from our sins. They were assigned to that position, guarding the temple entrance, from time immemorial.

Legend recounts they first guarded the great ritual fire sacrifice performed by the Pandanvas, the five heroes of the epic Mahabharata. This was called Rajasuya. After the completion of the ritual the Purusha Mriga asked what they might do, now their task was fulfilled. They were told to go to Chidambaram, where Shiva was one day going to perform his Cosmic Dance for the humanity. Their task would be to purify the devotees visiting the temple.

The Purusha Mriga that guard the east entrance are consciously on the people’s mind. They are worshipped and butter lamps are always burning in front of them. And from time to time, according to the temple’s routine, rituals are performed for them. But not far away, in another part of the temple, I found many more Purusha Mriga. Long forgotten and unnoticed by both priests and devotees, as well as by the many scholars that visit this famous temple.

When we turn left from the Purusha Mriga at the entrance and follow the third courtyard in the clockwise direction, we reach the Nritta Sabha, the pillared hall in chariot form. Its sculptured plinth is adorned with a number of layers each with its own repeating motive. Just above eye level, on the top pattika or belt, unfold a row of reclining sphinxes, alternating with lions, wrapping around the front part of the pavilion.

Then, on the western side of the hall, two niches containing two form of Shiva project from the Nritta Sabha. Both images are flanked by pairs of elegant pillars, which support the roof of the niches. At the base of each pillar again we find a sphinx. Male on one side and female on the other, these four sphinxes stoically support the pillars. And although they have fangs, they guard Shiva with expressions of peace and benevolence. And even though their position is prominent, these sphinxes seem to go unnoticed by the visitors, and their resemblance to the sphinxes of Egypt has never, to my knowledge, been pointed out until now.

The sphinx also plays an important role in the daily rituals of the Nataraja temple, in the form of a silver lamp on which a sphinx is figured in a standing, worshipping, position. This lamp is used in several rituals during the day.
We may wonder whether there is a transcultural connection through cultural transference. Whether there is a historical connection, or whether the resemblance’s have intrinsic significance within the system themselves? Archetypal, born from the depths of the human collective subconscious.
A second feature that deserves the special attention of the visitor are the ceiling frescos of the pavilion in front of the temple of Devi Sivakamasundari. They have been variously dated as being between 1000 and 800 years old, and express through the visual media several of the mythologies associated with the Chidambaram temple. When the visitor enters the Devi temple by descending the sixteen steps, the pillared hall containing the frescos stretches right in front. It consists of three wings. The middle wing has been decorated with relatively modern paintings. The ancient frescos are found in the northern and southern wings of the pavilion.
In the wing immediately to the right of the main middle wing of the mandapa, we find the depiction of the myth of the Daruvanna. The images have to be read from the east towards the west, i.e. from the direction of the Shiva Ganga tank towards the temple proper.
- In the first scene we see Shiva and Parvati enthroned on Mount Kailasa surrounded by the
- In the second scene Shiva leads Vishnu by the hand as they proceed together to the
- In the third scene they have transformed themselves in Bhikshatana and Mohini.
- The fourth scene shows the Rishi wives following Bhikshatana, crazed with desire.
- The fifth scene depicts the Rishis as they loose all sense and pursue Mohini.
- In the sixth scene we see the Rishis perform their magical fire sacrifice, and all the demonic
beings created there in, to attack Shiva.
- In the seventh scene Shiva sits peacefully, having subdued all demonic forces, and performing
his Cosmic Dance.

Several of the other myths and legends that can be recognised are those recounting the lives and actions of the saints Vyagrapada, Patanjali and the king Hiranya Varman. The story of the saint Manikavasakar, the flood in Madurai. Further we find depictions of the Chariot Festival, temple building activities etc. Special attention may be drawn to the depiction of the temple plan, as it must have been at the time of the painting of the frescos.
The third feature which is of special interest to visitors are the karanas or dance movements, sculpted in countless relief’s all around the temple complex.
They are of two kinds.

The first we encounter as we enter the temple complex through any of the four gopurams. Each temple gateway has the 108 karanas or dance movements which comprise Shiva’s Cosmic Dance, sculptured on the surface of its passage. On Shiva’s command they were taught to the saint Bharata by Shiva’s companion Nandikeshvara. They were made part of the art of theatre, which had been created for the benefit of the humanity by Brahma the Divine Creator, and given to Bharata Muni to perform and pass on to the humanity. They are described in Bharata’s Natya Shastra, the doctrine of Drama and Dance, the oldest existing text on the art of theatre.

Only four other temples have depictions of the karanas as part of their imagery, all in Tamil Nadu. The great temple in Tanjore has the Karanas depicted in a gallery which is unreachable to the visiting public, in the tower around and above the sanctum. The Sarangapani Vishnu temple in Kumbakonam has the karanas around on the outside of the main gopuram. These series are both incomplete. Then we find karanas in the gopurams of the temples of Vriddachalam and Tiruvannamalai.
The other type of dance sculptures we find on the base of several of the main halls within the temple complex, where they form, as it were, a procession of dancers and musicians. These dance movements have not been systematised and though they can be seen to have some relation to the karanas they follow their own structure, rhythm and dynamics, as a dance unfolding.

In between these panels with dancers and accompanying musicians we find figures and images of little known folk stories. These folk stories were once part of the repertoire of ancient folk theatre. These dance panels can be found around the base of the Hall of Thousand Pillars, the Nritta Sabha, the Devi temple, the Deva Sabha, the Pandya Nayaka temple and around the enclosing wall of the great courtyard.

Chapter V : Ritual cycles and temple festivals

During the year, according to the progression of the sun through the twelve signs of the zodiac, and in interaction with the monthly cycle of the moon, the temple celebrates many different festivals for the different deities that reside in the complex. The two main festivals though are the two great Chariot Festivals, performed for the presiding deity, Shiva Nataraja. As all other temples officiate only one chariot festival for the presiding deity, this is one more characteristic that sets this temple apart from others.

The more important of the two is performed at midwinter, in the month of Margari in the Tamil calendar. That is between the middle of December and the middle of January of the Western calendar. The festival is called Margari Tiruvadirai, the holy star Arudra in the month Margari, after the star under which this festival takes place.

The second festival is called Ani Tirumanjanam. It is celebrated at the time of mid-summer, between the middle of June and the middle of July. It is officiated under the star Uttara Phalguni. The dates of the festivals are calculated according to the lunar calendar, so the actual dates in the Western calendar vary every year.

The festival lasts eleven days and give the participants a spiritual experience through visual impact. The progress of the daily processions is designed as a visual yoga. The festival begins with the flag hoisting ceremony, performed in the early morning of the first day. After due invocation and the chanting of mantras by the Deekshithars, the banner of Shiva, displaying his vahana or vehicle, the divine bull Nandi, is hoisted on the flagmast in front of the Sabha, situated just in the third courtyard.

In the evening of the same day the first procession is taken out of the Panca Murti, the five deities.
The main deity in the procession is Somaskanda, Shiva with Uma, his consort, and the baby Skanda, or Murugan, their second son.
The second deity is Devi, the goddess.
The third is Skanda as mature god with his two Shaktis or wives.
The fourth deity is Ganesha, Shiva’s first son, with the elephant face.
And the fifth is Chandikeshvara- though a human birth, such a devotee of Shiva that he attained liberation and semi-divine status, because of the Lord’s grace.

This first day the murtis proceed without vahanas or vehicles. Every procession is repeated the following morning.
The second day Somaskanda’s vehicle is the Moon.
The third day the main murti is seated in the Sun.
The fourth day Shiva is Bhuta Pati, the Lord of the Demons and the Elements.
The fifth day Shiva is seated on Nandi, the divine bull, but actually his vehicle that day is the gopuram, the temple tower, which is above him during this procession.
The sixth day Shiva’s vehicle is the elephant, a reminder that he overcame the evil power that had taken the form of an elephant.
The seventh day Shiva, his consort Uma and the baby Skanda are seated on Mount Kailasa, the holy mountain which is his throne. It shows the ten-headed demon Ravana as having been subdued by Shiva, when Ravana tried to shake the mountain, to get his way before the Lord.
On the eighth day of the festival Shiva appears as Bhikshatana, the Mendicant who caused such havoc among the Rishis and their wives of the Daruvanna. His begging bowl is stretched out toward us, begging us to give up our attachments and selfishness.
Then, on the ninth day we reach the highlight of the festival. The murti of Nataraja himself, and of Parvati Devi are brought from the sanctum and carried on the shoulders of the Deekshithars and the devotees to the great chariots that have been made ready, and await them in the East Car Street. The chariots are pulled by the public around the four car streets of the city in a festive mood. An event that takes almost the whole day.
In the evening the images or murtis are again taken on the shoulders of the devotees, and are carried to the Hall of Thousand Pillars. There during the night from approximately 2.30 in the early morning till just before sunrise, a holy ablution or Abhishekam is performed.
The following morning all can see the Lord and Goddess dancing together as they are brought back to the sanctum.
The eleventh day of the festival is characterised as ‘carnival’. The five murtis are taken in the procession in a special palanquin, decorated with flowers and glass beads. Thus the festival is concluded in a festive and relaxed mood.

Chapter VI : Daily worship

The seven pujas of the daily ritual cycle of the temple relate to the seven energy centres or chakras in the human body, and are designed to inspire in the devotees the awakening of the different yoga energies connected to them. The daily cycle is also a reflection of the cycles of cosmos, eternally going on in the universe.

06.45 In the early morning Shiva, represented by his holy sandals or padukai, is taken in a palanquin from a small shrine in the northwestern corner of the inner courtyard called the ‘Bedchamber’ of the god and goddess, to the Cit Sabha. This is called the Awakening Ceremony.
08.30 – 09.00 In the Kanaka Sabha the Deekshithar who has the duty for that day, performs a fire sacrifice according the Vedic doctrine.
10.00 – 11.00 For the Crystal Linga and for the Ruby Nataraja the Deekshithar on duty performs Abhishekam or holy ablution with several holy substances, like milk, honey and sacred ashes.
11.30 – 12.00 Puja is performed by offering burning lamps and puja objects, which are part of the ‘protocol’ like a small silver umbrella, a silver mirror, etc.
18.00 – 18.45 The same puja ritual is repeated.
20.00 – 20.30 The same puja is repeated, together with chanting of Sanskrit Mantras and the signing of ancient Tamil hymns.
22.00 – 22.30 Puja with lamps, hymns and music, after which Shiva, represented by his holy sandals, is taken in a procession with the small palanquin to join his consort in the Bedchamber.
The ringing of the bells recreates the sacred sound OM, which is the root and origin of the creation. The lamps represent the different forms and aspects of the divine energy that evolve from the One Absolute in the process of creation and manifestation.
The several ritual objects which are shown before the Nataraja are part of what is called ‘protocol’.

The ceremony of the return of Shiva’s sandals to the Bedchamber in the evening at 10 o’clock takes on special significance and grandure once a week, on the Friday evening. Where the seven daily rituals which are performed in the Sabha before the Nataraja are the key to the understanding of the cycles of cosmos, the seventh ritual reveals the ultimate secret.

Fire burning, bells ringing, and finally his Cosmic Dance…… Then, the cosmic energy of Nataraja is carried in a small palanquin around the courtyards accompanied by drums, instruments, singing and chanting. Finally to join the cosmic energy of Shakti, his consort, in the Bedchamber, realising the cosmology.

Chapter VII n: Deekshithars: The Tillai Threethousand

In ancient times the Deekshithars, the community of hereditary priests were known as Muvariyavar, or the 3000 of Tillai. The Chidambaram Mahatmyam recounts of their arrival in Tillai just as Lord Nataraja started his dance there. Thus they were the chosen guardians of the Lord’s worship and of the temple from its very conception.

Their relation to Lord Nataraja is a very intimate and powerful one, which is expressed by the legend that once the 3000 were requested by Brahma to perform a Vedic sacrifice in heaven. At their return they counted to make sure all had returned safely. But however they counted, they found only 2999. All were very upset, until a voice from the Sabha called out and announced that He Himself, Lord Nataraja, was the 3000th Deekshithar.

Although considered as among the Shiva Brahmans or Ayars, they form a completely separate group. They are endogamous, and a boy becomes a full Deekshithar only after marriage. Not only is their philosophy and temple doctrine different from other social groups and other temples, but also their way of life is very different from the society around them.

A Deekshithar has to wear his hair long, with a tonsure all around the rim. The hair is pulled to the left side and tied into a bun. This reflects their awareness of cosmology. It also expresses some aspects of the temple philosophy. They follow the teaching of Baudhayana Maharishi. Male and female energies are inseparable and both essential for the process of cosmos. The Deekshithars acknowledge their female side by wearing their hair long and in a bun, on the left side of the body, which is considered the female side.

The Chidambaram temple is unique in countless ways, but one outstanding feature is without doubt the way in which its priestly community is organised. It is supposed to be the oldest and longest functioning democracy in the world.

The community is called Podu Deekshithars, which means ‘the gathering of Deekshithars’.
Every Deekshithar has one vote in the general assembly, which takes place every twenty days. The daily management is in the hand of a team of nine members, one of which will be selected to be the Secretary of the temple for one year. The duties of the Secretary of the temple are to preside over all the activities in connection with the daily management, as well as to represent the temple towards the outside world. All ritual duties in the temple are performed through a strict rotation system. Special honorary functions, like presiding over the great Chariot Festivals, or other special ritual functions are accredited by drawing a name from the list of community’s members.

Deekshithars have always been known for their scholarship, and although the fast changes of the present era put a lot of strains on the ability of the community to maintain its tradition, many are facing this challenge by combining the pursuit of an academic career with serving their Lord in the temple routine.

Although the Deekshithars are known as the 3000 of Tillai, now the community counts about a thousand members, men, women and children, of which more then three hundred are initiated priests.

There was a time when the Deekshithars did not need to depend on the devotees for their income, but nowadays they form priest-client relationships.

Thus the Deekshithars and the millions of visitors experience His Cosmic Dance since time immemorial:

Kripa samudram sumukham trinetram
jatadharam Parvati vama bhagam
Sada Sivam Rudram anandarupam
Cidambaresam hridi bhavayami

O Lord, you are the ocean of mercy,Your shining face adorned with three eyes,With matted hair,
Goddess Parvati permanently with you on your left,
You are the eternal and cosmic form of bliss,
Presiding Lord of Chidambaram,
Dancing the Ananda Tandava,
You are dwelling in the heart of the devotees.
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Anupam Kumar