Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram

Chidambaram Temple
Chidambaram Temple
Location in Tamil Nadu
Proper name Chidambaram Thillai Natarajar-Koothan Koil
Tamil சிதம்பரம்
Coordinates 11°23′58″N 79°41′36″E / 11.39944°N 79.69333°E / 11.39944; 79.69333Coordinates: 11°23′58″N 79°41′36″E / 11.39944°N 79.69333°E / 11.39944; 79.69333
Country India
State Tamil Nadu
District Cuddalore District
Location Chidambaram
Primary deity Nataraja (Thillai Koothan - Shiva)
Consort Sivagama Sundari
Festival deity Nataraja
Festival consort Sivagama Sundari
Architectural styles Dravidian architecture

Thillai Natarajar Temple, Chidambaram or Chidambaram temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the town of Chidambaram, Cuddalore District, East-Central Tamil Nadu, South India. The temple is known as the foremost of all temples (Kovil) to Saivites and has influenced worship, architecture, sculpture and performance art for over two millennium. The Sangam classics list chief architect Viduvelvidugu Perumthachchan as directing an early renovation of the shrine.

A major shrine of Lord Shiva worship since the classical period, there have been several renovations and offerings to Chidambaram by the Pallava, Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagara and Chera royals in the ancient and pre-medieval periods. The temple as it stands now is mainly of the 12th and 13th centuries, with later additions in similar style.[1] Its bronze statues and stone sculptures depicting various deities and the famous Thillai trees (Excoecaria agallocha) of the surrounding forest reflect the highpoints of early Chola and Pallava art while its famed gold plated gopuram towers are medieval structural additions by the royals Aditya I, Parantaka Chola I, Kopperunchinga I, Krishnadevaraya and Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan. King Kocengannan Chola was born following prayers his parents offered at the temple and later in his life he refined its structure.[2][3][4] The shrine gave the town its name.

The deity that presides here is கூத்தன் - Thillai Koothan (Thillai Nataraja - Shiva, The Lord of Dance). Chidambaram is the birthplace of the sculpture and bronze image representation of Lord Shiva as the cosmic dancer, a Tamilian concept and motif in Chola art that has since become notable as a symbol of Hinduism. The shrine is the only Shiva temple to have its main deity represented in this anthropomorphic form, as the supreme being who performs all cosmic activities.[5][6] The consort deity here is Sivakami Amman (form of Amman - mother goddess and female energy). Two other forms of Lord Shiva are represented close to this in the vimana (inner sanctum) of the temple - as a crystallised lingam - the most common representation of Lord Shiva in temples, and as the aether space classical element, represented with empty space and a garland of fifty one hanging golden bilvam leaves (Aegle marmelos). Lord Shiva is captured in pose as Nataraja performing the Ananda Tandava ("Dance of Delight") in the golden hall of the shrine Pon Ambalam (பொன் அம்பலம்). The sculptures of Chidambaram inspired the postures of Bharatha Natyam. The Chidambaram complex is admired for its five famous halls (ambalam or sabhai), several grand smaller shrines to the Hindu deities Ganesh, Murugan, Vishnu and Sivakami Amman which contain Pandyan and Nayak architectural styles, and for its endowment from many water tanks, one of which links it to the Thillai Kali temple.[7]

Chidambaram is one of the five Pancha Bootha Sthalams, the holiest Shiva temples each representing one of the five classical elements; Chidambaram represents akasha (aether). Chidambaram is glorified in Tirumular's Tirumandhiram and was visited by Patañjali and VyagjrapadharPulikaal Munivar.[8] It is the primary shrine of the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams - Shiva Sthalams glorified in the early medieval Tevaram poems by Tamil Saivite Nayanar saints Tirunavukkarasar, Thirugnana Sambandar and Sundarar. Hailed in the Tiruvacakam series by Manikkavacakar, these very volumes of the Tirumurai literature canon were themselves found in secret chambers of the temple. The Periya Puranam, a biography of these Nayanar saints by Sekkizhar commissioned by emperor Kulothunga Chola II, was written in the shrine's Thousand Pillared Hall. In Kanda Puranam, the epic authored by Kachiyappa Sivachariar of Kanchipuram, the Chidambaram shrine is venerated as one of the three foremost Shiva abodes in the world, alongside Koneswaram temple of Trincomalee and Mount Kailash.


F. Swain Ward: View of the Pagoda of Chelimbaram, 1762

The traditional name of the temple complex, Chidambaram Tillai Nataraja-koothan Kovil, alludes to the environment of its location and its origins and significance in Saivite worship. The mangrove of ancient Tillai (தில்லை) trees (Exocoeria agallocha) of the forest surrounding the shrine when it was first built inspired the shrine's name and early artistic inspiration; the Tillai trees of the nearby Pichavaram wetlands, the second largest mangrove in the world, extends to the temple area. The shrine is venerated as Tillai ambalam (தில்லை அம்பலம் ), literally meaning Tillai Open Stage, the open space surrounded by Tillai Vanam (தில்லை வனம்) (the Tillai forest) - the original name of this area.[9] The name of the town of this shrine, Chidambaram comes from the Tamil word Chitrambalam (சிற்றம்பலம்) - "small hall/stage"; also spelled Chithambalam (சிட்டம்பலம்), from citt/chitthu and ambalam - meaning "wisdom of this open stage/atmosphere".[2][10][11] The shrine is where some devotees believe they will attain liberation, or chitaakasam - "wisdom/consciousness of the sky". "Nataraja" or "Koothan" mean "Lord of Dance".[12][13]


The story of Chidambaram begins with 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). In the Thillai forests resided a group of sages or 'rishis' who believed in the supremacy of magic and that God can be controlled by rituals and mantras or magical words.[14] Lord Shiva strolled in the forest with resplendent beauty and brilliance, assuming the form of Bhikshatana, a simple mendicant seeking alms. He was followed by His consort, Vishnu as Mohini. The sages and their wives were enchanted by the brilliance and the beauty of The handsome mendicant and His consort. On seeing their womenfolk enchanted, the rishis got enraged and invoked scores of serpents (nāgas) by performing magical rituals. Lord Shiva lifted the serpents and donned them as ornaments on His matted locks, neck and waist. Further enraged, the sages invoked a fierce tiger, whose skins and dons were used by Lord Shiva as a shawl around His waist and then followed by a fierce elephant, which was devoured and ripped to death by Lord Shiva (Gajasamharamurthy).

The rishis gathered all their spiritual strength and invoked a powerful demon Muyalakan - a symbol of complete arrogance and ignorance. Lord Shiva wore a gentle smile, stepped on the demon's back, immobilized him and performed the Ánanda Tandava (the dance of eternal bliss) and disclosed his true form. The sages surrender, realizing that Lord Shiva is the truth and He is beyond magic and rituals.[14]


Golden tiles roof of Chidambaram temple

To Saivites, primarily in Tamil Nadu, the very word koil refers primarily to Chidambaram Tillai Natarajar.

Chidambaram is a temple complex spread over 40 acres (160,000 m2) in the heart of the city. The main complex to Lord Shiva Nataraja also contains shrines to deities such as Shivakami Amman, Ganesh, Murugan and Vishnu in the form Govindaraja Perumal. Chidambaram's earliest structures were designed and erected by ancient craftsmen called Perumtaccan. The golden tiled roof for the Chit Ambalam (the vimanam) was laid by the Chola King Parantaka I(907-950 CE)[15] following which he was given the title - Thillaiyambalathhukku pon koorai veiyntha thevan (Tamil:தில்லையாம்பலதுக்கு பொன் கூரை வேய்ந்த தேவன், meaning the one who constructed the golden roof). In its floruit, kings Rajaraja Chola I(reign 985-1014 A.D.) and Kulothunga Chola I (1070-1120 A.D.) made significant donations to the temple. Gold and riches to the temple were donated by Rajaraja Chola's daughter Kundavai II while Chola king Vikrama Chola (1118-1135 A.D.) made donations for the conduct of the daily rituals.

Donations of gold and jewels have been made by various kings, rulers and patrons to the temple from 9th to 16th century[15] - including the Maharaja of Pudukottai, Sethupathy (the emerald jewel still adorns the deity) and the British.

Naralokaviran, the general of king Kulothunga Chola I was responsible for building a shrine for child saint Thirugnana Sambanthar and installed a metal image inside it. He constructed a hall for recitation of Tevaram hymns and engraved the hymns in copper plates.[16]

Temple structure

The temple is the only great temple complex to date mainly from the later Chola period, and contains the earliest examples of a number of features that are found in many later temples, including "the earliest known Devī or Amman shrine, nritta (dance) maṇḍapa, Sūrya shrine with chariot wheels, hundred-and-thousand pillared maṇḍapas, even the first giant Śiva Gangā tank".[17]

A classical Shiva temple as per Agama rules will have five prakarams (closed precincts of a temple) or circuits each separated by walls one within the other. The outer prakaram will be open to the sky except the innermost one. The innermost one will house the main deity as well as other deities. There will be a massive wooden or stone flag post exactly in line with the main deity. The innermost prakaram houses the sanctum sanctorum (தமிழ் = கருவரை).

"Sacred Tank and Pagoda at Chillambaran [Chidambaram], India", a wood engraving of the North gopuram and Shiva Gangai tank from the 1870s

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 Vyagrapuram (in honour of Saint Vyagrapathar, Sanskrit: Vyaghrapada - "Tiger-Footed").

The temple is supposed to be located at the lotus heart of the Universe: Virat hridaya padma sthalam.

This gold-roofed stage is the sanctum sanctorum of the Chidambaram temple and houses the Lord in three forms:

Significance of the temple design

"Pagoda di Scialembrom [Chidambaram]", by Giulio Ferrario from Il Costume Moderno o Antico, an Italian edition, 1828, a drawing of the main gopuram and detailed plan of the central structure

The layout and architecture of the temple is replete with philosophical meanings.


This 360 degree panorama in the form of photo-sphere shows the four temple towers (marked with white arrows)
West Tower

The temple has nine gateways, and four of these have gateway towers or gopurams each with 7 storeys facing the East, South, West and North. The South gopuram called the Sokkaseeyan Thirunilai Ezhugopuram was constructed by a Pandya king[20] identified from the presence of the dynasty's fish emblem sculpted on the ceiling. The Pandyas sculpted two fishes facing each other when they completed gopurams (and left it with one fish, in case it was incomplete). The earliest and smallest of the four is West gopuram constructed around 1150 and there are no reliable evidence on the construction.[16] The sculptures shows goddess fighting the buffalo-demon and warlike Skanda astride his peacock. The North Gopuram was initiated around 1300 A.D. with the brick portion constructed by the Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya (1509-1530 A.D.) in the 16th century.[16] The East Gopuram, was claimed to have been constructed by the Pallava King Koperunsingan II (1243-1279 A.D.) as per epigrahical records[21] and was repaired by Subbammal, the mother-in-law of the famous philanthropist Pachaiyappa Mudaliar (1754-1794 A.D.). The idols of Pachaiappa Mudaliar and his wife Iyalammal have been sculpted on the eastern gopuram. The Pachaiappa Trust to date has been responsible for various functions in the temple and also maintain the temple car. The eastern gopuram is renowned for its complete enumeration of 108 poses of Indian classical dance – Bharathanatyam, detailed in small rectangular panels along the passage that leads to the gateway.[15][16][19][22] Each gopuram has around fifty stone sculptures, with each repeating some portions from the other.[16]

Intricate carvings adorn the eastern gopuram


There are 5 ambalams or sabhas (halls) inside the temple.


There are also several smaller shrines in the temple complex.


Govindaraja Swamy Shrine

The Govindaraja shrine[23] is dedicated to Vishnu and is one of the 108 holy temples of Lord Vishnu called divyadesam, revered by the 7th-9th-century saint poets of vaishnava (those worshipping Lord Vishnu) tradition, alwars. Kulashekara alwar mentions this temple as Tillai Chitrakutam and equates Chitrakuta of Ramayana fame with this shrine.[24] King Kulothunga Chola II is believed to have uprooted the presiding Govindraja image from the shrine.[25] The shrine has close connections with the Govindaraja temple in Tirupati dating back to saint Ramanuja of the 11-12th century.[26] Ramanujar fled to Tirupati with the utsava (festival image) of the temple to escape punishment.[25][27] Down the centuries, king Krishnappa Nayak (1564-1572 A.D.) was instrumental in installing the image of Govindaraja back in the temple.[28] There was lot of resistance from the shaivites (those worshipping Shiva) against placing the Vishnu image in a revered Shiva temple, but the king was unmoved and the image was installed in the present form.[29] There is no satisfactory evidence of co-existence of the Shiva and Vishnu shrines within the same temple built during the same time - there was a dispute even in last century during 1849 A.D. regarding the rights on the Govindaraja idol and Alwar Sannidhi(sanctum of azhwars) between Vaishnavas and Dikshitars and the position of Vaishnavas was upheld by the district court.[30]

Temple Tanks

Sivaganga (சிவகங்கை)

The Chidambaram temple is well endowed with several water bodies within and around the temple complex.

East Gopuram

Temple Car

The temple car of Natraja used during festival processions

The Chidambaram temple car is, perhaps, the most beautiful example of a temple car in all of Tamil Nadu. This car, on which Lord Nataraja descends twice a year, is drawn by several thousand devotees during the festivals.

Ananda Tandava

Nataraja with Vyaghrapada and Patanjali (left) and his consort Sivagami (right)

The legend of the temple is same as the legend of Ānanda-tāṇḍava.[14] Adhisesha, the serpent who serves as a bed of Lord Vishnu, hears about the Änanda thaandava and yearns to see and enjoy it.[34] Lord Shiva beckons him to assume the saintly form of sage 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, Vyaghrapada or 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).[14] The story of sage Patanjali as well as his great student sage Upamanyu is narrated in both Vishnu Purana as well as Shiva Purana. They move into the Thillai forest and worship Lord Shiva in the form of lingam, 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 (January – February).[14]

The Ananda Tandava Posture

The Ānanda-tāṇḍava posture of Nataraja represents pancikritya functions of the godhead believed to have created the dynamic force to create the world.[15]

Another notable point of this posture is that it is based on the six point star. Nataraja's head forms the topmost point of the star, while His spreading hair and right hand form the upper side points. His drape and raised left leg form the lower points, and His right leg that rests on the demon Myalagga forms the lowest point. Surrounding this is the arc of fire.

Religious significance of the temple

Pancha Bhoota Stalam (Sanskrit: पन्च भूत स्थल) refers to the five Shiva temples,[37] each representing the manifestation of the five prime elements of nature - land, water, air, sky, fire.[38] Pancha indicates five, Bhoota means elements and Stala means place. All these temples are located in South India with four of these temples at Tamil Nadu and one at Andhra Pradesh. The five elements are believed to be enshrined in the five lingams[37] and each of the lingams representing Lord Shiva in the temple have five different names based on the elements they represent. In the temple, Shiva is said to have manifested himself in the form of sky. The other four manifestations are Prithivi Lingam (representing land) at Ekambareswarar Temple,[39] Appu Lingam (representing Water)[37] at Thiruvanaikaval,[39] Agni Lingam (representing fire)[40] at Annamalaiyar Temple[39] and Vayu Lingam (representing air) at Srikalahasti Temple.[39][41]

Aathara Stala indicates the Shiva temples which are considered to be divine impersonification of Tantric chakras associated with human anatomy. Nataraja temple is called the Anthaga stalam[42] associated with Anthagam - the third eye.[43]

Pancha Sabhai refers to the five places where Lord Shiva is said to have displayed His cosmic dance and all these places have stages or ambalams, also known as Sabhai. Apart from Chidambaram which has the Ponna Ambalam - the Golden Hall, the others are the I-Ratthina Ambalam - the Jeweled Hall at Thiruvaalangadu (rathinam – ruby / red jewelled), the Chitra Ambalam - the Painted Hall at Thirukutralam (chitra – painting), the Velli Ambalam - the Silver Hall at Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple (velli – silver) and the Thaamira Ambalam - the Copper Hall at Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli (Thaamiram – copper).[44][45]

Religious work and saints

There is no reference to the temple in Sangam literature of the 1st to 5th centuries and the earliest mention is found in 6th century Tamil literature.[46] The temple and the deity were immortalized in Tamil poetry in the works of Thevaram by three poet saints belonging to the 7th century - Thirugnana Sambanthar, Thirunavukkarasar and Sundaramoorthy Nayanar.[47] Thirugnana Sambanthar has composed 2 songs in praise of the temple, Thirunavukkarasar aka Appar 8 Tevarams in praise of Nataraja and Sundarar 1 song in praise of Nataraja. Sundarar commences his Thiruthondar thogai (the sacred list of Lord Shiva's 63 devotees) paying his respects to the priests of the Thillai temple - "To the devotees of the priests at Thillai, I am a devotee". The works of the first three saints, Thirumurai were stored in palm leaf manuscripts in the temple and were recovered by the Chola King Rajaraja Chola[15] under the guidance of Nambiandarnambi. Manikkavasagar, the 10th century saivite poet has written two works, the first called Tiruvasakam (The sacred utterances) which largely has been sung in Chidambaram and the Thiruchitrambalakkovaiyar (aka Thirukovaiyar), which has been sung entirely in the temple. Manikkavasagar is said to have attained spiritual bliss at Chidambaram. The Chidambaram Mahatmiyam composed during the 12th century explain the subsequent evolution and de-sanskritization.[46]

The Chidambara Rahasiyam

Main article: Chidambara Rahasiyam
Lord Nataraja at the Chitsabhai in Chidambaram. To the left of The Lord's idol is the Lord Shiva in His manifestation of formlessness is worshipped in Chidambaram. The Lord is said to continuously dance in a state of eternal bliss "Aananda thaandava", with His consort Shakti 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. The curtain is dark on its exterior side (indicating ignorance) and bright red on the interior side (indicating wisdom and bliss). Chidambara Rahasya - represented by strands of gold Vilva leaves. To the right is the idol of His Consort Goddess Sivagamasundari

During the daily rituals, the Chief priest, of the day, himself in a state of Godliness - Shivohambhava (Shiva - the Lord, in His Sandhi form - Shivo-, aham – me / us, bhava - state of mind), parts the curtain, indicating the withdrawal of ignorance and reveals the space, and The Lord’s presence.

The Chidambara Rahasya, is hence representative of that time when one, in total surrender, allows God to intervene and remove our ignorance, even as we get to 'see and experience' His presence and hence - bliss.

Temple administration and daily rituals

Worship Forms

A unique feature of this temple is the bejeweled image of Lord Nataraja as the main deity. It depicts Lord Shiva as the master of Koothu-Bharata Natyam and is one of the few temples where Lord Shiva is represented by an anthropomorphic murthi rather than the classic, anionic Lingam.

At Chidambaram, the dancer dominates, not the linga as in other Shiva shrines. The Chitsabha houses a small sphatika(crystal) linga (Chandramoulisvara), believed to be a piece that fell from the crescent adorning Lord Shiva's head and installed by Adi Shankara. The linga is associated with the intangible fifth element, akasha (ether or space),[15] the eternal infinite expanse where the dance of Lord Shiva takes place daily puja is offered to the linga and also to a small gem-carved figure of Ratnasabhapati.

Chidambaram offers a combination of the three apects of Shaiva worship - of the form Lord(Nataraja), of the form and the formlessness (linga) and of the formless omnipresence. The last is suggested by a "Chidambara rahasya", a chakra inscribed on a wall and blackened by applying "punugu" (civet) and over which hangs a string of golden bilva (bael) leaves. This can be viewed through the square chinks when the priest draws aside the dark "curtain of ignorance".[48]


Image of a Dikshitar

The temple is managed and administered hereditarily by the Chidambaram Dikshitar – a class of Vaidika Brahmins whom, legends say, were brought here from Mt. Kailas, by Patanjali, specifically for the performance of the daily rituals and maintenance of the Chidambaram temple.


The Dikshithars were supposed to be 3000 were called Tillai Muvayiram. Today they number around 360. These Dikshithars follow the Vedic rituals, unlike the Sivachariyars or Adhisaivars who follow the agamic rituals for the worship of Shiva and they sport a specific lopsided-to-the-left half shaved head.[19] The rituals for the temple were collated from the Vedas and set by Patanjali, who is said to have inducted the Dikshithars into the worship of Lord Shiva as Nataraja. Every married male member of the Dikshithar family gets a turn to perform the rituals at the temple and can serve as the chief priest for the day. Married Dikshithars are also entitled a share of the temple's revenue. Though the temple is said to have been given endowments of almost 5,000 acres (20 km2) of fertile land – having been patronized by various rulers for several centuries, it is managed almost entirely by privately run endowments.

Daily Rituals

The day begins with the chief priest of the day, performing required rituals to purify himself and assume the Shivoham bhava (Shiva-hood), after which he enters the temple to do the daily rituals. The day begins with Lord Shiva's footwear (padukas) brought at 7:00am from the palliyarai (bedroom) to the sanctum sanctorum in a palanquin accompanied by devotees with cymbals, chimes and drums. The priest then performs the daily rituals with a yajna and a 'Gopujai' (worship of a cow and her calf). Worship (Puja) is done 6 times in a day. Before each puja, the spadika linga (crystal linga) or the semi form state of Lord Shiva is anointed with ghee, milk, curds, rice, sandal paste and holy ash. This is followed by presenting the naivedhyam or offering of freshly prepared food and sweets to the deity and the diparaadhana, a ritual of showing varied and decoratively set lamps, the reciting of Vedas in Sanskrit and the Panchapuranam (a set of 5 poems from a set of 12 works in Tamil – called the panniru thirumurai). The puja ends with the priest parting the curtains of the sanctum sanctorum to reveal the Chidambara Rahasyam (sanctum).

Before the 2nd puja, apart from the regular anointing of the crystal linga, a ruby Nataraja deity (the Rathinasabhapathy) is also anointed. The 3rd puja is at around 12.00 noon, after which the temple closes until around 4:30pm. The 4th puja is performed at 6.00 PM, the 5th at 8:00pm and the last puja of the day is performed at 10:00 pm, after which Lord Shiva’s footwear is taken in a procession for Him to ‘retire’ for the night. Before the 5th puja at night, the priest performs special rituals at the Chidambara Rahasya, where he anointed the yantra with aromatic substances and offers naivedyam. The last puja, called the arthajaama puja is performed with special fervor. It is believed that the entire divine force of the universe retires into the deity, when he retires for the night.

Temple Administration

The Diskshithars one and fully responsible for the administration and pooja. Simply they mentioned their surname as the Sri Natarajar Temple Trustee and Pooja forever. Dikshithars life and temple tied as the nail and flesh relationship.


Ratha festival during 2011
Natyanjali Festival in the temple

A whole year for men is said to be a single day for the gods. Just as six poojas are performed in a day at the sanctum sanctorum, six anointing ceremonies are performed for the principal deity - Nataraja in a year. They are the Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai (in December - January ) indicating the first puja, the fourteenth day after the new moon (chaturdasi) of the month of Masi (February - March) indicating the second pooja, the Chittirai Thiruvonam (in April- May), indicating the third pooja or uchikalam, the Uthiram of Aani (June–July) also called the Aani Thirumanjanam indicating the evening or the fourth puja, the chaturdasi of Aavani (August - September) indicating the fifth puja and the chaturdasi of the month of Puratasi (October - November) indicating the sixth pooja or Arthajama. Of these the Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai (in December - January) and the Aani Thirumanjanam (in June - July ) are the most important. These are conducted as the key festivals with the main deity being brought outside the sanctum sanctorum in a procession that included a temple car procession followed by a long anointing ceremony.[49] Several hundreds of thousands of people flock the temple to see the anointing ceremony and the ritualistic dance of Shiva when he is taken back to the sanctum sanctorum. Lord Shiva, in his incarnation of Nataraja, is believed to have born on full moon day in the constellation of Ardra, the sixth lunar mansion. Lord Shiva is bathed only 6 times a year, and on the previous night of Ardra, the bath rituals are performed on a grand scale.[50] Pots full of milk, pomegranate juices, coconut water, ghee, oil, sandal paste, curds, holy ashes, and other liquids and solids, considered as sacred offering to the deity are used for the sacred ablution.[50]

There are references in Umapathy Sivam's Kunchithaangristhavam that the Maasi festival also had the Lord being carried out in procession, however this is not in vogue these days.

Natyanjali is a prominent festival celebrated during February every year when Bharatnatyam dancers from all over the country converge to present dance offering to Nataraja.[49]


Constructed to signify where Tamil Shaivites identify the centre loci of the universe to be, the shrine, dedicated to Lord Shiva, has witnessed several significant events in the history of Tamil Nadu. A powerful legacy of Dravidian art, its structures and sculptures have attracted pilgrims to Chidambaram for over two millennium. The birthplace of Nataraja when Shaivite worship was highly popular during the Sangam period, Chidambaram had gained a reputation for holiness across the continent by the third century CE and the admiration of the Tamilakkam royals of the early Cholas, Chera dynasty and the early Pandyan Kingdom. Built by the early Cholas to one of their family deities - Nataraja-Koothan - it served as the king and queen's state temple and seat of their monarchs' coronations. The Chola royals underlined their non-partisan approach to religious iconography and faith by also patronizing the Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple dedicated to Vishnu - their other Kuladheivam or "abode of family deity". Chola King Kocengannan who reigned in the first half of the 2nd century CE was born after his parents King Subhadevan and Kamaladevi worshipped in the Thillai Golden Hall (Pon Ambalam). He expanded the shrine in his later life and added to unfinished decorations. Saints Patañjali Tirumular and Vyaghrapada famously worshipped Nataraja at the shrine.[51][52][53] The travelling Pallava-Chola king Simhavarman (II or III) who reigned in the 5th-6th century CE was cured of leprosy by bathing in the Shivagangai tank and in gratitude made extensive repairs and additions to the temple. He changed his name to Hiranyavarman or "golden bodied."[54][55]

The Puranas, Sangam literature and the Tirumurai canon join several epigraphs and murals in highlighting the brilliance of the temple site and the devotion of Patañjali, Vyaghrapada-Pulikaalmunivar and patanjali to Nataraja at Thillai. The sthala puranam as well as umapathi sivacharya's koyil puranam give an account of how an ancient chola prince of kritayugam or first of epochal ages. Worshipped The Lord's feet at Chidambaram and being blessed with a vision of His was further helped by saint Vyaghrapada to consecrate a place of worship therewith. The temple murals and some cholan and pandyan literature refer to this sthala puranam. The chidambaram mahatyam as well as koyil puranam by the same author discuss as to how this prince who was presented with dhataki or atti garland and tiger flag in which Lord Indra would take abode to make him ever victorious was blessed with vision of lord and further attained mukti at this spot. This is very credible because all ancient literature and documents report that tiger flag and atti or dhataki (grislea tomentosa) garland as being emblematic with cholas. Some sangam period works also passingly refer to the krita age king's war with demons and his victory against them. The king also went by name Vyaghraketu after being gifted with the tiger flag.

Later during the 4th or 5th century .C.E, a pallava king called Simha Varman who was also a nayanmar saint by name Aiyatikal Kaadavarkon made some compositions and bathed in the tank and attained mukthi at tiru-perum-ppatra-puliyur or chidambaram. Aragalur Udaya Iraratevan Ponparappinan had refurbished most of the parts and rebuilt some parts of the temple around 1213 AD.[56]

At periodical intervals (12 years in general), major repairs and renovation works are carried out, new facilities added and consecrated. Most old temples have also 'grown' over periods of time with additional facilities, more outer corridors and new gopurams (pagodas) were added by the rulers who patronized the temple. While this process has helped to keep the temples 'alive' as places of worship, from a purely archeological or historical perspective these renovations have unintentionally lead to destruction of the original works - which were not in sync with the latter and usually grander temple plans.

To this general trend, Chidambaram temple is no exception. The origins and developments of the temple are hence largely deduced from allied references in works of literature and poetry, the verbal information passed over generations by the Dikshithar community and from what little, of inscriptions and manuscripts that are available today.

The temple site is very ancient one is known to have been crafted time and again by the ancient craftsmen guild known as Perumthachchans. The reference to the same is available in sangam literature as well as other documents. The tevaram trio in particular have held this site to be of great sanctity with some like Tirugnanasambandar and Sundarar out of devotion being reluctant to set their foot in the place "because it would be an insult to the lord to put one's foot on his abode". The sangam works refer to the temple being favoured by all the three ancient crowns of south, the Neriyan (cholas), chezhiyan (pandyas) and uthiyan (cheras), even if the temple was in what was traditionally chola country.


There are several inscriptions available in the temple and referring to the Chidambaram temple in neighbouring areas. Most inscriptions available pertain to the periods of Cholas - Rajaraja Chola I (985-1014 CE), Rajendra Chola I (1012-1044 CE), Kulothunga Chola I (1070-1120 CE), Vikrama Chola (1118-1135 CE), Rajadhiraja Chola II (1163 -1178 CE), Kulothunga Chola III (1178-1218 CE) and Rajaraja Chola III (1216-1256 CE). Pandya inscriptions date from Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Veerapandiyan, Jataavarman Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Sundarapaandiyan (1251-1268 CE) and Maaravarman Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Veerakeralanaagiya Kulashekara Pandiyan (1268-1308 CE). Pallava inscriptions are available for king Avani Aala Pirandhaan Ko-pperum-Singha (1216-1242 CE). Vijayanagara Kings mentioned in inscriptions are Veeraprathaapa Kiruttina Theva Mahaaraayar (1509-1529 CE), Veeraprathaapa Venkata Deva Mahaaraayar, Sri Ranga Theva Mahaaraayar, Atchyutha Deva Mahaaraayar (1529-1542 CE) and Veera Bhooopathiraayar. One of the inscriptions from the descendant of Cheramaan Perumal nayanar, Ramavarma Maharaja has been found.

Kumbhabishekam 2015

The sacred Chidambaram Sri Sabanayagar Temple, which is also described as Boologa Kailaasam and Chithakasam

Sri Sivagamasundari Samaedha Sriman Anandha Nataraja Moorthy's Chitsabha Samprokshana Chithvilasa Maha Kumbhabishekam happened in a great way on the auspicious day of Manmadha (Tamil) year Chithirai month 18th day (01-May-2015) Friday morning between 7:00 AM and 8:30 AM Hastha Nakshthra, Thrayodhasi Thithi, Amirtha yoga, Rishabha Lagna.


The temple was severely vandalised during Malik Kafur's invasions of South India between 1311 and 1325. A garrison was set up within the temple precincts and the walls were fortified during the Carnatic Wars between the East India Company and the French and the Anglo-Mysore Wars that the British fought with Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan.


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