Top 10 Secrets of Swamy Nataraja Temple
Here are 10 secrets about this temple that add to its fame and popularity
Dedicated to the Nataraja form of Lord Shiva, the Cosmic Dancer, the Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, Cuddalore, Tamilnadu, has a history that is shrouded in mystery. But it is definitely one of the most ancient temples in India. Where the temple stands now, a dense forest of Thillai trees once stood. The town itself was known as Thillai in those days. Its present name, ‘Chidambaram’, means “clothed in thought” or “atmosphere of wisdom”.The temple architecture speaks volumes about the connection between arts and spirituality. For instance, in the gopurams or temple towers, one can see representations of the 108 poses of the classical Bharata Natyam tradition mentioned in the classic work, Natya Shastra, on either side of the gateways. Also, there are friezes of dancers, musicians, and drummers that can be seen all along the walls that enclose the Sivakami Amman temple here. The temple was supposedly constructed during the 10th Century when Chidambaram was the capital of the Chola dynasty. For the Cholas, Lord Nataraja was their family deity. The temple has undergone extensive renovations throughout the 2nd millennium. Shiva is also worshipped as Chidambara Rahasyam, his formless form. He is also present in the form of Akasa Lingam, or Shiva as formless Space. In the Tamil Saivite tradition, the word ‘Koyil’, meaning ‘temple’, refers to this temple.
The temple has five main Halls or Sabhas, namely the Kanaka Sabha, the Chit Sabha, Nritta Sabha, Deva Sabha, and Raja Sabha. The renowned Carnatic music composer, Muthuswamy Deekshitar, has sung the praises of the Nataraja temple in his work, ‘Ananda Natana Prakasam’. Vishnu’s idol is also present in this temple, and his shrine is ‘Tiruchitrakootam’. Supposedly, Adi Sankara had presented a Spatika Lingam, which one can worship here even now. Sekkizhar’s Periya Puranam on the life of the 63 Saivite saints was composed here, in the 1000 pillared hall. Sekkizhar himself expounded it in the presence of Kulottunga Chola II, the Chola emperor who commissioned it.
Legends of the temple
According to legend, two saints called Vyagrapaadar and Patanjali came to this place to witness Shiva’s Ananda Tandava. Patanjali was actually Adi Sesha, the serpent on whom Lord Vishnu reclined. Shiva appeared before them along with his consort, Sivakami, and performed the Ananda Tandava or the Cosmic Dance of Bliss. Supposedly, even Vishnu witnessed the dance. Shiva’s Ananda Tandavam represents the 5 divine acts or Pancha Krityas of creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment, and bestowing of grace.
The Chit Sabha and Chidambara Rahasyam
The Chit Sabha is the holiest shrine in the Nataraja temple. The idols of Nataraja and Sivakami are in this hall. They repose in front of 2 curtains of which the inner one is red colored (it’s not visible), and the outer one is black. To Shiva’s right is the famed Chidambara Rahasyam. It is nothing but a representation of emptiness that is garlanded with golden Vilva leaves. The curtain in front of the Chidambara Rahasyam that represents Shiva and Parvati as Aroopam (formless form) is lifted ceremoniously during the Pooja, with offerings of lamps. One can also see images of Ratnasabhapati (Ruby Nataraja), the Spatika Lingam, Mukhalingam, Swarnakarshana Bhairavar, etc.
Swamy Nataraja Temple is not just a famous temple, it is also unique in some ways. For instance, there are 10 secrets about this temple that add to its fame and popularity. Let us see what they are.
1. This Nataraja Temple lies on the equator at the center of the world.
2. It is one of the 5 Panchabhoota temples and represents the ‘sky’ element. The Kalahasthi temple represents the wind, and the Kanchi Ekambareswar temple represents the earth. These three temples lie in a straight line at 79 degrees and 41 minutes Longitude.
3. The Chidambaram temple’s structure is similar to the human body and has 9 entrances that are like the 9 orifices in the human body.
4. 21, 600 gold sheets form the temple roof. The figure 21, 600 denotes the number of inhalations and exhalations a human being takes every day.
5. 72, 000 gold nails hold together each of the 21, 600 sheets. They represent the 72, 000 nerves in the human body.
6. One of the shrines, Ponnambalam, has been built slightly to the left to represent the human heart.
7. The 28 pillars in the Ponnambalam represent the 28 ways to worship Shiva.
8. The 28 pillars are supported by 64+64 roof beams. These represent the 64 arts. Also, the cross beams represent the blood vessels that run across the human body.
9. The 6 pillars at the Artha Mandapa represent the 6 different types of Shastras.
10. The 18 pillars adjacent to the Mandapa represent the 18 Puranas.