Lord Natraja Temple

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

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

The Temple

Nataraja temple is a massive complex containing sculptured halls of 1000 and 108 pillars. There are four Gopuras. The east and west towers are full of sculptures depicting the 108 postures of Natya Shastra. The north and south towers contain dance and other poses of Lord Shiva. Though the temple structures were built during different periods, they retain a surprising element of symmetry.

THE SANCTUM

A gold-plated Vimana adorns the roof of the sanctum of Lord Nataraja, who gives darshan in His Aananda Thaandava posture.

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

The sanctum is known as Ponnambalam or Kanaka Sabha. Patanjali and Vyagrapada stand sentinel outside the sanctum. The divine consort is Devi Sivakama Sundari, who is enshrined to the left of the main sanctum.

To the right of Sri Nataraja sannadhi is the Chidambara Rahasyam, the abode of Akaash Linga. It is interesting to note that only a Prabha or Thiruvaasi (circular arch) and a Vel (spear) with a golden Bilva maala are worshipped. This is one of the Pancha Bhutha Sthalas representing Akaash or Ether. This shrine remains curtained. The five silver-plated steps leading to the shrine represent the five mystic letters of the Panchaakshara Mantra, Na-Ma-Si-Va-Ya. It is said that the Lords dance is the same as the one He performed for Patanjali and Vyagrapada. According to Dr A.K. Coomaraswamy, an eminent scholar, The essential significance of Shiva's dance is three-fold first, it is a symbol of His rhythmic play as the source of all movements within the cosmos, represented by the arch of Thiruvaasi second, the purpose of the dance is to release the countless souls of men from the snare of illusion third, the place of the dance - Chidambaram, the centre of the Universe - is within the heart.

Pancha Sabhas The Chidambaram temple is unique in that the shrine houses all the Pancha Sabhas of Lord Shiva. They are Chit Sabha, Kanaga Sabha Nritta Sabha, Deva Sabha and Raja Sabha. The Raja Sabha is in the 1000-pillared Hall. Saivite poet Sekkizhar first recited his Periya Puranam in this hall. The Nritta Sabha shows the Urdhwa Thandava of the Lord. The 56-pillared porch is exquisitely carved with the different dancing forms of the Lord. The whole structure is in the form of a heavenly chariot carved out of stone. The Deva Sabha used to be the venue of meetings and festivals of erstwhile rulers. Chola and Pandya kings used the Raja Sabha to celebrate victories.