Chidambaram is a town and municipality in Cuddalore district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the taluk headquarters of the Chidambaram taluk. It is a town believed to be of significant antiquity and has been ruled, at different times, by the Cholas ,Later Pandyas , Vijayanagar Empire, Marathas and the British. The town is known for the Thillai Nataraja Temple, and the annual chariot festival held in the month of December-January & June-July. Chidambaram is a temple town in the district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu and known for its surreal setting and ancient Dravidian architecture.
Meaning of Chidambaram
The word Chidambaram may be derived from chit, meaning “consciousness”, and ambaram, meaning “sky” (from aakasam or aakayam); it refers to the chidaakasam, the sky of consciousness, which is the ultimate aim one should attain according to all the Vedas and scriptures. Another theory is that it is derived from chit + ambalam. Ambalam means a “stage” for performing arts. The chidakasam is the state of supreme bliss or aananda and Lord Natarajar is the symbolic representation of the supreme bliss or aananda natanam. Saivaites believe that a visit to Chidambaram leads to liberation.Yet another theory is that it is derived from the word chitrambalam, from chithu meaning “play or dances of God” and ambalam meaning “stage”.
Thillai Natarajar Temple
Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the heart of the temple town of Chidambaram,Tamil Nadu).The temple is 78 km south of Pondicherry and 235Km from Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state of south eastern India.
Chidambaram is one of the five holiest Shiva temples, each representing one of the five natural elements; Chidambaram represents akasha (aether). The other four temples in this category are:
- Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara,Trichy (water),
- Kanchi Ekambareswara (earth)Kanchipuram,
- Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara (fire)Thiruvanna malai,
- Kalahasti Nathar (wind), Kalahasti.
The story of Chidambaram begins with the legend of 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. The temple sculptures depicting the Thillai trees date back to the 2nd century CE).
Nataraja Temple History
In the Thillai forests resided a group of saints or ‘rishis’ who believed in the supremacy of magic and that God can be controlled by rituals and’mantras’ or magical words. The Lord strolls in the forest with resplendent beauty and brilliance, assuming the form of ‘Pitchatanadar’, a simple mendicant seeking alms. He is followed by his Grace and consort who is Lord Vishnu as Mohini. The rishis and their wives are enchanted by the brilliance and the beauty of the handsome mendicant and his consort. On seeing their womenfolk enchanted, the rishis get enraged and invoke scores of ‘serpents’ (Sanskrit: Nāga) by performing magical rituals. The Lord as the mendicant lifts the serpents and dons them as ornaments on his matted locks, neck and waist. Further enraged, the rishis invoke a fierce tiger, which the Lord skins and dons as a shawl around his waist.Thoroughly frustrated, the rishis gather all their spiritual strength and invoke a powerful demon Muyalakan a symbol of complete arrogance and ignorance. The Lord wearing a gentle smile, steps on the demon’s back, immobilizes him and performs the Ánanda Thaandava (the dance of eternal bliss) and discloses his true form. The rishis surrender, realizing that this Lord is the truth and he is beyond magic and rituals.
The Chidambara Ragasiyam
“Secret of Chidambaram” is a Hindu belief that there is a secret message conveyed through the embossed figure near the shrine of Shiva in Chidambaram temple.
Since ancient times, it is believed that this is the place where Lord Shiva and Parvathi are present, but are invisible to the naked eyes of normal people. In the Chidambaram temple of Lord Nataraja, Chidambara Ragasiyam is hidden by a curtain (Maya). Darshan of Chidambara Ragasiyam is possible only when priests open the curtain (or Maya) for special poojas. People who are privileged to have a darshan of Chidambara Ragasiyam can merely see golden vilva leaves (Aegle Marmelos) signifying the presence of Lord Shiva and Parvathi in front of them. It is also believed that devout saints can see the Gods in their physical form, but no such cases have been officially reported.
The phrase “Chidambara Ragasiyam” really means something different. The pharse literally means a secret associated to Chidambaram the place. Behind this is a real meaning to a secret. As described above there is a particular curtain kind of curtain which when removed enables us viewing the secret. The real significance of doing so is that, when the curtain which is “maya” is removed one can see his real self. And the seeing of oneself removing the curtain of maya is viewing the secret. According to legend, “Chidambara Ragasiyam” will never be revealed as it is the secret relating to a particular person who sees it removing the screen of “maya”. In the temple, when the poojas are performed and the screen is removed, one will be able to see the secret only when he applies this to his mind and soul.