The first image that comes to mind at the mere mention of the Chidambaram is the majestic (Nataraja) temple town and the religious specialty attached to it. The sense of consciousness one feels in the town, and the architectural excellence depicted, is divine and symbolic. It is here that Lord Shiva as Nataraja, the Dancing Shiva is believed to have performed the cosmic dance. The Nataraja is one of the most celebrated images of any Hindu deity, renowned widely across all of India and all over the world.
Situated about 240 KM south of the capital city of Chennai on about 10 KM inland of the Coromandel Coast, is reputed to be sacred place and one of the holiest of all Shiva temples in South India. In the centre of the town stands the grandiose Nataraja Temple spreads over 40 acres, with its four gopurams (tower gates) towering over the town and is visible from a long distance.
Chidambaram is synonymous with exquisite Nataraja Temple. Its origin dates back to the Chola reign from AD 907 to 1310; and the Nataraja Temple was built during the latter part of Chola administration. Coastal plain along the Coromandel Coast south of Pondicherry is a highly fertile delta of Cauvery River and is famous for its intensely green rice field that has been farmed since ancient times. This fertile Cauvery delta formed the heartland of the Chola Empire, which reached its pinnacle of glory in the period between 10th and 14th centuries during which they stamped their influence on religious art, cultural richness and the sheer scale on profession of architectural creation.
A visit to the Nataraja Temple affords a fascinating glimpse into ancient Tamil religious practice and belief and the huge temple complex with its majestic gopurams speak testimony to the splendid specimens of the Chola architecture. A visitor approaches at the temple main entrance through the east gopuram, off East Car street, is bound to overwhelmed by the exquisitely sculptures of 108 different dance postures of the classical dance form, Bharatnatyam inside the gopuram corresponding to the descriptions in the Sanskrit treatise, NATYA SHASTRA. The west gopuram also has similar carved figures.
The Nataraja and Parvati are enshrined in the sanctum (known as chit sabha), and the roof of sanctum is covered with golden plates. Five silver plated steps lead to the chit sabha representing five syllables of the Shiva mantra “na-ma-si-va-ya”. It is unique in the sense that it is the only temple where Shiva is worshiped as an idol rather than the customary Lingam. To the right of Nataraja in the sanctum there is an empty space, covered with a silk curtain and is lifted during the time of worship, is believed to symbolize the void (or space) is known as Rahasayam (mystery). It is considered as a formless manifestation of Shiva –representing the deity is an empty space. The temple is also unique in that it has both Shiva and Vishnu sanctums near each other.
Chidambaram’s Nataraja Temple draws thousands of pilgrims, worshipers and visitors from all around the world. The annual 5-day Natyanjali festival in February/March attracts dancers to celebrate and pay their tribute to Lord Nataraja. The place is a living testimony of ancient astrological and geological knowledge. It is the center point of world’s magnetic equator and is said to be the centre of Universe.
Chidambaram is also home to Annamalai University established in 1929 and located on the eastern outskirts of the town.
Another source of attraction for the visitors is the Pichavaram forest, located 15 KM east of town which is an area of backwaters fringed by mangroves with rare species of flora and fauna – a paradise for nature-lovers.
Chidamabaram is an extremely friendly and safe town. It has all the facilities for modern lifestyles. There seems to be something for everyone in the town. A visit to this place would definitely leave everyone with memories that will not fade away over time.