Spiritual Destinations: Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram
I have started a five set series of posts on being tagged by my beautiful and very talented wife, Archana, to write picture posts. This series is about the 5 spiritual places that I would like to visit with Archana. This is the second one on Chidambaram Temple in Tamil Nadu.
Once upon a time, on the Eastern coast of Tamil Nadu there was a dense and almost impenetrable forest of Thillai trees. This forest had a beautiful lotus pond and at its southern end under a banyan tree was a Swayambhu Lingam, a lingam that formed on its own without any handiwork of humans. Two of the greatest Yogis to have walked the planet – Vyagrapada and Patanjali – came to this place. Both established their hermitage in this forest, Patanjali at Ananteeswaram and Vyaghrapada at Tirupuleeswaram in Chidambaram.
They both did their Sadhana for witnessing Shiva in his dancing glory. It is said that the local guardian deity – Kalki Devi – interfered with their Sadhana. The lore has it that Shiva challenged Kalki to a dance contest because of this. In what followed – the Urdhva Tandavam – Shiva lost his earrings. He not only retrieved them but didn’t let anyone know of the fact that he had lost them and then retrieved them too. Shiva eventually defeated Kalki. After defeating Kalki, on a Thursday in the Tamil month of Tai, when the moon was in Pushan, Shiva performed the Ananda Tandavam or the Dance of Bliss – in front of the two Sages, several other Rishis and the local Goddess Shivakama Sundari.
It is also said that Nandi, Shiva’s carrier did not allow Patanjali to witness Shiva. In order to tease Nandi while praising Shiva, Patanjali then wrote an impromptu poem without using any extended (Dirgha) syllables, or in other words without Charana and Shringa i.e. leg and horn! Shiva gave him a darshan and danced to the tune of Patanjali’s song.
Spiritual Significance of the Chidambaram Temple
The temple has been consecrated by Sage Patanjali. Why is that important? Because Patanjali was no ordinary being. As Sadhguru explains:
Patanjali is known as the “Father of Modern Yoga.” He did not invent yoga. Yoga was already there in various forms, which he assimilated into a system. The Yoga Sutras were written by him. If you look at Patanjali, as an enlightened being he can’t be more enlightened than someone else. There is no such thing. Realization is realization. But Patanjali as a man and above all as an intellect, the breadth of his understanding of life is so big that you cannot believe that this is possible in one human being. He is absolutely incredible and almost “not human.”
After him, Patanjali prepared people whom he gave proper processes to conduct, to make sure the temple’s energy was kept up. Till this day, some of those processes are carried on.
In South, over many centuries five temples were built – one for each of the Panch Bhutas, or the five elements. Chidambaram is the temple for Akasha or Space.
Why are the Panch bhutas so important? Let us again get it from Sadhguru.
What you call “myself” is just a mischief of these five elements. If you want to realize the full potential of this mechanism that you call a human being or if you want to transcend this one and become one with the larger, cosmic mechanism, you need their cooperation. Unless you have a certain amount of mastery over these five elements you can neither know the pleasure of the individual self nor the blissfulness of the cosmic being.
The fundamental sadhana in yoga to gain mastery over these five elements or to purify the elements in the system in such a way that they cooperate, is referred to as bhuta shuddi. If these five elements don’t cooperate, you can struggle as much as you want, nothing happens. Only with their cooperation, from the basic aspects to the highest aspect, your life becomes a possibility. This human system is like a doorway.
The Chidambaram Temple is built for the Akasha, the space.
The temple is spread over 51 acres and has four towers on the four sides of the temple. Each tower is 135 ft and has 7 stories each with a 13 copper kalasam. The entrance of the base of these towers is large rising to 40 ft. The outer perimeter of the temple is about 30 ft high enclosing the outer passage (Veedhi) and Inner Enclosures (Praharam).
As one enters the temple proper through the east entrance, and goes down the 21 steps to the main temple, one can see two Purusha Mukha (human-faced), or Purusha Mriga (human-beast) on a raised platform. They have a lion’s body and human faces with full manes around it. They are sitting in an upright, watchful position. People burn lamps near them.
Directions and Locations
Chidambaram is around 250 km from Chennai in Tamil Nadu and is reachable by road and rail. It is on the rail route of Chennai and Trichy about halfway on the route. You can also get buses from all the major Tamil Nadu towns to the temple.