ta The Nectar of Thiruppugazh: The Significance and The Secret of Chidambaram

Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Significance and The Secret of Chidambaram

Pancha Bhuta Sthalas are the five temples in South India, built for each of the five elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space. Geographically, they are all within the Deccan Plateau – four in Tamil Nadu and one in Andhra Pradesh. The temple for

  1. water is in Thiruvanaikaval
  2. fire is in Thiruvannamalai
  3. air is in Kalahasti
  4. earth is in Kanchipuram
  5. space is in Chidambaram

Chidambaram is one of the most ancient, historic and culturally significant shrine in India. It is associated with Nataraja or Shiva, doing the Cosmic Dance of Bliss expressing the rhythm and harmony of life. It represents the exuberance of creation, which self-created itself from the eternal stillness. The Cosmic Dance is a symbolic representation of the five-fold activities of God - Creation, Preservation, Destruction, Veiling (Maya) and Blessing. Shiva, in the form of Bhikshatana, enacted this dance after His victory over the married ascetics of Daruka Vanam.

Chidambaram is one of the five dance Halls of Shiva (Kanaka sabhai). The other four are Madurai (Velli sabhai), Tiruvalankadu (Ratna sabhai), Tirunelveli (Tamra sabhai) and Kutralam (Chitra sabhai).

The word Chidambaram may be derived from chit, meaning "consciousness", and ambaram, meaning "sky"; it refers to the chidaakasam, the sky of consciousness. 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.

The Five Sabhas


There are 5 sabhas halls:
  1. the Chit sabhai, which is the sanctum sanctorum housing Lord Nataraja and his consort Goddess Shivakama Sundari. The Chit Sabha and Kanaka Sabha are at the core of the Nataraja temple.
  2. the Kanaka sabhai – in front of the Chitsabhai, where the daily rituals are conducted
  3. the Nrithya sabhai or Natya sabhai, to the south of the temple's flag mast (or kodi maram / dwaja sthambam) where the Lord is said to have danced with Goddess Kali and established His supremacy
  4. the Raja sabhai or the 1000-pillared hall which symbolizes the yogic chakra of thousand pillared lotus or Sahasraram (a 'chakra' at the crown of the head, represented as a 1000-petalled lotus, a seat where the soul unites with God.
  5. the Deva sabhai, which houses the Pancha moorthis (namely the deities of Lord Ganesh - the remover of hurdles, Lord Somaskanda, a form where the Lord is in a seated posture with his grace and consort, the Lord's consort Sivananda nayaki, the Lord Muruga and the deity of Chandikeswarar).

Chidambara Rahasyam: The Secret of Space

We experience the Element Space as empty, but when properly understood, it is full. Akasha/ether means to be bright, shining, visible. The Taittiriya Upanishad states “akasha sharira Brahma”, which means that the ether is the embodiment of the eternal spirit, and from the Akasha, other gross elements, Air, Fire, Water and Earth, take shape. Thus, the seemingly empty space is not empty, but is everything.

The Akasha Linga is invoked through a yantra. A curtain, black on the outside (ignorance/maya) and red on the inside (jñana, wisdom/realization) covers the space. It is held aside by the officiating Deekshithar to reveal the strings of golden vilva leaves signifying that once the veil of maya is lifted, one will be blessed with the Grace of the Lord.

Significance of The Temple Design

The layout and architecture of the temple is replete with philosophical meanings. The temple architecture is closely linked with the human body. According to the Hindu conceptualization, universe is in the form of Virat Purusha and Chidambaram temple is considered His heart. The temple has 9 gateways signifying the 9 orifices (namely 2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 ears, mouth, rectum, genitals) in the human body.

Just as the human heart is not at its centre, the Nataraja statue is also slightly shifted to the side. One can notice this if you view the statue from within the two horns of the Nandikeshvara (Shiva’s vehicle). Also, one can notice that the entrance paths to the sanctum sanctorum are not straight as is the case in most of the temples. Instead, entrance paths are through the sides representing the fact that human blood circulates only through the sides of the heart and not straight.

The five pillars of the Chit Sabha indicates the five senses. The Ponnambalam or the Sanctum sanctorum is held by 28 pillars – representing the 28 agamas for the worship of Lord Shiva. The roof is held by a set of 64 beams representing the 64 forms of art, and is held by several cross-beams representing the innumerable blood vessels. The roof has been laid by 21600 golden tiles with the word SIVAYANAMA inscribed on them representing 21600 breaths. The golden tiles are fixed using 72000 golden nails which represents the no. of nadis exists in human body. The roof is topped by a set of nine sacred pots or kalasas.

The idol of Nataraja is enshrined in the Chit sabha. This gold-roofed stage in the sanctum sanctorum of the Chidambaram temple houses the Lord in three forms:

  1. the "form" - the anthromorphological form as an appearance of Lord Nataraja, called the Sakala thirumeni.
  2. the "semi-form" – the semi-anthropomorphological form as the Crystal linga of Chandramouleswarar, the Sakala nishkala thirumeni. The Aakasa Lingam is an embodiment of formless Space.
  3. the "formless" – as the Space in Chidambara Rahasyam, an empty space within the sanctum sanctorum, the Nishkala thirumeni, emphasizing that there is everything in nothing. This shrine remains curtained. This is considered to cover the Akasa Lingam, which is invisible, and only a Prabha or circular arch and a Vel (spear) with a golden Bilva mala vilva (Aegle Marmelos) leaves are worshipped. The five silver-plated steps leading to the shrine represent the Panchakshara mantram - Na ma si va ya. The doors carry embossed images of the saints Vyagrapada and Patanjali. Both these saints had been blessed with the sight of the cosmic dance of Shiva. Lord Vishnu also is said to have witnessed this scene.

In front of the garbha griha is the Kanaka Sabha (Ponnambalam) and the sanctum is adorned by a gold-plated roof. Devi Sivakama Sundari is enshrined by the side of the sanctum.

The famous Raja Sabha is in the Thousand-pillared Hall. Saivite poet Sekkizhar first recited his Periya Puranam in this hall. Chola and Pandya kings used to hold victory celebrations here. The Nritta Sabha shows the Urdhwa Thandavam of the Lord. Its gopurams are covered with sculptures illustrating the 108 postures of Natya Shastra.

The Deva Sabha was used by the then administrators to hold meetings and festivals.

Interestingly, Chidambaram is the Geo Magnetic Centre of the Earth/Universe. The temple is the site of the Original Cosmic Lingam and the shrine is supposed to be located at the Lotus heart of the Virat Purusha (Virat Hridaya Padma Sthalam). The Heart-lotus is the still centre out of which emerges the primal dance of creation in the form of Siva's dance of bliss. The sushumna nadi passes directly through Tillai, with the ida and pingala nadi passing through north and south of Chidambaram. Chidambaram, Kanchipuram and Sri Kalahasti lie in a straight line at 79* 41 East Longitude.

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