In the town of Chidambaram, in the Eastern Central part of Tamil Nadu, is the Thillai Nataraja Temple or better known as the Chidambaram Temple, dedicated Lord Shiva. The temple is considered as foremost temple by the Saivities, and has influenced the architecture, culture and art of Tamil Nadu, for over two millennium. According to the data in Sangam Classics; a piece of Tamil Literature written in the period between 300 BCE and 300CE, the early renovation of the temple was done by chief architect Viduvelvidugu Perumtaccan.
The temple of Lord Shiva, is believed to be present here since the classical period of South India. The temple has been greatly influenced by the different styles of art initiated by Pallava, Pandhya, Chola, Chera, and the Vijayanagara. The current structure of the temple is mainly the part of renovations that had been done in 12th and 13th century, later on certain addition have made in similar style. The stone and bronze statues of various Hindu deities, and the carvings of famous Thilla trees, which can be found in the surrounding forest of the temple, clearly shows the form of art which was followed in the early Chola and Pallava period. The gold pated gopurams in the temple shows the form of architect followed in the medieval period, and is believed to be built in the era of Krishnadvaraya, Aditya I, Kopperunchinga I, Parantaka Chola I and Jatayarman Sundara Pandyan. It is said that, King Kocengannan Chola, was born after his parents offered prayers to this temple, and later when he became the ruler, he renovate the structure of the temple.
The principal deity of the temple is the Thillai Koothan; or known as the Natarajan; representing Lord Shiva as the Lord of dance. Chdambaram I considered as the place where the stone and bronze sculptors of Lord in the form of cosmic dancer was first initiated, and this later on became an important symbol in the Hindu religion. It is also to be noted that, the temple is the only shrine, which represents its main deity in an anthropomorphic form, in the form of Nataraja, which represents Lord Shiva as the as the supreme being, who is the master of all the cosmic activities in the universe. The consort deity in the temple is Shivakami Amman; mother goddess and also a form of female energy. In the inner sanctum there is also other two forms of Lord Shiva placed in it. One of them is a Shiva Lingha made out of crystal, and the other representation is aether, a classic space representation with a garlan of 51 golden vilvam leaves hanging on an empty space. The main idol of Nataraj, is in the pose of Ananda Tandava; the dance of delight. The main deity is placed in a golden hall called Poonambalam. It is said that, the dance form Bharata natyam, has been inspired from the sculptors in Chindabaram temple. the temple is famous for its five famous halls and sculptors of different Hindu deities like Ganesh, Vishnu, Murugan, all of which represents the architectural styles of Pandyan and Nayak. The temple is also famous for its sacred water tanks, which has a direct connection with Thillai Kali Temple.
The legend connected to the temple state that, in the Thillai forest surrounding the temple, lived a group of sages, who practiced magic and believed that, Gods can be controlled by magic and mantras. Into that forest one day walked in Lord Shiva in the form of a Bhikshatana, a mendicant in search for alms, along with his companion Lord Vishnu in his form of Mohini. Lord Shiva was mesmerised by the beauty of the forest and walked deep into it, straight to the village where the sages resided. The wives of the sages were mesmerized by the handsome mendicant and his beautiful consort. Seeing that their wives were enchanted by the mendicant, the sages grew ferocious and using their magic powers they created a group of poisonous snakes to attack the Lord. He lifted the serpents and tied it to his own neck, wrists and waist. The sages then created a tiger, of which the Lord created a shawl and tied to his waist. Then the sages created an elephant, which was killed by the God.
After all their attempts failed the sages created an ignorant demon Muyalakan. The Lord just smiled and steeped back from the demon, immobilizing him, Lord Shiva performed Ananda Tandava, and showed his original form to all the sages. The sages surrendered to the Lord and asked for forgiveness. They realized that, Lord Shiva is the truth and is stronger than all the mantras and magic.
The temple complex of Chindambaram temple covers about40 acres. The main temple complex, which is dedicated to the Nataraja also consist shrines of other deities such as Ganesh, Shivakami Amman, Vishnu and also Murugan. The deity of Vishnu in the temple is in the form of Govindaraj Perumal. The primary structure of the temple was constructed by Perumtaccan. The gol plated roof on the the Chitambalm was donated by Parantaka, the Chola King.
The presence of Govindaraj shrine representing Lord Vishnu, makes the tmple one of the 108 divya desams. It is believed that, King Kulothunga Chola II, uprooted the shrine of Govidaraj from the temple, and then re-established by King Krishnappa Nayak. He faced high resistance from the shaivities on replacing the Govindraj idol in the temple, but he listened to none.
The Chindambaram temple ratha, might be the most beautiful temple ratha in the whole South India. The temple ratha is exhibited twice in the year during the festivals, which attracts thousands of devotees into the temple. The temple is one among the five Pancha Bhootha Sthalam, five places representing the five elements of nature; fire, water, land, air and sky. All the five of these temples are located in South India; one in Andhra Pradesh and other four in Tamil Nadu. In the Chindabaram Temple, the five elements of nature is represented with five Shiva Linghams.
The main festival celebrated in the temple is the Nayanjali, which is celebrated in the month of February every year, during this festival, Bharathanatyam dancers from every part of the country come to the temple to dance as an offering to the Nataraja.
The nearest airport to the temple is located in Pondicherry about 51 km away from the temple. The nearest railway station to the temple is the Chidambaram railway station, and trains are available from all major station to Chidambaram. There are regular services of buses from all the major cities to the temple.