The Nataraja Temple or the Thillai Nataraja temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva is located in the heart of the temple town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. The temple, 78 km south of Pondicherry and 235 Km from Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state of southeastern India. The temple has mythical roots and a Shiva shrine existed at the site when the town was known as Thillai. The temple complex is spread over 50 acres and it is one of the ancient and historic temples dedicated to Lord Shiva Nataraja and Lord Govindaraja Perumal.
It is one among the few temples where both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities are enshrined in one place. It is said that the followers of Shaivism (Saivism) or the saivaite, the very word koil refers to Chidambaram. In the same way, to the followers of Vaishnavism it refers to Srirangam or Thiruvarangam.
The temple was constructed during the 10th Century when Chidambaram used to be the capital of the Chola dynasty. The Cholas considered Lord Shiva as Nataraj as their family deity. It is designed with five concentric Prakaras, Chidambaram represents akasha (sky), Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara,Trichy (water), Kanchi Ekambareswara (earth)Kanchipuram, Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara (fire),Thiruvanna malai and Kalahasti Nathar (wind)
Within the compound are shrines, halls, temples, ornamental gateways, and a large ritual bathing pool, known as a Siva Ganga tank, which is surrounded by covered passages. Various inscriptions claim the site was built by various Pandya kings and local rulers.
The temple shrine is relatively modest as by now in Indian architecture the gopuras had become the most important structures. The twin sacred chamber has been adorned with copper sheets covered in gold by successive Chola kings. The shrine is preceded by a dance hall and Mandapa.
The story of this temple mentions that Sages Patanjali and Vyaghrapada performed penance in the Thillai (mangrove) forest to the Lingam now worshipped as Thirumulanathar to have a darshan of God Nataraja who appeared before them. The dance competition between Shiva and Kali which the former won after performing the Urdhava tandavam is an important part here. Nataraja is seen in this posture in a small sanctum called Nritta Sabha.
This temple is one of the five dance-halls and is called Kanaka Sabha or Ponambalam (hall of gold). The roof of the sanctum was originally covered with gold by Parantaka Chola I in the 10th century CE. Parvati, worshipped as Sivakamasundari is enshrined in a separate large sanctum.
The famous Ananda Tandava Posture:
The Ananda Tandava posture of Lord Shiva is one of the famous postures recognized around the world by many.
- The demon under Nataraja’s feet signifies that ignorance is under his feet
- The Fire in this hand (power of destruction) means destroyer of evil
- The raised hand signifies that he is the savior of all life.
- The Ring at the back signifies the cosmos.
- The drum in his hand signifies the origin of Life.
Although a lot of research and study has been done on this temple, various aspects of the temple still remain a mystery. Many legends are associated with that of the Chidambaram Nataraj Temple.