Thillai Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu is a magnificent Shiva temple. It is the principal temple to Saivites (followers of Shaivam who considers Shiva as the Supreme Being). The temple complex is located at the centre of the city, encompassing an area of 40 acres. The whole temple complex is dedicated for religious purposes only. This temple is built as a tribute to Shiva as a ‘cosmic dancer’ – reverently called as ‘Nataraja’.
Majestically ornamented image of Nataraja is the main feature of the temple. Chidambaram Temple is one of the few temples where Shiva is represented by an anthropomorphic idol rather than the iconic and anionic form of Shiva as lingam. The temple complex also comprises shrines to deities such as Sivakami Amman, Ganesh, Murugan and Vishnu in the form Govindaraja Perumal. It is also one of the few temples where both the Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities are enshrined in one place.
The Sangam classics (literature collection in the history of ancient southern India spanning from c. 300 BCE to 300 CE.) list chief architect Viduvelvidugu Perumthachchan as directing an early renovation of the shrine. There have been several renovations and offerings to Chidambaram by the Pallava, Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagara and Chera royals in the ancient and pre-medieval periods. The temple as it stands now is mainly of the 12th and 13th centuries, with later additions in similar style. Wikipedia
Legend behind the Temple
As per the legend, once lord Shiva was sauntering through the Thillai Vanam – a forest full of Thillai trees (a species of mangrove trees). A group of saints lived in the forest. Their belief was in the supremacy of magic. They thought that even gods could be controlled by rituals and magical chants. Shiva wandered in the forest in disguise of a graceful vagabond. He was accompanied by Mohini, who was lord Vishnu himself. Rishis were attracted towards Mohini, and rishi’s wives were enchanted by the mendicant.
Rishis felt envious when their wives started following the mendicant. They performed some magical rituals and created poisonous snakes. The lord nonchalantly lifted the serpents and wore them as ornaments on his matted locks, neck and waist. Seeing this, rishis were further infuriated and created a fierce tiger. The lord calmly skinned the tiger and wore it as a stole around his waist. The exasperated rishis formed a powerful demon named Muyalakan with their powers. The lord with a smiling face stamped on the demon’s back, and crushed him under his feet. He performed the Ánanda Thaandava (the dance of eternal bliss) and disclosed his true form. Seeing this, rishis realized their fault and accepted that god is beyond their magic and rituals.
The temple is supposed to be located on the spot where Shiva displayed his dance of bliss as Nataraja.
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