The boundless Shakti present in Chidambaram helps our consciousness to come out of its slumber and start the regeneration process.
Aarkesh is a BTech and MTech Dual Degree holder in the field of Mechanical Engineering. He loves to travel, engage with new people and read up on subjects such as history, physics and maths. He is enthusiast about the depth of Indic knowledge systems and has a special interest in Indian Architecture and Philosophy
In life, everything happens in cycles and the same is the case with cosmic order. There is creation, sustenance, and destruction. Then there is regeneration. Destruction is nothing but the cleansing process that is needed before creation begins. The form of Shiva who performs this cosmic dance to destroy the unnecessary elements and restore Dharma, which is an essential step to start the creation process, is Lord Nataraja.
Lord Nataraja idols can be found in many places but the most famous of his idols is found in Chidambaram, the land of the Thillai trees, music, dance, architecture and many great saints. Chidambaram is a Sandhi of two words, Chitta (consciousness) and Ampalam (atmosphere) thus conveying that Chidambaram is the place where even the atmosphere has a consciousness. Chidambaram also houses the Thillai Nataraja Temple which happens to be the Aakasha Lingam among the Pancha Bhuta Lingas. The Pancha Bhuta Lingas represent the five elements and various forms of Shiva lording over them. The Aakasha Lingam represents space. And space in Hindu tradition represents nothingness which is what the Brahman is supposed to be.
The Aakasha signifies the empty space upon which all else rests and upon which all creation happens. It represents the true unmanifest form of the Brahman. In this great temple, it is represented by Golden Vilva leaves. Vilva leaves being special to Shiva are thought to have attained higher forms of consciousness and are the closest to nothingness that can be perceived by the human senses. It is also said that the realized souls can see Bhagwan Shiva and Mata Parvati in place of the Vilva leaves. These leaves are placed in the sanctum sanctorum behind a screen and are shown to the public only six times each day for a few minutes. I was lucky to have Darshan of these leaves two times on a single day in my only visit to the Thillai Nataraja Temple.
In the past few years, I have wanted to visit as many places of religious and historic significance as I can, as I think that these places have wonderful meaning and exquisite architecture. And not having been able to visit the erstwhile capital of the Cholas and the land of Nataraja was irking me a lot. So a flying trip to Tamil Nadu was planned with exactly one day reserved in the itinerary to visit the land of the Thillai.
A tiring bus journey from Chennai in the scorching April heat was undertaken and a willing accomplice was found. We wanted to witness the grace of Shiva and the beauty of the Mangroves. After reaching Chidambaram at 3 PM on a Sunday afternoon, we made our way straight to Pichavaram to admire the mangroves. A boat ride was hired and a beautiful one-hour session of nature admiration was in store. The beauty of Pichavaram is that the trees here grow in the saline water and their roots are above the ground as if to represent the cyclic nature of creation and destruction.
Ages ago, the entire area around Chidambaram was had been covered by dense mangrove forests. The Thillai tree was the most feared and powerful, its milk so poisonous that its mere contact can blind people, and the most sought after in the forest. The Sages and Tantriks who inhabited this forest had mastered nature and even the Gods were subservient to them. This caused their ego to grow and they felt that they were above all beings in the universe. This is when the Destroyer of all evil took it upon himself to teach them a lesson and destroy their ego. Shiva with his consort Mohini (an incarnation of Vishnu) casually roamed around the forest and defeated the arrogant Sages, making them his Bhaktas in the process. Thus, the destroyer had destroyed ego with the help of the preserver to, preserve Dharma. This back-story is essential for one to appreciate the real beauty of these Tsunami-preventing mangroves and luckily our boatman helped us understand the significance of this local legend.
After the visit to the Mangroves, we were really tired. It was six-o-clock in the evening and the scorching heat had made our bodies bereft of any energy. Thus we needed our Shakti back and for this, the ideal place to visit was the Thillai Kali Amman temple. The temple is relatively humble as compared to the majestic Nataraja Temple but is famous for its healing powers. As any other Shakti Sthala, the temple oozes energy and the scent of the divine Kumkum powder leaves you spellbound. Once we paid obeisance to Mata Parvati we were on our way to visit the home of the King of Dance (Nataraja).
We entered the Temple through the North Entrance and went straight to the massive Devi Temple. This Temple in itself would be larger than most temples built in modern India. But here it is just a part of a massive temple complex. The Temple has various paintings and sculptures ranging from 17th Century Vijayanagara Sculptures narrating the story of how Shiva and Mohini crushed the pride of the Sages to paintings describing the lives of people & festivals observed in the Temple. Paintings illustrating the Devi Mahyatmiyam were also a part of the courtyard in this temple but had to be removed due to their dilapidated condition following many years of Dravidian and British neglect. All forms of Devi Shivakamasundari, namely the Icha Shakti (Power of will). Jnana Shakti (Power of Knowledge), Kriya Shakti (Power of Doing) and Karuna Shakti (Power of Compassion) are incorporated in the shrine. Praying to these various Shaktis while being centered in the stillness of Shiva helps one gain all these attributes without losing a sense of centered being. Thus the concept of Shiva, the core Being or Chitta and Shakti, the life-giving force is fundamental to Hindu interpretations of cosmic order.
As you walk southwards you come across the temple tank called the Sivaganga or the place with water as pure as the Ganga itself. The tank is currently closed but a dip in the water helps one start his journey towards attaining the inner Brahman by purifying the inner and outer self. A walk towards the West leads you to the Vinayaka temple. Lord Vinayaka’s vigraha is massive and he sits there telling us to take his permission and blessings to meet his father and start our journey towards realizing our true self. While we were admiring the beauty of the giant Vinayaka, bells started tolling and we were told that the 5th time Pooja had just begun and that we should witness it.
So we rushed to the main Sanctum Sanctorum just in time to witness the Abhishekam of the Spatika (Quartz) Lingam. The Spatika signifies the transparent pureness of the Chitta. The Abhisheka of this Lingam is done by different priests on each day. It is to give different people the opportunity to attain Brahman through worship. After this, there is an Abhisheka performed for the Nataraja Moorthy and finally, the Chidambara Rahsyam, i.e. the Golden Vilva leaves signifying space are shown.
The entire layout of the Temple is such that you first get Shakti in your Being to allow it to act in a Dharmic manner followed by a holy dip that purifies you. This followed by you getting permission to enter the hall where the Lord of Destruction destroys the evil within you by first showing his pure form, followed by the cosmic dance. At the end those who are realized enough get a chance to see the true Self-manifest as Shiva and Parvati. The rest of us leave with our souls slightly more purified and our path redirected slightly towards Brahm Vidya. Just as the Thillai trees’ roots come out of the sand to regenerate, a visit to Chidambaram helps our consciousness to come out of its slumber and help start the regeneration process.
Note – Please join the fight to free our temples to see great temples like Thillai Nataraja Temple maintained by people who really care about the architectural and Adyatmic value these temples bring to us.