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Cidambaram
 


Cidambaram Temple in South India played important role in the lives of many saints and poets. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu also visited this place during His travels 500 years ago. "Cid" means "human thinking" or "consciousness" and "ambaram" means "expanding skies". "Cidambaram" means something like "expanding consciousness".

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Cidambaram is a home of famous Sabhanayaka Nataraja, Shiva as the „Celestial Dancer”. The temple was built by Vira Chola Raj also known as Simhavarman in 10th century. Before he became crowned king, he suffered prolonged disease. While touring the country, he came to a hunter who told him about self-manifested Shiva-linga in Tallai forest - Cidambaram.

3 times bigger image in new window Simhavarman went there and met Vyaghrapad and Patanjali sages. They told him to bathe in sacred lake Shivagangi (presently the large tank on the north side of the temple) and to worship Shiva-linga to get rid of the disease. He did so and his disease was immediately cured. His body complexion also became golden yellow and from this time on he was also known as Himayavarman. After coronation he returned to this forest and with great wealth built a temple for Lord Shiva and other Gods who witnessed Shiva's dance in past ages.
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His successors continued the worship and additional construction of the area. King Krishnadev Raj from Vijayanagar for instance reconstructed the whole complex in 1520.

But the history of this holy place is much older...

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Kali was once the patron of the goddess of the Tallai Forest and she didn't like Shiva's presence in the forest. Therefore she challenged him for dancing conquest and the loser had to leave the forest. Lord Vishnu was the judge. Kali was dancing beautifully, but only to the point when Shiva began his ananda-tandavam dance. When she saw it, she didn't wait for the decision, turned red and left. Vishnu declared Shiva to be the best dancer in the universe. Nataraja is Lord Shiva as "Master of Celestial Dancers" and his dance form "ananda-tandava" with one leg up and four arms became the model for many other Deities and statues all over the world (image).

3 times bigger image in new window Cidambaram is according to Puranas the place where Shiva manifested his joyful form of the dancer (paramanantha) many centuries ago.
3 times bigger image in new window The temple is monumental and attractive also because of its almost 50 m high gopurams (temple towers or domes).
3 times bigger image in new window East and West gopurams are decorated with 108 Shiva statues in classical dancing postures. Shiva is said to invent 108 dancing styles and "tandava" is the most famous.
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The Cidambaram Temple is unique because from one place in the sanctum one can have darshan of Nataraja and Vishnu at the same time. Near the main Shiva's temple there is a smaller Govindaraj (Vishnu) Temple and Deities of Partha Sarathi are also worshipped there.

From this we can see that Vaishnavas can offer respect to Lord Shiva and Shaivities can respect Lord Vishnu and both communities can live peacefully next to each other.

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The temple complex covers 13 hectares and it is located in the center of the city. One can see also a hall of 1000 monolith granite pillars, which is opened only at certain times of the year. The priests worship also another aspects of Lord Shiva including his angry form; there is sanctum of Nandi, Shiva's bull carrier, and one of the biggest Deities of Ganesh, Shiva's son.

3 times bigger image in new window We can see also sculptures of two Shiva's devotees: sage Patanjali in snake body and Vyaghrapada in human body with tiger's legs and the svayambhu-linga, which they worshipped. On their request Shiva agreed to accept worship in this form for the benefit of the world and his devotees.
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In Cidambaram we can see practically how local people can live in peace and harmony in today's world of changes. 300 families are employed in the temple to help with its functioning. Puja (worship) is done strictly according the Vedic rites and brahmanas (priests) receive no salary for their service. The temple holds several festivals a year, but most important is, of course, Shiva ratri, lasting 10 days.

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Western visitors can watch ceremonies and take pictures of almost everything except the Deities, but entrance to inner sanctum is granted to born Hindus only. But some devotees from the West managed to make friends with the priest and see it. The priest also serves as a guides and it may be beneficial hire one.

3 times bigger image in new window Each Friday Nataraja takes a ride on the palanquin around the temple along the procession with torches and tridents. This is taking place in the evening just before closing.
Cidambaram is 68 km from the coast.

English texts, selection of images, design:
Tattva-darsi das
Most texts are based on the information from Jada Bharata's book Holy Places of India,
which contains many additional information useful for travelers. It can be found on:
www.spiritualguides.net

Photographs from their travels:
Radha-raman das and Pavan-suta das

 


Published:
March 2002
 
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