Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram : Chidambaram is the seat of the cosmic dancer Nataraja (Ananda Tandava pose ; the Cosmic Dance of bliss). It is one of the Pancha (five) Bhutasthalas. Chidambaram is the Akasa sthalam - Space. The other four are at Kanchipuram (Prithvi sthalam - Earth), Tiruvanaikaval (Appu sthalam - Water), Kalahasti (Vayu sthalam - Air) & Tiruvannamalai (Thejo sthalam - Fire). The temple was in vogue for centuries,but its known glory in records begins with the visit of Hiranya Chakravarthi of Kashmir around 500 A.D. The king is said to have been cured of his leprosy with a single dip in the temple pushkarini, Sivaganga thirtham . The four great saiva acharyas Appar, Sambandar, Sundarar and Manikkavachakar are connected with this holy temple and produced master pieces eulogising their respective paths - Charya, Kriya, Yoga and Gnana. This kshetra is said to have given liberation to several hundreds of devotees - notable among them are Nandanar, Tirunilakandanayanar, Vyagrapada, Patanjali.
In the 10th century, the Chola king Parantaka I made rich endowments to the temple, besides providing a golden roof to the Karuvarai. The Cholas, who were devout Saivites made improvements to the temple maintaining its glory. The north Gopuram was built by Krishnadeva Raya and the east Gopuram was built by Sundra Pandyan.
The temple is built of granite on 39 acres of land in the heart of the city. It is surrounded by massive walls with four big tall gopurams in four directions and a big tank called Sivagangal tank measuring 175x100 feet towards the North. The North & South gopurams are 160feet high. The 108 dance postures as seen in the Natya Sastra are sculpted in these towers. It has five principal sabhas known as Kanakasabha, Chit sabha, Nritya sabha, Deva sabha and Raja sabha.
The idol of Nataraja is enshrined in the Chit sabha. Behind this idol, is a black screen, which is considered to cover the Akasa Lingam. There is no Lingam, but we are made to believe that there is an invisible Lingam, with golden vilva garlands, i.e stressing the belief that there is everything in nothing. There are five silver plated steps to reach the Chit Sabha, representing the Panchakshara mantram - Na ma si va ya. The embossed images of the saints Vyagrapada and Patanjali, are to be seen on the doors. Both these saints had been blessed witht the sight of the cosmic dance of Shiva. Lord Vishnu also is said to have witnesses this scene.
The sanctum of Sivakama Sundari lies to the left of Natarajar Sannidhi. The images of Ratnasabhapati (Nataraja of Ruby), the Spatika Lingam of Chandramauleeswara, Swarnakarshana Bhairavar, Mukhalingam are also to be found in the Chitsabha.
In the Kanaka sabha (golden hall) lying adjacent to the Chit Sabha, poojas are offered. The ceiling of these two sabhas are gold plated.
The Nritya Sabha, which is richly sculpted in the form of a chariot drawn by horses houses the images of Nataraja in Urdhava Tandava pose, image of Sarabheswara.
The Deva Sabha is a spacious hall meant for the celebration of important festivals and houses the festival images of the Pancha Murtis (Somaskandar, Parvati, Vinayaka, Subramanya and Chandikeswara) and other deities.
The Raja sabha measuring 103 metres by 58 metres is housed in a 1000 pillared hall in the outermost prakaram. Tradition holds that Sekhizhar recited the Peria Puranam here.
The images of the Saiva saints Appar, Sambandar, Sundarar and Manikkavachakar are placed in the temple entrances through which they entered the temple (Appar - West, Sambandar - South, Sundarar - North and Manikkavachakar - East).
Two annual Bhrammotsavams are celebrated. One in the month of Margazhi, during Arudra Darisanam festival and the second in the month of Aani concluding with Aani Tirumanjanam, when the deities are taken out in procession.