PANCHA BHOOTHA STALAMS
The Pancha Bhoota shrines dedicated to Shiva constitute a set of five Saivite temples in South India held in reverence for centuries. Indigenous belief holds life as a synthesis of the five basic elements (the pancha Bhootams) wind, water, fire, earth and space. Shiva is worshipped as the embodiment of each of the five elements in the vast temples at Sri Kalahasti, Tiruvanaikkaval, Tiruvannamalai, Kanchipuram and Chidambaram. Each of these temples is rich in legend, history, sculptural wealth and festival traditions.
TIRUVANNAMALAI - ARUNACHALESHWARAR - FIRE
SRIKAALAHASTI - AIR
TIRUVANIKKAAVAL - WATER
KANCHEEPURAM - EARTH
CHIDAMBARAM - SKY
TIRUVANNAMALAI - ARUNACHALESHWARAR - FIRE
Tiruvannamalai is one of the greatest Saivite shrines in India, on a sprawling 24 acre temple campus, drawing hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every full moon. The hill here is considered to be a manifestation of Shiva. Tiruvannamalai is one of the Panchabhoota Stalams, here Shiva is as an embodiment of FIRE.
Kartigai Deepam festival here is of great significance. Manikkavacakar composed his Tiruvempavai here.The Paatala Linga shrine is connected with the spritual savant Ramana Maharishi. Arunagiri Nathar began composing his Tiruppukazh here at this temple.
Legend here goes that Shiva assumed the form of a huge column of fire, whose origins Bhramma and Vishnu failed to trace.
Architecture: The 11 tiered East Rajagopuram towers to a height of 217 feet, while the fortified walls pierced with 4 gopura entrances offer a formidable look to this vast temple complex . The Pei Gopuram, Tirumanjana Gopuram and Ammanaiammal gopuram are the other three. The 1000 pillared hall and the temple tank were built by Krishna Deva Rayarar of Vijayanagar. Each of the prakarams has a huge Nandi and several towers such as the Vallala Maharaja Gopuram and Kili Gopuram.
The ancient and vast ArunachaleswararTemple as it stands today is the result of several centuries of building, alteration and extension. A Nandi faces the main shrine in each of its five prakarams. The outermost prakaram houses the thousand pillared hall and the Shiva Ganga tank and is pierced on four sides with colossal Gopurams. The fourth prakaram includes the Bhramma Tirtham, and its eastern gateway Vallala Gopuram holds a statue of King Ballala. The third prakaram which dates back to the 12th century CE has several Linga Shrines, and the Kili Gopura Entrance. In the East side of the prakaram stands the Flag Staff while the Northern side is home to the massive shrine of Unnamulai Amman. The 3rd prakaram surrounds the roofed 2nd prakaram which houses the pantheon of deities associated with Shiva, which in turn surrounds the shrine of Annamalaiyar.
There is an air of deep mysticism around the temple, the hill and its environs and the town itself has been known for its long association with Yogis, Siddhas, the well known spiritual savant Ramana Maharishi and several others. The origin of this temple dates way back in time, although much of the temple structure as seen today, is a result of building activity over the last one thousand years.
An elaborate protocol of worship services marks each day at the Tiruvannamalai temple where about a hundred and fifty people are attached to the temple including priests, musicians, singers, carpenters, potters, washermen, palanquin bearers, garland makers, administrators, guards etc.The day begins with the ceremonial arrival of Ganga to the shrine, from a tank in the Southern part of the town on an elephant through the Southern, Tirumanjana Gopuram.This water cleanses the entrance to the second prakaram, and then the next ritual involving the waking up of Shiva and Parvati in the bedchamber. The Shiva-Meru returns to the Annamalaiyaar shrine while the image of Parvati returns to the Unnamulaiamman shrine. Six other pujas are offered at the temple, the first one at 6 am, and the last one at night where the Shiva Meru and the image of Parvati are processionally brought into the bed chamber.Each service is accompanied by chants of invocation, dedication and praise. In the south west corner of the prakaram, the sacrificial fire ritual takes place, ending with the consecration of vessels of water which are used in the ablution of Annamalaiyaar and Unnamulai Amman.
The celebration of Kartikai Deepam marks the conclusion of the ten day Bhrammotsavam in the month of Kartikai (Scorpio , Nov 15 through December 15). Each of these festival days is marked by the procession of the Pancha Murthys (Somaskandar (Annamalayar), Unnamulaiyaal, Ganapati, Subramanyar and Chandikeswarar) in gaily decorated mounts. Most noteworthy among these are the Rishabha Vahana Utsavam celebrated on the fifth evening of the festival and the Rathotsavam, celebrated on the seventh day of the festival.
Kartikai Deepam is preceeded by the Bharani Deepam celebration when a lamp is lit in the main shrine of the temple following a fire sacrifice before the shrine of Surya. A small bowl of ghee lighted at this fire is used to light five other lamps representing the five aspects of Shiva. Preparations begin for the Kartikai Deepam which is to be celebrated in the afternoon. A group of fishermen carry a portion of this fire inside a container of baked earth to the summit of the mountain where a large copper utensil filled with offerings of ghee and pieces of cloth has been placed.Crowds begin to throng the temple complex, and a discernible order prevails among the crowd as the tens of thousands gathered begin their patient wait for the auspicious moment when the Deepam celebration would reach its peak. In the meanwhile, preparations go on for the afternoon’s climax. Four of the five decorated Pancha Murthys are are brought out from the main shrine of the temple and housed in Vimanams in the 3rd prakaram of the temple, facing the flag staff and the Annamalai Hill. The last to arrive is Annamalaiyar who comes out of the second prakaram, dancing with his consort.The crowd waits to catch a glimpse of the image of Ardhanareeswarar which then brought out of the inner shrine towards the Utsavar Annamalayaar. The image of Ardhanareeswarar is brought out in a gait by the bearers and a deeparadanai is offered to the Utsavar, and at this very instant, the lamp on the hill is lighted as the crowd breaks into a cheer, yet retaining the order that was there when it was just beginning to assemble. The human mass gathered within and around the precincts of the temple, along with the residents of the town and neighboring towns catch sight of the flame atop the Annamalai hill, cherishing the age old belief that it is a representation of Shiva himself, who appeared in the form of a flame whose origins could not be deciphered by the other two of the Trinity namely Bhramma and Vishnu.Keeping with tradition, the inner sanctum doors close, with the arrival of the deepam outside, and it is believed Annamalaiyaar is to be worshipped only as the beacon until the next morning when the shrine is reopened.
SRIKAALAHASTI - KAALAHASTISHWARAR - AIR
This ancient temple dedicated to Shiva is one of the Pancha Bhoota Stalams (temples celebrating Shiva as the embodiment of the primary elements), air being the element in case here.
Kalahasti is located 40kms east of Tirupati and is visited by thousands of pilgrims. This temple is also associated with Rahu and Ketu.
This temple has been referred to in pre-Christian Tamil literature. The Tamil Saivite saints of the 1st millennium CE have visited this temple and sung its fame. The adjoining hill Dakshina Kailasam has many a fine Pallava carving.
The Tamil Cholas and the Vijayanagara Rulers have made several endowments to this temple. Adi Sankara is said to have visited this temple and offered worship here. There are Chola inscriptions in this temple which date back to the 10th century CE.
The Telugu poem 'Sri Kalahasti Satakam' explains the traditions associated with this temple.Muthuswamy Deekshitar, one of the foremost composers in the Karnatic Music Tradition has sung the glory of this temple in his kriti 'Sree Kaalahasteesa'.
Other works on this temple include the Sree-Kalattipuranam of the three brothers Karunapprakasar, Sivapprakasar and Velappa Deekshitar, Tirukkalattipuranam by Aanandakoottar of Veerainagar and Tirukkalatti Ula by Seraikkavirayar.
Architecture: The vast west facing Kalahastiswara temple is built adjoining a hill, and on the banks of the river Swarnamukhi. At some points, the hill serves as the wall of the temple. The temple prakarams follow the contour of the adjoining hill and hence the temple plan is rather irregular. North of the temple is the Durgambika hill, south is the Kannappar hill and east is the Kumaraswamy hill.
Krishnadevaraya built a huge gopuram, a few feet away from the entrance to the temple. The entrance to the temple is crowned with a smaller tower. There is an underground Ganapati shrine in the outer prakaram, while in the innermost prakaram are the shrines of Shiva and Parvati.
The present structure of the temple is a foundation of the Cholas of the 10th century, as testified by inscriptions; improvements and additions were made during the subsequent years of the Chola rulers of Tamilnadu and the Vijayanagar emperors.
Legends: Lord Shiva is said to have given salvation to a spider, elephant and a serpent who were ardent devotees of the Shiva Lingam located here. The spider is said to have attained salvation in Kritayuga (the first of the four yugas in the Hindu tradition), while the elephant and the snake were devotees in Treta Yugam, the succeeding aeon. The elephant's devotional outpouring was a source of disturbance to the serpent's display of devotion and vice versa, resulting in animosity between the two, until Shiva's intervention gave both the devotees their liberation.
Kannappa Nayanaar/Bedara Kannappa, a hunter is said to have been a great devotee of Kalahasteeswarar. Legend has it that he offered his own eyes to the Shivalingam, and for this reason earned the name Kannappan (his original name being Thinnan), and the distinction of having his statue adorn the sanctum. Nakkiradevar, Indra, Rama, Muchukunda and others are believed to have worshipped Shiva at this temple.
Festivals: Maha Shivaratri which occurs in the Tamil month of Maasi (Feb 15 through March 15) is one of the greatest festival seasons here, and the celebrations are marked by processions of the deities. The fifth day of the festival in the month of Maasi coincides with the Maha Shivaratri.
TIRUVANIKKAAVAL - JAMBUKESHWARAR - WATER
This well visited Shivastalam located in the vicinity of Tiruchirappalli and Srirangam This is one of the most revered temples to Shiva, it is a panchabootha stalam, here Shiva as an embodiment of Water.
Legends: There is said to have been a forest of Jambu trees near the Chandrateertha tank (filled with the water of the Kaveri) here and Shiva is said to have appeared under one of the trees as a Shiva Lingam. Legend has it that two devotees of Shiva were born under the influence of a curse as a white elephant and a spider. The elephant worshipped Shiva with flowers and water brought in its trunk (hence the name Tiru Aanaikka).
The spider worshipped the Lingam by spinning a web on top, to protect it from falling leaves. The elephants worship would destroy the spiders web, and the spiders web amounted to desecration in the eyes of the elephant leading to animosity between the two, of such proportion that a fight between them resulted in the death of both.
The spider was born again in the royal Chola family (in Uraiyur - during the Sangam period). An interesting tale is associated with his birth. His parents Subhadeva and Kamalavati prayed to Nataraja of Chidambaram for a male successor. The royal astrologer is said to have predicted an auspicious time for the birth of a successor who would be a ruler of great fame. The hour of birth approached sooner though and the royal queen bade her attendants to tie her legs and hang her upside down, with the aim of delaying the birth of the child. She achieved her objective although the royal offspring was born with reddened eyes, earning for himself the name 'Chenkannan' - the red eyed one. In his life time Ko Chenkannan is said to have been built several elevated temples - out of reach of elephants, keeping with the legend of his animosity with an elephant in his previous birth.
The stala vriksham is said to have grown out of a munivar, who offered his worship to Shiva.Akhilandeswari (Parvati) is said to have meditated upon Shiva here, and her shrine here, is considered to be of great significance.
It is believed that Akhilandeswari was originally an Ugra Devata of great fury, and Adi Sankaracharyar is said to have converted the fiery energy of the deity into a manifestation of peace. Shrines to Vinayaka and Subramanya face Akhilandeswari.
History: This temple has records of patronage from the Chola Pandya, Hoysala and the Madurai Naik kings. The temple is said to have been built by the Chola King Ko Chenkannan and it was of special significance to the Chola kings. Ko Chenkannan is praised by tamil literature for having built more than seventy temples - and he is historically placed in the Sangam period (the very early years of the Christian era). Inscriptions from the tenth century AD testify to later Chola patronage. The Hoysalas who had a base near Samayapuram (near Tiruchi) built four temples in Northern Tiruvanaikkaval (Vallaleeswaram, Padmaleswaram, Narasimheswaram and Somaleswaram). The Pandyas and the Hoysalas contributed to the Eastern tower.
Adi Sankara is said to have visited the Akhilandeswari shrine. He is said to have adorned her with ear-rings bearing the symbol of the chakram. There is a shrine to Adi Sankara in this temple.
The Temple: This is a vast temple (18 acres) with lofty gopurams, 5 prakarams and ornate mandapams. The second and third prakarams date back to the 13th century. The dwajasthampa mandapam has grand sculptural work. There is an image of Ekapada Trimurthy representing the unity of Bhrama Vishnu and Shiva in this temple.
The Akhilandeswari shrine is located in the fourth prakaram. The Eastern tower with seven levels has fine sculptural specimen of musical scenes, while the Western tower has nine levels. The first prakaram has been renovated in this century.
Festivals: Annual festivals here include the Pankuni Bhrammotsavam, Vasanta Utsavam, the float festival in Thai (Capricorn) , Aadi Pooram (Cancer) and the Pancha Prakara festival.
KANCHEEPURAM - EKAMBARESHWARAR - EARTH
This is one of the most revered temples to Shiva, HERE Shiva is present as an embodiment of Earth. It is a vast temple with many an endowment from the Vijayanagar rulers, as seen in the long corridors, towering gopurams and mandapams. This is the 1st of the 32 Tevara Stalams in the Tondai region of South India.
There are several Shiva temples scattered all over Kanchipuram, and it is to be noted that there is no separate shrine for Parvati in any of them. The Kamakshiamman temple is the only Ambal shrine in Kanchipuram.In Kanchi, the Ekambreswarar, Kamakottam temples with Kumarakottam in between denote Somaskandar.
History: This vast temple with high rising Gopurams dominates the skyline of Kanchipuram the historic capital of the Pallavas. Kanchipuram - a temple town is considered to be the foremost among the seven prime pilgrimage centers in India. Along with Mamallapuram and Tirukkalunkunram, this town attracts the attention of several tourists in Chennai. Also in Kanchipuram is the grand Varadarajar temple along with several other temples revered by the tamil hymns of the Alwars of the 1st millennium.
The Pallavas, Cholas and the Vijayanagar Kings especially Krishna Deva Raya have contributed to this temple. Second century AD Tamil poetry speaks of Kamakottam, and the Kumarakottam (currently the Kamakashi Amman temple and the Subramanya temple). Tiruvacakam, Tirukkovaiyaar, Kanchipuranam, Manimekalai etc. speak of the glory of Kanchi the city.The existing structure then, was pulled down and rebuilt by the Pallava Kings. The Cholas who came in later also made several contributions to the temple.
Architecture: The temple covers an area of over 40 acres. The Raja Gopuram or the entrance tower to the temple which rises to a height of 172 feet was built by the Vijayanagar Monarch Krishnadevaraya. The pillared hall in front of the sanctum was also built by the Vijayanagar Kings.
Deities: The presiding deity here is Ekambareswarar or Shiva, worshipped as the Prithivi Lingam. A Somaskanda panel featuring Shiva, Parvati and Skanda adorns the rear of the main shrine, which has been held in worship for centuries together. It is believed that Parvati, the consort of Shiva worshipped him in the form of a Prithivi Lingam, or a Lingam improvised out of sand, under a mango tree. Legend has it that the neighboring Vegavati river overflowed and threatened to engulf the Shiva Lingam and that Parvati or Kamakshi, embraced the Lingam, and Shiva, touched by the gesture materialized in person and married her.
In this context he is referred to as 'Tazhuvakkuzhainthaar'
in Tamil. S
As mentioned before, there is no separate shrine for Ambal or the Goddess in the temple as she is worshipped along with Shiva, as in every other Shiva temple in the precincts of the town of Kanchipuram.
There is another shrine of Shiva and Kamakshi under the Stala Vruksham or the Temple tree, which is a mango tree said to be 3500 years old. The mango tree is said to be the embodiment of the four Vedas and the tree is said to bear fruits of four different variety/taste each season here.
The Saint poet Sundaramoorthy Nayanar is said to have recovered his eyesight (left eye) after offering worship here.
Festivals and Services: (See also below): Six worship services are offered each day in this temple - namely UshadKalam, Kaalasanthi, Uchi Kaalam, Pradosham and Sayarakshai and Ardhajamam. Colorful festivals such as Ani Tirumanjanam (June-July), Adi Kritikai (July-Aug), Avani Moolam (Aug - Sep), Navaratri (Sep-October), Kartikai Deepam (Nov-Dec), Thai Poosam (Jan-Feb), Panguni Uthiram (Mar-Apr), Chitra Pournami (Apr-May) and Vaikashi Vishakam (May-June) mark the temple's annual calendar. The Panguni festival lasts for 13 days and it is during this festival that the wedding of the presiding deity is celebrated, and the venerated Tamil poems of the Nayanmars (Tirumurais) are sung in great splendor.
Other: Nilaathungal Tunda Perumaal - Vishnu is worshipped in a small shrine in one of the corridors.The works of the Alwars refer to the Vishnu shrine here and it is revered as one of the 108 Divya Desams as well.
CHIDAMBARAM - TILLAI NATARAJAR - SKY
Chidambaram is one of the most ancient and most celebrated of shrines in India. It is of great religious as well as historic and cultural significance.Here Shiva is an embodiment of the infinite SKY. Chidambaram is associated with Nataraja, or Shiva in his Ananda Tandava pose (the Cosmic Dance of bliss) in the cosmic golden hall and the hall of consciousness (Chit Sabha). Shiva is also worshipped in the "formless form" of the Chidambara Rahasyam, while the temple is known for its Akasa Lingam, an embodiment of Shiva as the formless Space. The word "Koyil" or temple in the Tamil Saivite tradition refers to none other than the Chidambaram Nataraja temple.
The origins of this vast temple are buried in antiquity. Literature talks of a tradition of Shiva (Nataraja) worship in existence even as early as the Sangam period (very early on in the Christian era), and the Tamil Saints have sung its fame when an established worship tradition was in place. The later Chola Kings (Aditya I and Parantaka I) adorned the roof of the shrine with gold, and the other Chola Kings treated Nataraja as their guardian deity and made several endowments to the temple as temple inscriptions testify. The Pandya Kings who followed them, and the later Vijayanagar rulers made several endowments to the temple. There is a stone image of Krishnadevaraya in the North Gopura which he is said to have erected. In the wars of the 18th century, this temple was used as a fort, especially when the British General Sir Eyre Coote unsuccesfully tried to capture it from the Mysore Kings. During this period, the images of Nataraja and Sivakamasundari were housed in the Tiruvarur Tyagaraja temple for safety.
Muthuswamy Deekshitar, one of the foremost composers in the Karnatic Music tradition sings the glory of this temple in his kriti 'Ananda Natana Prakasam'. The Alwar Poems of the Naalayira Divya Prabandam sing the glory of Vishnu, whose image is also housed in this temple, and his shrine is referred to as 'Tiruchitrakootam'. Adi Sankara is said to have presented a Spatika Lingam which is still under worship in this temple. Sekkizhaar's Periya Puranam, describing poetically the life of the Saivite Saints (63 in number) was composed in the 1000 pillared hall, and was expounded by the author himself in the presence of the Chola emperor Kulottunga II, who had comissioned the work, amidts great festivity and fanfare.
Each of the four most revered Saivite Saints (Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manikkavacakar) has worshipped at Chidambaram, and the bulk of Manikkavacakar's work is in praise of Shiva at Chidambaram. Accordingly, their images are placed in the temple entrances corresponding to their points of entry into the temple. (Sambandar - South, Appar - West, Sundarar - North and Manikkavacakar - East).
Legends associated with this temple: Aadi Sesha, the serpent (couch) of Vishnu, heard from Vishnu the grandeur of Shiva's cosmic dance. Filled with irrepressable desire to witness this dance in person at Chidambaram, Seshan descended to the earth as Patanjali (the one who descended). Vyagrapaadar, another devotee of Shiva prayed to obtain the tiger's claws so that he could obtain with ease the sacred Vilva leaves meant for Shiva's worship at Chidambaram. At the appointed hour, Shiva (with Sivakami) granted to Patanjali and Vyagrapaadar, a visual treat in the form of his Cosmic Dance of Bliss, to the accompaniments of music played by several divine personalities in the Hindu pantheon. This Dance of Bliss is said to have been witnessed by Vishnu, and there is a Govindaraja shrine in the Natarajar temple commemorating this. The dance of bliss of Shiva, is also said to have been enacted upon Shiva's (Bhikshatana) victory over the married ascetics of Daruka Vanam.
Yet another legend, commemorating the dance duel between the doyens of dance Shiva and Kali is associated with Chidambaram. Shiva is said to have lifted his left foot towards the sky in the Urdhuva Tandava posture, a definite male gesture, which out of adherence to protocol, Kaali could not reciprocate, thereby causing Shiva to emerge victorious, delegating Kaali to the status of a primary deity in another temple in the outskirts of Chidambaram. This legend is portrayed in the Nritta Sabha, one of the halls within the Chidambaram temple.
There is another recent legend associated with this temple. The sacred Tamil works of the Nayanmaars had been missing for several years, and it was during the period of Raja Raja Chola (the builder of the Grand temple at Tanjavur) that formal research was initiated to trace these fine works of devotional literature. These works of the Saivite Saints - rich in musical content were recovered in a dilapidated state in one of the chambers in this vast temple, after the monarch brought images of the Saint trinity in procession to the temple.
Nataraja: The dance of bliss, or the Ananda Tandavam of Shiva is said to symbolize the five divine acts (pancha krityas) of creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and bestowment of grace. The dance of Shiva has been frozen in metal and held in worships in Nataraja Sabhas, in virtually all of the Saivite temples in Tamilnadu. Five of the foremost Sabhas (Pancha Sabhai) are at Chidmbaram (Kanaka Sabhai the hall of gold), Madurai (Rajata Sabhai the hall of Silver), Tiruvalangadu near Chennai (Ratnasabhai the hall of rubies), Tirunelveli (Tamrasabhai the hall of copper) and Kutralam near Tirunelveli (Chitrasabhai the hall of pictures). Other dance halls of significance are Adri Sabhai (the Himalayas), Aadi Chitsabhai (Tiruvenkaadu near Chidambaram) and Perur Kanakasabhai (Patteeswarar temple at Perur near Coimbatore).
Architecture: The Chidambaram Natarajar temple is a specimen of the assimilation of several architectural styles. The innermost sanctum of the temple, houses the grand images of Shiva (Nataraja) and Parvati (Sivakami) in the ChitSabha or the hall of consciousness, adjoining which is the KanakaSabha or the Golden Hall, both these structures resting on a raised platform. The innermost prakaram surrounds this holiest of shrines, and to the South West of Nataraja, is the shrine of Govindaraja Perumaal facing the East.
The Chitsabha, the holiest shrine in the temple, is a wooden structure supported with wooden pillars, with a hut shaped roof. It is in this hall, that the images of Nataraja and Sivakami are housed, in front of a set of two curtains, the inner (invisible) one being red in color, the outer one being black in color. To the right of Shiva, is the revered Chidambara rahasyam - or a representation of emptiness garlanded with golden vilva leaves.
The curtain in front of the Chidambara Rahasyam, representing Shiva (and Parvati) in the formless form (Aroopam) is lifted ceremoniously during worship services, with offerings of lamps. Also in the Chitsabha are images of Ratnasabhapati (Nataraja of Ruby), the Spatika Lingam of Chandramauleeswara, Swarnakarshana Bhairavar, Mukhalingam etc.
The Golden Hall, or KanakaSabha is immediately in front of the ChitSabha, both being on an elevated platform as mentioned before, with silver panelled doors in front. The ChitSabha itself is a meter or so higher than the Kanakasabha and is reached by a flight of 5 silver plated steps, marking the five aksharas (or syllables) of the Panchakshara Mantram (the five syllabled Namasivaya).
Across from the Nataraja shrine in he second prakaram is the Nritta Sabha or the hall of dance with some fine pillars, housing an image of Shiva in the Urdhva tandava posture, winning over Kaali in a dance duel, and an image of Sarabheswara, another form of Shiva. The Nritta Sabha with fine pillars is in the form of a chariot drawn by horses. The Deva Sabha or the house of Gods is also in the second prakaram, housing festival images of the Pancha Murtis (Somaskandar, Parvati, Vinayaka, Subramanya and Chandikeswara) and other deities. Mulanathar, or the representation of Shiva as a Lingam is housed in the second prakaram.
The outermost prakaram is home to the grand Sivakami Amman temple, the Sivaganga tank and the 1000 pillared hall or the Raja Sabha, where Nataraja is brought during two annual festivals. The vast Sivakami Amman shrine is a temple in its own right. Ceilings on the mukhamandapam of this temple have paintings from the Nayaka period. There are friezes of dancers, drummers and musicians all along the enclosing walls of this temple. The thousand pillared hall has witnessed several grand events in history. This hall is also designed in the form of a chariot. Its entrance features two elephants, and on the basement there is a frieze of dancing figures. The 100 pillared hall, also in the outermost prakaram is also of artistic value, as is the shrine of Subramanya, which dates back to the Pandya period. The Subramanya shrine is also in the form of a chariot, and is referred to as the 'Pandya Nayakam'.
Perhaps the most magnificient structures in the temple are the four lofty gopurams or towers in the four cardinal directions, piercing the walls of the outermost prakaram. Each is a gigantic masterpiece in itself - about 250 feet in height, with seven tiers. The Western tower is the oldest one. In the towers, on either side of the gateways there are representations of the 108 poses of the classical Bharata Natyam Tradition as enunciated in the Classic Natya Sastra. The towers are embellished with images from Hindu mythology. From the second tier onward, on each of the Gopuram, are seen images of various manifestations of Shiva such as Bhikshatana, Kankala (both being ascetic forms), Kalyanasundarar, Somaskandar etc. (bestowers of prosperity). There are no representations of Nataraja on the temple towers, as this image is reserved for the innermost shrine alone.
Worship protocol: Six worship services are offered in this temple each day at the shrine of Nataraja - the last of which is the ArdhaJaama Puja (the most special one), where the padukas (footwear) of Nataraja are ceremoniously taken to the Palliarai (night chamber) of Shiva and Parvati after elaborate rituals. It is believed that the entire pantheon of divine figures in the Hindu system of beliefs is present during this occasion. The first puja in the morning involves the waking up of Shiva, and a transport of the padukas back to the main shrine, followed by fire rituals and ablutions to the crystal Shivalingam. The worship services that follow at about 9:30, and then at noon, and at 5 in the evening and at 7 pm involve a combination of rituals involving ablutions to the Crystal Lingam and the ceremonial show of lamps to Nataraja and Sivakami amidst the chanting of Vedic and Tamil hymns. The Shiva Agama system of temple rituals followed in almost all of the Saivite temples in Tamilnadu, is not followed at Chidambaram. It is a unique worship protocol said to have been prescribed by Patanjali that is followed at this temple.
Festivals: Two annual Bhrammotsavams at Chidambaram are of great significance, as they involve colorful processions of festival deities in the car streets. The grandest of these occurs in the month of Margazhi (Dec 15 - Jan 15), concluding on the full moon day corresponding to the Arudra Darisanam festival (Arudra Darisanam is celebrated in Saivite temples all over Tamilnadu). This ten day festival at Chidambaram involves a grand scheme of traditional observances commencing with the hoisting of the temple flag on the first day, followed by colorful procesions of the five deities (Pancha Murthys) on the first eight days on various mounts. The fifth day features Mount Kailasam, while the sixth day features the elephant mount. It is only on the ninth day that Nataraja leaves his sanctum, and is taken in a procession through the car streets, in the grand temple car. This is a special occasion and crowds throng to see it. Local fishermen communities traditionally offer gifts to Nataraja during this procession. Nataraja then returns to the Raja Sabha of the temple, where in the pre-dawn hours of the next day, while the moon is full, special abhishekams are performed to Nataraja, in the presence of thousands of devotees, and this ritual is followed by the royal audience of Nataraja in the Raja Sabha. In the afternoon, Nataraja returns to the shrine ceremoniously from the Raja Sabha, amidst an enactment of the Ananda Tandavam or the Dance of Bliss.
The second of the Bhrammotsavams happens in the month of Aani, and it concludes with Aani Tirumanjanam on the tenth day, in a manner similar to Arudra Darisanam in Margazhi. It is interesting that these annual Bhrammotsavams or festivals happen in the months immediately preceding the summer and winter solstices (ie. Gemini and Sagittarius).
Live dance performances have been introduced to the temple recently, in the form of annual dance festivals call the NATYANJALI.