In the Chidambaram
temple the Dancing Shiva is the Presiding Deity, and all
rituals are conducted on the basis of the Vedic
doctrine. These are the two features which distinguish
the Shiva Nataraja temple from all other temples in
Shiva Nataraja’s dance
is seen as the visualization of the processes of cosmos.
In his murti or physical image we can see his five
in the small, hourglass-shaped drum, called damaru,
which he holds in his upper right hand. It represents
the vibration of the Big Bang, which is the sacred sound
Preservation: Is seen
in his lower right hand. It signals protection; fear
not. Nataraja faces south and thus dispels the fear of
death for the humanity.
symbolized by the flame in his upper left hand. At the
end of the lifetime of the universe everything will be
dissolved in fire.
Illusion: Is in his
stable right leg, which dances on the dwarf, pressing
him down. This symbolizes his conquest of Maya,
His lower left hand
points the attention of the devotee towards his raised,
dancing left foot. Here in his dance one can realize the
Salvation he offers to the humanity.
His dance also makes
the five Elements out of which the universe is formed,
become visible. The damaru represents the Element Air.
The air inside it makes the sound, the vibration,
possible. The flame in his left hand represents the
Element Fire. The goddess Ganga, in his matted hair,
from which flows the sacred river Ganges, represents the
Element Water. The Element Earth is the dwarf on whom he
dances. The fifth Element, Akasha or Ether, is invisible
to us. It is the empty space, the Void, between his
stable right leg and his lifted foot.
Chidambaram is also
known as the Akasha Kshetra. In southern India there are
five Shiva temples especially dedicated to each one of
the five Elements. At Kalahasti we find the temple
dedicated to Air. At Tiruvanamalai exists the temple
dedicated to the Element Fire. At Tiruvanaikaval the
temple is dedicated to Water. At Kanchipuram the great
Shiva temple is dedicated to the Element Earth. The
Chidambaram temple is dedicated to Akasha or Ether.
In the Sabha with the
golden roof, to the proper right hand side of the
Dancing Lord, is situated the Chidambaram Rahasyam, the
Mystery of Chidambaram. Behind the black and red curtain
is an empty space, marked on the physical plane only by
a few strings of golden vilva leaves, hanging down
before what seems to the human eye only empty space.
Here is invoked by mantras or sacred found formulas, on
a formless yantra, the Akasha Linga, the Linga of Ether.
The Vedic doctrine
teaches that the primary forms of matter are the five
Elements, Akasha, Wind, Fire, Water and Earth. Whereas
Western pre-Christian doctrine was based on the
existence of only four primary Elements. Akasha or Ether
is described as a ‘subtle and ethereal fluid, filling
and pervading the universe and known to be the peculiar
vehicle of life and sound’, and of divine consciousness.
The Akasha yantra is
Shiva as Formless. The Crystal Linga is Shiva as
Formless-Form. And the Shiva Nataraja Murti is Shiva as
Form. These are the three manifestations of the divines
on the material plane of our physical universe. These
three are all represented in the Cit Sabha or Hall of
Wisdom establishing a complete presence of the divine
with in the one complex.
The Chidambaram temple
is also one of only a very few temples in India which
follow the Vedic rituals, where most other temples
follow the Agamic doctrine, as expressed in texts called
Agamas.The Vedic doctrine centers on the performance of
the Yagna (Yajña) or fire sacrifice. This doctrine has
been preserved by the Deekshithars community of
hereditary priests in an unbroken oral tradition.
The fire sacrifice is
performed in a fire pit which has the shape of an
inverted step pyramid. The procedure and effect of the
ritual are based on the presence of an energy point in
every pyramid. The subtle energy of the sacrificial
substances together with the sound energy of the
mantras, the energy of the fire itself, and the
spiritual energy of the performer towards the ritual,
all together constitute the transformation and
transportation of the essence of the sacrifice to the
plane of the divine.
Every morning a fire
sacrifice is performed in the Kanaka Sabha (the hall in
front of the Cit Sabha) between eight and nine o’clock
as part of the puja ritual. At the time of the Chariot
Festival every morning and evening fire sacrifices are
performed in the Yaga Sala, situated in the
North-Eastern corner of the third prakara or courtyard,
before the procession is taken out. These rituals may be
witnessed from outside by the visitors.