Chidambaram Thillai Nataraja Temple - Sculptural Marvellous of the Cholas

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Chidambaram and in specific Thillai Nataraja Temple was in my bucket list since few years.  Just a simple disclaimer to my reader, I am neither a devotee nor a person who prefers pilgrimage trips and to be frank I am more an Atheist. But since the past few years my interest towards Ancient and Medieval Indian temples has increased, especially the Art, Architecture, Sculpture and Paintings associated with these temples and visualizing the sociological impacts these extraordinary marvels would have created or intended. So this blog post will be of no use to a spiritual seeker.

Expectations
 I was very much interested in the Siva Sculpture in Tandava dance form, who is also the principal deity, 4 stunning Gopurams (Gatehouse Towers) and the wall inscriptions.

Travel Plans
 It’s a family trip with 6 members and my 8 months old daughter. We booked an Innova from Pondicherry (actually I reside here now). Our plan is to start by 07.30AM in the morning, visit the temple and while returning had plans to go boating in Pichavaram wetlands.

Chidambaram Temple
 We reached Chidambaram at 10.15 in the morning. There is provision for parking car outside the temple. The first banner we noticed was from the police department warning with portraits of chain snatchers and pick-pockets. The vendors insisted us to buy “Agal Vilaku” (Mud Lamp) telling us that it is special for the day (we went on Friday). However, the tables to light these lamps are just outside the main temple shrine, in the verandah once you enter the east gopuram.
No doubt the temple is an architectural marvel. There are 4 Gopurams, of which the east gopuram depicts all the 108 postures from Natya Sastra from which Bharatanatyam has evolved. There is a sacred pool near the north gopuram and it is called Sivaganga. The pillared courtyards inside the temple remains us how these places might have been used for dance and drama performances and the pilgrims would have also used them to rest during their pilgrimage. The temple also hosts deities of Saktism and Vaishnavism . It is an interesting example of how the Chola Kings who usually revered Saivism also included Vaishnavism in their urban centers. It is also said that the Vaishanava deity was taken away to Tirupathi during Kulothunuga Chola reign and was brought and later reinstalled by Vijayanagar Kings. Another historical fact is that the Delhi Sultans under Malik Kafur (watched Padmavathy?) raided the temple and looted bounty of gold and took back to Delhi.

Present Status of the Temple
Despite having a rich history, I was surprised and quite worried by the way it is managed now. The temple complex actually runs like a business with priest or you can call young trainee priests working as marketing managers. To me following were the surprising incidents/issues in the temple,

Costly Blank Paper Ticket: The principal deity is in a garbagraha placed in an elevated sanctum. Devotees usually stand below the elevated structure. However if one need to see the deity in close quarters and make special darshana, then there is a provision to take special ticket and climb up the elevated sanctum from the sideways. Actually I was interested to watch the Siva sculpture in Tandava dance form and also the “Kaala Kadikaram”. We paid Rs.100 for each ticket for 6 of us and the priests just gave a white chit paper which had nothing other than the number 6 or something like that which I don’t remember. Is there any accountability for the money collected? Why not a receipt? Also all those with ticket were sent together, so only the few who first entered get the option to stand close. So I would say that it is just waste of money and time. It is comfortably better to watch from down which the local devotees were doing when we foolishly went up. Neither had I view to watch the sculpture nor the Kaala Kadigaaram.

Marketing Priests: Once we came down, the priests asked us to donate (like membership) to get Prasad by post during important ceremonies. In multiple places, whenever we tried to talk/enquire to priests they always enquired us for the same. Unlike other temples, here they are almost trying to sell, if I have to put it in other words.

Snack/Prasad Shop: There is a snack shop inside the temple. Laddu, Muruku etc., are sold. They are costly than even the A2B sweets. But the quality is so poor. We just had to dispose everything. So never ever buy inside.

Temple Inscription: I read about the temple inscription before going, but as it is a big complex I was not able to find the inscriptions. After searching for some time, I found them at the west entrance. Quite surprisingly the young priests had no idea what is inscribed in it when enquired. They said it is about god and the prayers. I don’t blame them, but it will be great if they are taught the historical values of the temple. So not just they share it with tourists, but will also maintain them properly.

Overall Experience
 Over all it didn’t meet my expectations, probably due to the bad series of incidents. I expected it equivalent to Tanjore and Madurai but to surprise it was not on par with them.

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