- Chidambaram in the South Arcot District of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu has been an impor-tant pilgrimage center for those devoted to SHIVA since about the ninth century, when the site was known as Tillai. Tradition says that a Kashmiri king who was afflicted with an incurable disease bathed in the temple tank 1,500 years ago and was cured. He is said to have enlarged the temple in appreciation. Chidambaram is known for its phal-lic-shaped LINGAMS of light (jyotirlingas), which are set in bases of the vulvic goddess; they are a primary iconic symbol of Shiva.Chidambaram is best known as the center of the cult of Shiva as the divine dancer or NATARAJA. It is said that one of the Chola kings (ninth to 13th centuries), Vira Chola, saw a vision of Shiva performing his cosmic dance near the shrine. He then built the Golden Shrine with Shiva Nataraja in it. In another section of the temple are the 108 dance postures found in Bharata’s NAT YA SHASTRA, sculpted in high relief in honor of Shiva the cos-mic dancer. Shiva himself is said to have once danced in the hall there.The Goddess KALI was the first inhabitant of Chidambaram, but Kali and Shiva entered into a dance contest, whose loser was to leave town. Shiva then defeated the Goddess by doing a dance pose with his leg straight up in the air. Kali, out of modesty, it is said, could not duplicate the feat and left. Her shrine is found in a temple on the borders of the town. Later South Indian kings expanded the Chidambaram temple, which now is a sprawl-ing complex with shrines to many other deities besides Shiva. The great Tamil Shaivite saints APPAR and SUNDARAR sang of the shrine, and SEK-KILAR, the great compiler of the compendium of the works of the Tamil Shaivite saints, the PERIYA PURANAM, used to recite there; notables and even kings traveled to hear him.Further reading: B. Natarajan, The City of Cosmic Dance: Cidambaram (New Delhi: Orient Longmans, 1974); Paul Younger, The Home of the Dancing Sivan: Chidambaram 107 JThe Traditions of the Hindu Temple in Citamparam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.