Chidambaram – General Information
Chidambaram is a town and municipality in Cuddalore district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the taluk headquarters of the Chidambaram taluk. The town is believed to be of significant antiquity and has been ruled, at different times, by the Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Later Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Marathas and the British. The town is known for the Thillai Nataraja Temple, and the annual chariot festival held in the month of April.
Chidambaram covers an area of 4.8 km2 (1.9 sq mi) and had a population of 62,153 as of 2011. It is administered by a special-grade municipality. Tertiary sector involving tourism is the major occupation. Roadways are the major means of transportation with a total of 64.12 km (39.84 mi) of district roads including one national highway passing through the town. As of 2011, there were eleven government schools: six primary schools, three middle schools and two higher secondary schools in Chidambaram. Annamalai University, established in 1929 in Chidambaram, is one of the oldest and most prominent universities in the state.
Of the numerous temples the Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram is one of the most significant ones. In terms of its antiquity, richness in terms of worship & festival traditions, in architectural & sculptural splendour, in its association with music & dance, Chidambaram is a center second to none in representing the rich cultural heritage of India. Several rich legends are associated with Chidambaram. The best known, are those describing the Cosmic Dance of Shiva, the dance duel between Shiva and Kaali and the more recent one describing the re-discovery of the Tevaram hymns.
Chidambaram is a temple town in the district of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu known for its surreal setting, ancient Dravidian architecture and imposing Gopurams. With the sound of temple bells in the early morning, as you wake up to a hot cup of the finest filter coffee, Chidambaram stands for everything a traveler would expect from a quintessential Tamil Nadu temple town.
Many things come to mind when one thinks of this town. , But the first would be the imposing Chidambaram Natarajar temple that the town is famous for. The principal deity worshipped in the temple is Lord Shiva, making the town a preferred destination for Shaivites.
The temple is one of 5 Shiva temples scattered across Tamil Nadu, each associated with one of the 5 elements (namely air, water, earth, fire and wind, according to the Hindu concept of the panchabootha).
The temple may very well be the only Shiva temple in which the deity is worshipped in the form of the “Nataraja”, the lord of dance. It is interesting to note that everywhere else you find the Lord worshipped as the “Shivalinga”. It may also be the only major temple where both Lord Shiva and Mahavishnu are worshipped side by side.
Lord Vishnu as Lord Govindaraja Perumal is worshipped in the very same temple complex as Lord Shiva, making the Chidambaram Natarajar temple a place of pilgrimage for both Shaivites and Vaishnavites. Nowhere else in the world is one able to worship both deities from the same spot.
Chidambaram is home to not only the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple, but numerous other temples. Built in different eras and by different dynasties, these temples stand for the architectural excellence of a bygone time. Many of these temples have gone several revisions and renovations as in the case with the Chidambaram Natarajar temple.
It is also home to the Annamalai University, one of the premier universities in the country, with hundreds of colleges under its wing. The town is also renowned for its ornament making industry. The art of fashioning gold and silver ornaments is passed on from generation to generation.
Not far from this quaint temple town is a behemoth of industry- namely the industrial complex of Neyveli. This industrial complex, with its lignite mines and thermal power plants, is situated just 30 km off Chidambaram.
Etymology and legend
The traditional name of the temple complex is Chidambaram Tillai Nataraja-koothan Kovil. The mangrove forests houses the ancient Tillai trees (Exocoeria agallocha) surrounding the shrine. The Tillai trees of the nearby Pichavaram wetlands is the second largest mangrove in the world, extends to the temple area. The shrine is venerated as Tillai ambalam literally meaning the open stage of Tillai. The name of the town of this shrine, Chidambaram comes from the Tamil word Chitrambalam (also spelled Chithambalam) meaning "small hall/stage". citt or chitthu means the stage while and ambalam denotes wisdom.
As per Hindu legend, god Shiva was strolling in Thillai Vanam. In the Thillai forests resided a group of sages who believed in the supremacy of magic and that god can be controlled by rituals and mantras. Shiva wanted to test the sages and strolled in the forest with assuming the form of Bhikshatana, a simple mendicant seeking alms. He was followed by his consort, Vishnu as Mohini. The sages and their wives were enchanted by the beauty of the pair. On seeing their womenfolk enchanted, the sages got enraged and invoked scores of serpents (nāgas) by performing rituals. Shiva lifted the serpents and donned them as ornaments on his matted locks, neck and waist. Further enraged, the sages invoked a fierce tiger, whose skins and dons were used by Shiva as a shawl around his waist. Then followed a fierce elephant, which was devoured and ripped to death by Shiva (the sequence derived the name Gajasamharamurthy to Shiva). The sages gathered all their spiritual strength and invoked a powerful demon Muyalakan - a symbol of complete arrogance and ignorance. Shiva wore a gentle smile, stepped on the demon's back, immobilized him and performed the Ánanda Tandava (the dance of eternal bliss) and disclosed his true form. The sages surrendered and understood the ultimate realisation that god cannot be controlled by the rituals.
There is no reference to the temple or the town in Sangam literature of the first to fifth centuries and the earliest mention is found in seventh century Tamil literature. The temple and the deity were immortalized in Tamil poetry in the works of Thevaram by three poet saints belonging to the 7th century - Thirugnana Sambanthar, Thirunavukkarasar and Sundaramoorthy Nayanar.
Thirugnana Sambanthar has composed two songs in praise of the temple, Thirunavukkarasar aka Appar eight songs in praise of Nataraja and Sundarar one song in praise of Nataraja. Sundarar commences his Thiruthondar Thogai (the sacred list of Lord Shiva's 63 devotees) paying his respects to the priests of the Thillai temple - "To the devotees of the priests at Thillai, I am a devotee". The works of the first three saints, the Thirumuraiwere stored in palm leaf manuscripts in the temple and were recovered by the Chola King Rajaraja Chola under the guidance of Nambiandarnambi.
Manikkavasagar, the 10th century Saivite poet has written two works, the first called Tiruvasakam (The sacred utterances) which largely has been sung in Chidambaram and the Thiruchitrambalakkovaiyar (aka Thirukovaiyar), which has been sung entirely in the temple. Manikkavasagar is said to have attained spiritual bliss at Chidambaram. The Chidambaram Mahatmiyam composed during the 12th century provides the subsequent evolution and sanskritization of cults
There are several inscriptions available in the temple and referring to the Chidambaram temple in neighbouring areas. Most inscriptions available pertain to the periods of Cholas - Rajaraja Chola I (985-1014 CE), Rajendra Chola I (1012-1044 CE), Kulothunga Chola I (1070-1120 CE), Vikrama Chola (1118-1135 CE), Rajadhiraja Chola II (1163 -1178 CE),Kulothunga Chola III (1178-1218 CE) and Rajaraja Chola III (1216-1256 CE). Pandya inscriptions date from Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Veerapandiyan, Jataavarman Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Sundarapaandiyan (1251-1268 CE) and Maaravarman Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Veerakeralanaagiya Kulashekara Pandiyan (1268-1308 CE). Pallava inscriptions are available for king Avani Aala Pirandhaan Ko-pperum-Singha (1216-1242 CE). Vijayanagara Kings mentioned in inscriptions are Veeraprathaapa Kiruttina Theva Mahaaraayar (1509-1529 CE), Veeraprathaapa Venkata Deva Mahaaraayar, Sri Ranga Theva Mahaaraayar, Atchyutha Deva Mahaaraayar (1529-1542 CE) and Veera Bhooopathiraayar. One of the inscriptions from the descendant of Cheramaan Perumal Nayanar, Ramavarma Maharaja has been found.
Geography & Climate
Chidambaram is located at 11.39°N 79.69°E. The town is located in Cuddalore district of the South Indian state, Tamil Nadu, at a distance of 150 km (93 mi) from Chennai. Chidambaram is located close to the shores of Bay of Bengal. The topography is almost plain with forests around the town, with no major geological formation. There are no notable mineral resources available in and around the town. The soil types are alluvial and red that is conducive for crops like paddy, pulses and chili peppers. The temperature ranges from a maximum of 32.7 °C (90.9 °F) to a minimum of 24 °C (75 °F). Like the rest of the state, April to June is the hottest months and December to January are the coldest. Chidambaram receives an average of 10 mm (0.39 in) annually, which is lesser than the state average of 1,008 mm (39.7 in). The South west monsoon, with an onset in June and lasting up to August, brings scanty rainfall. Bulk of the rainfall is received during the North East monsoon in the months of October, November and December. The average number of rainy days ranges from 35-40 every year.
According to 2011 census, Chidambaram had a population of 62,153 with a sex-ratio of 1,032 females for every 1,000 males, much above the national average of 929. A total of 5,869 were under the age of six, constituting 2,990 males and 2,879 females. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes accounted for 6.81% and .09% of the population respectively. The average literacy of the city was 83.24%, compared to the national average of 72.99%. The city had a total of 15,166 households. There were a total of 22,194 workers, comprising 241 cultivators, 180 main agricultural labourers, 489 in house hold industries, 16,110 other workers, 5,174 marginal workers, 83 marginal cultivators, 213 marginal agricultural labourers, 401 marginal workers in household industries and 4,477 other marginal workers.
As of 2001, the town coverer an area of 480 hectares (4.8 km2) Out of the total area, 88 per cent of the land constituting 432 hectares (4.32 km2) is marked developed and the remaining area is used for agriculture and remains under water. Residential areas make up 55 per cent (265.75 hectares (2.6575 km2)) of the town's total area while commercial enterprises and industrial units make up 5 per cent (23.62 hectares (0.2362 km2)) and 1 per cent (3.63 hectares (0.0363 km2)) respectively. As of 2008, there 31 notified slums having 3,954 houses in Chidambaram and a total of 17,102 people constituting 30 per cent of the total population lived in them. The municipality maintains the water supply and garbage collection of all these slums. As of 2001, nearly 5,000 people constituting 10 per cent of the population were below the poverty line.
Tourism forms the economic base of Chidambaram. There are house holds industries like weaving is present within town limits, otherwise there are no major industries in the town. As of 2001, worker population constituted 18,249 people amounting to 31.6 per cent of the total population. Out of the total workforce, 16.059 constituting 88 per cent people were employed in tertiary sector, 1,277 people constituting 7 per cent were involved in secondary sector and 912 people constituting 5 per cent were involved in primary sector activities. The primary sector consists of local and regional marketing, with paddy being the primary traded product, followed by cereals, black gram, pulses, sugarcane and gingelly.
The secondary sector activities consist of house hold activities and cane furniture manufacturing. The tertiary sector activities are the tourism related activities centered on the Thillai Natarajar temple. The town has a floating population of around 100,000 every year being mainly religious tourists. Annamalai University, located in the outskirts of the town is also another major industrial driver. The town is a centre for trading for the surrounding villages, housing provisional stores, food grain stores, vegetable shops, hotels, markets and fertilizer shops.
Education and utility services
As of 2011, there were eleven government schools: six primary schools, three middle schools and two higher secondary schools in Chidambram. There were nine other private schools within the town. Chidambaram is home to the Annamalai University. Annamalai University is a public university located in Annamalai Nagar, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India.Rajah Muthiah Medical College, Rajah Muthiah Dental College, Muthiah Polytechnic College, Government Arts College, Ragavendra Arts and science college, C.S. Jain College of Pharmacy and Perunthalaivar Kamaraj Institute of Maritime and Science Engineering College (pkimsec) are some of the prominent colleges in the town.
Electricity supply to Chidambaram is regulated and distributed by the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB). The town along with its suburbs forms the Cuddalore Electricity Distribution Circle. A Chief Distribution engineer is stationed at the regional headquarters. Water supply is provided by the Chidambaram Municipality from the two mini power pumps, borewells and Deep borwell located in various parts of the town. In the period 2000–2001, a total of 7.5 million litres of water was supplied everyday for households in the town.
As per the municipal data for 2011, about 31 metric tonnes of solid waste were collected from Chidambaram every day by door-to-door collection and subsequently the source segregation and dumping was carried out by the sanitary department of the Chidambaram municipality. The coverage of solid waste management in the town by the municipality had an efficiency of 100% as of 2001. There is no underground drainage system in the town and the sewerage system for disposal of sullage is through septic tanks, open drains and public conveniences. The municipality maintained a total of 23.372 km (14.523 mi) of storm water drains in 2011. As of 2011, there was one government hospital namely Kamaraj Government Hospital, one municipal maternity home and 17 private hospitals and clinics that take care of the health care needs of the citizens. As of 2011, the municipality maintained a total of 1,856 street lamps: 339 sodium lamps, 1,500 tube lights and 17 high mast beam lamps. The municipality operates four markets, namely the Daily Market West Car Street, Gnanaprakasam market, North Main road fish market and Omakulam fish market that cater to the needs of the town and the rural areas around it.
The festivals in Chidambaram are centered on the festivals of the temple. The Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai festival celebrated in December–January indicates the first puja, the fourteenth day after the new moon (Chaturdashi) of the month of Masi (February - March) indicates the second pooja, the Chittirai Thiruvonam (in April- May), indicates the third pooja or uchikalam, the Uthiram of Aani (June–July) also called the Aani Thirumanjanam indicates the evening or the fourth puja, the chaturdasi of Aavani (August - September) indicates the fifth puja and the chaturdasi of the month of Puratasi (October - November) indicates the sixth pooja or Arthajama. Of these the Marghazhi Thiruvaadhirai (in December - January) and the Aani Thirumanjanam (in June - July ) are the most important festivals.
During these festivals, the festive deity is brought outside the sanctum sanctorum in a procession that includes a temple car procession followed by a long anointing ceremony. Several hundreds of thousands of people flock the temple to see the anointing ceremony and the ritualistic dance of Shiva when he is taken back to the sanctum sanctorum. Shiva, in his incarnation of Nataraja, is believed to have born on full moon day in the constellation of Ardra, the sixth lunar mansion. Lord Shiva is bathed only 6 times a year, and on the previous night of Ardra, the bath rituals are performed on a grand scale. Pots full of milk, pomegranate juices, coconut water, ghee, oil, sandal paste, curds, holy ashes, and other liquids and solids, considered as sacred offering to the deity are used for the sacred ablution.
Natyanjali is a prominent festival celebrated during February every year when Bharatnatyam dancers from all over the country converge to present dance offering to Nataraja.