Sunday, February 26, 2006

Chidambaram - the sky of consciousness. . .

Today is Maha Sivaratri. The night for Shiva, the god of destruction. Mythology says, during the great mythical churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, poison emerged from the ocean first. The gods and the demons who were churning the ocean, ran to Shiva for help, to protect the world. Shiva drank the deadly poison. Goddess Parvati held it in his throat by placing her hand on his throat. This turned his throat blue, and since then he came to be known as Neelakantha, the 'blue-throated.' Shivratri celebrates this event.

There are also other versions - that Shiva married Parvati on this day - that a hunter roaming in a forest was chased by a tiger and to escape from it, he climbed a Bilva tree. He spent a sleepless night sitting on the tree, but plucked the leaves and threw them in tensed mood, which fell on a shivalinga below the tree. Pleased by the vrata (hunger) and pooja (with bilva leaves), Shiva granted him moksha on this day!

One more version is that Shiva performed the Ananda Thandava (dance of joy) on this night. That is what the idol of Nataraja at Chidambaram depicts!

The lingas of Shiva are worshipped as forms of five elements. As earth in Kanchipuram, as water in Tiruvanaikkaval, as fire in Tiruvannamalai, as air in Srikalahasti and as sky in Chidambaram.(In Sanskrit, Chit = consciousness, ambaram = sky). The prolific composer Muthuswamy Dikshitar, whose travelogue kritis describe the history of the temples, had composed kritis on all these kshetras(holy places).

The sky is the symbol of emptiness and hence, Shiva at Chidambaram is worshipped in a 'formless' form, which is called 'Chidambara Rahasyam' (The secret of Chidambaram). The sanctum santoram does not have any idol, but a blank space and a bilva mala (a garland of Bilva leaves) is hung. This place is believed to be the centre of the universe and Nataraja is dancing to facilitate the rotation of the earth. It is 'cosmic dance'.

Brahmanda puranam speaks about the dance competition between Shiva and his wife Parvati, in which Shiva emerges as winner by performing Urdhva Thandava, a male gesture in dance. Parvati leaves the location and goes to the outskirts of the town, where today we find the temple of Tillai kali.

This legend is portrayed in one of the halls inside the temple - Nritta sabha. Vishnu, the brother of Parvati played the judge for the competition. In fact, some believe that he did not pronounce his judgment at all as he did not like his sister, Parvati to lose in the competition. So he said, he slept mid-way... The Vishnu idol here is in sayana (sleeping) posture.

Ironically, Chidambaram, the famous Shiva temple is also one of the 108 Tirupatis (sacred places) of Vishnu! The sannidhi of Govindaraja Perumal inside this Shiva temple is that Tirupati, known as Thiru Chitrakootam.

But, if you had planned to be in Chidambaram this Shivaratri, the trip will not be a complete one, just by worshipping Nataraja. You can make this trip a perfect pilgrimage or a pilgrimage coupled with visits to places of  interest!

Read on the next post. . .