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Chidambaram

Renowned for its Nataraja Temple, the small municipal town of Chidambaram is situated at a distance of two hundred and thirty-five kilometres south of Chennai, on the Chennai-Thanjavur National highway. One of the holiest cities in India, Chidambaram is visited by thousands of Shaivite and Vaishnavite pilgrims who flock to the sacred Nataraja temple every year. Chidambaram was once a tillai (Excoecaria agallocha) forest. Legend has it that the two famous saints of South India, Vyagrapada and Patanjali worshipped Lord Shiva here. Their collective penance bore fruit in the form of Shiva’s cosmic dance, which was revealed to them on the propitious Thai Poosam day. Lord Shiva descended from the divine firmament as Nataraja—the King of Dance—and performed the ananda tandavam (cosmic dance). The place where Nataraja danced became a sacred ground. In course of time, a town took shape on this hallowed site and was called Chit Ambaram (wisdom-suffused sky). In AD 907, the Cholas made Chidambaram their capital. They built the grand Nataraja temple, which was later enlarged and embellished by them. Chidambaram has a tropical climate. Temperatures in the summers can rise up to 37°C. The best time to visit Chidambaram is during winter when it’s neither too hot nor cold.

Sightseeing:

Nataraja Temple:

The Nataraja temple is unique in itself as it is dedicated solely to the art of Bharatanatyam. It is also one of the rare temples, where Shiva is represented in the idol form rather than the usual lingam (phallus) form. Built during the later part of the Chola reign, the temple is spread over 40 acres. It has a large outer enclosure or Prakara adorned with four magnificent seven-tiered gopurams (towers surmounting the entrance gates), with finely sculptured icons depicting Hindu myths. The shrine of Nataraja is situated at the Chit Sabha. A black curtain hiding the statue of the lord is lifted thrice a day for worshipping. Adjacent to the main shrine is the shrine of Govindaraja or Lord Vishnu. Two other shrines devoted to Subramanya and Ganesha are also there. A remarkable structure in the temple complex is the Nritta Sabha, constructed in the form of a chariot. The sabha has fifty-six pillars portraying dancing poses. The largest structure within the temple, the Raja Sabha is another attraction here. This thousand-pillared hall measures 103 metres in length and 58 metres in breadth. The structural pattern of the Nataraja temple has dance as its recurrent theme. The east and the west gopurams house fine examples of 108 karnas (ordered movements of dance) listed in the Natya Shastra. On the ceiling, one finds the Nayak paintings of the 16th century in four massive panels, each 26 metres long. These paintings illustrate the origin of the temple and the exemplary lives of great saints.

Annamalai University:

Set over an area of three hundred acres, the Annamalai University is an important landmark in Chidambaram. The university was founded in 1929 by Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar. This residential university offers educational facilities in various disciplines like humanities, medicine, agriculture, and engineering besides having a centre for adult education, mass literary programs and vocational training.

Neyveli:

About 30 km from Chidambaram lies Neyveli, one of the largest industrial complexes in India. The place is noted for the mining of lignite, which is used for thermal power generation and developing fertilizers and ceramic wares.

Excursions From Chidambram:

Gangaikonda Cholapuram:
The historic city of Gangaikonda Cholapuram is situated at a distance of some 50 km from Chidambaram. The city has been associated with the Chola king, Rajendra I, who had established it as his new capital. A marvellous Shiva temple made by the Chola king is a major attraction here. The huge temple is lavishly sculptured and a big Nandi made of brick and mortar stands in front of it.

Kalvarayam Hills:
The beautiful Kalvarayam Hills are located 150 km north west of Chidambaram on the western side of Kallakuruchi taluk. Endowed with two waterfalls the hills are spread over an area of 600 sq. km. It is an ideal destination for those who come to seek solitude.

Pichavaram:
Famous for its varied tourist resources, the picturesque locale of Pichavaram is situated 16 km east of Chidambaram. The place has one of the most well developed mangrove forests in India and its backwaters provide ample scope for parasailing, rowing and canoeing. Separated from the sea by a fascinating sand bar, Pichavaram covers an area of about 2,800 acres. Restaurants, cruising, and lodging facilities are provided by Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation.

Tarangambadi:
Forty kilometres from Chidambaram lies Tarangambadi or Tranquebar, an old site of a Danish settlement. The attraction in the town is the old Dansborg fort. The fort was built by Ore Gedde, a commander of the Royal Dutch Navy in the 17th century. Except for the deteriorating ramparts, the building is almost in good condition.

The Church of Zion:
The enchanting Church of Zion is situated at about 40 km from Chidambaram at the corner adjoining the King Street and the Queen Street of Tranquebar. The church was built in 1701 and went through a series of modifications between 1782 to 1784 and 1800 to 1839. Today it has a vaulted roof as a part of its structure.

The Gate:
About 40 km from Chidambaram at Tarangambadi lies the 200-year-old Gate, a monument of historical and architectural interest. The Gate is located in such a way that the people living here have to pass through it on their way in and out of town

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