Chidambaram temple — essence of non-dualism

It conveys that the macro and the micro are one and the same

February 28, 2019 02:40 pm | Updated 02:40 pm IST

An overview of Thillai Natarajar Temple in Chidambaram town of Tamil Nadu

An overview of Thillai Natarajar Temple in Chidambaram town of Tamil Nadu

The human form is like

Siva Lingam

The human form is like


The human form is like


The human form is like the

Holy Dance, forsooth

(Tirumantiram 1726,

as translated by

Dr.B. Natarajan)

From deep within the walls the temple bells rang 4 o'clock. The grand metal plated doors swung open. I crossed the high threshold and stepped from the bright light of the third day of Pongal into the darkness of the temple courtyard.

The City of Cosmic dance, Home of the Dancing Siva, where the dancing human form represents the totality of creation, preservation and dissolution. As well as illusion and salvation. I travelled to Chidambaram with Rajamani, my Bharatanatyam guru. And I came with a camera and a little bit of dancer’s and academic cockiness. As I started my descent down the 21 steps into the sacred space, my soul was touched in a most profound way and when I resurfaced I was irreversibly changed. Transmuted in the very essence of my being.

The idea of the human form as the micro-cosmos, a mirror image of the macro-cosmos in miniature is a universal concept. It belongs to alchemy or siddha. It is essential to Advaita, non-dualism. Not only in India but all over the world. This wisdom is embedded in every aspect of the Chidambaram temple — its tradition, architecture, ritual, its whole story. “Nothing is created nor destroyed, the one taking the other form,” the sages explained Siva's Dance of Destruction long ago. Today it is known as the “Law of Conservation of Energy” or also through Einstein's famous E=MC2.

Siva's Dance in Chidambaram is the Ananda Tandava, the Dance of Bliss. His hair is falling down His back, no longer whirling wildly around His head, as the Dance is reaching its conclusion. He is dancing for us in perfect stillness, performing Shanti Kuttu, the Dance of Peace. The Stillness holds all motion, all energy, all creation within itself.

The Nataraja temple is known as “Koyil” — The Temple, the prima inter pares, the first among equals. Its doctrine is Vedic, Advaitic, and therefore also connects to Siddha, alchemy. Tirumoolar, one of the 18 Siddhars, speaks extensively about Chidambaram, its doctrine and Siva’s Dance. The central idea of alchemy is the Advaitic “as above, so below,” which is the idea that the macro-cosmos, the whole of creation, and the micro-cosmos, the human body, are identical in essence. In synthesis with the potential for transformation and transmutation. Base metals can become gold, poison can become medicine, consciousness can attain perfection, realisation, Moksha. The human soul can become God.

From the door and threshold, 21 steps that represent the 21 flames descend into the darkness. Through this descent, the process of Realisation is initiated in the seeker. As we descend, we stoop and become aware of the weight on our shoulders. The grandeur of the column of pillars that greets us at the bottom of the 21 steps makes us realise our infinitesimal smallness against the backdrop of the creation we are part of. At the same time we are Jiva. The individual flame, inseparable from the Cosmic Flame, Siva.

After worshipping Vinayaka on the left side we commence our passage through the Realisation process. Stooping, counting our steps, taking care not to lose direction. Our longing for unification with the original Cosmic Source is our guidance and motivation. We need to concentrate, focus, channel our energy.

Crossing the darkness is a purification process for the soul that is identified with the transmutation process of alchemy. Tirumoolar tells us that the mantra letters A and U are the dance, and the dance is the alchemical process that transforms the coppery jiva into the golden Siva. (Tirumantiram 901 and 902).

In the distance, the brightest of lights beckons. We direct ourselves across the dark space towards that light. As we step into the central open courtyard we behold the Golden Roof of the Chit Sabha, the Hall of Consciousness. This is the Heart Chakra of the world, its very centre. After the completion of purification and transmutation, the soul attains Realisation and is ready to behold Siva's Cosmic Dance, His Ananda Tandava, the dance of Bliss.

Standing where the alignments of the Chit Sabha and the Govindaraja shrine cross, we experience the Grace of the Dance, while at the same time standing in the gaze of this other greatest of principles, Lord Vishnu as Preserver. In this way we begin to understand why the temple is understood as Bhuloka Kailasa, Heaven on Earth, again reflecting the alchemical ‘as above, so below.’ In true alchemical fashion Chidambaram brings together all Devas, all cosmic principles or heavenly beings as found on Siva’s Kailasa itself. It shows us Creation, Preservation and Dissolution are not conflicting forces but complementary energies weaving and braiding the world we live in.

Here in the heart of the temple, in the heart of the world, at the centre of the cosmos, we can be at peace with ourselves and with the world. We can let go of our fears and confusion. All is well. The Lord dances His dance for all of humanity — for eternity. He raises his right hand in the gesture of “Fear Not.” His other hand directs our gaze to His raised dancing foot, the Kuncitapada, with which he grants us Grace. We are Jiva, all separateness is illusion, we are One.

On the occasion of Maha Sivaratri 2019, I pay obeisance to my gurus Smt. Rajamani Knols of Amsterdam/Bombay/Bangalore, and R.N. Natarajarathina (Raja) Deekshithar M.A.

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