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Nataraja temple or Thillai Nataraja temple

Every day is a new day to create a memory that can be shared in our life stories. This occurred to me when I was thinking of my trip to Tamilnadu. Whenever we visit far-off places like other states or other countries we usually prefer to see as many as places, especially the famous ones. I always heard this when we were planning trips “let us cover all the important destinations nearby, don’t know if we can make it again this lifetime.” It’s said mostly because no one wants to visit the same place again as most of them like to take their next vacation to new destinations or it’s a feeling that maybe we could not be in condition to travel.

My travel to Tamilnadu was not planned as it was an educational trip. Six months into marriage I was still unemployed that’s when I saw advertised in the paper regarding the distance education program offered by Annamalai University. With no job, my husband insisted to join this program, PG diploma in environmental management but then I never knew I would have to travel to Tamilnadu for a one-week contact program and practical exams as part of this course. We went to Mysore for admission, that’s another story which I’ll save for the next time, that’s where I got to know about this contact program.

In October I took admission and I got a letter from the university that the contact program is in April’s first week. As we searched where Annamalai University is, it was in Chidambaram Tamilnadu which was 824 km away from the place I stay, Dharwad Karnataka. We started looking for transport options, definitely taking flight was not an option as it was not in our budget, and the bus was out of the question as it would be exhausting to travel so far by bus, so we settled for the train.

On April 4th, 2011 Sunday the morning at 6.00 am we (me and my husband) boarded Dharwad Bangalore intercity express which reached Bangalore by afternoon. We roamed around the station to kill the time as our next train Mayliaduturai express was at 7.00 pm would reach Mayliaduturai at 7.00 am the next morning total of 12hours of the journey. We both were tired so we hardly remember that train journey because we went to sleep as soon as we were on the train, we woke at Mayliaduturai junction. That was not the end of our journey; actually, it was the beginning of a beautiful experience that I would cherish throughout my life. When we took our next ride, the bus to Chidambaram which was approximately 1hour from Mayliaduturai railway station, we weren’t tired, it felt refreshing as the bus rode through the road with the speed which was terrifying. Yet I was looking out of the window enjoying the view of a new place. I saw men on cycle and women walking by and the attire caught my eye because men almost were in white and women in colorful sarees with jasmine garlands decorating their pitch-black hair. Finally, after 20hours of train and 1hour of bus ride here,  we were at Chidambaram.

With the aromas of a variety of breakfast my stomach started to growl, as I had to rush to university to start the class, we boarded in an average lodge which was near to university and got fresh. The first-day class was till 2 o clock only, so I thanked God for it as I was still recovering from the journey. We had a nice south Indian meal which was delicious and too much, here you’ll get an ample amount of food at a very less price. Like for example morning we ordered one plate of Idli Vada normally at our place in one plate we get two Idli’s and one Vada but here we got 5 Idli’s which were soft and spongy and two Vada’s with Sambar and two varieties of coconut chutney and the price was also less than we paid at our place.. Coconut is one of the ingredients which are used in every dish. Being from the south the food was familiar for me, rice thali, with varieties of Sambar and mouthwatering Rasams and the different variety of breakfasts Masala Dosa, Set Dosa, neer Dosa, Pongal, etc…This place is heaven for foodies like me.

After a nice nap in the afternoon, we decided to explore the temple which had caught my attention from our room window, where I could see four Gopurums. When enquired they told it’s called Nataraja Temple and it was walking distance from our lodging. The temple was at the center of the city so only we could see those Gopurums from all the sides of the place.

Nataraja means Lord of the Dance, which is Lord Shiva, dancer worship the idol of Nataraja, as this statue depicts Lord Shiva as a cosmic dancer. The dance performed is called Ananda Tandava (dance of bliss) in which the universe is created, maintained, and dissolved. Being a devotee of Lord Shiva from childhood I was excited to visit this temple. 

As an architect, I could see that this temple was in typical south Indian style i.e. Dravidian style temple architecture(Kerala or Malabar style), which includes four Gopurums on East, West, North,  and South, followed by concentric layers of courtyards. Inner sanctum included pillared halls and Mandapams, pillar were either squares or stacked squares or both.

When I stood at the foot of this seven- storey tall Gopuram it felt like its reaching to the sky. Some of the aspects if you observe closely in these Gopurums we can see that they have been rebuilt, repaired, and repainted. It might be the cause of many invasions. The material used to build these towers is stone, during addition and repairs other materials like bricks and plaster are used. On the top of these layers of pavilions which are called Talas (storeys) we can see the Dravidian style barrel vault roof crowned with 13 Kalasa finials. The art on these colorful towers narrates stories from ancient Hindu scripts; in one of the scenes, I saw the wedding of Shiva and Parvati.

The Temple complex also has many miniature Gopurums near a sacred pool called Shivaganga, there are many other pools but this one is the largest and rectangular in plan. My husband tried his hand on photography and captured the reflection of one of the Gopuram in this sacred pool.

This temple was built in the period of Cholas and Chidambaram was the capital of the Cholas Dynasty. The temple has been damaged, preserved, rebuilt, renovated, and expanded in the centuries. Amman Devi, Surya shrine with the chariot, Ganesha Murugan and Vishnu Shrines are also there in this temple complex.

The courtyards which are called Prakarmas were fortified by cut stone walls after the destruction of the 14th century. The Nataraja temple is surrounded by four concentric layers of courtyards and they are interconnected with the maze of pathways. The Shivaganga tank, thousand pillared Mandapam, Subramanyam Shrine and Parvati Shrine are close to Northside Gopurum and the other three Gopurums are close to the sanctum. The Sanctum which includes Chit Sabha and Kanaka Sabha has a golden roof with an apsidal shape.

For me the major attraction was the thousand pillared Mandapams, I was keenly looking at the pillars and their shapes, cornices, and intricately carved ceilings. As the sun was setting the hall was getting dark and the stone floor was cold below my feet but I was mesmerized by this structure. I wondered what they did in this hall, maybe some social gatherings and meetings.

Inside the sanctum taking photos was not allowed, we took Darshana and came outside feeling blessed and delighted with the experience, I was startled when our ancestors snatched banana from my hand. They were a bunch of monkeys; you’ll find them in most of the temples or tourist places wandering for food. Here also we saw them jumping here and there, cuddling with a baby monkey. I saw one monkey ate the banana and went to the water tap, it turned the tap on and drank the water, which confirmed that there is no doubt that these are our ancestors. In the last I took one picture with the monkey, though I didn’t resemble a monkey with jasmine garland, in my hair, I matched the people around me.

Now when I go down memory lane and recall this trip, I guess that it was the blessing of Lord Shiva that this trip was successful and peaceful. We stayed there for six days, my classes, assignments, and practical exams went smoothly and we made few friends who were localities and outsiders. One of the localities took us to visit nearby places; one of them was Pichavaram Mangrove forest. We went boating in this backwater which was a wonderful experience.

On the way back from Mayliaduturai station, had been to enquire about our return train, we saw another temple Vaitheeshwaran Temple which was also a Lord Shiva temple worshipped as Vaidyanathan or Vaitheeshwaran, which means “God of Healing”. It was late so we couldn’t see the whole temple complex but we heard from the locals that there is a holy water tank within the temple complex and a dip in the water cures all the diseases as it is believed, that water contains nectar. I don’t know if it’s true or not but I had a blissful feeling with that temple as I saw the Crescent moon above this temple Gopuram while I was praying.

Finally, when everything was done and we were about to leave the next day, we came to know that Pondicherry was nearby, about one and half an hour (67kms) journey from Chidambaram. We seized the opportunity and instead of boarding the train to Bangalore we took the bus to Pondicherry the next day. 

Written by:

Sneha Kalmat

Sneha Kalmat is an Architect, Content writer, Booktuber, Book reviewer and loves to read, write and travel.

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