From Pondicherry to Chidambaram via Pichavaram, the Mangrove forest...
Because of the road protest, our journey to Chidambaram was delayed by a couple of hours. Since the Temple closed at noon for afternoon rest, we decided to stop at Pichavaram and take a nice boat ride through the Mangrove forest. This area is famous because it is situated at the meeting point of the river and the sea. We boarded a small boat with a strong oarsman and took off for a two hour cruise through the canals of the mangrove. It took a little while to get into the lazy rhythm of the journey, but once we relaxed, it was a joyful experience. The tide here increases and decreases every half hour. We saw fishermen and women fully immersed in the water moving their nets about to catch the fish.
|Here's a classic Indian statue of the mayor of some region of south India. Just on the side of the road as we enter a small village...|
|From Pichavaram, we head on to Chidambaram (78 km. south of Pondicherry), a very ancient and renowned shrine. One theory is that the word "Chidambaram" comes from the two words "chit" meaning consciousness and "ambaram" meaning sky equaling the sky of consciousness. It is one of the most celebrated of shrines in all of India and is spread over 40 acres right in the heart of the city of Chidambaram. This is where Shiva resides in his embodiment as the fifth element, ether, or akasha. Known as Chidambaram Natarajar Temple, it is associated with Shiva in his Ananda Tandava pose, the cosmic dance of bliss. This dance symbolizes the five divine acts of creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and bestowment of grace.|
The Temple has 4 majestic entrances and 9 gateways. We hired a very stoned guide whose teeth were stained purple from the beetle nut he was chewing. He knew a lot about the history of this Temple and was a very memorable guy. He asked us if we knew how many breaths we take in a day and he nearly keeled over in shock when we answered "21,600". And right we were! He then told us that there were 21,600 gold tiles that made up the roof of the small temple that held the Shiva Nataraj. And that was no coincidence!
The gopurams or towers represent the four directions of east, west, north and south and were built over a period of 1000 years, so many different dynasties are represented in the architectural style. Each one is a masterpiece in itself. Towering more than 250 feet up, they each have seven tiers.
The carved towers were unbelievably gorgeous and told a whole story, and the colors had been restored just five years ago - so they looked fresh and strong...
|Another ornate carved detail, showing the great sage Patanjali. Notice how his lower body is a naga, or snake...|
|In each of the towers on either side of the passway, there are representations of the 108 poses of the classical Bharata Natyam Tradition. Each pose was about 12" x 12". Although the towers are intricately decorated with many images, there is no Nataraja, as this is reserved for the innermost shrine alone.|
|These 4 priests (recognized by the topknot of hair on the left side of their faces), were carved life-size on the side of the 108 poses. The Brahmins throughout most of India have the topknot on the right side of their head. Chidambaram priests alone, we were told, go for the left side.|
|Also on the outer edge of the Temple was this large pool, where it was said that if you dipped in it, it cured you of all of your ailments...|
|We were amazed by this huge elephant chasing a man that was carved on the side of one of the outer Temples...|
This Temple has the actual image of Shiva Nataraja inside of it, which is very rare. It was about 3 feet tall, in the innermost sanctum. Most of the Temples in India have lingams to represent Shiva. The Nataraja is located in the Chitsabha, the holiest shrine in this Temple. It is a simple wooden structure supported with wooden pillars, with a hut shaped roof. We had to wait in line in order to go in and see it. Men were asked to remove their shirts and any head coverings in order to go in. A sign said that both women and men seeking darshan of this shrine needed to be pure.
Once inside the Temple complex, we were not allowed to take any photos. The inside of the temple was itself huge, with room after room after room, and columns and hallways - an amazing labyrinth. There were hundreds of people inside, and – like all of India – the atmosphere was at once chaotic and perfectly orderly. This is an indescribable phenomena - yet those who've been to India understand this principle just watching traffic on the street. We've found that everything seems to work this way.
This Temple was alive and pulsing with the shakti or energy that comes from being used daily for worship. We found an area somewhat off to the side. There was one Brahmin priest reciting Veda by himself, for all to hear, though no one in particular was listening - yet everyone was. And then another group of about 4-5 Brahmins reciting another text about 10 feet behind him. We settled down against some pillars just behind them and went into very deep meditation. We had one of our best meditations here, and when we came out of meditation, we found we were now surrounded by about 20 Brahmins. Perfect! It was a highlight day, thanks in large part to the depth of the meditation - a gift from Lord Shiva himself.
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