We were on our way to the Vaitheeswaran Temple, when we decided to take a short detour. The magnificent gopuram* of the ancient temple was visible from afar, and it was on an impulse, that we decided to visit the Chidambaram temple.
Opposite the entrance stood an intricately carved wooden structure, being prepared, perhaps, for the grand pooja which was to take place only two days after our visit. A long row of shops – selling flowers, pooja items, idols of Gods, colourful kolam powders and filter coffee – lined either side of the path leading up the entrance. We deposited our slippers with one of the shoe-caretakers (for lack of a better word), and stepped inside.
Beautiful kolams greeted us, followed by the grand gopuram which we had seen from afar. There were more gopurams inside the premises. Hundreds of devotees had come, mostly in crowded buses, from different parts of the country. We followed the crowd.
After a long walk from the entrance, we entered the main shrine. Devotees who were closer to the sanctum sanctorum, bent over the railings; those who were behind, stood on their toes; children sat on shoulders of their fathers, all of them waiting to get a glimpse of Nataraja, the lord of dance. As the curtain was pulled apart, temple bells and folded palms filled the shrine.
This ancient temple, spread over 40 acres, is one of the largest temples in the world (fourth largest, to be precise)**. Intricate sculptures of deities atop the gopurams, stone panels depicting dance postures, halls with high ceilings, all supported by massive pillars embellished with floral detailing. With several shrines and tanks, the temple priest told us, it would take one full day to properly visit the temple complex. An hour, was hardly going to be sufficient to soak in the magnificence and grandeur of the temple.
Every year Bharatanatyam dancers converge in this temple during the annual festival to worship, their offerings in the form of dance. I can only wonder what that atmosphere would be like. Hopefully I will visit the temple once again. And on that day, I will spend more than just an hour.
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* Gopuram is a monumental tower, usually ornate, at the entrance of any temple, especially in Southern India. This forms a prominent feature of Koils, Hindu temples of the Dravidian style. They are topped by the kalasam, a bulbous stone finial. (Source: Wikipedia)
** The three largest temples are, in order, Angkor Wat, Cambodia; The Srirangam Temple, Trichy, Tamil Nadu: Akshardham, Delhi, India (Source)
Further Information on the Chidambaram temple: Chidambaram Temple on Wikipedia