Chidambaram - The Temple of the Cosmic Dance
My heart lives in two places - it dances in the ecstasy of pure bliss in Chidambaram where Shiva dances his cosmic dance as Nataraja (king of the dance) - and it stands still in the awareness of being in Arunachala where Shiva stands as the immovable Mountain of Light.
THE TEMPLE OF CHIDAMBARAM
In many Tamil scriptures and songs when the word Kovil (temple) is used without attaching a specific name to it, it is well known that the writer is speaking of Chidambaram. This is the shrine of shrines for devotees of Shiva and is believed to be the very heartbeat of the cosmos. Chidambaram means the "space of consciousness" - it is that pure bliss of the awareness of being within each of us. It is what Jesus calls the "Kingdom of God" within you. Or what Buddha calls "the Jewel hidden in the Lotus of the Heart".
The dome of the sacred space in Chidambaram is made of 26100 gold tiles which signify the number of breaths the average person takes in a day. Each tile has the words "Siva-Siva" written on it. He is the cause of every inhalation and exhalation. In the final stages of spirituality we will realise everything that does not cry "Siva Siva" is a waste of breath.
Those golden tiles are held together by 72000 gold nails which according to Indian mystics are the number of energy centres or nerves in the human body. The experience of the One who dances in Chidambaram will cause every nerve in the body to pulsate with the fire of Divine Grace.
THE IMAGE OF THE DANCING LORD
The image of Nataraja is situated slightly to the left in the Inner Sanctum like the heart in the human body. This signifies that the God whom we encounter in this magnificent temple is the same One who also dances in the inner sanctum of the human heart.
Nataraja dances in a circle of flames representing the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution and the movement of the Cosmos. This dance of Siva is the life force that sustains all things and draws all things back to the Source.
With his two upper hands the Lord holds a drum and fire - these symbolise sound and light, the principle means of creation. The Bible says at creation, "God said, 'let there be light' ", which means a sound proceeded from the Source of Being that caused the manifestation of light.
He shows another hand in abaya mudra pose – meaning “don’t fear!”,
And finally a hand points to his foot which is elegantly raised. This foot suspended in mid-air is the focus of intense devotion and love for devotees of Shiva-Nataraja. It is the place of surrender, the point of grace and the assurance of salvation.
During one of my first encounters with Lord Nataraja in Chidambaram I heard a voice in my heart say, “What do you have to fear, you who take refuge at the raised foot of Thillai’s dancer". Once you surrender and take refuge at the Source of Grace, stop worrying! stop fearing! and trust the one who controls the whole cosmos through his divine dance.
His right foot is firmly pressing down on a creature called Apasmara - which means "that which has forgotten". It symbolises the ego-self which has forgotten the truth of its divine nature. The work of divine Grace in the soul suppresses the false-ego-self and lifts us up into the True-Self.
THE QUEEN OF CHIDAMBARAM
Next to Nataraja stands the image of Mother Goddess, Shakti, as Sivagami Sundari which means 'the beautiful one who desires Shiva' OR 'she who is the desire of Shiva' . She is the Shiva-desire hidden within each of us. When we realise nothing in this material realm can satisfy the deepest desire of our hearts then that Sivagami Sundari, the beautiful Shiva-desire, awakens in us. O beautiful Mother of Grace, awaken Shiva-desire in us.
THE SECRET OF CHIDAMBARAM
And then there is the Rahasyam (the secret) of Chidambaram. Next to the Nataraja is a secret chamber which is veiled by a black curtain. This is the most holy place of Shiva - the final experience! It is an “empty” space where there is NOTHING - No-thing! No thing your mind can comprehend!. It is nothing and yet everything. It is the absolute highest state - the formless nameless Reality. When the curtain is removed we see just a black space with some golden vilvam leaves hanging in front to mark the space. It is the eternal void - infinity – the space of consciousness. This secret of Chidambaram is ultimately to be experienced in the heart space.
THE MYSTERY OF THE COSMIC DANCE
The cosmic dance of Nataraja is in everything. In the brilliant burning sun, in the movement of the earth and planets, in the rising and falling of the waves, in the change of the seasons, in the coming of the rains, in the storm, flood, earthquake, tsunami and volcano, in the growth of trees and flowers and every blade of grass, in the blowing of the wind, in birth and death, in every breath we inhale and exhale, in every heartbeat... If we are still and listen, we will hear the beat of the footsteps of the cosmic dancer in all these things. Every moment of life, irrespective of whether we judge them as good or bad, are a part of his dance. And through this dance, the merciful Lord is dancing everything back to that original state of absolute stillness where we abide in the Blissful Awareness of Being.
Each of us has a part to play in this cosmic dance. Each of you are expressions of the Divine dance. Everyone has specific steps in that great dance of the universe. To find our life purpose and live it out as an offering of love is to re-align ourselves with the rhythm of Siva-Nataraja's dance. Yes we are called to dance! To dance with the Lord; to weep and laugh as a part of the dance; to live and die in the continuous cycle of life; and slowly, day by day, moment by moment, to become one with the Divine.
In the Christian hymn Christ sings: “I danced in the morning when the world was begun. I danced in the Moon, and the stars, and the Sun. I came down from Heaven and I danced on Earth. At Bethlehem I had my birth. Dance then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said He! And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be. And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said He.”
All the messengers of Light have come to remind us of the forgotten dance and bring us back into the divine rhythm.
Jesus also said “We played the flute, but you would not dance! (The Bible: Matthew 11:17). When we respond to the divine call we will find ourselves dancing into the heart of God where perfect stillness will claim us in the experience of SatChidAnanda (the Blissful Awareness of Being).
A beggar, I came to the golden hall which in Thillai stands.
For rumour has it that the King who therein resides is gracious beyond measure.
And this vagrant has seen with his own eyes.
The precious sights of the golden hall.
Ah, what a strange thing!
This king sits not on a throne.
But for the delight of his Queen and the grand assembly gathered,
With each step he mesmerises that gathering of gods and humans.
And moves them as one great wave with the rhythm of his steps.
This pauper, unworthy to enter such noble a company is ushered in.
Closer, closer they say!
With head bent he shyly looks up.
Behold, he stands before the King.
In mid-air He has paused the mystic dance.
His glorious locks dropping like the waves of the ocean.
His hand which says “fear not” calms my trembling heart.
Beautiful, the stance he holds.
Beautiful, his smile.
Beautiful, the bliss in his eyes.
He is altogether beautiful.
His hand to his raised foot pointing.
How elegantly gracious is the curve of that foot.
And this beggar’s hands stained with numerous births dares to reach out to grasp it.
A gentle weight upon my chest is felt.
The other foot is upon my heart, pushing down the wretched ego-self.
While the other, which I now firmly clasp, raises me to nature’s Truth.
And the voice of the Blessed Lady, the radiant queen is heard, "Welcome home, Son!"
And the rags of forgetfulness fall of this beggar
And with grace-filled Light I am redressed.
The Son has entered again the Royal Court of the Father.
Yes, I tell you the king of the golden Hall, which in Thillai stands, is beyond gracious.
For with my own eyes I have seen.
And a beggar he has made a Prince!
And upon him bestowed riches unimaginable!
To my Father who dances in the court of Chidambaram,
And my beloved Mother and Queen,
I bow again.
- Fr Kumeran -