Chidambaram:Located from some 150km from Chennai, Chidambaram-‘Chit Ambara’- is the reputed Shiva Sthaana hosting the unique Nata Raja manifestation of Maha Deva and the Akasha Linga, being one of the Pancha Bhutas viz. Prithivi-Aapas-Tejas-Vayu-Akasha. As Akasha (Sky) is represented here, Prithvi Linga is at the Ekambareshwara Temple at Kanchi pura, Aapas or Jala Linga at Tiruvanaikkaaval, Agni Linga at Annamalai- all in Tamilnadu and Vayu Linga at Kalahasti in Andhra Pradesh; as to why Chidambaram is the Abode of Nata Raja as also of the Shiva Linga the legend explains as follows: Once Parama Shiva decided to test the efficacy of the Mantras, Nitya Karmas, Homa Karyas, and austerities being observed steadfastly and in extremities by Sages, even non-disregading the ultimate objective of accomplishing the Supreme Paramatma. He donned the form of a Bhikshu or mendicant and asked Vishnu to assume the forms of two damsels of extraordinary beauty and grace of Mohini the Enchantress. The disturbed Sages from their rituals used Mantras to create poisonous snakes and releaed them but Maha Deva wore them all over his body as ornaments. The Sages materialised cruel animals like tigers but Shiva donned as tiger skins around his waist. They created fierce wild elephants and like killing Gajasura he smashed all the wild elephants and wore elephant skins around. As a last resort, the enraged Munis created a huge devil called Muyalakan with all their Mantra Shakti but Shiva immobilised him and having assuming a mild smile performed Tandava Dance by filling up the Sky when the Sages prostrated and realised the excessive and limitless rituals would be counter productive for Realisation. Historical references of the Chidambara Temple as evidenced in Tamil literature date back 7th century AD and avilable inscriptions eestablish that CholaKings were the active builders of theTemple complex over a sprawling 40 acre area in the heart of the City. The main Mandir is of Nataraja Shiva inside the fifth enclosure; at the third enclosure after the entrance has Ganesh Mandir and at the end of the fourth enclosure is large Nandi as also a few smaller Mandirs also. Facing the Main Mandir and within the fourth enclosure itself is a Sabha Mandapa around which are smaller temples and ahead of the Mandapa is a gold coloured pillar; the high rise Main Mandir’s entry gate lead one to the Golden Murti of ‘Natya bhangima’ Nataraja or dance posed Shiva, with his right foot raised posturing typical ‘tandava natya mudra’ surrounded by golden idols of Parvati also of celestial music experts Tumbura, Naradaadis.To the side of the Nataraja there is a block of Yantra and on it a blue coloured Akasha Lingas which are visible clearly at the timings of Abhisheka on the mornings and nights, one being of Sphatika and another of Nila Mani, besides which is southward Shankha: the Sphatikamani Murti is called Chandra- mouleeswara and the Neelamani Murti is named Ratnasabhapati/ As one climbs down steps at the exit and secures darshan of Nataraja, one finds Govindaraja Mandir in which Narayana is as of sesha shayi posture, besides Lakshmi and other Parikrama Idols; there is also a separate Lakshmi Mandir in which the Idol is named Pundarikavalli. In the fourth enclosure are the Murtis of Bhagavan Shankara with Parvati seated on his lap.Besides, Hanuman’s siver Murti, Nava Grahas and 64 Yoginis are placed. There is an independent Mandir of Devi Parvati in the south west of the fourth enclosure. To the north of the fourth enclosure there is another Mandir of Nataraj, before which is the Sabha Mandapa, as also many Shankara maya Linga vigrahas and among these is the Moola Vigraha of Chidambara, whose side are placed th Murtis of Sages Vyagrahapaada and Patanjali whose deep veneration led to Shankar’s appearance and the performance of Tandava Nritya or the dance of ecstasy, besides the gifting of Tandava Nataraja, since installed as the Adi Deva Shankara! Outside the two enclosures of the main Mandir is the Shiva Ganga sarovara called Hema Pushkarini and Shiva Kaami Sundari Parvati Mandir, opposite which is the Subrahmanya Mandira where the Lord is known as Mayura Swai Kartikeya. Crossing the Shiva Ganga Sarovara is the Sabha Mandapa called Sahasra Stambha Mandapa. The nearby Tirtha places are Tiruvetkalam where Arjuna secured Pashupatastra from Maha Deva a two Temples of Shankara and Parvati are in Position; Varemaadevi with Varema Devi with Veda Narayana Mandiras; Vriddhachalam where Vibhoshita Rishi worshipped Maha Deva and a Shiva Linga-Parvati Temple was built; Shiyali where Brahma Purishwara Shiva Mandir where BrahmapureshwaraShiva Linga and Tripurasundari Devi Mandir are in position, where the the illustrious Shaivacharya named Tirujnaana Sambandha worshipped and drank Devi Parvati’s breast milk and Maha Deva himself administerd Jnaanopadesha; Vaideeshwara Koel where Vaidyanatha Linga, Bhagavati Parvati, Swami Kartika Mandirs are in position and this Place is noted for Bala Mundana Samskara for which parents from far and near take their children for the same. Tiruvenkadu also called Swetaranya where Aghora Murti Mandira presents Maha Deva’s Roudra Swarupa is the Main Deity; Marutwasura the son of Jalandhaasura harassed Devas who prayed to Mahadeva and the latter commissioned Nandiswara who in turn lifted up and threw away the Asura into the High Seas; the cowardly and schemy Asura made an appeal to Maha Deva without the knowledge of Nandeeshwara and the merciful Parama Shiva gifted a Trishula to him. But the wily Asura attacked Nandi with the Trishula thus gifted by Shiva receded and brought the fact ofTrishula being used against Nandi himself but meanwhile Nandi found his own tail was damaged by the Trishula! On knowing of this, Shiva was infuriated on knowing this and having assumed the Swarupa of Aghora Swarupa and instantly killed the Asura. As this legendary background was dug up in the form of an ancient rock in Tamil, a Chola King raised a Mandir of Aghora Roudra Shiva and gifted a golden vessel for regular worship besides a Padmaraaga Mani chain to the Lord. Mayavaram which is about 15 km from Chidambaram also known locally as Tirumayilaaduturai is known for Mayureshwara Shiva Linga Mandir and Abhayamba Devi Parvati also called Anchala Devi. The Story believed locally is that at the time of Daksha Yagna when Rudra Ganas were devastating the Yagna, a Female Peacock got frightened and requeseted for the protection of Devi Sati. The latter while jumping into the Homa Kunda recalled the request of the bird and assumed the form of Mayuri or Peacock and worshipped Maha Deva. Subsequently the Mayuri assumed the form of Devi Parvati. Since Parvati had earlier assumed the form of Mayuri and provided Abhaya or Fearlessness Devi Parvati had since been known as Abhayambika.
Tiruvaarur: Some 15 km from Mayavaram or 22 km from Tanjore, is the highly famous Thyagaraja Mandir, which incidentally has the widest of Gopurams in Southern India; and as the Tyagaraja -Araadhana Kshetra. As Shiva Murti is aptly called in his Mandir, the Vigraha of Devi Parvati is known as Neelotpalaambika. Outside the Temple are the Vigrahas of Ganesha and Kartikeya, besides the Nandi Swarupa which is acclaimed as a Sarva Pashu roga nivarini or the Insant Curer of cattle diseases. Ahead of Nandi is the Tapaswini Swarupi Parvati named as Kamalambal with four hands carrying Varamudra or the sign of refuge, Maala or garland, Paasha, and Kamala and this Murti is locally believed as one of the Para Shakti Peethas called Akshara Peethas. This hallowed Place is not only the birth place of Tyagaraja, but also of Muttu Swami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri the other illustrious names popular for eternal Art of singing, poetry and lyrics. At Achaleshwara it is stated tat the Shadow of Shiva Limtga falls only in the Eastern side and no other sid; there are also Miandirs of Hatakeswara, Anandeswara, Siddheswara etc. Two interesting features of The Tyagarajeshwara Mandir are of the Chariot at the Shiva Mandir with several small Mandirs such as of Dandapani, Neelakantha,etc as also a Sarovara with many Lotus ponds and as many as 64 Ghats!