24 November 2009

Pancha Sabaigal Sthalams

Temples where Lord Shiva performed Cosmic dance are called Pacha Sabhaigal - Pancha means - 5;  Sabai means - Dance hall.

1.Chidambaram ( sky ) - Kanaga sabai

2.Thiruvalangadu ( Gems ) - Rathina sabai

3.Thirukkutralam ( Art ) - Chitra sabai

4.Thirunelveli ( Copper ) - Tamira sabai

5.Madurai ( Silver ) - Rajatha sabai

The dance of bliss, or the Ananda Tandavam of Shiva is said to symbolize the five divine acts of creation, sustenance, dissolution, concealment and bestowment of grace.

The dance of Shiva has been frozen in metal and held in worships in Nataraja Sabhas, in virtually all of the Saivite temples in Tamilnadu. Five of the foremost Sabhas (Pancha Sabhai) are at Chidmbaram (Kanaka Sabhai the hall of gold), Madurai (Rajata Sabhai the hall of Silver), Tiruvalangadu near Chennai (Ratnasabhai the hall of rubies), Tirunelveli (Tamrasabhai the hall of copper) and Kutralam near Tirunelveli (Chitrasabhai the hall of pictures).

Other dance halls of significance are Adri Sabhai (the Himalayas), Aadi Chitsabhai (Tiruvenkaadu near Chidambaram) and Perur Kanakasabhai (Patteeswarar temple at Perur near Coimbatore).


Chidambaram, variedly known as Ponnambalam, Thillai, Kanagasabai etc., is one of the rich treasure houses that remind us of the heights that civil engineering had reached in the days of yore in our country. This is especially so, when one sees that the temple whose structures occupy a sprawling 39 acres, the large halls, the tall towers, gateways, water tanks et al are built of stones, rocks hewn from hills. The feat becomes quite awe-inspiring when one realises that the temple is built on alluvial plain enriched by two rivers and where there is not even a trace of mountains for a circumference of about 50 Kms from where the temple is situated.

One can easily visualise the kind of planning, labour and co-ordination that would have gone into the simple process of bringing stones from elsewhere when the modes of transport as we know them now were non-existent.

All that we know of the antiquity of the temple is from the inscriptions that Parantaka Chola I (907 to 953 AD). Authorities on the history of architecture are of the opinion that the central temple belong to the 10th century AD while the Parvati temple and the enclosures are estimated to have been constructed somewhere around the 14th century AD.

Chidambaram is around 200 km. away from Chennai, on the banks of Coleroon, 28 km. from Cuddalore and is the headquarters of South Arcot District. It is one of the five Shiva temples of the South dedicated to the five elements. The Lingam of Kancheepuram temple is known as the Prithivi or the earth; at Jambukesvara the Lingam is worshipped as Appu or the water Lingam; at Thiruvannamalai it is known as Theyu or Thejas meaning fire; the Vayu or the wind Lingam is to be seen at Kalahasthi. At Chidambaram, the Lingam is called Akasa or the sky - but that it cannot be seen by these mortal eyes is that which makes it unique.

The idol of Lord Shiva in his dancing form - Nataraja - is installed and is worshipped in the main temple. The sanctum sanctorum is known as the Chitsabha, which is a wooden structure supported by wooden pillars and has a roof of unusual shape. The images of Nataraja and Sivakami are installed in the Chitsabha. A set of two veils are behind the idols, the outer one - that can be seen by all - black in colour while the inner veil - that cannot usually be seen - is red in colour.

And on the right side of Shiva is the most famed ‘Chidambara rahasyam’. It is the Akasa lingam or the empty space, representing Him in one of the five elements, the emptiness garlanded by golden Vilva leaves. The Divine Couple are there in their ‘formless form’.

The Chitsabha has other famed idols like the Ratnasabhapati (or the dancing Lord in ruby), the Spatika Lingam of Chandramauleeswara, Swarnakarshana Bhairavar, Mukhalingam, etc.

The Lord is believed to have danced in ecstasy in the Chitsabha, in the presence of sage Vyagrapadha, or the sage with ‘tiger’s feet’. The Damaru or the drum of Shiva is the originator of the sounds of alphabet. Tamil and Sanskrit are believed to have born of the drum. The swift-footed deer that He holds in his hand represents the human mind. The skin of tiger that the Lord is attired with represents Ahankara - or ego - that He killed. The river Ganges flowing out of his matted hair represents Chit Sakthi - wisdom - and the Crescent Moon that He wears is representative of the blissfulness of the Soul.

The dance of Shiva has been discussed by scholars like Dr. A. K. Coomaraswamy, who says, “The essential significance of Shiva’s dance is three-fold: first it is a symbol of his rhythmic play as the source of all movements within the cosmos, which is represented by the Arch or Tiruvasi; the second purpose of the dance is to release the countless souls of men from the snare of illusion; thirdly the place of the dance - Chidambaram, the centre of the Universe - is within the heart.”

There are two annual Brahmotsavams at Chidambaram, the most important one occurring in the month of Margazhi (December 15 to January 15), concluding on the full moon day corresponding to the Arudra Darsanam. This is a ten-day festival in Chidambaram. The second Brahmotsavam falls in the month of Aani and ends with Aani Thirumanjanam on the tenth day.

2. Thiruvalangadu ( Gems ) - Rathina sabai

Thiruvalangadu is one of the 5 Sabai’s where Lord Shiva has performed his cosmic dances. This place is called the Rathina Sabai (Gem Court).

This is a vast and beautiful temple heralded as Ratnasabhai - one of the five Pancha Sabhais special to Nataraja featuring a sprawling well maintained temple complex with beautiful mandapams and gopurams. It is located within two hours drive from Chennai, and within an hours drive from Kancheepuram.  This is the 15th of the 32 Tevara Stalams in the Tondai region of South India.


Shiva is said to have defeated Kali in a fierce dance duel by lifting his foot up on the Oordhvatandavam posture. Kali is depicted in a dance posture as well here. Karaikkal Ammayar is said to have walked on hear head to this shrine and her image is seen in the shriine to Oordhvatandavamurthy. There is yet another image of Nataraja, housed within the sanctum of Vadaranyeswarar. Legend has it that upon being requested by Naradar, to save the earthly beings from the rage of Kali, born out of her vanquishing the demons Sumban and Nisumban in the banyan forest in this region,Shiva agreed to a dance duel, and defeated Kali by raising his left foot, to adorn his ear with a earring that had slipped away during the duel - a gesture that Kali failed to imitate and admited defeat.

The Temple: A sprawling banyan tree constitutes the Stala Vriksham. There are inscriptions here which speak of grants given by Rajendra Cholan for the upkeep of the temple. Inscriptions here date all the way back to the 5th century. The towering Rajagopuram here, is visible for miles around. The towers and the walls surrounding the temple courtyards date back to the 12th and the 13th centuries.

It is inferred from the inscriptions that an earlier Pallava temple was reconstructed and renovated during the Chola rule, and during the later Chola period beginning with the reign of Kulottunga Chola I, the temple campus was enlarged (1075 - 1120). One of the bronze images of Nataraja unearthed here, now adorns the Art Gallery of the Chennai Government museum.

Festivals: The Margazhi Tiruvadirai celebrations witness festivities related to the Cosmic Dance of Shiva.

3. Thirukkutralam ( Art ) - Chitra sabai

Kutralam is a popular tourist resort in Southern Tamilnadu known for its waterfalls, amidst picturesque surroundings - and is a source of inspiration of many a literary work. Thousands visit this town when the waterfalls are in season. Kutralam represents one of the 5 Pancha Sabhas of Nataraja - Chitra Sabhai.

Kutralam is also known as Trikootaachalam. Near Kutralam, is Ten Kaasi with its Viswanathar Temple featuring one of the largest Gopurams in Tamilnadu. This shrine is regarded as the 13th of the Tevara Stalams in the Pandya region of Tamilnadu.

Legends: Agastyar who at Shiva's request, proceded southward to stabilize the balance of the earth, and relieve it from the instability resulting from the presence of a multitude of entities at Shiva's and Parvati's wedding in the Himalayas, to wait for a glimpse of the divine couple, is said to have created the Shivalingam here by shrinking an image of Vishnu, hence the name Kutralam.

The Temple:Kurumpalaveesar, sung in Tevaram is associated with the stala vruksham Kurumpalaa. Tirikootaraasappakavirayar's well known work Kutrala Kuravanji glorifies this shrine.. The temple has a conch shaped temple (Prakaram) plan and is referred to as Sangakkovil. In the Mummurasukkovil, Shiva showed himself as Bhrama and Vishnu. The Tirikootamandapam here is the site of festivities here. Parvati's shrine is also of significance here and is regarded as one of the 64 Shakti Peethams.

The Chitra Sabhai or the hall of pictures is located in a picturesque locale [see image above] away from the main temple. Architecturally the Chitrasabha resembles that of the other Nataraja Sabhas elsewhere in Tamilnadu, and its interior is decked with hundreds of murals, depicting images from the Indian epics. Natarajar is brought here during festivals from the Kurumpalaveesar temple.

Festivals: Nine worship services are offered each day here. Arudra Darisanam is celebrated in the Chitrasabha, and the Taandava Deepa Aradhanai carried out then is of significance here. In the annual festival Shiva appears as Bhrama, Vishnu, Rudra, Eswara, Sadasiva and Subramanya. Other festivals celebrated here are Vasanta Utsavam in Chittirai, Pavitrotsavam in Kartikai, Navaratri, Skanda Sashti, Chittirai Vishu and Aippasi Vishu. The ivory festival used in processions is of great beauty.

5.Madurai [Silver] - Rajatha sabai

The Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple is one of the greatest Shiva temples in India, known for its sprawling landscape filled with sculptural wonders; halls, pillars and lofty towers with lavish artwork in all forms. Madurai is a vibrant cultural center speaking of the glorious traditions of the region. It is the site of the 64 Tiruvilayadalgal of Shiva [Tiruvilayadal puranam and Halasyamahatmiyam] and is one of the 5 Pancha Sabhais of Nataraja - Rajatha (Velli )Sabhai - where Shiva dances with a raised right foot.

In terms of the richness of the legends, the abundance of literature & the stunning architectural& sculptural splendour,Madurai is second to none in representing the rich cultural traditions of India. Madurai is regarded as the 1st of the Tevara Stalams in the Pandya region of Tamilnadu.

History: Madurai has been a seat of Tamil culture since very ancient times. Nakkeerar, Appar and Sambandar have sung of its glories. The original temple was razed to the ground by invaders & the current magnificient structure was built by the Nayak Rulers.

Legends: Shiva is said to have been worshipped by Indra in the Kadambavana forest and hence Sundareswarar's vimanam is known as Indra Vimanam. Legend has it that Meenakshi [Parvati] the daughter of Malayadwaja Pandyan married Shiva here. Together, Shiva [Soundara Pandyan] and Meenakshi are said to have ruled over Madurai. There are several legends surrounding this temple.

Legend has it that Shiva performed the Aananda Natanam or the Dance of Bliss here. It is said that Patanjali and Vyagrapadar the supreme devotees of Nataraja, upon being requested to dine – on the occasion of Meenakshi's wedding with Shiva a Madurai expressed their desire to leave for Chidambaram to perform their daily ritual of witnessing Shiva’s dance of bliss there. Shiva is said to have requested the munis to stay on at Madurai, and to have danced the Aananda Natanam dance of Bliss at Madurai in the silver hall or the Rajatha Sabha.

Festivals: The Chittirai Tiruvizha (Apr 15-May 15) causes the entire city to take on a festive look; Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are taken in colorful processions; the divine marriage and the coronation are enacted.The float festival here is also of great importance.

5. Thirunelveli ( Copper ) - Tamira sabai

This Shivastalam is a vast temple with sprawling mandapams decked with life sized images in the town of Tirunelveli. It is one of the most beautiful temples in India and is hailed as one of the 5 Pancha Sabhas of Nataraja housing Tamira Sabha (the copper hall) - a beautiful hall with exquisite woodwork, where Natarajar is worshipped during Arudra Darisanam. The image above is that of the approach to the Tamirasabha, with the Sandana Sabhapathi shrine behind the dance hall. This shrine is regarded as the 14th of the Tevara Stalams in the Pandya region of Tamilnadu.
Legends: It is believed that food grains collected for worship at the temple were protected from the floods by a fence of grains and hence the name Nel Veli. Agasthyar & Vishnu are said to have worshipped here.
With this, my postings on Pancha Sabaigal Sthalams comes to a close.  More of such interesting Sthalams to follow..

The Temple: In reality the temple is a complex of two huge temples for Nellaiappar and Kantimati linked by the Sangili Mandapam which has several life sized sculptures adorning the pillars.The Oonjal Mandapam and the 1000 pillared hall are of great beauty.There is a Nellai Govindan shrine near the sanctum. Periya Sabhapathi and Sandana Sabhapati are the other two Natarajar images enshrined here.

This temple is known for its sculptural splendor and its musical pillars. It could take days, if not hours to soak in the grandeur of this temple. An example of its several unique features is the Manimandapam near the Nandi mandapam with 2 giant pillars carved out of a single stone. Each of these has 48 small sub pillars which produce musical notes when struck.

Festivals: Six worship services are offered each day here. The annual Bhrammotsavam is celebrated in the Tamil month of Aani for an extended period of time. Arudra Darisanam in Margazhi witnesses a lot of festivity.

1.Chidambaram ( sky ) - Kanaga sabai

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