"Hridyakasa Mayam Kosam Anandam Paramalayam" Maitran - Upanishad.
The word Chidambaram is simply a synonym for Chidakas (ambaram meaning Akas) and we traced in our last how the idea of the human body and the heart regarded as the Temple of God had its very genesis in the oldest Upanishads. We said that one of the names of Chidambaram was 'Pundarikapuram.' This is only one out of a number of other names, all derived from the Upanishads. The following stanza from Saint Umapathi Sivacharya's Koirpurana, sums up all the various names of this temple and this verse only follows a corresponding verse in Suta Samhita.
அத்தன் பரதத் துவனித் தநடத் தமரும் பொதுவின் பெயர் மன்றமலஞ் சத்தும் பரிரண் மயகோ சமகந் தனிபுண் டரிகங் குவைகள் ககன்ஞ் சுத்தம் பரமற் புதமெய்ப் பதமச் சுழுனா வழிஞா னசுகோ தயநற் சித்தம் பரமுத் திபரப் பிரமந் திகழுஞ் சபைசத் திசிவா லயமே.
The various names are Sat, Param, Nityam, Hiranmaya kosam, Mahat, Viviktam, Pundarikam, Guha, Gaganam, Parisuddam, Atpudam, Satyaspadam, Gnanasukam, Parama vyomam (Chidambaram) Parabrahmam, Sabha, Sakti, Paramalaya (Sivalaya). The word Sat occurs in the 1st mantra, in the 1st Kanda of 6th Pratipathaka of Chandogya. The word Param, in 7th mantra of 3rd chapter of Swetaswatara; the word Hiranmayakosa in 9th mantra of 2nd Mundaka, 2nd Kanda of the same; the word Mahat, in Briharanyaka, 12th mantra, 4th Brahmana of 4th chapter; the word Viviktam (தனி- sole) in 9th mantra of Kaivalyopanishad; the word Pundarikam in Kaivalya, 11th mantra, and in Chandogya, 1st and 2nd mantras in 1st Kanda, 8th Pratipathaka; and in 7th mantra of 10th chapter of Mahanarayanopanishad; the word Guha in Taritriyaka 1st Anuvaka of Brahmananda Valli; the word Gaganam in 7th mantra of chapter 2, Mahanarayana; Suddam in Brahad 8th mantra, 14 Brahmana, 7th chapter, Atpudam in 7th mantra of 2nd chapter of Mahanarayana, and in Kaivalyam, 23rd mantra; Satyaspadum in Kena, 8th mantra 4th Kanda; Gnanasukam in Anandavalli of Taitriyaka; Paramavyoma (Chidambaram), in several places in the same Upanishad; Sabha in Chandogya, 7, 14; Satyam in Swetaswastara, 8th mantra, 6th chapter; Paramalayam (Sivalaya) in Maitrayanopanishad, 27 mantra, 6th Pratipathaka. The last word Paramalaya or Sivalaya is the same as the Tamil 'கோயில்' and is very important and its occurence in the last named Upanishad, which is reputedly a very old Upanishad, in the following line.
"Hridyakasamayam Kosam Anantham Paramalaya"
points to the fact that even in those old days Temples were not unknown. There can be no doubt that this was the oldest known temple in Southern India. European investigators trace back some portions of the building as far back as the 5th century. Professor Eastwick says that "there may be remains here of the 5th century, and assuredly there is much that dates as far back as the 10th and 11th. Even Lord Valentia remarks that the architecture has a more ancient appearance than that of Tanjore or Rameshwaram; and Mr. Fergusson infers the same, independently of historical accounts, from its surpassing excellence." These remarks apply to the outer structures more or less and latter additions were also made in the time of Vijia Raya Aditya Varma (A. D. 927 - 977); and in 1785, a widow is said to have expended nearly 2 lacs in the repair of the Gopurams. Later, the famous Pachiappa Mudaliar of Madras, who was a great devotee of the God, rebuilt the Eastern Gopuram, and established many other charities in connection with this temple. The Chetties of Devakota well-known for their great devotion and charities have, in the most praiseworthy manner, undertaken the entire renovation of the Temple, amidst a host of internal and external troubles, which even now do not seem to have come to an end. The works they are engaged in now seem as gigantic, as the undertakings of old, though they command greater facilities now, and when they are finished, they will stand forth as an enduring monument of the enterprise of the 19th century, as well as to the eternal glory of the Devakota Devotees. The devotees with whose name the Temple is most connected in popular imagination are those of Patanjali, Vyagrapadar, Hiranyavarma, Thillai Dikshitars and Manickavachaka. The first four names will point to the earliest time when the sages and people of the north penetrated to the South to set up their rites and ceremonies, as the time when this temple came into existence, and no wonder, the first Temple was only called Paramalaya, the கோயில் only and embodied all the Vedic conception of the seat of the Most Supreme, Invisible and Omnipresent One. Manicka Vachakar's Hymns on this Temple are now in existence (one of them translated and published in page 50, No. 3 of this magazine) and if his age may be put down as the first century after or before Christ, then this Temple must have been in existence long before. The Principal Shrine is the Chit Sabha or Chittambalam or Chidakas, where the Invisible Presence is worshipped as Akas Lingam. A curtain is dropped in front of this 'Empty Space,' and outside the curtain on one side is the Image of Nataraja in a dancing posture with His Sakti, Sri Sivakama. There are four other Sabhas called the Kanaka Sabha, Deva Sabha, Nirttha Sabha and the Rajah Sabha. There is a separate Amman Temple and there are smaller Shrines dedicated to Ganesha, Subramanya or Skanda, and Maha Vishnu, as Govindaraja &c. Our picture, which is from a Photo taken by the well-known firm of Madras, Messers. Weil and Klein, shows two of the Principal Gopurams in full, and the big Dome just in the middle of these two is the Golden Dome of the Chit Sabha and the smaller structure at the right hand corner is the Amman Temple, and the Sivaganga Tank, otherwise called Hemapushkarani (Golden Tank) appears in front and is a beautiful structure. The famous Thousand Pillared Mantapam in which the Great Abhishekam takes place is not shown. As to the excellence of its architecture we cull the following from the District Manual compiled by the Hon'ble Mr. J.H. Garstin:-
"As an architectural edifice the pagoda is a very wonderful structure, for it stands in the middle of an alluvial plain between two rivers, where there is not only no stone but none within 30 or 40 miles, and yet not only are the outer walls faced on both sides in their entirety with dressed granite, but the whole of the great area enclosed within the inner walls is entirely paved with stone of different kinds. Nor is this, by any means, all, for there is in the pagoda a Mantapam or hall with more than 1,100 carved pillars, each a solid block, and in front of the Mantapam are several rows of circular granite monoliths, about 70 in all, standing about 20 feet out of the ground, and sunk in it probably at least 6 feet, which are meant to support the great pandal erected in front of the Mantapam on occasions of ceremony. Moreover, the gateways of the Gopurams are built of solid blocks of stone 30 feet high and considerably over 3 feet square; while not the least remarkable feature in the pagoda is a large and very deep tank, about 150 feet long and 100 feet broad, with long flights of dressed stone steps leading down to the water on all four sides. The whole of the stone worked into the building must have been carried at least 40 miles, across the Vellar river (which is not navigable for more than 6 or 8 miles from its mouth), and over a country devoid of roads. Nothing, indeed, strikes one more forcibly, when looking at the pagoda, that the stupendous labour and marvellous perseverance which produced such results under such circumstances. The compiler was informed that much of the granite was brought from Trinomalai, a distance of over 80 miles, but it is somewhat difficult to believe this, as that would have entailed the crossing of the Pooniar river as well as of the Vellar.
The best carvings in the pagoda seem to be the pillars in the Nirattha Sabha and in the Subramaniya Kovil called "Pandiyanayakam," (which is now undergoing restoration), and a few figures in niches on the Gopurams.
The tank already alluded to is called Sivaganga or Hemapushkarani (Golden Tank). Its water is green and full of floating particles of vegetable matter which the people say are weeds. It is said to be remarkably soft and cleansing for washing and to be used for no other purpose. There are four wells of very good water in different parts of the pagoda from which many persons in the town get their daily supply for drinking and cooking - one well, close to the Chit Sabha and to the east of it is built of granite rings each about a foot in depth and cut out of a solid block. The diameter of the rings is about 3 feet.
A French Author, M. Legoux de Flaix (vol. 1, page 115) mentions the existence of a very remarkable stone chain in this pagoda, of which each link was 3 feet long and highly polished. Its entire length was 548 feet. No trace of this chain remains and the very tradition of its very existence is unknown to the Dikshatars. There are, however, three small circular links of a stone chain still depending from the top of one of the columns of the large hall of the Amman Kovil and it is possible that the original chain once hung there. Most probably it was destroyed by Hyder when the pagoda was in his possession, as many mutilations of the carved figures are ascribed to him and his soldiers.
The view from the top of the Eastern Gopuram (which is said to have been reuilt by Pachippa Mudaliar of Madras renown) is a remarkably fine one. On all sides the stretches of paddy fields interspersed with clumps of trees give an exceedingly park-like appearance to the scene. On the west the whole pagoda, with much of the town beyond, is seen at a glance, while on the east the view is bounded by the sea which is distant about 7 miles. The tall chimney of the Porto Nova corn works, and the mouth of the Coleroon which lies due east of this Gopuram, are prominent features in the landscape."
This temple unlike all other temples in Southern India is the sole property of Dikshitars or Brahman Priests, and they form a unique sect, having no connection with any other classes of Brahmans. Professor Wilson, in his glossary points out that Dikshitar is a title of one of the branches of the Kanoujia Brahmans who live chiefly near Allahabad. But Diksha is the initiatory ceremony which one has to undergo, before he can take part in the Vedic and Tantric rituals, and Upadesa. The management of the Temple by the Dikshitars is worth a study by itself. They constitute a thorough Democracy and Plebiscite. There is no head man at all, and no hereditary rights. Each male born after his 5th year has a vote and equal rights as any other person in the management of the Temple. Any visitor may see even today many an young urchin with his brass plate and ball of camphor leading up some pilgrims in his trail to the door of the shrine; and the rights of each to his own clientele is jealously guarded and respected. There are no endowments at all in land or funds, but all the expenses are met from the offerings of the people.
The principal festivals are six in the year, when the Abhisekams, anointing of Nataraja takes place, but the two most attended are the Thiruvadirai Darsanam which fell on the 7th of January last, and the one taking place in June called Ani-Thirumanjanum. These Darsanams are indeed a sight to see, this mass of Humanity with uplifted hands, and tear-streaming eyes, and we have thought in our inmost thoughts, whether it was not possible, when all this gorgeous material universe is evolved from Mind and Will, whether the united and devoted hearts of millions of mankind cannot be powerful enough to animate this Presence, by itself, and by reflection induce the same Devotion and Love in other hearts who look up to It.