Chidambaram is where we first met our wonderful guide, Raja, who led us through the temples in Chidambaram, Gangaikondacholapuram, Darasuram and his home town, Thanjavur (or Tanjore, as everyone said for the benefit of us western tourists). Chidambaram itself is noticeably poorer than the other towns we visited. But the Sabhanayaka Nataraja Temple, dedicated to Shiva Nataraja, Lord of the Dance, is wonderful. In the evening, when it is lit by the setting sun, the colors are particularly beautiful.

Sabhanayaka Nataraja Temple
West gopuram in the evening sun South gopuram
Classical dance steps or karanas

Since the temple is dedicated to dancing Shiva, the east and west entrances are decorated with reliefs showing  the 108 karanas, or phases of movement in classical Indian dancing. It is said that dancers from all over India come here to study them.

East gopuram Goats leaving the temple
The Sabhanayaka Nataraja Temple has a particularly beautiful tank, the Shivaganga Tank.

As already stated, Chidambaram is a, well, shabbier town than Chennai or Trichy or Madurai. But it's not uninteresting for all that.

Selling banana leaves to eat from Street in Chidambaram
Monkey outside our hotel window East gopuram of Nataraja Temple

The next morning, we met our wonderful guide, Raja. That's he in the yellow shirt, leading us in through the east gopuram of the temple. Raja ignored the hawkers wanting us to leave our sandals with them (for money) and went right up to the gate and left them with a woman selling religious articles.

Goddess Shiva
Clothed goddess Shiva and Parvati

Inside, we saw statues of the goddess (Hindus consider the different goddesses to be all manifestations of the one goddess, who is in fact energy.) and of Shiva and Parvati, Shiva in his frequently-seen relaxed pose, leaning on his bull. We thought it curious the way they clothe some of the statues. It's not prudishness,  but is intended as an offering. We looked at the tank and the closed Thousand-Pillared Hall, then entered the gate through a mandapa and into the inner temple, where no photos were allowed. 

Inside, two shrines are mounted on a stone platform, one to Vishnu and the main one to Shiva. Here, the anteroom to the inner sanctum is open on three sides, unlike the closed one at Tiruvannamalai, so there is not the same impression of timelessness. We watched the priests ritually bathe the lingam with rice, sandal paste, oil, water and we don't know what else. After this, we were allowed to mount the platform outside the inner sanctum (all the men shirtless) and take a closer look into the sanctum through the bars protecting it. Again, we were swept up by the throngs of the devout.

Entrance to the inner temple View across the tank to the golden roof and the south gopuram

Later, we took a walk around the part of town near our hotel, across from the bus station.

Fruit sellers Cow
Fruit and flower sellers A cow at the market
Siv Bus
Swedish tourist Indian buses are always full.
The "talkies"! A small market street

So Chidambaram is more than well worth a visit. The next day, we met Raja again in Gangaikondacholapuram.

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