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The Town of the Cosmic Dance

Yet another beautiful temple town built by the Cholas, Chidambaram has a quaint charm in addition to its spiritual significance. Part 15 of an Outlook special on tourist destinations in Tamil Nadu.

About 250 kilometres from Chennai lies the tiny town of Chidambaram. Spread over five square kilometres, Chidambaram is a focal point of pure Dravidian culture. 

Heritage and history
Chidambaram is a favoured pilgrimage spot for Shiva devotees. Also known as Thillai, legend tells of the two saints, Patanjali and Vyagrapada, living in the Thillai forest. It is said that Lord Shiva, pleased by their devotion, performed the Cosmic Dance here. 

The Thillai Nataraja Temple was built to reflect this legend. The complex sprawls in the middle of the city. Lord Shiva is worshipped here as Nataraja. The town developed around the temple, which has the famous golden hall of dance – covered in gold plates - built by Sundra Pandya. 

The Thillai Kali Amman Temple, north of the Nataraja Temple, is another preferred destination, known for its stone inscriptions. 

The Festivals of Dance
Befitting the town where Lord Shiva danced as the Nataraja, Arudhra Darshan, the festival of the dancing form of Lord Shiva is a significant day for Chidambaram. Chidambaram also hosts another world-famous festival – the Natyanjali Dance Festival – where classical dancers offer anjali to Nataraja through their dance. Starting on Mahashivratri, this attracts dancers from all over. Tourists also travel to enjoy dance forms like Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Manipuri Bharatanatyam, Pung Cholom and Odishi in the brightly set up Prakaram, the area surrounding the temple. 

Nature’s bounty 
Chidambaram is also blessed with stunning scenic beauty. The forests and the serene backwaters of Pichavaram are perfect places for nature lovers to nourish their souls. Chidambaram is a preferred destination for bird lovers because of migratory birds that come to the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest. 

Points of Interest 
The mangrove hinterland in Pichavaram covers around 1,100 hectares and joins the Bay of Bengal. There are about 50 islands of different sizes in the area, intersected by around 4,400 waterways. About 200 types of birds have been sighted here, apart from rich riverine life including turtles and otters. Around 20 distinct types of trees have been identified. This is undoubtedly one of the most unique sightseeing places in South India and tourists can take boat rides for memories of a lifetime.

On the food trail
Chidambaram is a vegetarian lover’s paradise. Regional staples like dosa, idli, upma and utthapam are made in interesting variants. Vegetarian thalis serve a variety of vegetable preparations. Though few, the restaurants serving non-vegetarian food offer a wonderful taste of the region’s culinary traditions. The coconut chikkis here are famous.

Shopping bag tales
Brass and bronze ware are the main items sold – lamps and bells being the most popular. A wide variety of artificial dance jewellery sets and gold-coated ornaments – known popularly as temple jewellery and a must for Bharatanatyam dancers – are made here. The Chidambaram Nataraja idol is a must-buy souvenir while handlooms and textiles, silk and cotton saris specific to Tamil Nadu can also be found. 

Getting there
By air: Tiruchirappalli. 195 kilometres away, is the nearest airport. 
By rail: On the Chennai-Trichy line, this is well-connected to Rameswaram, Thanjavur and Kumbakonam. 
By road: Chidambaram is well connected to all major cities through Tamil Nadu’s fantastic roads. 

Accommodation
TTDC Pichavaram Boat House
Aringnar Anna Tourism Complex
TTDC, Pichavaram, Killai Post
Chidambaram,Tamil Nadu 608102
Contact: 91 9176995838

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