History of Chidambaram Lord Nataraja Temple

Chidambaram History

Chidambaram Temple front View

Front View of Chidambaram Temple

Most temples in South India are 'live' monuments, in the sense, these are places where prayers continue to be conducted since inception, visited regularly by devotees and are also regularly maintained.

The puranas (history passed on verbally and later written down) mention that Saint Pulikaalmunivar had directed significant amounts of temple works through King Simmavarman. Among the Pallava kings, there have been three kings by the name Simmavarman (in 275-300 CE, 436-460 CE, 550-560 CE ). As the temple was already prominent during the period of Poet-saint Thirunavukkarasar (whose time period has been estimated more or less accurately as the 6th century), Simmavarman most likely lived around 430-458CE, i.e. Simmavarma II. The pattayam or declaration made out on copper plates in Kottravankudi confirms this. However the Thandanthotta pattayam and other pattayams of the Pallava period refer to the Simmavarman in association with the Chidambaram temple. It is hence believed that Simmavarman was a prince of the Pallava dynasty who renounced his royal rights and came to live in Chidambaram. Several sangam works have showered generous praise on the temple and its brilliance. The contemporary sangam works and later works in both tamil as wellm as sanskrit and also some epigraphs and murals at the temple refer to hiranyavarma as an ancient king of solar dynasty of cholas, who lived during the hoary krita age to have penanced at the site and subsequently founding the temple at the instance of lord sivan and the saint vyaghra padar or pulikaal munivar discussing the worship services to the devotee prince hiranyavarman.

However, the fact that the Poet-saint Manikkavasagar lived and attained bliss at Chidambaram long before the Poet-saint Thirunavukkarasar and as the deity of Lord Nataraja and its unique posture and representation do not seem to compare well with other Pallava works of that period, it is probable that there would have existed a later saint also called Pulikaalmunivar and that the temple existed from Simmavarman.

At periodical intervals (12 years in general), major repairs and renovation works are carried out, new facilities added and consecrated. Most old temples have also 'grown' over periods of time with additional facilities, more outer corridors and new gopurams (pagodas) were added by the rulers who patronized the temple. While this process has helped to keep the temples 'alive' as places of worship, from a purely archeological or historical perspective these renovations have unintentionally lead to destruction of the original works - which were not in sync with the latter and usually grander temple plans.

To this general trend, Chidambaram temple is no exception. The origins and developments of the temple are hence largely deduced from allied references in works of literature and poetry, the verbal information passed over generations by the Dikshithar community and from what little, of inscriptions and manuscripts that are available today.

We know from the sangam literature that the Cholas were great devotees of this ancient shrine. The Chola King Kochengannan was said to have born after the King Subhadevan and Kamaladevi worshipped in the Thillai golden hall. Hence the temple with its golden hall is likely to have existed thousands of years before the present era.

The temple architecture - particularly of the sanctum sanctorum does not conform to any of the other temple forms of the Cholas, Pandyas or the Pallavas. To an extent, this form has certain similarities with the temple forms of the Cheras but the earliest known links with the Chera dynasty is during the period of Poet-saint Sundarar (circa 12th Century ). Works in and referring to the Chidambaram temple are unfortunately only available from the 10 Century onwards.


There are several inscriptions available in the temple and referring to the Chidambaram temple in neighbouring areas.

Most inscriptions available pertain to the periods of:

The later Chola Kings

  • Rajaraja Chola I 985-1014 CE, who constructed the Big temple at Tanjore

  • Rajendra Chola I 1012-1044 CE, who constructed the Gangaikondacholapuram temple at Jayamkondam

  • Kulothunga Chola I 1070-1120 CE who constructed the Karakoil at Melakkadambur

  • Vikrama Chola 1118-1135 CE

  • Rajadhiraja Chola II 1163 -1178 CE

  • Kulothunga Chola III 1178-1218 CE

  • Rajaraja Chola III 1216-1256 CE

Pandya Kings

  • Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Veerapandiyan

  • Jataavarman Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Sundarapaandiyan 1251-1268 CE

  • Maaravarman Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Veerakeralanaagiya Kulashekara Pandiyan 1268-1308 CE

Pallava Kings

  • Avani aala pirandhaan Ko-pperum-singha 1216-1242 CE

  • (Born to rule the world, Great-Royal-Lion Lord)

Vijayanagara Kings

  • Veeraprathaapa Kiruttina theva mahaaraayar 1509-1529 CE

  • Veeraprathaapa Venkata deva mahaaraayar

  • Sri Ranga theva mahaaraayar

  • Atchyutha deva mahaaraayar(1529-1542 CE)

  • Veera Bhooopathiraayar


  • Descendant of Cheramaan Perumal nayanar, Ramavarma Maharaja.

The Gopurams

The South Gopuram was constructed by a Pandya king. This is evidenced by the presence of the fish emblem of the Pandyas that have been sculpted on the ceiling. Historically, the Pandyas are known to have sculpted two fishes facing each other when they complete the Gopuram (and leave it with one fish, in case it is incomplete). The South gopuram bears the two-fish insignia of the Pandyas. Subsequently, the Gopuram appears to have been redone by the Pallava King Koperunsingan I 1216-1242 CE, after retaining the first level. This Gopuram is called the Sokkaseeyan Thirunilai Ezhugopuram.

  • The West Gopuram was constructed by Jadavarman Sundara Pandyan I 1251-1268 CE.

  • The North Gopuram was constructed by the Vijayanagara King Krishnadevaraya 1509-1529 CE.

  • The East Gopuram was first constructed by the Pallava King Koperunsingan II 1243-1279 CE.

Subsequent repairs were carried out by Subbammal, who was the mother-in-law of the famous philanthropist Pachaiappa Mudaliar. The idols of Pachaiappa Mudaliar and his wife Iyalammal have been sculpted on the eastern gopuram. The Pachaiappa trust to date has been responsible for various functions in the temple and also maintain the temple car.

The golden tiled roof for the Chitsabha is said to have been laid by the Chola King Parantaka I (907-950 CE) ("Thillaiyambalathhukku pon koorai veiyntha thevan"). King Paranthaka II, Rajaraja Chola I, Kulothunga Chola I are reported to have made significant donations to the temple. Rajaraja Chola's daughter Kundavai II is also said to have donated gold and riches to the temple. Later Chola kings Vikrama Chola (AD 1118-1135) is also reported to have made donations for conduct of the daily rituals.

There have been donations of gold and jewels made by various kings, rulers and patrons to the temple - including the Maharaja of Pudukottai, Shri Sethupathy (the emerald jewel still adorns the deity), the British, etc.


Unlike several of the temples in North India, which were vandalized by several foreign invaders, the temples of South India had a relatively peaceful existence through the ages. This is often attributed to be a reason for temples to flourish in South India. However, this peaceful history is not without skirmishes. In the year 1312 after a session of prolonged civil war barbarians had broken into the site demanding several favours. This caused several hundreds of serving priests who were at that time stead fast in adhering to legal procedures give up their lives rather than yielding to barbarians. A few of them are known to have left to alappuzha in kerala to hiding and returned only after peace returned. It has been recorded that for more than 80 years in that turbulent century all temples and places were in a state of abandonment. The subsequent age of illicit regimes run by polygars, most of them with suspect credentials and identification in tandem with the unruly deccan kingdoms,like vijayanagar etc whose existence as well as operations were no doubt completely beyond the pale of a truthful setup created many a serious crisis.

Once again between 1458 and 1460 trouble erupted as kapilendra gajapati a local ruler of orissa made inroads with a huge contingent and pillaged and destroyed most temples and sites at tamilnadu.He also caused huge loss to life and property. Many incoming barbarians are known to have settled down at the respective places as colonists with usurped lands.There are some historical references to an event when the Dikshithars of the temple faced forced expansion of the Govindaraja Temple by a Vijayanagar Empire's Chieftain in 1597 C.E. Several Dikshithars jumped down from the tall Pagoda Towers and ended their lives, preferring death than to see their sacred and much loved temple from being demolished. This has been recorded by Father Pimenta, a travelling Jesuit Priest.

On many occasions, to escape invasions, Dikshithars are said to have locked up the temple and carried the deities with a lot of protection to Alapuzha in Kerala. They returned soon after the fear of invasion receded.

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