Chidambaram is on the northern edge of the Cholan empire, which followed that of the Pallavas. The Nataraja Temple dates back to ninth century A.D.and features some of the earliest gopuras – the pyramid gateways found in South Indian Hindu temples.
However, there is much evidence of later additions, as this temple has deep religious significance: it is built in honour of Shiva in his form as Nataraja, ‘Lord of Dance’. He is supposed to have performed his cosmic dance here. It is also home of one of the five lingas (the phallic emblems representing Shiva).
The temple is therefore a pilgrim centre for Shaivites and the huge complex has been added to over the centuries, most conspicuously by the multi-coloured statues on the gopuras! The priests who look after the temple, identifiable by their top-knots, were in much evidence when we visited.
While waiting for the afternoon opening of the temple, we wandered round the town. This is not a well-known tourist centre and we enjoyed strolling, unimpeded by the usual pressures, in streets which offered dramatic contrasts between extremely poor habitations and some pretty amazing new houses.