The Deekshithar clicked his fingers. And it all became clear to me. This simple international human gesture of thumb and middle finger told the whole story of the Chidambaram Rahasyam in that moment. The ancient comprehensive vision of Creation, Being and Becoming was revealed.
Moments before he had opened the curtain, black on the outside and red on the inside. He had offered the camphor flame to the Akasha Linga. The Formless-Form of the Divine in the holy of holies in the Nataraja temple of Chidambaram. Strings of fragile golden vilva leaves shimmered in the dark space. A few moments of wonder… a click of the fingers. In that moment nothing became everything. “This is what Creation is”, the Deekshithar explained.
This first experience of the Secret of Chidambaram, its meaning, teaching and doctrine revealed with a click of a finger, happened over thirty years ago. I have stood in front of the sculptured wooden lattice screen which separates the public space from the sacred space of the Chit Sabha countless times since, and the moment of Darshan, vision, never fails to move me deeply.
What is this Secret which is revealed with just a click of the fingers?
Hall of Wisdom
The Shri Shiva Nataraja temple in Chidambaram is an ancient sacred site which represents a unique doctrine or teaching. Presenting the ancient secret teachings of alchemy, metaphysics and Gnosis in complete openness to humanity. This so-called Chidambaram Rahasyam, the Secret of Chidambaram, plays a pivotal role in the cosmology and philosophy encoded in the rituals, the mythology and the architecture of this ancient temple. The temple’s doctrine or theology is Vedic, and advaitic, non-dualistic. This in opposition of other Hindu temples whose theology is based on Agama/Tantra and is dvaitic, dualistic. There are many aspects and mysteries in this. Here I will focus on the Rahasyam, the Secret.
This temple’s holy of holies is not a square garbhagriha (wombhouse) as in other Indian temples, but a Sabha, which means hall. The architecture of this Hall is unique. I will share more about it in another post soon. This hall is called the Chit Sabha, the Hall of Wisdom or Consciousness. Within its space the divine is represented in three basic aspects.
Form: Shiva dancing his Ananda Tandava, the Dance of Bliss, as Nataraja.
Formless-Form: the Chandramoulishvara, the Chrystal Shiva Linga formed from the rays of the moon in Shiva’s hair. The Linga is an abstract representation of Shiva as cosmic energy.
Formless: the Akasha Linga, representing the first of the Mahabhuta or Gross Elements in Vedic non-dualistic or advaitic cosmology.
It is the Akasha Linga which is the Secret, the Rahasyam. Vedic cosmology describes our material plane of creation to consist of Five Great Elements, Mahabhuta, or Great Beings. Akasha is the first, and is the equivalent of Aether, the Fifth Element, of Platonic Cosmology. Each of the Five Elements is represented by one temple in South India. Chidambaram is the Akasha Kshetra, the Field of Aether.
The Holy of Holies in the Chidambaram temple is the Chit Sabha, a rectangular shrine with its unique architectural structure in the central courtyard. In front of this hall is another, known as the Kanaka Sabha or Golden Hall. Here rituals are performed and devotees can approach the Hall of Wisdom and the Nataraja up close. It is here where a devotee can see, have darshan of the Rahasyam.
In the center of the Chit Sabha is the Nataraja, the Lord of Dance. The Nataraja can be seen directly through the door space. To the right and left of the center wooden lattice allow for just a partial view through holes in the wooden carving forming the lattice. To His immediate right is Devi Parvati, His consort. To His immediate left is the Akasha Linga, also known as the Chidambaram Rahasyam.
The Secret of Space
The Element Space is a great mystery to humanity. We experience space as an emptiness, but when properly understood it is a fullness. Akasha means to be bright, shining, visible. The Taittiriya Upanishad states “akasha sharira Brahma”, which translates as “the aether is the embodiment of the eternal spirit”. And from the Akasha the other gross elements, Air, Fire, Water and Earth, take shape, one from the other.
This is what is represented here, for all to understand and realize. The seemingly empty space is not empty, in reality it is everything. The sacred spot is indicated with a yantra where the Akasha is invoked. Although it is of course omnipresent. Being the foundation and underpinning of our material universe.
A curtain, black on the outside (ignorance) and red on the inside (jñana, wisdom/realization) covers the space. It is held aside by the officiating Deekshithar to reveal the strings of golden vilva leaves hanging in front of a dark wooden board . The Deekshithar clicks his fingers. One moment there was nothing. In an instant, as immediate as the clicking of fingers, everything had come into existence. That is what the empty space and the golden vilva leaves represent. That is the Secret of Chidambaram.
We will be visiting and experiencing Chidambaram during the Journey to the Center of your Self Tour in January 2017.
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Great explanation –
Enjoyed reading this Liesbeth. Very well written and evocative!
Your’re welcome Nayantara
Great information.very well written. Thanks. Liesbeth.