Chidambara Ragasiyam/Rahasyam (Tamil for “secret of Chidambaram”) is a Hindu belief that there is a secret message conveyed through the embossed figure near the shrine of Shiva in Chidambaram temple.
Since ancient times, it is believed that this is the place where Lord Shiva and Parvathi are present, but are invisible to the naked eyes of normal people. In the Chidambaram temple of Lord Nataraja, Chidambara Ragasiyam is hidden by a curtain (Maya). Darshan of Chidambara Ragasiyam is possible only when priests open the curtain (or Maya) for special poojas. People who are privileged to have a darshan of Chidambara Ragasiyam can merely see golden bilva leaves (Aegle Marmelos) signifying the presence of Lord Shiva and Parvathi in front of them. It is also believed that devout saints can see the Gods in their physical form, but no such cases have been officially reported.
The phrase “Chidambara Ragasiyam” really means something different. The pharse literally means a secret associated to Chidambaram – the place. Behind this is a real meaning to a secret. As described above there is a particular curtain kind of curtain which when removed enables us viewing the secret. The real significance of doing so is that, when the curtain which is “maya” is removed one can see his real self. And the seeing of oneself removing the curtain of maya is viewing the secret. According to legend, “Chidambara Ragasiyam” will never be revealed as it is the secret relating to a particular person who sees it removing the screen of “maya”. In the temple, when the poojas are performed and the screen is removed, one will be able to see the secret only when he applies this to his mind and soul.
When I visited ChidambaramTemple as a boy of twelve during a school tour , my teacher told me about Chidambara Rahasyam (secret of Chidambaram). Who will not be fascinated by that dancing Lord, Nataraja ? Since then, I have read many articles about this Secret . Each referred to one but no two was the same. I always thought that there must be a bigger secret than all I have heard.
Recently, I read something which took me nearer the truth in this pursuit of this secret of secrets. As usual, I am sharing here all that I learned upto now . Most of the statements are in numbered format and given as short as possible.
Lord Shiva dances here in Chidambaram. Before we speak of the Dance , we will explore the stage that is Chidambaram.
A temple is called ‘Kovil’ in Tamil. It literally means( Ko- il) the abode of the Lord. Whenever the mere name ‘kovil’ is mentioned, it specially means Chidambaram which is split as Chit( gnana or wisdom) + Ambaram ( akasa or space) .
Structure of a typical Siva Temple
A classical Siva temple as per Agama rules will have five prakaras or circuits each separated by walls one within the other. The outer prakaras will be open to the sky except the innermost one. The innermost one will house the main deity as well as other deities. There will be a massive wooden or stone flag post exactly in line with the main deity.
The innermost prakara houses the sanctum sanctorum ( karuvarai in Tamil). In it sits Shiva, the supreme Lord.
Symbolism behind the structure of a Shiva Temple
- The temple is so constructed as to resemble the human body with all its subtleties.
- The five walls encircling one another are the kosas ( sheaths) of human existence .
- The outermost is the Annamaya kosa , symbolizing the material body.
- The second is Pranamaya kosa , symbolizing the sheath of vital force or prana.
- The third is Manomaya kosa, symbolizing the sheath of the thoughts, the mana
- The fouth is the Vignyana maya kosa, symbolizing, the sheath of the intellect
- The fifth and innermost is the Ananda maya kosa, symbolizing the sheath of Bliss.
- The sanctum which is in the prakara symbolizing the Ananda Maya Kosa sheath ,houses the lord, seated as the Jiva within us. It is to be noted that the sanctum is anunlit space, just as if within the heart closed on all sides.
- The entry Gopuras are likened to the feet, as resembling a person who is lying on the back with the toe up.
- The flag post depicts the sushumna nadi which raises from the Mooladhar (base of the spine ) to the sahasrar ( vertex in the head).
- Some temples will have three prakarams. There they represent the stoola, sukshmaand karana sareeras (bodies) of a human being Some temples have only one and they represent all the five.
The myth of Chidambara ragasiyam (secret) is that there is a place in the temple which is hidden and which you can visit to see the secret and that once you visit that hidden place, you learn there there is actually nothing, it is just an empty space.
This gave rise to interpretations on what the secret was:
1. There is no god.
2. There is no idol in the secret place hence god is formless.
3. My interpretation: there is no secret.
Who is right? I don’t know. But the fact is we all look for different things. For people who believe god is an idol and look at no idol then the secret is “no god”. For those who believe that god is not an idol and the “secret” does not show an idol then we can say that god is formless and not to be worshipped as an idol. For me, who does not believe there is a secret it is that there is no secret and life is as it is. And maybe the secret is that we all look for what we want. And it goes on and there could be other interpretations.
I remembered the Chidambara ragasiyam because there is another “the secret” about in the pop culture in America right now and realized that whether we live in India or America we all share the same desire to discover and learn about things we think are hidden (from us).
Which leads me to another topic. “The Universe” is a series on the history channel which is devoted to exploring the secrets of the Universe (learn about the origin of life, existence of life on other panets). Has Western Civilization decided there is no more secrets on the earth? and can’t they use their intellect/imagination to fathom the mysteries of the Universe without using the senses? Whatever the reasons, good for them. For I like learning about secrets too. And for doubters like me, Western Civilization provides the answers.
And instead of getting out my armchair I let other people do the work and show me what they found, and I can come up with my own theories (suiting/confirming my own believes).
I was watching the episode on “Saturn” and found it was not a calm planet and there are long periods of hurricanes and commotion and it reminded me how in Hindu astrology Saturn (Shani) is considered as usually exerting a strong harmful influence.
In another episode I learnt about “dark energy” which distorts the appearance and location of stars and it reminded me of the “maya” which distorts our perception of reality. I guess, it was enough to hook me to the series.
My problem with the premise of the series is that they want to look for life on other planets with the assumption that we are not special and there are other planets like us. For me, it is bothersome because why should we assume one way or the other (special or not special)?
Which leads me to the topic on groups and individuals:
I have found living in America, there are two divisions: group and the individual. You cannot decide that you are an individual and a member of one or more groups or sometimes you like groups or sometimes you don’t or sometimes you like your individuality and sometimes you don’t. Just like you cannot assume you are neither black nor white (America recognizes two : white and non-white/colored). If you happen to be different shades or different cultures it does not matter as long as you fall into one or other category. This affects all, even science (there is matter and anti matter, energy and dark energy; cannot be different kinds of matter or energy).
The individualists proclaim that personal responsibilty is important and groups produce too much conformity and only individuals should make decisions. The groups proclaim the same (invidual responsibilty is important) hence no individual should be allowed to make decisions. Caught in between the two, one wonders: why should it be all or nothing? In America if you even whisper that an individual should think indpendently you are elitist (or a Republican). And on the other hand any kind of group decision implies unions and lack of personal responsibilty and you are a democrat. Again, too bad if you want more choices (in politics). I mean not just a compromise on personal responsibility and group responsibility but can’t we decide there are different kinds of individuals/responsibilitie/groups and so on.
I cannot classify it solely as an American problem since there are commonalities between people everywhere and we tend to recognize mostly two (major) categories, no matter where we live; as long as the main question remains duality or no duality; not that there are multiples. The main dualities we identify with is 1. male and female, 2.positive and negative.
Gotta to end this blog. Sorry for the abruptness but I don’t want to dump too many thoughts that are not easy to go into in detail in a blog
Among scholars and saints, the phrase “Chidambara Ragasiyam” has a more profound philosophical interpretation. The curtain unveils empty space. Emptiness is the truth being conveyed and Shiva Himself manifests Shakti in the form of conscious Emptiness, which bears this entire creation. Emptiness is pervaded by Time, Shiva. And the Mahakala Shiva, who is the lord of the universe, and who is, even though, the inherent consciousness of the conscious Emptiness, is pervaded by it. Conscious Matter is the result of copulation of Shiva and Shakti, or in other words, Time and Emptiness. Conscious matter forms the body of this visible creation. Its creator is Emptiness, which though bears all movements of the matter, remains beyond and unaffected by it. The essence of matter and emptiness is the lord of the universe Mahakala Shiva, who pervades everything and yet remains beyond everything.
To realise this thought, one has to unveil the “curtain of maya“. We are often encapsulated in our world of illusion and are obscured to the absolute reality. According to legend, “Chidambara Ragasiyam” will never be revealed as it is the secret relating to an individual and it is left to them to realise its true meaning.