A beautiful ceremony in an ancient temple
March 3, 2014 • Spiritual Adventures
And we’re off! After a big breakfast, we loaded up on our bus (the king of the Indian roadways) and headed south to the former French colony of Pondicherry. Here we stopped for a little shopping at the Indian chain Fab India…it really is quite fab! Then we headed down to Chidambaram. We had a late lunch and then rested as we had a long night ahead of us of temple time.
Chidambaram as a town is dusty and noisy affair, but the temple is one of my favorites. The main sanctum was originally made of wood (very uncommon) and then was later fortified with granite. Its roof is made of solid gold tiles and has 72,000 gold nails to hold the tiles in place. A cool tidbit…The number 72,000 signifies the number of nadis or psychic nerves in the body.
The priest clan are called Deekshitars and have recently won a court battle with the Indian government to control the goings on of their own temple. Little known fact….Most Hindu temples are controlled by the Indian government and this leads to low wages for the priests and lack of basic supplies in most temples. The Deekshitars have been running this temple for thousands of years and currently there are 400 families that make up the priest clan. In it’s heyday, there were over 3000 families running the place. The great yogi Patanjali established a shrine in Chidambaram a couple thousand years ago!
We rolled into town and headed for the temple at 6pm for a special ceremony held for our group. Here we got to watch a puja and an ancient Hindu ritual called an abhishekam where the priests chant ancient Sanskrit versus from scripture while they bath the original Siva lingam, or statue that signifies God, that was placed here by Patanjali a couple thousands of years ago. This is a really amazing ceremony to observe and not an experience most westerners get treated to. Photos are not allowed, so we can’t show you what took place. Guess you’ll just have to join us one day on our meditation retreat and see for yourself.
Then group got time to wander around the temple, made up of 16 acres of various structures and a huge temple tank where Indians will bath in order to purify themselves. After a little break, we gathered near the main sanctum (the building with the gold roof) to watch the daily temple closing ritual. We watched as the priests performed their final puja of the day (there are 6 that happen in the main sanctum daily). Then they removed the deity from the sanctum and the bells started roaring across the temple as they walked the deity around the temple hall and placed it in it’s night resting spot. The ceremony is a loud and exciting affair with bells ringing, smoke blowing, priests chanting, and devotees praying. It’s a must see!
After the long and exciting evening, we got back on the bus after 11pm and headed back to our hotel room for a rest. Even though it was a long day, the group did great and are ready for more tomorrow!
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