Chidambaram is also known as Thillai, since the place was originally a forest of the thillai, botanically known as excecaria agallecha shrubs. It is an important pilgrim centre and a holy place for Saivites as the famous Nataraja Temple is located here.
Dedicated to Lord Nataraja, this ancient temple of the Cholas is unique not only it is devoted solely to the art of Bharatanatyam, but also it is one of the rare temples where Shiva is represented by an idol rather than the customary lingam. Spread over an area of 40 acres with a gopuram on each side, the temple is distinguished by five sabhas or courts.
The eastern gopuram is 40.8 m. high and carved on it are the 108 dance poses of Bharatanatyam. The western tower has also similar carvings while the northern tower that soars to a height of 42.4 m. is the tallest. The idol of Nataraja is installed in the kanakasabha , the roof of which is covered with gold Plates. The icon is a stunning piece of sculpture that evokes a sense of continuous movement. Though non-Hindus are not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum, replicas of this idol are easily available in most handicraft emporia and shops selling art and curio objects.
A shrine to Govindaraja or Lord Vishnu lies adjacent to the main shrine and has a beautiful idol of the lord reclining on Adisesha, the serpent. There are two other shrines, one dedicated to Subramanya and the other to Ganesha. In the courtyard, a large Nandi looks on devotedly at its lord and master through an aperture on the wall.