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The life of Chidambaram revolves around its mighty Sabhanayaka Temple, one of five Shiva temples representing the elements (Sabhanayaka is dedicated to ether; the others represent fire, earth, wind and water). Chidambaram was the capital of the Chola dynasty for 400 years from 907BC and the temple is dedicated to Shiva in his incarnation as Nataraja, or "King of the Dance". It occupies a huge site, with monasteries, shrines and a tank, and is attended by Dikshitar Brahmin priests, who wear distinctive topknots above their foreheads. Its huge gopuras writhe with carvings and there are four concentric outer walls. Two major festivals, one in May/June, the other in December/January, last for 10 days and fill the streets with temple chariots and processing pilgrims. A must-see are the daily devotional fire ceremonies held every morning and afternoon.

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