Chidambaram is a town and municipality in Cuddalore district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the taluk headquarters of the Chidambaram taluk. The town is believed to be of significant antiquity and has been ruled, at different times, by the Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Later Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Marathas and the British. The town is known for the Thillai Nataraja Temple, and the annual chariot festival held in the month of April.
Chidambaram covers an area of and had a population of 57,733 as of 2001. It is administered by a special-grade municipality. Teritiary sector involving tourism is the major occupation. Roadways are the major means of transportation with a total of of district roads including one national highway passing through the town. As of 2011, there were eleven government schools: six primary schools, three middle schools and two higher secondary schools in Chidambaram. Annamalai University, established in 1929 in Chidambaram, is one of the oldest and most prominent universities in the state.
There is no reference to the temple or the town in Sangam literature of the first to fifth centuries and the earliest mention is found in seventh century Tamil literature. The temple and the deity were immortalized in Tamil poetry in the works of Thevaram by three poet saints belonging to the 7th century - Thirugnana Sambanthar, Thirunavukkarasar and Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. Thirugnana Sambanthar has composed two songs in praise of the temple, Thirunavukkarasar aka Appar eight songs in praise of Nataraja and Sundarar one song in praise of Nataraja. Sundarar commences his Thiruthondar Thogai (the sacred list of Lord Shiva's 63 devotees) paying his respects to the priests of the Thillai temple - "To the devotees of the priests at Thillai, I am a devotee". The works of the first three saints, the Thirumurai were stored in palm leaf manuscripts in the temple and were recovered by the Chola King Rajaraja Chola under the guidance of Nambiandarnambi. Manikkavasagar, the 10th century saivite poet has written two works, the first called Tiruvasakam (The sacred utterances) which largely has been sung in Chidambaram and the Thiruchitrambalakkovaiyar (aka Thirukovaiyar), which has been sung entirely in the temple. Manikkavasagar is said to have attained spiritual bliss at Chidambaram. The Chidambaram Mahatmiyam composed during the 12th century provides the subsequent evolution and sanskritization of cults.
There are several inscriptions available in the temple and referring to the Chidambaram temple in neighbouring areas. Most inscriptions available pertain to the periods of Cholas - Rajaraja Chola I (985-1014 CE), Rajendra Chola I (1012-1044 CE), Kulothunga Chola I (1070-1120 CE), Vikrama Chola (1118-1135 CE), Rajadhiraja Chola II (1163 -1178 CE), Kulothunga Chola III (1178-1218 CE) and Rajaraja Chola III (1216-1256 CE). Pandya inscriptions date from Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Veerapandiyan, Jataavarman Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Sundarapaandiyan (1251-1268 CE) and Maaravarman Thribhuvana Chakravarthi Veerakeralanaagiya Kulashekara Pandiyan (1268-1308 CE). Pallava inscriptions are available for king Avani Aala Pirandhaan Ko-pperum-Singha (1216-1242 CE). Vijayanagara Kings mentioned in inscriptions are Veeraprathaapa Kiruttina Theva Mahaaraayar (1509-1529 CE), Veeraprathaapa Venkata Deva Mahaaraayar, Sri Ranga Theva Mahaaraayar, Atchyutha Deva Mahaaraayar (1529-1542 CE) and Veera Bhooopathiraayar. One of the inscriptions from the descendant of Cheramaan Perumal Nayanar, Ramavarma Maharaja has been found.