Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The City of Temples
and the Gate Way to the South

I have visited the 2500 old Madurai City many many times.

The Meenakshi Temple is the largest and most beautiful temple dedicated to any female deity in India.
Madurai is also the gateway to a number of tourist places in South India - such as Rameshwaram, Kanyakumari, Kodai Kanal and Yercaud.
Madurai is the headquarters of the world famous Aravind Eye Hospital, which is doing outstanding philanthropic work in the field of eye care.
And the high-so Taj Hotel located on a vantage spot here is really affordable.

Madurai is the second oldest city in India after Varanasi.
There are chunks of missing periods in its history.
In the 3rd century B.C., Madurai was a flourishing city under the Pandya kings who ruled till the 10th century A.D. when it was captured by the Cholas.
The Cholas ruled from 920 A.D. till 1223 A.D., when the Pandyas regained their lost kingdom.
In April 1311 A.D., Malik Kafur, the General of Alauddin Khilji - the ruler of Delhi, raided Madurai and robbed the city’s precious stones, jewels and other rare treasures.
In 1323 A.D., Madurai became a province of the Delhi empire.
In 1371 A.D., the Vijayanagar dynasty of Hampi captured Madurai.
Nayak Rule

Vijayanagar rulers appointed Governors known as Nayaks or Nayyakars to administer their distant territories.
By 1545 A.D., the Nayaks of Madurai became more autonomous.
After the Vijayanagar empire collapsed in 1565 A.D., the Nayaks established the Nayak dynasty which remained in power up to the 1740s.
Rani (Queen) Mangammal (1689-1704 A.D.) of the Nayak dynasty was an able and courageous ruler.
She bravely fought against foreign invaders.
Her successors were weak rulers.
The kingdom broke up after her.

The Meenakshi Temple

Most visitors come to Madurai to see the Meenakshi temple.

In fact, Madurai city was originally built around the Meenakshi temple.
Concentric rectangular streets were built around the temple.
And they were named after the Tamil months of Aadi, Chithirai and Maasi symbolizing the structure of the cosmos.

The original temple was built by the early Pandya king Kulasekhara to enshrine the Shiva Linga, which according to mythology was worshipped by God Indra.
Most of the old temple was destroyed by the Muslim invaders and later rebuilt by Hindu rulers.
The Meenakshi temple is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi (a form of Parvati).
There is also a sanctum for Sundareshwar (or Siva), her consort.
In keeping with Indian tradition, where the husband commands greater respect than his wife, the Sundareshwar (or Siva) shrine is larger and older; but Meenakshi is worshipped first.
Devotees enter the temple through the South Gopuram (southern tower) and worship Goddess Meenakshi before worshipping her consort.

The temple is a treasure trove of beautiful statues.
The statue depicting the Wedding of Meenakshi and Sundareswara is considered a masterpiece.

The Temple Complex is breathtaking.
It has massive fort-like walls encirling an area of 640,000 square feet (60,000 m²) with four major lofty Gopurams facing the four directions.
Each Gopuram is sculptured with more than a thousand painted figures of Hindu gods, animals and mythological creatures.

The Thousand Pillar Mandapam (1000 pillars hall) is the ‘wonder of the temple’.
For unknown reasons, there are actually 985 pillars in the 1000 pillars hall.
Each pillar is beautifully sculptured.
There is a Temple Art Museum in the 1000 pillars hall where you can see historical and archaeological exhibits.

Just outside the 1000 pillars hall, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars.
Each pillar, when struck with a spoon, produces a different musical note.
There are a number of shops inside the temple complex selling an assortment of things. But you must learn the subtle art of bargaining.

Potraamaraikkulam or the Golden Lotus pond
When you enter the temple, you see the spectacular Potraamaraikkulam (meaning the Golden Lotus pond) surrounded by corridors depicting murals from the Thiruvilaiyaadal Puraanam (episodes of Sundareswar ).

In ancient times, the sangam, or assembly of poets, used to gather at this pond to judge the merits of new compositions, often by throwing the manuscripts into the pond itself.
Those that sank were supposed to be inferior, while those that floated were worthy of praise and propagation.

Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal
Thirumalai Nayak (1623-1659 A.D.) was a very popular ruler.
He created many magnificent structures in and around Madurai - the Raja Gopuram of the Meenakshi Temple; the Pudu Mandapam and the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal (Palace).

The Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal, located in Madurai, was constructed in the Indo-Saracen style in 1636 A.D.
There were originally two parts - the beautifully decorated, Swarga vilasa (heavenly repose) meant for the King, his harem and housing the darbar court; and the Rang vilasa,which was for the commoners.
Most of Rang vilasa was demolished by Thirumalai Naicker’s Grandson.
Only about a fourth of the original structures remain today.
The Palace is a national monument under the care of the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department.
There is a sound and light show in the evening (both in English and Tamil).

Madurai has a large number of beautiful temples.
This is the reason it is known as the “Temple City”.

Kazimar Periya Pallivasal or Kazimar Big Mosque
The Kazimar Periya Pallivasal or Kazimar Big Mosque is located within a kilometre of the temple.
Hazrat Kazi Syed Tajuddin, who came from Oman during late 12th century, obtained this land from king Ku Pandiyan and constructed the mosque - the first Muslim place of worship in Madurai.
His descendants (Huqdars - Share holders of that mosque called Syeds) have lived in the same locality for 700 years, and managed the mosque ever since.
Syed Tajuddin was appointed as Kazi of the sultans; and till now, his descendants who live in Kazimar Street are appointed as Kazis to the Government of Tamil Nadu.

Aravind Eye Hospital
The Aravind Eye Hospital here is a peculiar world class institution rendering free eye care services to an unbelievably large number of patients.
It is a model even students of management are trying to take lessons from and emulate.
It is fondly called the MacDonalds of Eye Surgery.

The Taj Hotel
The Taj Hotel is linked with luxury and expensiveness.
But the Taj Hotel here is affordable.

Getting there
There are direct flights from Chennai (Madras).
There are also convenient over night trains from Chennai.
You could also travel from Chennai to Madurai by car.


Madurai is a beautiful temple city and the gateway to the South.
You can even make it a base to see different places in the South.

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