adurai or "the city of nectar" is the oldest and second largest city of Tamil Nadu. This city is located on Vaigai River and was the capital of Pandyan rulers.
The Sri Meenakshi Sundareswara temple and Madurai City originated together. The structures that are standing today date mostly from the twelfth to the eighteenth century. They occupy a vast space, 258-m by 241m. There are the two main shrines, no less than twelve Gopuras, a pool and innumerable Mandapas. At every turn there is superb sculpture, magnificent architecture.
The Meenakshi temple complex is one of the largest and certainly one of the most ancient. According to legend Madurai is the actual site where the wedding between Shiva and Meenakshi took place. The gigantic temple complex, the statues exploring the entire range of human emotions, everything here is larger than life. The soaring and exquisitely carved towers enclose the temple dedicated to Meenakashi. The south gateway contains the twin temples of Shiva and Meenakshi and is about nine storeys high.
Once Dhananjaya, a merchant of Manavur, where the Pandyas had arrived after the second deluge in Kumari Kandam, having been overtaken by nightfall in Kadamba forest, spent the night in the Indra Vimana. When next morning he woke up, he was surprised to see signs of worship. Thinking that it must be the work of the Devas, he told the Pandya, Kulasekhara, in Manavur, of this. Meanwhile Lord Shiva had instructed Pandya in a dream to build a temple and a city at the spot Dhananjaya would indicate. Kulasekhara did so. Thus originated the temple and city.
In the 14th century an invasion by Malik Kafur damaged the temple. In the same century Madurai was under Muslim rule for nearly fifty years. The temple authorities closed the sanctum, covered up the Linga, and set up another in the Ardhamandapa. When the city was liberated, the sanctum was opened, and, tradition says the flower garlands and the sandalwood paste placed on the Linga were as fresh as on the first day, and two oil lamps were still burning.
Ashta Sakthi Mandapa :
This Mandapa is a convention in this temple, different from that followed in others, that the devotee offers worship first to Goddess Meenakshi. Therefore, while there are four other entrances into the temple, under huge Gopuras in the four cardinal directions, it is customary to enter not through any of them but through a Mandapa, with no tower above it. This entrance leads directly to the shrine of the Goddess.
This Mandapa is an impressive structure, with a hemispherical ceiling. It is 14m long and 5.5m wide. There are bas-reliefs all over the place. Over the entrance one of them depicts the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi with Lord Somasundara. The Mandapa derives its name, the "Ashta Sakthi", from the fact it contains sculptures of the eight Sakthis (also spelt as Shakti). Those of the four principal Nyanmars were added during renovation of the temple in 1960-63.
Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam :
This hall 42.9m long and 33.5m wide is adjacent to Ashta Shakthi Mandapam. It contains 110 stone columns, each 6.7m high carrying the figures of a peculiar animal with a lion's body, and an elephant's head called Yalli.
Potramaraukulam (Golden Lotus Tank) :
This temple tank is an ancient tank where devotees take bath in the holy water. The corridors around the tank are rightly called the Chitra Mandapa, for the walls carry paintings of the divine sports of the Lord. The area around this tank was the meeting place of the Tamil Sangam - the ancient academy of poets.This academy judged the worth of any work of literature presented before it by throwing it into the tank. Only those that did not sink were considered worthy of attention. The tank is surrounded by a pillared corridor. Steps lead down to the tank, enabling worshippers to take bathe in it.
The Thousand Pillar Mandapam :
It is the 'wonder of the place', Actually the number of pillars count to 985. Each pillar is sculptured and is a monument of the Dravidan sculpture. There is a Temple Art Museum in this 1000 pillars hall where you can see icons, photographs, drawings, etc., exhibiting the 1200 years old history. There are so many other smaller and bigger mandapams in the temple. Just outside this mandapam, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar when stuck, Produces a different musical notes.
Vasantha Mandapam :
This mandapam was built by Thirumalai Nayakkar. Vasanthosavam - the Spring festival-is celebrated in this mandapam in Vaikasi (April/May). Its pillars contain elaborate sculptures of Shiva, Meenakshi, scenes from their wedding as well as the figures of ten of the Nayak Kings and their consorts. This is also called Pudhu Mandapam.
Oonjal Mandapam :
Two Mandapas, the Unjal (swing) and the Kilikatti (parrot cage), are on the western side of the tank. On their ceilings are more paintings. The Kiliatti Mandapa has on its walls the carvings of the divine sports. The most ornamental of the temple's Mandapas, it was built in 1623.
Every Friday, the golden idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are seated on the swing in the Oonjal Mandapam and hymns are sung as the deities gaily swing to and fro. The parrots in the Kilikoontu Mandapam have been trained to repeat Meenakshi's name. But more interesting are the 28 pillars of the mandapam which exhibit some excellent Sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology.
Swami Sundareswarar Shrine :
Lord Sundareswarar (Shiva) the consort of Goddess Meenakshi is to the north of Kilikoontu Mandapam . On your way you can worship a gigantic idol of Sri Ganesh called Mukkurini Pillaiyar. When the king Thirumalai Nayakar excavated a temple tank 3 km from Meenakshi temple he unearthed this idol of Vinayaka and erected the same here.
In the outer pragaram (corridor outside the main shrine) there is stump of the kadamba tree, which is said to be a part of the same tree under which Indra worshipped Shiva linga. Also in the outer corridor there are the Kadambathadi Mandapam and big hall called ' Velli Ambalam' . Here, An idol of Nataraja (Shiva as the Lord of Dance) is seen. This idol of Nataraja is covered with silver leaves. Hence this hall is named as Velli Ambalam (Silver Hall)..
The famous festivals held at Madurai, include Teppam festival, the annual Float Festival, wherein the images of Sri Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswara (also spelt as Sundreshwara) are mounted on floats, and taken to Mariamman Teppakkulam Tank, where for several days they are pulled back and forth across the water in the middle of the tank, on an illuminated raft embellished with flowers, before being taken back to the main temple.
Meenaskhi Kalyanam, the wedding festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwar is celebrated for twelve days from the second day of the lunar month (i.e. two days after the new moon). This is a spectacular festival celebrated in the month of Chaitra (April-May). The festival is characterized with royal decorated umbrellas, fans and traditional instrumental music. Scenes from mythology are enacted and the deities of Lord Shiva, Goddess Shakti and Goddess Meenakshi are taken out in a colourful procession. Thousands of devotees from all over the country gather in the city of Madurai on this occasion.
About Meenakshi Temple:
In one of the largest temple complexes in India, from her rambling maze-like palace the Goddess Meenakshi presides over the ancient city of Madurai-the Athens of South India. But for older than the city itself is the nucleus of the temple. Far older than that, the faith that the Meenakshi temple signifies.
The grandeur of the Meenakshi temple has remained undiminished for the past two thousand years. This sprawling and awe-inspiring temple complex is not only a marvel of architecture but also a veritable treasure trove of Indian culture and civilization. It is also one of the largest temple complexes in India.
The 'city of virtue' is one of the most ancient heritage sites of India truly reflective of the cultural ethos of India. Madurai is closely associated with the literary wealth of Classical and Modern Tamil. The crowning glory of this historic city is the sprawling Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple. Four of the 6 major streams of the indigenous system of beliefs as codified by Sankaracharya (i.e. Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and the worship of Skanda) meet in this historic city during festive occasions when the entire region is transformed into a vast space of celebration.
The Gopuram ! Meenakshi Temple Tamilnadu
This magnificent temple complex sprawls over an area of 6 hectares. It also has 12 gopurams or gateways, ranging in height from 45 to 50 m, the tallest being the southern one. The southern gateway is beautifully proportioned and is nine stories high. Like the other gopurams, it is also crowded with the images of gods, goddesses, gargoyles, and gryphons. Like the statues of classical Greece, the people who follow the ancient Dravidian culture of South India also paint their gods in brilliant colors. Thus, one can experience a myriad of colors atop these gateways.
The ancient city of Madurai, more than 2,500 years old, was built by the Pandyan king, Kulashekarar, in the 6th century B.C. But the reign of the Nayaks marks the golden period of Madurai when art, architecture and learning flourished expansively. The most beautiful buildings in the city including its most famous landmark, the Meenakshi temple, were built during the Nayak rule.
Located in the heart of the city of Madurai, the Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar temple is dedicated to goddess Meenakshi, the consort of lord Shiva. It has long been the focus of both Indian and international tourist attraction as well as one of the most important places of Hindu pilgrimage. For the people of Madurai, the temple is the very center of their cultural and religious life.
How to get there:
Madurai is connected by air with Mumbai and Chennai. Madurai airport is 10 Km away from the city.
Madurai has direct rail connections to cities like Bangalore, Kollam, Coimbatore, Chennai, Thanjavur, Rameshwaram, Tirunelveli, Tiruchirappalli, Tirupathi and Tuticorin.
Madurai is well connected by road to all parts of South India. From Madurai town buses, taxis, auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are easily available to reach the Meenakshi temple.