Madurai is well known all over the world because of the magnificent temple of Goddess Devi Meenakshi. The city of Madurai was planned and laid out in the pattern of a lotus flower, with the famous Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in the centre. Legend has it that Godess Meenakshi was born to King Malayathuvasn Pandiyan and Queen Kanchanamala. She was married Lord, who came Sundareswarar.
Legend has it that in a forest near a lotus pond, Lord Indra (King of Gods) worshipped Lord Shiva as a 'Swayambu Lingam'. At this hallowed spot, the Pandya King Kulasekara in 6-century built a temple and founded a lotus shaped city around the temple. Belief is that drops of maduram (nectar) fell from Lord Shiva's locks on this site, and hence the name Madurai (Nectar City). It has been the centre of learning and pilgrimage for centures. It was seat of the three Tamil academics, Sangams famous for its poets, writers, and builders and aptly called the Athens of the East. Madurai's main attraction is its famed Meenakshi Temple.
History records its existence as the Greek ambassador Megasthenes (302BC) visited the court of Chandragupta Maurya. Pliny (77AD) and Ptolemy (140AD) have written extensively about its glory and fame. Nearly 2000 years before the Sangam age it was the capital of the Pandyan Kings who held it for several centuries. For a brief period from beginning of 10-century, the Cholas, ruled for nearly 300 years, after which the Pandya returned to power. The Muslim invasion by Malik Kafur in 1310 destroyed the city and it came under the jurisdiction of a Sultanate. In 1364, the Hindu Vijayanagar kings captured it and retained power until 1565. Their local Governors started ruled for over 200 years. The Nayaks were also great warriors known for their formidable military capabilities and their rule marked the second golden era when art, architecture, and learning scaled new heights once again. The greatest of the Nayaks, Thirumalai (r 1623-55) was responsible for building the magnificent gopurams of the Meenakshi Temple.
Today Madurai is a bustling town with its spinning mills, engineering units, and a large university. Most of the places to stay and other services that a tourist looks for are near the temple. The local festivals of Pongal (mid January), Float Festival (January/February), Chitrai Festival (April/May) and the Avanimoolam (August/September) are celebrated with great fervor and attract a lot of tourists.
8km from Madurai is Viraganur Dam, a popular throng to Alanganallur, to marvel at the sight of village youth trying to tame the bulls. This event takes place every year on the 3 day after the Pongal.
Madurai can be a convenient base to excursions to Chettinad (90km), Thiruvilliputhur (75km), Suruli Falls (123km) and Kumbakkarai (105km). The hill station of Kodaikanal is about 120km. One can also visit the home to cardamom estates and tea plantation at Megamalai, 130km from Madurai.
From Madurai, the route to Rameswaram, the pilgrim centre of great significance for both Saiviates and Vaishnavaites follows NH49 via Manamadurai in Sivaganga district to reach Ramanathapuram (Ramnad), a coastal district. The area until Manamadurai has a beautiful landscape and the road crosses numerous canals, which take off from the Vaigai River. The Ramnad kingdom originally comprised of the territories of Ramnad, Sivaganga, and Pudukottai of today. Sivaganga is the land of Marudhu Pandyas known for their bravery and valour.
45km from Madurai, Manamadurai has the Perumal Temple with an idol of Hanuman with a crown on his head. It is said that Hanuman was crowned here before leaving for Lanka with his monkey allies to rescue Sita. The road continues southeast to Paramakkudi and on to reach Ramanathapuram (Ramnad), only 16km from sea, an ancient town, the land of Sethupathi, a local chieftain. Rameswaram, the holy island in the district of Ramanathapuram is connected to the mainland, mandapam, by the 2.2km long bridge Pamban Bridge(Annai Indira Gandhi Bridge).
Madurai is situated on the banks of the River Vaigai. It is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu and one of the most ancient pilgrim centres in India. Legends attribute the foundation of the temple and town to a Pandya King Kulasekara. On the occasion of naming the town it is said that Lord Siva appeared and drops of nectar from his locks fell on the town. So it is called (Mathuram) Madurai the nectar city. It is one of the most ancient cities in India. The last of the three Tamil Academies (Sangams) flourished here nearly two thousand years ago. The Pandyas, great patrons of Tamil learning, art and architecture were succeeded by the nayaks, who not only preserved the work of the earlier king but also enriched their traditions. Reference to this city is made in the Indian epic Ramayana and Kautilyas Arthasasthra and also we know the foreign travellers Magestheness 302BC and Ptolemy 140AD during the reign of Pandiyan Kingdom.
Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil era more than 2500 years old. Madurai was an important cultural and commercial centre even as early as 540 AD Madurai was the capital city of great Pandya Kings.
The other places of interest are the Koodalagar Perumal temple, Thiruparankundrum, Thirumalai Naick Place, Mariamman Teppakulam and Alagarkovil.
Madurai Tour Information
Located on the banks of the Vaigai River, Madurai—apparently named for the nectar that flowed from Shiva’s hair as a blessing for the new city (madhuram is the Tamil word for sweetness)—was built by the Pandyan king Kulasekara. It was the capital of a kingdom that ruled much of South India during the 4th century B.C., and that conducted trade as far afield as Greece and Rome. Madurai also became a center for the great festivals of poetry and writing—the Tamil Sangams—that were being held more than 2 millennia ago. Through the millennia, various dynasties have battled over the city. The Vijayanagars built much of the temple during their reign, which lasted until the 16th century, when the Nayaks came to power, who in turn ruled until the arrival of the British in 1736. Today Madurai is also Tamil Nadu’s second-largest city, an ugly industrial sprawl plagued by pollution and traffic jams and other ills characteristic of unchecked development. But modern Madurai still embodies the spirit of Tamil Nadu’s deeply embedded temple culture, and labyrinthine Meenakshi Temple—celebrating the love of the Meenakshi goddess and her groom, Sundareswarar (the “Handsome God”), an avatar of Lord Shiva—is easily our first choice among Tamil Nadu’s temple destinations.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
The principal reason to visit Madurai—for you as well as for tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims—is to experience the ecstatic spiritual life of Meenakshi Temple; what little else there is to see and do in town will pale in comparison. Legend recalls that Meenakshi began life as a glorious princess, born of fire with three breasts and eyes like a fish. As she grew older, she overpowered all the gods with her impossible beauty until she encountered Shiva, who transformed her heart to ghee (butter) and married her. While sitting inside the temple itself can provide hours of entertainment and an appreciation of Tamil Nadu’s vivid spirituality (as well as a sense of its religious commerce), the streets immediately near the great temple are full of character, and are best experienced by wandering around. Not far from the temple, Tirumalai Nayak Mahal (Palace Rd.; & 0452/233-2945; daily 9am–5pm; admission Rs 50/$1.15) is a 17-century Indo-Saracenic palace built by Tirumalai Nayak and later restored to some extent by Madras governor Lord Napier (it is currently under further renovation). Not all that much of the palace remains except for the large pillared courtyard known as the “Heavenly Pavilion,” where a nightly son et lumière show (English narration 6:45pm; Rs 10/25¢) sheds light on Madurai’s history. It was in Madurai in 1921 that Mahatma Gandhi historically exchanged his kurta and dhoti wardrobe for the loincloth, typically worn by the poor. Today the bloodstained khadi loincloth he wore when he was assassinated is encased in a glass shrine at Gandhi Memorial Museum, which chronicles India’s history leading up to independence (Tamukkam, 5km/3 miles east of the city center; & 0452/253/1060; www.madurai. com/gandhi.htm; daily 10am–1pm and 2–5:45pm; free admission). Avoid the adjacent Government Museum, where visitors experience two million years of history in 30 seconds as they whiz past a 9th-century Vishnu statue, 12th-century Pandyan works, undated Chola statues, and a stuffed polar bear. If you haven’t tired of temples yet, Thirupparankundram Temple (free admission), 8km (5 miles) from Madurai, makes for a pleasant outing, particularly on Friday, when women with marriage or family troubles place candles or occasionally sit on the temple floor and create rangoli patterns on the ground, using colored powders and flowers, as offerings to Durga. Nearby, Owayat, the 40-year-old temple elephant, shuffles and waits to bestow blessings on those willing to donate a rupee, gracefully accepted in a cupped trunk.
Shri Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple
Shri Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar Temple One of South India’s biggest, busiest pilgrimage sites (around 15,000 pilgrims each day; 10,000 more on Fri), this sprawling temple, always undergoing renovation and repairs, is a place of intense spiritual activity almost unparalleled in India. A high wall surrounds the complex, and 12 looming goparums (pyramidal gateways) mark the various entrances. Garish stucco gods, demons, beasts, and heroes smother these towers in a writhing, fascinating mass of symbolism, vividly painted in a riot of bright Disneyesque colors. Traditionally, entrance to the complex is through the eastern Ashta Shakti Mandapa, a hall of pillars graced by sculptural representations of the goddess Shakti in her many aspects. Adjacent to this, Meenakshi Nayaka Mandapa is where pilgrims purchase all manner of devotional paraphernalia and holy souvenirs. Near the inner gate, a temple elephant, daubed with eye shadow and blusher, earns her keep by accepting a few rupees’ donation in exchange for a blessing—bestowed with a light tap of her dexterous trunk. From here you can wander at will, finding your way at some stage to the impressive 16th-century Hall of a Thousand Pillars. This hall (or museum as it is also referred to) has 985 elegantly sculpted columns, including a set of “musical pillars” that produce the seven Carnatic musical notes when tapped (a ticket officer will gladly demonstrate in exchange for a tip). All around the complex of shrines and effigies, various pujas (prayers) and rituals are conducted, some under the guiding hand of a bare-chested Brahmin priest, others as spontaneous expressions of personal, elated devotion. Against one stone image of buxom Meenakshi, devotees actually throw balls of ghee—a ritual prayer tossed at her to keep her cool, her heart apparently having turned to butter when she met Shiva. On other statues, layer upon layer of ghee and oil have turned surfaces smooth and black; they are stained by years of turmeric and vermilion powder sprinkled and daubed on them by believers seeking blessings and hope. At the heart of the complex are the sanctums of the goddess Meenakshi (Parvati) and of Sundareshvara (Shiva). What often eludes visitors to the heaving temple at Madurai is the city’s deeply imbedded cult of fertility; behind the reverence and severity of worship, the Meenakshi Temple is a celebration of the divine union of the eternal lovers, represented symbolically at the end of the day when they are ceremoniously carried (a ritual you can observe until they enter the inner sanctum, which is off-limits to non-Hindus) and brought together for an evening of celestial fornication. This is the time to head for the stairs around the great tank, where devotees gather to chat and relax at the end of the day.
The temple dedicated to Meenakhi, the consort of Lord Shiva and to Lord Sundareswarar or Shiva himself is located in the heart of the city. It is a splendid example of the Dravidian architecture with gopurams covered from top to bottom with multicolored images of celestial beings and mythological figures. Within the temple precincts is the Potramaraikulam (Golden Lotus Tank). Housed in the 1000-pillared hall is the Temple Art Museum containing friezes, stone, and brass images of Hindu deities. Timing 07.00 to 20.00pm.
Chithrai festival, celebrating the celestial wedding of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar held is the most important 10-day festival at the temple in April/May. The deities are wheeled around the temple in massive chariots forming a long colorful procession. The ceremonial journey of the idol of Sundareswarar dressed, as a worker to the bank of the river is the highlight of the festival Avanimoolam in August/September.
5km east of Meenakshi Temple is Vandiyur Teppakolam, a tank almost 300m long and wide with an island in its middle having a Ganesha Temple. Four white turrets border the garden of the island. In January/February, the annual Float Festival here marks the birth anniversary of Thirumalai Nayak, who built this tank. Many temple deities adorned in silks and jewels, including Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are taken out on floats decorated with oil lamps and flowers to the accompany-ment of music and the chanting of hymns.
This is a twin temple the temple in the Southern side dedicated to Sri Meenakshi the consort of Lord Sunderaswarar (Siva) and the other to Lord Sundareswarar. This is one of the biggest temple complexes of India. The temple is about 258 metres in length and about 2414m in breadth. Of the five gopuras (tower) that surround the temple, the 48.8 metres of high southern tower is the tallest. The towers are noted for stuccowork.
The Temple Art Museum
This museum located in the 1000 pillar hall contains a good collection of objects of interest relating to the temple art and architecture.
This mandapam built by Thirumalai Nayak stands between the Eastern tower and the unfinished Raya Gopuram. This hall is noted for beautiful sculptures.
The base of an unfinished Gopuram may be seen to the East ofPthu mandapam. Had it been completed it would have been one of the tallest towers in the country.
This tank also known as Vandiyur Theppakulam is at the eastern end of the city. It is almost equal in area to that of sri Meenakshi Temple. The float festival is held here every year in the moth in the month of January to February.
Thirumalai Nayak Palace
This palace is about one kilometre South-East of Sri Meenakshi Temple. The whole building was constructed in Indo-saracenic style by Thirumalai Nayak. This Indo-Saracenic building, located just a km from the temple was built in the 16th century. Timing 9am to 17pm. The Sound and Light Show at this palace tells the story of Tamil epic Silappathikaram and the life of Tirumalai Nayak. Phone: 0452-2332945. Timings: 18.45 to 19.45 and 20.00 to 20.50.
Koodal Azhaghar Temple
To the west of the city is this ancient Vaishanative temple with beautiful sculptures. The Lord here is in three poses sitting, standing and reclining each being depicted one above the other.
The museum contains a picture gallery, a gallery of relics, Khadi and Village industries section and Southern Indian Handicrafts section. Housed in the old Palace of Rani Mangammal, the Gandhi Museum depicts the highlights of the freedom struggle and contains an art gallery of the Gandhian movement. It also contains the personal memorabilia, the loincloth (dhoti) that he was wearing when he was shot. Also on display are a gallery of relics, Khadi and Village Industries section and South Indian handicrafts. Phone: 0452-2531060. Timing: 10.00 to 13.00, 14.00 to 17.30.
Within the premises of the Gandhi Museum, the Government Museum established during the fifth World Tamil Conference (1981), has a bookshop stocked with Gandhi reading matter. Timing 10.00 to 13.00, 14.00 to 17.30 Friday closed.
Government Museum is situated within Gandhi Museum complex itself, is the government Museum. It was established during 5th world Tamil conference which was held in January 1981.
Madurai Trip Information
Thirupparamkundram is 8km South of Madurai Junction, the temple here is dedicated to Lord Subramanya and is one of the six abodes of the Lord, Its innermost shrine is cut of a solid rock.
Azhagarkoil is about 21 km North-East of Madurai. The famous Vishnu temple dedicated to Lord Azhagar is at the southern end of the hill Azhagarmalai. About 21km northeast of Madurai, stands a celebrated Vishnu temple dedicated to Lord Alagar atop wooded hills (Solaimalai). Here Vishnu presides as Meenakshi's brother 'Azhagar'. The main deity Paramaswami is made of pure gold. About 4km above Alagar Kovil on a small hillock, beautifully situated amidst sylvan surroundings is pazhamuthircholai, one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga
One of the six abodes of Lord Subramanya is on the same hill, about 4km from Azharkoil. Here Lord Subramanya offered black berries to his devotee Avvaiyar.
Gandhigram is about 51km away is Gandhigram named after Mahatma Gandhi. It is one of the centres for promulgating the ideals of Gandhiji like the building of a classless and casteless society, dignity of labour, social equality and justice, etc. The nearest rail head is Ambathurai(1.6km).
The Chitirai Festival is held during April to May. On this occasion the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswarar is celebrated. During this festival, lakhs of people from far and near throng the banks of River Vaigai.
The Avanimoolam Festival takes place in August to September and is the Coronation festival of Lord Sundareswarar. An Interesting event during this festival occurs on the ninth day when Lord Sundareswarar is dressed as a worker and taken to the banks of the River Vaigai.
The Float Festival takes place in January to February in the Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam. A specially constructed raff decorated with flowers and lights carry the deities around the tank. This festival is a feast to the eyes.
Getting There Madurai
Air: The airport at Madurai is about 12km from the city centre and connected to Chennai, Bengaluru and Tiruchirapalli. Indian airport office enquiry Phone: 0452-2690433. Taxis and auto rickshaws available for city transfer.
Train: There are train services to Chennai, Coimbatore, Kanniyakumari and Rameswaram. It is also well connected to Mumbai and Bengaluru. Railway enquiry Phone: 131.Road/Bus: State run and privately operated buses connect Madurai to important cities of Tamil Nadu and others in South India. The NH45 and NH7 passing through the district provide good links to the rest of the region. There are regular services to Chennai, Coimbatore, Kanyakumari, Kodaikanal, Palani, and Rameswaram. The central bus station is 6km northeast of the old city. Bus service enquiry Phone: 0452-2580680. There are two other bus stands Anna Bus Stand, Enquiry Phone: 0452-2533622. and Periyar Bus Stand, Enquiry Phone: 0452-2337093. Private operators also ply video and aircon services to Chennai and Bengaluru (446km). For transfer to city centre, auto rickshaws and city bus service is available.
Madurai Distance Guide
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