Temples of Madurai Or Madurai Temple
Madurai was originally a forest called "Kadambavanam." It is said that a swayambhu (self-created) Lingam was discovered in the forest during the reign of King Kulasekhara Pandya of the ancient Pandya dynasty. Soon, drops of nectar fell from Lord Shiva's matted locks on the place. The king then built a temple over the Lingam, and a town around it, called Madurapuri. Madurapuri, which is a derivative of the Sanskrit Mathuram (sweetness), in course of time, became Madurai.
Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple is synonymous with Madurai, and is the pivot around which the city has evolved. The temple complex is one of the largest in India, extending over an area of 65,000 sq m. Though the temple came into being about 2,000 years ago, and expanded with the contribution of every dynasty, the largest expansion was witnessed during the reign of TirumalaTirumala Nayak (1623-59). He was easily the best of the Nayaks of Madurai, and he Nayak era, spanning over 200 years, is considered as the golden age of Madurai.
Sri Sundareswarar, an aspect of Lord Shiva, and his spouse, Sri Meenakshi (literally "Fish-Eyed"), an aspect of Parvati, are enshrined in this twin temple. Sri Meenakshi amman is at HerResplendent best in her sanctum, while Lord Sundareswarar's sannidhi is in the other part of the complex. This part us almost a separate temple, for so distinctive are the two parts.
According to the sthala purana, Sri Meenakshi was the daughter of Malayadwaja Pandya, successor of the city's founder, Kulasekhara Pandya. Malayadwaja and his queen, Kanchanamala, did not have any issue. So they conducted a yagna. It is said that as the ritual was being conducted, there emerged from the flames a three-year-old girl, with three breasts. She sat on the queen's lap, for She was Goddess Parvati, born now as a princess. A disembodied voice then told the king that the girl should be taught all the arts and fighting skills that he would normally teach his son. The third breast would disappear the moment she cast Her eyes on the man who would be Her husband Lord Shiva. The king obeyed the command. Meenakshi embarked on a military campaign, defeating foes all across India. She then went up to Mount Kailash and brought to sword the lieutenants of the Lord. Finally, the Lord emerged, and the childhood prophesy bore fruit: the third breast disappeared. She married the Lord, and He became Emperor Sundara Pandyan. Their son, Ugra Pandyan, is considered the incarnation of Lord Subramanya.
Outside the sanctum are some great sculptures, including one that depicts Sri Meenakshi's wedding with Shiva, with Lord Vishnu, regarded as Her brother, giving away the bride. The nandi is regally seated in a specially-erected mandapam. The outer walls of the sanctum are also adorned with beautiful sculptures.
Also in the temple, is one of the five dancing halls for Lord Shiva in his apect as Natarja, the God of dance. Here it is known as Velli Ambalam or the Silver Hall.
The Hall of Thousand Pillars actually contains 985 pillars, including musical pillars. It was constructed during the reign of Viswanatha Naak in 1569. Viewed from any angle these pillars appear to be in a straight line. Ornate sculptures adorn the pillars, while attractive, color murals embellish the ceiling. Also here are Nayak-period miniatures that tell the stories of saints. In front of the miniatures, on a pillar, is big sculpture of a goddess on a swan (hamsa). On the stage is a bronze of Nataraja. In a corner are carvings in wood of Shaivaite saints. Another section displays ivory statuettes, including that of Tirumala Nayak. At the entrance is an imposing statue of Ganga with a baby.
The Potramarai Kula (Golden Lotus Pond), within the temple complex, has its own story. A golden lotus bloomed here for Indra to perform pooja, it is said. And, in consonance with a boon that Shiva had granted to a stork, no fish or marine life has ever been detected in this pond.
The temple covers an area of 17 acres. It has four Rajagopurams. There are five vimanams over the sanctum of Lord, including one built in the 12th century, and 3 over the sanctum of the Goddess, the oldest dating back to the 13th century. The gopurams include, four nine-tiered, four seven-tiered, five five-tiered, two two-tiered ones and two gold covered towers. The eastern Rajagopuram, built by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan (1216-1238), is the oldest and rises to a height of 47m (153 feet).
The temple has several mandapams. Apart from the 1000-pillared hall, which is also a sort of museum, the other prominent one is the Celestial Wedding Hall. Built by Vijayaranga Sokkanatha Nayak, the ceiling of this hall is covered by teak planks with art works. The 64 miracle stories associated with Lord Shiva are painted on the dome. Other murals depict the different lokas. A scene from the celestial wedding forms depict the different lokas. A scene from the celestial wedding forms the backdrop on the dais.
Also in Madurai is Sri Mariamman Theppakulam. The Theppakulam is massive 16-acre tank, in which the float festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Her consort, Lord Sundareshwarar, is held on Thai Poosam day (in January/February), the birth anniversary of King Tirumala Nayak. It is said that a huge cavity was formed, where large amounts of earth were dug out for the construction of his grand palace. Th Nayak then ordered that the place be converted into a tank. Water from the Vaigai was fed through underground channels, and a Vinayaka temple was built on a mandapam at the centre.
Adjoining the Theppakulam is the shrine for Sri Mariamman, who lends Her name to the huge tank.
How to get there: Buses connect Madurai with the rest of Tamil Nadu, and the other southern states. Madurai Junction receives trains from most major cities in India. It is also connected by air.
Accommodation: The Devasthanam runs a guest houses, as does the city corporation. There are also community-based guest houses. The temple town has hotels to suit all pockets, some near the temple.