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Madurai
 


Madurai is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu, next to Chennai. This interesting city has a good atmosphere and is a popular place to visit. It is one of the oldest cities in India, over 2,500 years old. Madurai is situated on the banks of the Vaigai River.

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The highly impressive Meenakshi Temple is in the center of the old town and is the main reason why people come here. An average of 10,000 people visit daily. The foundation of the town and temple were built by the Pandyan king, Kulasekhara. It is a place of pilgrimage specifically meant for the devotees of Lord Siva, therefore it is called Saivaksetra, the place where Lord Siva is worshiped. Sri Chaitanya came here on his South India tour.

three times bigger image in new window The story of the deities is that Meenakshi was born with three breasts out of the yajna (sacrificial) fire that the Pandyan king, Malayadhwaja,
was performing to get a son. The king was told that one of the breasts would disappear when Meenakshi met the man she would marry. It is said that Meenakshi conquered the world defeating all the gods and demons. She then set out to conquer Lord Siva. When she met Lord Siva on Mt Kailash her third breast disappeared. Siva told her to return to Madurai, and eight days later he arrived in the form of Lord Sundareswar to marry her. Their wedding is celebrated in a grant fashion every year in Madurai.
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Meenakshi means "one who has eyes like a fish." Just as a mother fish has to just glance on her spawn to develop life in them, so in the same way her worshiper's spiritual life comes alive when goddess Meenakshi glances at them.

This temple has two sanctuaries: one dedicated to Lord Siva as Sundareswar ("Lord of Beauty") and the other to Meenakshi, his wife. Every night at around 9.30 pm there is a dramatic ceremony during which Lord Siva is carried into the bedroom of Parvati. He is taken back to his temple around 6 am each morning.

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Madurai was the capital of the Pandyan Empire from the 4th century till the 10th century. In the 10th century the Chola took over Madurai. It was regained by the Pandyans in the 12th century and they ruled it until the 14th century.

three times bigger image in new window Madurai was invaded by the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th century and for a short time became a Sultanate under Malik Kafur. Then it came under the control of the Vijayanagar kingdom in the 15th and 16th centuries. During this time the Meenakshi Temple was greatly expanded and some of the temple towers were built. From 1599, Madurai was ruled by the Nayak dynasty. Tirumala Nayak (1623-59) built the Raja Gopuram and Teppakkulam tank.
three times bigger image in new window In 1736 the East India Company took control of Madurai. They torn down the city's walls and filled in its moat. The moat used to be located where the Veli streets are now and this marks the boundaries of the old city.
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It is a huge temple, in which you can get lost.

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Tirumala Nayak built the present temple in the early 17th century, but its history goes back to the Pandya kings, 2,000 years ago. It has some of the most impressive gopurams (temple towers) in India.

three times bigger image in new window It is estimated that there are 33 million carvings in the temple. This temple has some of the best architecture in India. About 10,000 people visit the temple every day. Around 25,000 people come on Fridays, which is the day sacred to Meenakshi.
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The temple has a hall with a thousand pillars (actually 985). There is an interesting art gallery and museum in this hall. The museum can be visited while the temple is closed in the afternoon, between 1 and 4 pm.

three times bigger image in new window The outer wall of the complex is 259m by 221m (847 by 792 ft). The temple has 12 large gopurams, or gates. The main entrance is on the eastern side of the temple. There are four huge gopurams with beautifully painted colored statues on the outer wall. The southern tower, built in the 16th century, is the largest one and is 48.8 metres (170 ft) high with a 33m by 22m (108 by 67 ft) base. It has over 1,500 sculptures on it. There are two huge yalis, which are like a combined lion and elephant, on both sides of the tower
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The inner sanctums are restricted to Hindus only, but everyone can go anywhere else on the temple grounds. It is interesting to visit the temple both during the day and at night, as the dark corridors, with lamps burning here and there, are very impressive.

After taking a few pictures, one can be asked whether one had a camera ticket, so it is best to pay in advance.

three times bigger image in new window The eastern gopuram, built in the 13th century by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan, is the oldest tower. The eastern gate, which in most temples is the main gate, is never used. The reason for this is that one of the priests of the temple jumped off this gopuram when the Palace officials levied taxes on the temple servants. After this incident, the tax was immediately stopped. The gate is supposed to be haunted by his ghost.
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People instead enter to the left of the eastern tower directly in line with the entrance to the Meenakshi Temple. There are beautiful sculptures of Ganesh and Subrahmanya on the sides of this entrance. There is also a scene of Sri Meenakshi's wedding. This entrance leads to the Ashta Shakti Mandapa (Eight Goddesses Hall), where there is an interesting market. There are sculptured pillars decorated with carvings of the eight Shaktis (goddesses) and Siva's 64 miracles performed at Madurai. There are also paintings in this hall that depict the birth of Sri Meenakshi.

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There is a Jewel House next to where the vehicles of Meenakshi and Sundareswar are kept. This impressive collection of jewelry can sometimes be seen for a donation.

Between the north gopuram and the Thousand Pillar Hall on North Adi Street there are five musical pillars, each made of 22 rods carved out of a single block of granite. Each of the rods of the pillars produces a different note when struck.

three times bigger image in new window The Portramaraikulam Tank (Golden Lotus Tank), also called Swarnapushpakarini, is where Tamil literature was presented and then put in the tank. The manuscripts (in the past they were written on leaves) that floated were considered great works of literature, and if they sank, they were dismissed. Pilgrims either bathe, or wash their feet and hands in the tank before entering the inner sanctum.
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There is a daily Tour to Rameswaram that departs at 7.30 am and returns around 6 pm. It goes to most of the major places and is a convenient way to visit Rameswaram. You can arrange this tour with local travel agencies. The tour bus picks you up at your hotel. The Gandhi Museum is one of the best in India. It contains the blood-stained dhoti worn by Gandhi when he was assassinated. It also has an interesting History of India Display.

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Mariamman Teppakkulam Tank
This huge tank, 300m (1000 ft) by 285m (950 ft), is located 5km east of the Meenakshi Temple. This is where the Teppam Float Festival takes place, during which the deities are taken out on decorated boats in Jan/Feb. The tank is fed water from the Vaigai River through underground channels. It is usually only filled during the Teppam Festival.

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While digging up the earth a huge Ganesh was found, which is now installed at the entrance of the Sundareswar Temple, in the Meenakshi Temple.

three times bigger image in new window Koodal Alagar Temple
This is a Vishnu temple located 2km west of the city, that has three altars, one on top of the other, in which Lord Vishnu is in three different poses: sitting, standing, and reclining. The main deity of the temple is Koodal Alagar, who is in a sitting posture. Above the shrine of this deity are the altars of Sri Ranganatha, in a reclining pose, and Sri Surya-narayan Perumal, in a standing pose.
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There are intricate woodcarvings here, including one of Lord Rama's coronation. This is one of the 108 Divya Desam temples. There is a Navagraha (nine planets) enclosure in this temple.

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Lord Alagar's (Vishnu) procession to the bank of the Vaigai River on the full moon day is one of the most interesting events of the festival. Lord Vishnu rides on a real-gold horse-chariot to his sister's wedding. Meenakshi is considered to be the sister of Lord Alagar.

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Alagar Koil (Azhagarkovil) Temple
Alagar Koil is an important Vishnu temple, 18km northeast of Madurai, at Alagar Hill. Around the temple are ruins of an ancient fortified town. The presiding deity is Alagar (the beautiful).

three times bigger image in new window Alagar Koil is one of the most ancient temples in India. All twelve Alwars visited this place. It is stated in the Mahabharata that both Yudhisthira and Arjuna came here.
three times bigger image in new window The processional deity, Sundararaja, is made of very valuable gold called Aparanji gold.
three times bigger image in new window Alagar, who is Meenakshi's brother, was supposed to give her away in marriage to Sundareswar, but he arrived late for the wedding. This pastime is replayed at the Chitrai Festival. On the fourth day of the nine-day Chitrai Festival, Lord Alagar goes to Madurai to attend his sister Meenakshi's wedding...
three times bigger image in new window ...This is a grand event and hundreds of thousands of people attend this festival. The panels in the Meenakshi Temple show carvings of Vishnu giving Meenakshi away in marriage, thus telling a different story.
three times bigger image in new window It is said that Koorattalwar, the chief disciple of Ramanuja, got back his eyesight by worshipping the deity here.
three times bigger image in new window There is a shrine dedicated to Lord Narasimha, known as Jwala Narasimha, located behind the inner sanctum. Every day he is bathed with milk, curd (yogurt), and other items to cool down his anger. There is a big opening in the ceiling, just above his head, through which his anger and fury can pass out.
three times bigger image in new window There is a deity of Sudarsana-cakra said to be 2,000 years old in this temple. There are temples on the hill dedicated to Siva, Bhairava, Subrahmanya, and Vinayaka (Ganesh). This place is one of the places dear to Subrahmanya.
three times bigger image in new window Different forms of the Supreme Lord - Matsya, Kurma, Nrsinha, Vamana, Krishna...
three times bigger image in new window ...and Sri Visnu lying on the Ananta Sesa in Causal Ocean.
three times bigger image in new window Non-Hindus are not allowed in the temple, but converted Hindus may be allowed to enter the temple.
three times bigger image in new window Simple living...

English texts, selection of images, design:
Tattva-darsi das
Most texts are based on the information from Jada Bharata's book Holy Places of India,
which contains many additional information useful for travelers. It can be found on:
www.spiritualguides.net

Photographs from their travels:
Radha-raman das and Pavan-suta das

 

Published:
September 2002
 
How did you like this article?
from 0 (min.) to 10 (max.)
How many readers expressed it: 68



R.Alagupandi
2014-05-11

Hai


vanakfull
2011-01-20

A goog idea to write that converted Hindus are allowed to enter the temple.


kandhan
2007-06-18

Its very super. And nice to remember


neha
2007-04-26

its a nice article but i think few more pictures of meenakshi amman should be put on,as iv'e never gone to madurai so iam highly desirous to know more n more about it and to see few more pictures of goddess meenakshi.


Ganesh
2007-04-20

Its very super. And nice to remember


Geeta
2006-06-24

This site is simply superb. It will be very nice if such articles are made on all great temples in India.


Jana Iyengar
2005-12-25

Enjoyed. Hope there are more articles and details about sri vaishnavas and their beliefs. Interested in viewing if so.
Jana


Eric Johanson
2005-03-10

Namaste,

Hare Krishna. We are interested in making donations to Vaishnava temples in India. Can you supply any contact information for any of the prominant temples? E-mail would be best, but if none is available, telephone or regular mail would be fine. We are most interested in Narasimha temples but Krishna and Vishnu temples are also preferred.

your servant,
Eric Johanson
The Vaishnava Foundation


Thomas McGovern
2005-02-02

I have visited Madurai and your site cptures the beauty and grandeur of the Meenakshi Temple. Beautiful.


nitesh
2004-08-28

u show me very good Images
thankus

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