Temple name – Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple
Main deity – Meenakshi – Parvati
Location -Madurai, Tamilnadu, India
Madurai is one of the famous temple cities of South India situated on the bank of River Vaigai. It is famous for its ancient and beautiful temples of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar. It is a city of great cultural, commercial and historical value. The imprints of many great rulers and writers can be seen in the history of Madurai as well in the making of the Meenakshi Temple, as it is popularly known. The temple is a sacred abode of Lord Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and goddess Meenakshi (Parvati), as the name denotes Meenakshi is the presiding deity here. Meenakshi is another avatar of goddess Parvati and she is one among those few goddesses who has such a famous abode of her own.
It is believed that the city itself is lotus-shaped with the temple at its centre as an axis and four sided streets of busy traffic and life. Fourteen magnificent Gopurams or towers and two golden towers of Lord Shiva and Meenakshi are the main attractions of the temple. The temple has mind blowing pictures and carvings of great sculptural value. Madurai is famous for Meenakshi Temple, its deep rooted cultural and immense contribution to Tamil literature and not to forget the highly perfumed Jasmine flowers a unique specialty of Madurai.
Though many historical facts about the temple is rooted back to early A.D., the solid evidences show its origin during the 14th century. The then ruler Kulasekara Pandya is the one who constructed the temple. The present day temple is said to be built during 15 to 16 centuries and it is during the rule of Nayaks the temple developed considerably.
The pillars and mandapams of this temple are being taken care by the Archeological department of India. The thousand leg mandapam which is most famous among all mandapams is said to have been constructed by Ariyantha Mudaliar in the year 1569, he was the prime minister of the King Viswanatha Nayakar. The mandapam is of so much importance that even now daily people honor the statue of Mudaliar which is in front of the mandapam with garlands. The musical pillars of the mandapm always invite visitors’ attention.
There is an unfinished Ray gopuram there in the new mandapam where there are lots of shops now. It is said that a lake called Ezhu kadal a meeting place of seven oceans, is no longer seen there. The lake was said to be created by Lord Shiva for the facility of his mother-in-law Kanchanamala to fulfill her wish to take bath in all the seven oceans of the world. The so called lake is now replaced by a complex building.
Many renovation works took place in the mandapams during the Kumbaabhishekam held recently. The cracks and weak beams were all removed and new ones were fixed. Even the Vimana of Meenakshi’s sanctum is wrapped with 30 kgs of pure gold. The fading paints of the twelve gopurams were repainted and now all the sculptures and paintings reflect in the sunlight. Lots of preservatives were used to safeguard the special aspects of the temple as it is now, for future generations to visit and enjoy.
In his book, published in 1979 by the Society for Archaeological, Historical and Epigraphical Research, Chennai, the late Devakunjari says: “The history of Madurai as a religious centre goes back to remote times when the temple, one of its oldest institutions, has had a coeval history with those of the rulers and remains as important as ever even after the rulers have disappeared. The Madurai temple is not only of hoary antiquity but possesses an entire purana of its own,” (from The Frontline /The Hindu magazine)
The temple’s origin and development as any other old temple in India cannot be proved with evidence. Madurai is an ancient Indian city which seems to have been in existence even before Christian era during Sangam period. Traits of this temple can be traced back even to early A.D. Madurai city flourished well during the rule of Pandyas and following them Cholas also contributed well to the development.
Proof is there to show that the temple was completely looted by the army of Malikkapur around the year 1310. Due to the continuous rule and attacks of many Islamic rulers the sculptures and valuables of the temple were totally ransacked.
Another revival occurred only when Vijaya nagar dynasty captured Madurai and they were good contributors towards the development of the city. Following them Nayaks came to rule and that can be described as the golden time for the temple and its developments. The city’s major landmarks including Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal and Meenakshi amman gopurams were all constructed by them.
The former name of Madurai was Kadambavanam, meaning an area covered with dense forest. The legend about the temple can be traced back to the time of Kulaasekara Pandya. A farmer named Dhananjaya found a swyambhu (Shiva Linga) which was said to be worshipped by Indra, under a Kadamba tree. He reported his finding to the King so that he could take necessary steps.
The forest was cleared and a shrine was built for Shiva Linga and in due course a big city was formed around the temple. It is a generally believed notion that when the city was being created Lord Shiva passed above the city and a drop of honey fell on the city from his head. Hereafter the city came to be known as Mathuram which means sweetness in Tamil language. Now it is transformed into Madurai and is also known as the City of Nectar. According to legends and Sivapuranam, Lord Siva had performed most of his ‘Thiuvilayadals’ (wonders or miracles of Lord) in Madurai and that adds great importance to this temple and Madurai city.
Another story about the birth and upbringing of Meenakshi is there. Malayadwaja Pandyan and his wife Kanchanamala were childless for many years and with the desire of having a child the couple conducted a ceremonial prayer during which a baby girl appeared in front of them. She was another avatar of Parvati and the purpose of her birth was to join Lord Siva at Madurai. It is said that she is also the sister of Lord Vishnu. The divine wedding was conducted with pomp and splendor and it was Lord Vishnu who gave her away to Lord Shiva as his wife. The pictures and paintings of Lord Vishnu handing over Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswara are depicted here.
Why in a Shiva temple is Meenakshi the main deity, a question may arise. It is here in Madurai that Lord Shiva married Parvati in the form of Meenakshi. Unlike in other Shiva temples only here after having the darshan of Meenakshi devotees will go to the shrine of Lord Shiva.
Madurai and Meenakshi temple both have grown simultaneously and the temple is one among much sought after ancient temples of Southern India.
India is first and foremost a spiritual country and always intense importance is given to temples and their development and preservation. Even when lots of foreign attacks and subsequent rules have bankrupted us in lot of ways, many good souls had tried their utmost to fight and safeguard the most valuable assets like monuments, temples and precious literary works. If not we would have been left with a bleak world with nothing there to savor and cherish.
Every temple of India now shining with glory has a very eventful as well as disastrous past, due to the change in the rules, customs and frequent wars and resultant problems. India had been under the rigorous rule of many Muslims kings for a long time and that period can be described as black days for Hindu temples. Though the existence of Meenakshi temple is mentioned by the famous poet and Saint Thirugnanasabandhar in his writings during 7th century after that for a long time nothing was heard about this temple, as such.
History shows that Madurai has some foreign links as there is proof for the visits of Megasthanes during 3rdcentury and many travelers from Greece and Rome also are said to be here for trade purposes with Pandya kings. After that when Madurai came under Chola rulers nothing remarkable happened and there was no mention of any kind of progress made. Beginning of 13th century was a milestone in the development of Madurai as Pandya kings regained the power and then onwards there was no looking back.
It is during this period maximum contributions were made in literary field also. The great epic of Tamil Literature Silapthikaram deserves a mention here. Many of the writings of this period revolve around the temple of Lord Shiva and Meenakshi. After the Pandyas the Vijaya nagar rulers took over. They and their governors the Nayakas had influenced the present day status of the Temple and the city very extensively. Almost all of the monuments in the city including the main shrine in the temple were constructed by Thirumalai Nayakar. That explains why even now he is very popular among the people there at Madurai.
After that the British came and they had their hands on the rule and maintenance of the city and temple. Madurai Meenakshi temple is a symbol of the classic age of Tamil history, the Sangam age. Anyhow the temple had travelled through hundreds of years of renovation and reconstruction resulting in the present day marvel and no wonder Madurai Meenakshi temple was one among the 30 nominees of the seven modern wonders of the world.
Madurai Meenakshi Temple has the credit of being the largest temple complex in Tamilnadu. The temple is the geographical centre of the whole city of Madurai. This is one among the few temples which has entrances in all the four directions. The temple mainly contains two shrines with nine storeys one for Lord Sundareswarar and the main one for Meenakshi. The idol of goddess is said to be made from single emerald. In Tamil classics, it is mentioned that the city is lotus shaped, Temple in the centre and all enclosed streets in the shape of petals. The temple complex occupies 45 acres and the main temple is covering 254 by 237 meters.
The main shrines of Meenakshi and Sundarewarar are surrounded by three enclosures. There are four large outer towers to protect these inner towers in four directions. The outer towers are larger and higher than the respective inner towers. The shrine of Sundareswarar occupies the central place, which denotes that Meenakshi amman became the presiding deity at a later period.
You cannot pass by without having the darshan of Lord Vinayaka or Ganesha which is carved in single stone and is 7 foot tall. It is placed outside the Lord’s shrine and is on the way to goddess’s shrine. This Ganesha idol popularly known as Mukuruny Vinayakar is said to be found when the Mariamman temple tank was dug.
Other than these three shrines, separate places are there for Ellam Valla Sidhar, Nandi, Durga, Kala Bhairavar, Subramaniyar, Dhakshinamoorthy, Bhadra Kali, Navagraham, Hanuman and more.
The temple have twelve gateway towers called Gopurams all extensively and elaborately carved. Such Gopurams are a hallmark of all temples of Tamilnadu. Among the towers, the oldest one is the eastern one, which was built by Maravaraman Sundara Pandyan 1216 -1239.The most famous among the towers is the southern one which is the tallest going up to 170 foots (52 mt). All the 12 gopurams are multi-storeyed structures with marvelous carvings and figures of animals, gods, demons, devas etc. and they are made very attractive with glowing paints. All towers are invested with particular functionality. The outer towers, which are larger, serve as entrance to the temple from four directions while the inner towers facilitate the entrance to the shrines.
The holy Tank
This holy tank is called by many names and as it bears the Golden lotus it is gold Porthamarai Kolam. As mentioned in legends this pond does not have any marine life inside even now not even a fish is found there. The area surrounding the pond was said to be the meeting places of Tamil poets of those days. It is also called Adi theertham, Uttama Theertham and Sivaganga. The specialty of this pond is that it can be approached by all people, i.e. no restrictions for non Hindus; in fact, it is a meeting place for travelers and even the locals.
Hall of Thousand Pillars
One of the major attractions of the temple is its mandapams. They are used for many purposes and one can find lot of shops and stores inside them. The sculptures on the pillars of the Halls depict the life story of Meenakshi and the miracles of Lord Shiva. Among the halls, the Thousand Pillars mandapam is awesome and a real wonder with its matchless sculptures and Dravidian style of art. They are made of beautifully craved 995 columns. It has a museum also presenting icons, photographs and work of arts describing the age old history of the temple. There are many other small mandapams too with lots of paintings and a big lamp holder with 1008 lamps which will be lighted during festivals.
This is not the end of the places to see in this temple, there are lots more like Pancah sabahi where Shiva’s Nataraja idol (Dancing Shiva) is located and vellia ambalam, big wedding hall and so on.
All round the year, there is some or the other festival celebrated at Madurai Meenakshi temple. Among them, most popular and important is Meenakshi Thirukalyanam (the divine marriage of Meenakshi). Every year it falls in the month of April. The marriage takes place with all the ingredients of a South Indian female dominated wedding. People from all parts of India, irrespective of caste and creed, participate in this royal marriage. It is a celebration of 12 days culminating in the marriage of Meenakshi with Lord Shiva. Now, it is a practice among the people that if the marriage is male dominated it will be called as Chithambaram marriage (Chithambaram is Shiva’s main temple) and if it is female dominated it will be called Madurai Marriage.
Major Hindu festivals like Navarathri, Sivarathri are also celebrated here in a grand manner. Generally, in Tamilnadu the Fridays of Aadi (July–Aug) and Thai (January- February) are considered very auspicious, similarly in Madurai temple people gather to dedicate their offerings and make worship. Chariot Festival is a common factor in all temples of Tamilnadu. Theppa thiruvizha (float festival) is of immense interest for the locals here. As per the tradition, everyday at night with the accompaniment of drummers and nadaswaram the image of Lord Sundarswarar will be taken to Meenakshi amman’s bedroom to consummate the union and the next dawn he will be taken back to his shrine.
In Madurai Meenakshi Temple pujas or worship is done by Shivaites a sub-caste of Brahmins. Even on regular days there are almost 50 priests and they live at the northern area of the temple and the temple has six time pujas which is done with the accompaniment of temple instruments like Nadasworam, Thavil and in the background holy slokas (lyrics in praise of god) will be uttered by the priests.
Though devotees belonging to all religions are allowed to enter the temple, there are certain restrictions. Non-Hindus are not supposed to enter the main shrines and if any suspicion is aroused rigorous punishment is imposed. But travelers are allowed to view all the architectures and the places of importance inside the temple. Meenakshi temple is always crowded with devotees, it is opened for darshan round the clock. To avoid stampede and congestion people are instructed to maintain queue.
As mentioned above ‘Sangakalam’ was the golden period of Tamil literature and most of the priceless ancient writings were written during this period. This temple had been always the main centre of literature, art and dance. Thevaram, the poems praising Lord Shiva, was composed by three Sangam poets Appar, Sundarar, and Thirugnanasambanda. Only few poets have written on Parvati; Kumaraguruparar’s Meenakshi Pillaitamil is a pure literary garland for the goddesses.
Address and contact details
All other major cities of India are connected to Madurai by bus, train and air.
It has a domestic airport just 15 km away from the city. Many domestic airlines are frequently flying from here to all major cities of India.
Again, all trains going to Chennai passes by Madurai only.
Many interstate buses are plying connection here with nearby states like Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.
Temple Address: Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple,
Madurai 625 001
Temple Phone: +91-452-2344360
Temple Fax: +91-452-2341777
“The Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple is literally a splendid and world famous art gallery with each stone, each image breathing the tradition of this ancient – and vibrant culture.” As aptly described it is a ‘poetry written on stone’.
Timing of Temple
Temple is open for the devotees from 5.00 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 4.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m.