Madurai Meenakshi Temple



This is the second day of Navaratri. It is said that the first three days are dedicated to Parvati, the next three to Lakshmi, and the final three to Saraswati. Yesterday, I posted about the Kollur MookambikaTemple in Karnataka. For today’s post, I have chosen a temple I have visited often, but never written about. It is a temple I once got lost in, but love visiting again and again. The temple is so huge that I don’t think I can ever see all of it. Each time I visit, I get to see something I have missed on my earlier visits. It’s not just the architecture of this temple, which is brilliant, but the deity herself draws me repeatedly. The first time I visited the temple, I remembering standing outside her shrine, staring at her, and being so caught in the moment, that I didn’t even remember to pray. I vividly remember my mother nudging me, reminding me that this was a temple! Since then, I have visited the temple at least half a dozen times, but the same thing happens to me each and every time! Of course, these days, the crowd has increased so much that I am no longer allowed to simply stand and stare! The temple I am talking about is the Meenakshi Temple at Madurai.



Like Kollur is synonymous with the Mookambika Temple, Madurai is synonymous with the Meenakshi Temple. However, unlike the former, the city hasn’t grown around the temple, but is much, much older. The city of Madurai was first described by Megasthenes, the Greek Ambassador to India, in the 3rd century BC. The 2500 year old city has seen rulers come and go... starting with the Pandyas and Cholas, to the Mughal invaders who demolished the original temple, to the Nayaks who restored Madurai to its former glory.

One of the elaborate Gopurams 


At the top of the Gopuram
The story of Meenakshi begins and ends at Madurai. She was the daughter of the second Pandya King – Malayadhwaja, and his wife, Kanchanamala. The childless couple prayed to Lord Shiva for a child, and they were blessed with a divine daughter – the reincarnation of Parvati, destined to re-unite with Lord Shiva. She was born with three breasts – a reminder that she was divine – and it was foretold that the third breast would disappear when she met her Lord. She was named ‘Taadathagai’, but was called ‘Meenakshi’ – the one with the fish-shaped eyes. As the only child, she was loved and pampered, but also taught all the arts she would need to rule the land. She learnt to wield weapons just as well as she did the needle, and in time, took over the reins of her kingdom. While her father had ruled the land well, content with all he had, she was ambitious, and chose to extend her reign over the whole of the subcontinent. She led her army past the Deccan Peninsula to the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas, where she eventually met her divine consort – lord Shiva. It took but one glance, and her third breast melted away, showing her that it was indeed He who was her match. They were wedded in Madurai amidst great pomp and splendour, and together, settled down to rule over the whole land till it was time for them to return back to their abode in the heavens. The temple was built to commemorate the divine couple and their marriage, but it is Meenakshi who steals the show. The Lord himself acquiesced to his consort’s wishes and took on a more pleasing form than this usual one, so that he might not offend or scare her mother or the other guests. This is why he is called Sundareswarar – the handsome one!

The marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar, with Vishnu giving away the bride

The story of Meenakshi might be a legend... Mythology and history come together to tell us a story of love and strength – both attributes of the goddess. The story has never lost its relevance over the years though. In this day and age, while we still battle issues such as female foeticide and education of the girl child, the story of Meenakshi seems to be especially significant... Parents who happily welcomed a girl child instead of the son they sought... Who educated their beloved daughter in every possible way... Who gave her every tool she needed to be a fit queen... A queen who ruled over a vast empire and succeeded in extending its boundaries beyond anything her ancestors had envisioned... And a man who chose to please his wife and always stood behind her, rarely seen.... Is  it any wonder that such a queen and her consort have been immortalised in stone? To me, that is the charm of the temple.. the story it relates.... When I think of Meenakshi, I think of that proud woman, the woman who stood tall in a male dominated environment, the undisputed queen of her land... and pray to her to bless me with the same confidence! 


As I mentioned before, the temple is huge and there are just too many things to see! Every pillar has something of interest, and in every corner or niche there is a beautiful sculpture telling us a story. I dont have many pics of the inside of the temple, since I usually avoid clicking photos inside, but here, I found myself clicking even less, since I was too busy looking in all directions at once! There is so much to see! Here are just a couple more photos from the temple....

One of the corridors

The thousand pillar hall which is now a museum

Paintings from the temple depicting scenes and events from the lives of saints as well as stories related to the temple
Factfile

How to reach:

By Air: Madurai airport is 10Km  from the city, and has direct flights connecting it to Chennai, Bangalore, Trichy and Coimbatore.

By Train: Madurai is an important railway Junction of the Southern Railway and there are frequent trains from Chennai. There are also regular trains connecting the city to the rest of the country.

By Road: With 5 major Bus Stands, Madurai is very well connected with the rest of Tamilnadu and Bangalore. There are regular AC buses from both, Bangalore (440Km) as well as Chennai (450Km).

Where to Stay: There are plenty of options for staying in Madurai, whether you are looking for 5 star resorts or budget lodges. There are also homestays and heritage stays available in and around the city.

What to do:
  • While the temple is the main attraction in Madurai, there is plenty to see and do. There are other temples and palaces, and if you can, try to go for a heritage walk. This is one city that must be explored on foot!
  • Madurai is famous for its jasmine flowers. All around the temple, and actually all over the city, you will find women selling these flowers tied tightly to make a thick strand, ready to be wound around your hair. Just place one thick strand of these flowers on your hair, and you won’t need perfume!
  • And while in Madurai, don’t forget to try the Jigarthanda.. a version of the falooda. You can read my post about it here




Comments

  1. Anu, its a nice and heartfelt article. Appreciating your talent in describing your thoughts nicely

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  2. Another magnificent temple post. Nice one.

    http://rajniranjandas.blogspot.in

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  3. Anu jee

    First of all I would wish you a happy Navratri which I would have done back on the previous post. It seems that I am going to enjoy each and every day in this navratri coming to your blog with different temples of Devi Maa. Once again thanks for sharing this post on this mighty and one of the most beautiful temple I have ever seen .

    A detailed post on this temple is also written me. Please click the below.

    http://www.aboutomkaar.blogspot.in/2012/04/madurai-nov-2011-part-4.html

    I had visited this temple last year.

    Thanks once again . Keep Travelling and Posting.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Vishal! Again, you have a much more detailed post on the temple... which again I cant write because i prefer not clicking pics inside... but its a temple i love so much!

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  4. Madurai brings back fond memories, of my childhood days... I had the chance to revisit the place and the temple 3yrs ago and it was beautiful... even though the temple campus had changed a lot, it was still as beautiful..

    :) the paintings on the walls... the idol on who we used to throw butter when i was small... lovely....

    thanks for bringing back all these joyful memories once again Anu :)

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    Replies
    1. Its a pleasure, Aarti!! yes, the temple has changed so much in these last few years, but the last time I visited, about a year back, there were some really positive changes.. it seems the temple has recd an ISO certification... and it was much cleaner and better preserved.. or i thought so....

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  5. A beautiful post, Anu! Thank you for giving us the fortune of taking our blessings from different Goddesses through your wonderful temple series on Navratri! Wish you and your family a very Happy Navratri :)

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    1. Thanks so much, Arti!! Wish you too a happy Navaratri.. i have yet to go and see what u are up to on ur blog!

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  6. A detailed post. I haven't visited this one but it makes me compare with Ram temple in Kumbakonam. Similar corridors, similar Gopuram, and similar stories on the walls. If somebody has visited both, then probably s/he can tell us the difference.

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    Replies
    1. Its only the story, Nisha!! writing about this temple will take pages and pages and pages.... as for similarities with the Ramaswamy temple in Kumbakonam, this one is much much bigger... and has much more detailed sculptures and artefacts... really much more beautiful.. also, there are a huge number of smaller shrines, each with its own stories and importance... i can go on and on.. as for the similarities, most temples of that period will appear similar.. because the basic plan remains the same. the inner sanctum.. the first corridoor around it... then the second.. and the third.. etc.. with sculptures on pillars, paintings on walls... but each is unique because of the stories depicted, the carvings, the plaster work... i can go on and on!

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  7. Excellent write up.I too wish to get stationed there for a couple of days so that each and every part of the complex is covered.

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    1. Thanks PNS! you will need to spend a whole week there to see it in full!!

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  8. Great Article: I think India is origin of all civilization of the world.

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  9. The last time I went there a year back it has become sort of commercialized. I am not sure , but there seemed to be touts inside the temple.
    Earlier tourists were able to roam around, take pictures and there were not any issues.
    There is also a lot of construction going on. That includes coloring the old pillars and carving new stuff for the pillars. The old and new architecture does not mix well, the coloring makes it even worse.
    Snehansu
    http://travelpi2.blogspot.in/

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  10. Nice write up Anu, love your blog!

    ReplyDelete

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