||Madurai, Tamil Nadu
||Lord Somasundara (Lord Shiva)
And Goddess Meenakshi
||The Pandyan King, Kulasekhara
||Meenakshi Kalyanam In
April-May And The Teppam Festival
Packages of Madurai |
or "the city of nectar" is the oldest and second largest city of
Tamil Nadu. This city is located on Vaigai River and was the capital of
Pandyan rulers. The Pandyan king, Kulasekhara had built a gorgeous temple
around which he created a lotus shaped city. It has been a center of
learning and pilgrimage, for centuries. Legend has it, that the divine
nectar falling from Lord Shiva's locks, gave the city its name -
'Madhurapuri', now known as "Madurai".
The Origin Of The Meenakshi Temple
The Sri Meenakshi Sundareswara temple and Madurai city originated together.
According to tradition, Indra once committed sin when he killed a demon, who
was then performing penance. He could find no relief from remorse in his own
kingdom. He came down to earth. While passing through a forest of Kadamba
trees in Pandya land, he felt relieved of his burden. His servitors told him
that there was a Shivalinga under a Kadamba tree and beside a lake. Certain
that it was the Linga that had helped him; he worshipped it and built a
small temple around it. It is believed that it is this Linga, which is till
under worship in the Madurai temple. The shrine is called the "Indra
When the next Pandya, Malayadhvaja, and his queen, Kanchanamala, performed
a sacrifice for a child, Lord Shiva caused Goddess Parvati Herself to step
out of the fire as a little girl. She had three breasts. Lord Shiva told the
couple that the third breast would disappear when she set eyes on he who was
to be her husband. They were to name her "Thadathagai" and bring
her up as if she were a boy.
Once Dhananjaya, a merchant of Manavur, where the Pandyas had arrived after
the second deluge in Kumari Kandam, having been overtaken by nightfall in
Kadamba forest, spent the night in the Indra Vimana. When next morning he
woke up, he was surprised to see signs of worship. Thinking that it must be
the work of the Devas, he told the Pandya, Kulasekhara, in Manavur, of this.
Meanwhile Lord Shiva had instructed Pandya in a dream to build a temple and
a city at the spot Dhananjaya would indicate. Kulasekhara did so. Thus
originated the temple and city.
She succeeded her father to the throne at his death. She gained many
military victories. Finally she marched on Kailasa itself. When she saw Lord
Shiva, her third breast disappeared. The Lord told her to return to Madurai
and said that He would marry her there. The divine marriage was celebrated.
This is the theme much beloved of Madurai artists. There is a superb
sculpture of this in the temple. The crowning of Meenakshi, for She was the
same as Thadathagai, is celebrated as a festival in the temple.
The Lord performed many miracles at the wedding. These are described in a
celebrated poem, the "Tiruviayadal Puranam". Under the name of "Sundara
Pandya", the Lord ruled the land as a mortal. After sometime, crowning
Lord Muruga, their son, who was named "Ugra Pandya", Sundara
Pandya and Thadathagai went into the temple and assumed divine forms as "Lord
Somasundara" and "Goddess Meenakshi" respectively.
How to Get There
Madurai is connected by air with Mumbai and Chennai. Madurai airport is
10-km away from the city.
Madurai has direct rail connections to Bangalore, Coimbatore, Kollam,
Chennai, Rameshwaram, Thanjavur, Tiruchirappalli, Tirunelveli, Tirupathi
There are excellent roads connecting Madurai to all parts of South
India. Madurai city has 5 Major Bus Stands- Periyar Bus Stand, Anna Bus
Stand, Palanganatham Bus Stand, Arapalayam Bus Stand, Mattuthavani Bus
Stand. From Madurai town buses, suburban buses, taxis, auto rickshaws
and cycle rickshaws are available to reach the temple.
While the temple originated in times to which no date can be assigned, the
structures that are standing today date mostly from the twelfth to the
eighteenth century. They occupy a vast space, 258 m by 241m. There are the
two main shrines, no less than twelve Gopuras, a tank and innumerable
Mandapas. At every turn there is superb sculpture, magnificent architecture.
Earliest References Of The Temple
Paranjothi Munivar wrote the Tiruviayadal Puranam in the sixteenth century.
It is regarded as the temple's Sthalapurana. An earlier work adds a few
celestial sports not included in the latter. These are, or rather were
painted on the walls around the Golden Lily Tank. Some of the painted wooden
panels are in the Temple Museum.
In the 14th century an invasion by Malik Kafur damaged the temple. In the
same century Madurai was under Muslim rule for nearly fifty years. The
temple authorities closed the sanctum, covered up the Linga, and set up
another in the Ardhamandapa. When the city was liberated, the sanctum was
opened, and, tradition says the flower garlands and the sandalwood paste
placed on the Linga were as fresh as on the first day, and two oil lamps
were still burning.
The earliest references available to any structure in this temple is a hymn
of Sambhandar's, in the seventh century, which refers to the "Kapali
Madil". The present inner walls of the Lords shrine bear this name
today. In the early times the entire temple must have been confined to the
area between these walls, and the structures must have been of brick and
Mudali Pillai Mandapa
The Mudali Pillai Mandapa follows the Chitra Gopura. Added in 1613, it is
183m long and 7.6m wide. On its wall are many puranic scenes. It used to be
without any natural light, but windows were added in the last renovation.
The Golden Lily Tank
The lovely and historic Golden Lily tank then comes into view. It is from
its banks that most popular photographic views of the temple are taken,
showing the gigantic south outer Gopura. The northern corridor leads
directly to the shrine of the Goddess. On its pillars are the images of some
of the Sangam poets, of Kulasekhara Pandya, the first builder of the temple,
and of Dhananjaya, who figures in the traditional story of its origin. There
is no fish in the tank.
The corridors around the tank are rightly called the "Chitra Mandapa",
for the walls carry paintings of the divine sports of the Lord, as narrated
in the "Tiruvilayadal Puranam". They have been renewed from time
to time. A short while ago there were paintings on wooden panels affixed
over an older series. They have since been removed to the Temple Museum in
the thousand-pillared Mandapa, leaving some dilapidated murals to view. It
is impossible to ascertain the date of these.
It was in the sixteenth century that the corridors and the steps leading
down to the tank were constructed; the northern corridor and steps in 1562,
those on the east in 1573, and those on the south five years later.
Samagam Meenakshi Naicker Mandapa
smaller Mandapa connects the large one with another large one with another
large hall, called the "Samagam Meenakshi Naicker Mandapa", after
its builder, a minister of Vijayaranga Chokkanatha (1706-32), who erected in
1707. In former times the temple's elephants camels and bulls used to be
stabled here. A brass "Tiruvatchi" holding a thousand and eight
lamps stands here, 7.6m high. Marudu Pandya, one of the early opponents of
the growing British power, installed it.
The Meenakshi Naicker Mandapa is a huge hall, 42.9m long and 33.5m wide. It
contains 110 stone columns, each 6.7m high. There are yalis in the capital
and delicate reliefs below. Some of the carvings are unfinished.
The "Chitra Gopura", its name amply justified by its exquisite
sculptures, 740 in number, stands over the entrance from this Mandapa into
the shrine complex of the Goddess. It could have been the original entrance
into the sanctum. Over seven tiers, and 35.6m high, it is the tallest of
those over the shrine of the Goddess. It was built about 1570 by Kalatthi
Mudaliar, a son of Aryanatha Mudaliar, who helped Vishwanatha Nayak, the
founder of the Madurai Nayak dynasty, to consolidate his power. He rose from
poverty and obscurity to the highest post after the Nayak. There are
equestrian statues of him in two places in the temple, in the Pudumandapa
and in the thousand-pillared hall. The Gopura was extensively renovated in
Ashta Sakthi Mandapa
It is a convention in this temple, different from that followed in others,
that the devotee offers worship first to Goddess Meenakshi. Therefore, while
there are four other entrances into the temple, under huge Gopuras in the
four cardinal directions, it is customary to enter not through any of them
but through a Mandapa, with no tower above it. This entrance leads directly
to the shrine of the Goddess.
An interesting story is told of what an artist did in 1923 when adding some
paintings there. In one of these depicting the coronation of Goddess
Meenakshi, he included a figure of Mahatma Gandhi. The British authorities
ordered that it be removed. What the artist did was to add to the lasting
oil painting long locks of hair in watercolour so that a sage resulted. But
shortly after, the locks disappeared and Gandhiji re-merged.
This Mandapa is an impressive structure, with a hemispherical ceiling. It
is 14m long and 5.5m wide. There are bas-reliefs all over the place. Over
the entrance one of them depicts the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi with Lord
Somasundara. The Mandapa derives its name, the "Ashta Sakthi",
from the fact it contains sculptures of the eight Sakthis (also spelt as
Shakti). Those of the four principal Nyanmars were added during renovation
of the temple in 1960-63.
Queen Rudrapathi Ammal and Queen Tholiammal, consorts of Tirumalai Nayak
(1623-1659) erected the Mandapam. Tirumalai, the greatest of the Nayaks of
Madurai, who were originally viceroys of the Vijayanagar Rayas, but who
later made themselves virtually independent, was the grandest builder in the
history of the temple and the city. Formerly, pilgrims used to be fed in
The Unjal And Kilikatti Mandapas
Two Mandapas, the Unjal and the Kilikatti, stand on the farther way to the
shrine of the Goddess. On their ceilings are more paintings. A celebrated
mural, opposite to the entrance of the shrine, depicts the marriage of
Goddess Meenakshi. The Kilikatti Mandapa derives its name from the fact that
there are parrots in a cage here. On its walls are carvings of the divine
sports. The most ornamental of the temple's Mandapas, it was built in 1623.
Near the flagstaff is a six-pillared structure, which is of historic
interest. A famous poet, Kumaragurubarar, composed verses in praise of the
Goddess at the request of Tirumalai Nayak. He recited the work in this part
of the temple with Tirumalai present. As he was doing so, a little girl
walked upto the Nayak, took a pearl necklace from his neck, gave it to the
poet and disappeared. She was the Goddess Meenakshi Herself. There is a
stone bell on the ceiling of the Mukhamandapa. The entire shrine measures
68.5m by 45.7m.
A Gopura of three tiers stands over the entrance from this Mandapa into the
shrine of the Goddess. Built in 1227 by Vambathura Ananda Tandava Nambi, it
is named the Vambuthurar Gopura after him. The shrine consists of a square
sanctum, an Ardhamandapa and a Mukhamandapa. In the niches on the walls of
the shrine are images of Iccasakthi in the south, Kriyasakthi in the west,
and Jnanasakthi in the north. There are shrines of Vinayaka and Subramanya
in the outer Prakara. They probably belong to the fifteenth century.
On the way to the Lord's shrine from here there are two Gopuras, the Nadu
Kattu over the doorway leading from the Kilikatti Mandapa, and the
Gopuranayaka, which rises above the actual entrance into the shrine. Each is
of five storeys and perhaps belongs to the mid-sixteenth century.
Beyond the former, facing south, is a huge image of Lord Vinayaka,
engagingly the "Mukkuruni Vinayaka" from the fact that a single
enormous edible, the "Kozhukattai", made from 34 kg of rice, is
offered to Him on Vinayaka Chaturthi Day. There is a tradition that the
image was discovered when Tirumalai Nayak was digging the beautiful tank on
the outskirts of the city, called the "Vandiyur Teppakulam" .
The Kambathadi Mandapa
The Kambathadi Mandapa, which contains the flagstaffs of the Lord's shrine,
has, besides some of the most striking baroque sculpture in the country. It
was originally built by Krishna Veerappa Nayak (1572-95) and renovated in
1877 by the Nagarattars, a class of Chettiars, who have built and renovated
many a fane in Tamil Nadu.
This Mandapa encloses the Nandi shrine, two flagstaffs and the balipitha,
has eight monolithic columns, which carry huge sculptures of the Lord in
various forms. These includes Somasundara, the Protector of Markandeya,
Nataraja, Chandrasekhara, Ardhanariswara, Dakshinamurti, Bikshatana,
Somaskanda,Rudra, Ekapadamurti and Rshbaruda. There are also the ten
incarnations of Lord Vishnu. It is here that the celebrated sculpture of
Goddess Meenakshi's marriage is to be found. On either side of the entrance
there are imposing monoliths of Bhadrakali, Agora Virabhadra, Agni
Virabhadra and Urdhatandava. A carved ceiling made of a single stone covers
the Nandi shrine.
Over the entrance into the shrine stands a Gopura of three storeys. It was
originally built by a Pandya in 1168 and, therefore, is one of the oldest
surviving structures in the temple. Flanking the entrance are huge
dwarapalkas, each 3.6m high, made of a single stone each, and standing on a
pedestal about 1.5m high.
The shrine is a square of 10.4m. Eight elephants, thirty-two lions and
sixty-four sportive dwarfs support its base. On its outer walls there are
prominent niches on the three sides, each projecting 1.8m. In the south
there is Dakshinamurti in the west Lingodbhava, and in the north Durga.
These niches are so big as to be small shrines. Stone elephants about 3m
high flank each of them. There is always a concourse of worshippers in front
of the Durga image. The Vimana above the sanctum is of three storeys. The
Sikhara is plated with gold.
In front of the shrine there are successively an Antarala, an Ardhamandapa,
a Mukhamandapa and a Mahamandapa so that this is virtually a temple by
itself. The whole measures 128m by 94.5m. There are two Prakaras and five
Gopuras. The outer walls are called the "Sundara Pandya Madil" and
the inner ones, which measure 76.2m by 47.5m, the "Kapali Madil".
The latter is referred to by Sambandar in the 7th century.
Thousand Pillared Mandapa
the other Mandapas in the temple is the celebrated thousand pillared one.
Aryanatha Mudaliar, who bestrides a horse at the entrance, erected it in
1569. Measuring 76.2m by 73m, it contains 985 pillars. The central nave
leads to a shrine of Lord Sabapati. On every pillar there are sculptures.
These are varied iconographic interest. Among themselves they make a
veritable pantheon. On the ceiling near the entrance there is a wheel, which
gives the cycle of sixty years of Tamil calendar. Fergusson calls the
Mandapa "The wonder of the place".
West of it is a small Mandapa added during the renovation of 1960-63. It
commemorates Sambandar's reclamation of the Pandya to Hinduism. It contains
a Linga and images of 'Sambandar', 'Mangayarkarasi', 'Kulachirayar' and 'Kun
Pandya'. The second was the queen, the third the minister of the Pandya.
The Historic Shrines In The Prakaras
There are a number of historic shrines in the Prakaras. Opposite to an
entrance into the first from the Mahamandapa there is one of Lord
Sabhapathi. This is the famous Velliambalam where one of the Lord's divine
sports took place when, at the request of the sages, Patanjali and
Vyagrapadha, He danced as Lord Nataraja.
In the second Prakara a shrine, now called that of the Sangam poets,
contains images of many of them. In the same Prakara there is a shrine
apparently dedicated to Kariyamanikka Perumal, but now empty. Also in the
same Prakara there is a row of fourteen small shrines, called the "isvarams".
Many of them contain Lingas.
Near the east outer Gopura stands the celebrated Pudumandapa. Built by
Tirumalai Nayak between 1626 and 1633, it is a large hall, 100m by 32m, and
contains a hundred and twenty four pillars. These magnificent columns carry
bold reliefs. There are equestrians and yalis on the outer pillars, while at
the centre there are portraits of ten Nayaks from Viswanatha, the first of
them to Tirumalai.
There are, besides, some of the Tiruvilayadal scenes, the wedding of
Goddess Meenakshi, Goddess Meenakshi as Thadathagai, and Ekapadamurti, among
other themes. At the western end there is a canopied Mandapa, the Vasanta,
where the images of the Lord and the Goddess are brought on certain festival
The Kalyanamandapa, built by Vijayaranga Chokkanatha (who stands here in
effigy) in the first decade on the eighteenth century, contains much
excellent woodwork. It was originally open on all sides. In the center is a
large platform, where annually the marriage of the Lord and the Goddess is
celebrated. On two of the walls are two huge paintings of the "two
worlds" of Hindu cosmogony, each about 1.8m in diameter.
The Gopuras Of The Temple
The Gopuras Of The Temple The four outer Gopuras in the four directions are
marvellous works of art. They are of perfect proportions, though they were
built at different time and though, moreover, they have been repaired and
renovated from time to time. The Gopuras of Tamil Nadu, by themselves, form
a chapter in the history of Indian Art. Some of the brightest pages are due
to the towers of Madurai.
- The West Gopura
The west Gopura was built in the fourteenth century, a troubled period
in the history of the temple and the city following the Muslim
invasions. It is difficult to believe that a venture of this magnitude
could have been possible in that time of travail. But the sources of
information are clear. They attribute the Gopura to a Parakrama Pandya.
There were many kings of that name in the century. Since the famous
Pandya crest of two carps appears on this Gopura, it may be accepted
that the Pandyas did build it. This was their swan song in the temple,
which will always be associated with their piety, munificence and glory.
It is 48m high, rising on a base that is 31m by 14m. Like the three
other Gopuras, it is of nine tiers.
- The Southern Gopura
The most beautiful and the most artistic of the four, the southern,
frequently photographed for its lovely eminence over the Golden Lily
Tank, is also the tallest, 49m. Its stone base measures 32.9m by 20.4m.
The tower sweeps in a graceful curve. It was built about the middle of
the sixteenth century by Siramalai Sevvanthi Murti Chettiar, a scion of
a family of Tiruchi, which has contributed much to the temple.
- The Northern Gopura
The latest in date is the northern Gopura, which was built by Krishna
Veerappa Nayak (1564-72). For some reason, it was without a Sikhara and
was not plastered. Therefore, it was called the "Mottai"
Gopura. The deficiencies were supplied in renovation about the end of
the last century.
Such an ancient and renowned fane has attracted considerable literature
and many beautiful traditions, apart from those narrated above. It is
said for example Rous Peter, a Collector in the early decades of the
last century, was so beloved of the people that they called him "Peter
Pandya". Every day he would go round the temple on horseback. One
night when he was asleep, there was heavy rain. A little girl woke him
up and beckoned him outside his house. The girl then vanished. Peter,
convinced that She was Goddess Meenakshi, presented valuable jewels to
Connected with the temple is the lovely tank called the "Mariamman
Teppakulam", about 3 km to the east. It measures 345m by 290m, and has
steps leading down to the water. In the center is a towered Mandapa, with
four smaller Mandapas around it. The tank was excavated and the Mandapas
built by Tirumalai Nayak. On his birthday a float festival of the images of
the Lord and the Goddess is celebrated. On the other side of the road there
is a famous Mariamman temple.
Other Temples In Madurai
Major Festivals Celebrated in Madurai
- Azhagar Koil
Located 21 km. northwest of Madurai is a Vishnu temple located on a
picturesque wooded hill. Here Lord Vishnu presides as Meenakshi's
brother 'Azhagar'. It is one of the few temples in the country built in
tiers. The tower consists of 3 tiers depicting Lord Vishnu in 3
postures, sitting, standing and reclining. The shadow of the Vimanam
never falls on the ground.
On entering the temple, one can see the life-size sculptures carved in
the stone Mandapam built by Tirumalai Naicken. These are similar to
those found in Madurai temple. The deity is known as "Kalazhagar"
as he is the household deity of the Kallas, a low caste people.
Places to stay in Madurai, Tamilnadu
- Meenakshi Kalyanam At Madurai
The annual solemnization of the marriage of Meenakshi with Lord
Sundareshwar (Shiva) is one of the most spectacular temple festivals at
Madurai's famous Meenakshi temple in Tamil Nadu. Car processions of the
goddess and the god are some of the colourful features of this festival.
Meenaskhi Kalyanam, the wedding festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord
Sundareshwar is celebrated for twelve days from the second day of the
lunar month (i.e. two days after the new moon). This is a spectacular
festival celebrated in the month of Chaitra (April-May).
The festival is characterized with royal decorated umbrellas, fans and
traditional instrumental music. Scenes from mythology are enacted and
the deities of Lord Shiva, Goddess Shakti and Goddess Meenakshi are
taken out in a colourful procession. Thousands of devotees from all over
the country gather in the city of Madurai on this occasion.
Accommodation is available at the luxurious, moderate class and small
budgeted hotels, devasthanam cottages, lodges, and dharmashalas in Madurai.