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Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple (Meenakshi Amman Temple)
Madurai, over 2500 years old, is the oldest city in Tamil Nadu. Meenakshi Amman temple also known as Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple is located in the city of Madurai on the Southern bank of river Vaigai. The temple is dedicated to Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Meenakshi (Parvathi). It is one of the few temples in Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions.
History of Meenakshi Temple
The Pandiyan monarch, Kulasekara, built a Shiva temple and the streets radiated out from the temple like lotus petals. The city was henceforth known as 'Madhurapuri'. Madhurapuri grew and prospered to become the capital of the Pandiyan Kingdom. It is referred to in the Ramayana and in Kautilya's Arthasashtra. The saint-poet Thirugnanasambandar has mentioned the temple in his songs which go back to early 7th century. The Lord has been described as Aalavaai Iraivan in his songs.
Unfortunately, in the year 1310, the temple was almost completely destroyed following the invasion by Malik Kafur and no sculptural element of the ancient temple remain today.
The temple in its present form was constructed in the 1600s. The initiative to rebuild the structure was taken by first Nayak King of Madurai, Viswanatha Nayak (1559-1600 A.D.). The restoration was carried out under the supervision of Ariyanatha Mudaliar, the Prime Minister of the Nayak Dynasty and the founder of the Poligar System. King Thirumalai Nayak (circa 1623-1659) played an important role in the temple's construction. He built various complexes inside and outside the temple and he built Vasantha Mandapa to celebrate Vasanthotsavam. Kilikoottu Mandapam and the corridors of Teppakulam were built by Rani Mangammal. Meenakshi Nayakar Mandapam was built by Rani Meenakshi.
Shrines and architectural features
The temple has 14 gopurams including two magnificent Thanga (golden) Gopurams. The gopurams have exquisite sculptures with elaborate detailing. The tallest temple tower is 51.9 metres (170 ft) in height. The paintings inside the temple walls have been restored recently and are very eye-catching.
Apart from the two main Sannidhis of Meenakshiamman and Sundareswarar, this temple is a complex of many deities. Of these, the most sculpturally significant one is the Mukuruny Vinayakar. This is a huge sculpture of Ganesh carved of single stone believed to have been found during an excavation process to dig the temple lake.
The Shiva shrine lies at the centre of the complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed later. Velli Ambalam is one of the five royal courts (Sabai or Sabha) where Lord Shiva is found as Nataraja, performing his Cosmic Dance. The massive Nataraja sculpture is enclosed in a huge silver altar and hence called 'Velli Ambalam' (The Silver abode). In this unusual representation of Lord Nataraja, Shiva has his right foot raised as opposed to to the usual left foot raised position. According to the Tiruvilayaadal Puranam, this is on the request of Rajasekara Pandya, who was a sincere devotee of Lord Shiva. He asked the Lord to change his position, as he felt that always keeping the same foot raised would put enormous stress on it, based on his personal experiments in dancing.
The more famous Meenkashi shrine is to the left of the Shiva shrine.
Porthamarai Kulam, the sacred pond inside the temple, is a very holy site for devotees. The name means the Pond with the Golden Lotus and people have to go around the tank to enter the main shrine. According to legend, Lord Shiva promised a stork that no fish or other marine life would grow here and thus, none are found here. Another interesting legend is that the lake is supposed to judge the worth of new literature. Authors place their works here and the poorly written works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to float. Tiruvalluvar's Tirukkural was accepted at this pond.
On the western side of this tank are the Oonjal Mandapam with the deities and the Kilikootu Mandapam (hall of parrots), with parrots chanting the name of Meenakshi. Every Friday the gold idols of Lord Shiva and Meenakshi are placed on the Oonjal (swing ) and worshipped with hymns and offerings.
Thousand Pillar hall of Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple was built with that in the older Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli as a model. The Aayiram Kaal Mandapam or Thousand Pillar Hall contains 985 (instead of 1000) carved pillars. It is considered culturally important and is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. At the entrance of the Mandapam, there is an idol of a man majestically seated on a beautiful horse. Legend has it that this is an idol of Ariyanatha Mudaliyar who built the mandapam.
Just outside this mandapam, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note. The kalyana mandapa, to the south of the pillared hall, is where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year during the Chithirai Festival in mid-April.
Ashta Shakthi Mandapam is the first hall in the entrance of Meenakshi shrine tower near to East Tower. The hall carries the statues of eight goddesses and hence the name. Nowadays, we find many shops selling pooja items in this hall.
Festivals at Madurai Meenakshi Temple
In this popular temple festivals are celebrated thoughout the year. Some of the most popular festivals of the temple are Chitra festival, Avanimoola festival, Masi Mandala festival, Thepporstovam, and Navarathri cultural festival.
- Chithirai - Chithirai Brahamostavam / Arulmigu Thirukkalyanam
- Vaikasi - Vasantham Festival
- Aani - Unjal Festival
- Aadi - Aadi / Mulai Kottu Festival
- Aavani - Aavani Moolam Festival / Puttukku Mansumantha Leela Festival
- Purattasi - Navarathri festival
- Ayppasi - Kolattam Festival
- Karthikai - Kolattam Festival
- Margali - Thiruvathirai / Arudhra Dharsan Festival and Thiruvembavai and Thiruppavai Festival
- Thai - Major portion of utsavam performed in Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple. Thepporstovam in Mariyamman temple theppam
- Masi - Mandala utsavam for 48 days
- Panguni - Summer Vasantham Festival
Morning poojas or prayers are from 5.00 a.m. to 12.00 p.m. They are:
The evening poojas are from 4.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. They are:
- Thiruvanandal pooja - 5.00 - 6.00 a.m.
- Vizha pooja - 6.30 - 7.00 a.m.
- Kalasandhi pooja - 7.30 - 8.30 a.m.
- Thrikalasandhi pooja - 10.30 - 11.30 a.m.
- Uchikkala Pooja (Noon Pooja) - 10.30 - 11.30 a.m.
- Maalai pooja - 4.30 - 5.00 p.m.
- Ardhajama Pooja (Night Pooja) - 7.30 - 8.30 p.m.
- Palliarai pooja - 9.15 - 10.00 p.m.
The legend of Meenakshi
According to legend, in answer to the prayers of the second Malayadwaja Pandya king Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai, Goddess Parvati appeared out of the Holy Fire of the Putra Kameshti Yagna performed by the king. The girl apparently had three breasts much to the dismay of her parents. They were reassured by a heavenly voice that her third breast would dissapear upon her meeting her destined husband and they named her Tadaatagai, also known as Meenakshi.
The much accomplished princess went on a conquest of the three worlds across all eight directions or Digvijayam. She defeated all that stood in her path till she went to Kailayam or Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. As soon as she looked at Lord Shiva her third breast disappeared and she realized that she was the incarnation of Parvati. Siva and Meenakshi returned to Madurai for her coronation followed by their wedding and the whole earth is said to have gathered to witness the holy union. Vishnu, the brother of Meenakshi, was traveling to preside over the marriage when he was tricked by Lord Indira and was delayed. Meanwhile, the marriage was presided over by Koodal Azhagar. This is celebrated annually as 'Chitirai Thiruvizha' or 'Azhaghar Thiruvizha' in Madurai in the Tamil month of Chitrai that falls in April - May every year.
How to get to Madurai?
Nearest Airport : Madurai has an Airport. The temple is about 15 kms from the airport. There are daily flights to Chennai. Chennai is the closest international airport to Madurai.
Nearest Railhead : Madurai. Madurai is an important railway junction of the Southern Railway and is directly connected to Chennai (Egmore station), Coimbatore, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Tirunelveli.
By Road: There are several buses from Chennai, Thiruchanapalli, Coimbatore and Thirunelveli. There are also buses to neighbouring states of Kerala and Karnataka.
Places to Stay in Madurai
Budget Hotels In Madurai:
Mid-range Hotels in Madurai
- Hotel Aarathi - Ph: 0452 2331571 / 2336341. Right behind the Koodal Azhakar Temple with good view of temple towers.
- TM House, Perumal veli street.
- Elements Hostel, No.642, K.K. Nagar, (Opp. to Hindu Office) TamilNadu, (India). Ph: 0452 4391116
Star Hotels in Madurai
- Madurai Residency. 15 West Marret Street, Madurai 625001.
- Hotel Supreme. 110, West Perumal Maistry Street, Madurai 625001.
- Hotel Park Plaza. 114-115, West Perumal Maistry street, Madurai 625001. Ph: 0452 3011111.
- Hotel Chentoor, 106 West Perumal Maistry Street. Ph: 0452 3042222.
- Pandiyan Hotels. Alagar Koil Road, Madurai 625002.
- Hotel Sangam. Alagarkoil Road.
- GRT Regency. 38, Madakulam Main Road, Palanganatham, Madurai 625003.
Other temples near Madurai
- Azhagar Koil
This is a Vishnu temple located 21 kms north of Madurai at the foothills of Alagar Malai, a lovely wooded hill. It is a picturesque place alive with monkeys. The main deity is Lord Vishnu. Vishnu presides as Meenakshi's brother "Azhagar". During the Chithirai festival in April/May, when the marriage of Meenakshi to Sundereshwarar is celebrated, Azhagar travels to Madurai for the wedding ritual in an impressive procession.
One of the six abodes of Lord Subramanya is on Alagar Malai, about 4 km above Azhagar Koil. Adjacent to the temple is a natural spring called Nuburagangai where pilgrims bathe.
Located 6 km southwest of Madurai, this rock-cut temple is regarded as one of the six abodes of Lord Subramaniya. It is a long walk to the top, but the view is spectacular once you get there!