Exploring Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple
With Divya Raj
A little about this city and its name
Madurai is the third largest city of Tamil Nadu. It is one of the oldest and liveliest cities in the south of India with great historical, cultural and mythological importance. This beautiful temple town lies on the banks of the river Vaigai. A drive across the city and you will find the river flowing across the town with bridges and railway track connecting the two sides offering great view. I was amazed to know that this city is known by so many names. Starting with Thoonga Nagaram (meaning the city which never sleeps, and it is true!), Koodal Nagaram (City of junctions), Malligai Maanagar (City of jasmine, off course, they have a huge production of jasmine flowers and even export them) and Naanmada Koodal (Junction of four towers, probably from the four main temple towers). How cool!
I also found this interesting mythological story that the city got its name, during the tenure of the Pandyas. It so happened that, the day the city was to be named by King Kulaekhara Pandya, Lord Shiva appeared in his dream and drops of madhu (nectar) were falling to the ground from his matted hair. The “madhu” was so sweet that the place where it fell came to be known as Madhurapuri or Madhura and which in course of time became “Madurai.”
Historians refer the city as “Athens of the east” due to its similarities to Athens in Greece. The city of Athens was built at an elevated plane (built above the ground level) so that it is visible from any part of the city. Similarly, Madurai city is built with the Meenakshi Amman temple at its center. In fact the city also had a heritage rule that no building constructed should exceed the height of temple towers. Yet another distinct feature of Greek and Roman cities was the provision for pedestrian walkways and lanes for vehicles. The original structure of Madurai gave preference only for pedestrians. The striking similarities can also be due to the trade relation between the Pandya rulers and Greece.
The Magnificent Temple
The temple is known for its magnificent and beautiful architecture and it also made to the list of ‘Best Swachh Iconic Place’ (cleanest iconic place) in India, recently. This 600 year old temple is built in the heart of the city spreading over 14 acres. The side walls are huge and when seen from a birds-eye view it looks like a mandala (Built very symmetrical).
About the shrines
The temple is dedicated to goddess Meenakshi, an avatar of the Hindu goddess Parvati (Consort of Lord Shiva). Therefore, here lord Shiva is worshipped in the name of Sundareswarar. Meenakshi amman is depicted holding a lotus with a parrot sitting over the flower. The literal meaning of the word Meenakshi means “Eyes like a fish” - Meen (Fish) and Akshi (Eyes) or the “women with the eyes of a fish”.
The shrine of Sundareshwara is a slightly smaller and Shiva here is worshipped in the signature lingam form, while you can also find a snake hood above the lingam. Apart from the two main shrines, the temple has shrines dedicated to various other deities like Ganesha and Murugan, Lakshmi, Saraswati to name a few .
The temple has a total of 14 gopurams (entrance towers)
· 4 nine storeyed gopurams
· 1 seven storeyed
· 5 five storeyed
· 2 three storeyed
· 2 one-storey gold-gilded sanctum towers
These towers are made of limestone and covered with sculptures and idols of Hindu gods, mythological characters, divine animals, demons, saints & scholars. They represent various episodes from past and mythological stories. It is said that there are almost around 30,000 plus stucco images over these gopurams. The four tallest gopurams on the outer walls alone depict nearly 4000 mythological stories. While the South tower is considered the biggest with a height of about 170 feet, the east one is the most beautiful one. Considering this is a huge temple and that one may be travelling with little children or elders, there are battery operated buggies at a nominal price.
The temple complex has many mandapas (pillared-halls) like Asta Shakti Mandapam, Unjal Mandapam, Meenakshi Nayyakar Mandapam, Muthuramayyar mandapam, Nagara Mandapam, Servaikarar Mandapam to name a few that were built by kings who ruled over and a few wealthy patrons. The major attraction is the Aayiramkal Mandapam (1000-pillared hall). Although the exact count is said to be only 985 richly carved pillars. The ceiling of this hall is also beautifully painted. If you are more into architecture you can also visit the Temple Art Museum that exhibits different icons, paintings, antiques etc.
Golden Lotus pond
Another important attraction of the temple is the “Porthamarai Kulam” or the Golden Lotus pond. The pond has a structure of a Golden Lotus in its center and it is believed that lord Shiva blessed this pond and said that no marine life should be grown in it. There are also many mythological stories connected to this pond.
A few guidelines that can make your temple visit convenient
· Temple is open between 5 am to 12 noon and 4 pm to 9 pm
· Free darshan for all Hindus (if you need a quick darshan there is paid options as well)
· Foreigners are required to buy an entrance ticket, but darshan inside the sanctum are restricted to only Hindus
· Make sure to be dressed decently, covering your hands and legs and not wearing shorts, short dresses, sleeveless, lungi
· Photography is strictly prohibited, inside the temple, so respect the same and follow it
· Mobile phones are not allowed inside, you need to deposit it in the counter and tere are also some restrictions on carrying umbrellas, wallets and belts (made of animal skin), so do check the same at the entrance and follow the guideline
· Due to the popularity of the temple, you may end up waiting in the queue. So if you are travelling with kids or elders do check at the entrance and ticket counters for wheel chair assistance and on quick darshan tickets
· Refer to the temples official website for more details and the latest information
How to reach Madurai
Flight - Madurai has a domestic airport, which is around 10 kms away from the city and well connected with major domestic airports
Rail - It is well connected via trains with important cities in the south. If you are travelling from the North of India you can consider travelling to Chennai and from Chennai there are many trains operating to Madurai
Road - Madurai is well connected via road as well. So you can plan to reach by your car or taking a government or private bus