Madurai Meenakshi Temple



One of the things I totally love and am grateful in my life is the opportunity to travel and to live in different parts of the world. When we live in a place for a while and experience the local traditions, seasons, and economies, it then truly becomes a part of our lives. I am blessed to have many such parts in my life and I absolutely cherish them. My father's job required him to change base almost every 5 yrs and now my husband's job requires him to change base almost every 3 yrs.....So, I have always been on the wheels...One of the early part of my life was in the Holy City Madurai in Tamil Nadu, India....

Madurai's recorded history goes back to the 3rd century BC with its mentions by Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to India and Kautilya, the minister of the Mauryan EmperorChandragupta Maurya. Situated in the south of river Vaigai the city is known for the historic Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. The temple and the city originated together. Madurai or "the city of nectar" is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and was the capital of Pandyan rulers.

 

   
Aerial view of the  temple complex and the city....
 
 

Meenakshi is an Avatar of the Hindu Goddess Parvati - the consort of Lord Shiva. She is also one of the few Hindu female deities to have a major temple devoted to her. Meenakshi (Meena meaning fish and akshi meaning eye) is the principal deity of the temple, and not Sundareswarar - this is unlike most Shiva temples in India where usually Shiva is the principal deity. And legend has it that Madurai is the actual place where the wedding of Shiva and Meenakshi took place. The Meenakshi temple complex is one of the largest and certainly one of the most ancient in the world. In fact it was in the list of top 30 nominees of the “New Seven Wonders of the world”. The temple is situated in the heart of the city covering an area of 17 acres, the entire city was built around it.

 

 
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  Micro view of the  temple tower...
 

Madurai is said to have flourished in the 10th century AD which was the time when the Pandiyas rule was captured by the Cholas. From 920 AD till the beginning of the 13th century, Madurai was ruled by the Cholas. The city was captured again by the Pandiyas and they ruled the place from 1223 AD. In the 14th century an invasion by Muslim king Malik Kafur completely destroyed the temple. Madurai was under Muslim rule for nearly fifty years. The temple was restored to its pristine glory in the late 14th century when the Hindu Kings came back to power. This can also be termed as a new beginning of a new era in the history of the temple, when it was almost rebuilt. The idol of the Goddess is said to be carved out of a single emerald. This exotic temple was renovated by various kings over a period of few hundred years, adding coiled corridors and larger-than-life sculptures. The temple consists of the twin temples of God Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi, each one is as high as about nine storeys.
 

 
 

Temple Tower
 
 
 

  Temple tower...
 

Gopurams (Temple Towers)   The temple is surrounded by 12 Gopurams (gateway tower), the tallest of which, is the famous southern tower, that rises to over (52 m) and was built in the year of 1559. The oldest gopuram is the eastern one, built during 1216-1238. Each gopuram is a multi-storeyed structure, covered with thousands of stone figures of animals, gods and demons painted in bright hues. These towering gates mark the entrance to the temple complex at four cardinal points, North, South, East and West. Lesser Gopurams lead to the sanctums of the main deities. Every 12 years, the figures of deities on the towers are reconditioned, repainted and ritually reconsecrated.

 

 

  Inside view...
 
 
 
 

 
    Every 12 years, the figures of deities on the towers are reconditioned, repainted and ritually reconsecrated...

Shrines    The central shrine of Meenakshi and her consort Sundareswarar are surrounded by three enclosures and each of these are protected by four minor towers at the four points of the compass, the outer tower growing larger and reaching higher to the corresponding inner one. The Sundareswara shrine lies at the centre of the complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed later. Both the Meenakshi and Sundareswarar shrines have gold plated Vimanam (tower over sanctum). The area covered by the shrine of Sundareswarar is exactly one fourth of the area of the temple and that of Meenakshi is one fourth of that of Sundareswara.

 

   Golden Lotus Pond....
 

 


  Golden Lotus...
 
 

Potramaraukulam (Golden Lotus Tank) The sacred temple tank Porthamarai Kulam ("Pond with the golden lotus"), is (50m) by (37m) in size. According to legend, Shiva promised a stork that no fish or other marine life would grow here and thus no marine animals are found in the tank. The area around this tank used to be the meeting place of the Tamil Sangam - the ancient academy of poets, legend has it that the tank would judge the worth of a new piece of literature. Authors would place their works here in a float and the poorly written works would sink and the scholastic ones would float. The huge Golden Lotus in the pond is said to have bloomed for Indra as a wish from Shiva. The corridors around the tank has the walls carrying paintings of the divine sports of the Lord.

As a kid we would often visit the temple and I particularly remember walking through those corridors overlooking the water tank holding my mother's finger towards the Holy Shrine...as much as I enjoyed the huge sculptures and the paintings on the ceilings all those walking around the temple always hurt my legs..The complex is HUGE and surreal....

 
 

   Thousand Pillar Hall....Check the majestic sculptures...
 
 

Mandapams (Hall)  The temple complex has a number of halls all around it and the most famous of it is the "Aayiram Kaal Mandapam" or Thousand Pillar Hall. It contains 985(instead of 1000) carved pillars.The hall was built in 1569 and it is a structure where the engineering skill and artistic vision are blended. Each pillar in the hall is a carved monument of the Dravidian sculpture. The more prominent among the carved figures are those of Rati(wife of Cupid), Karthikeya,Ganesha, Shiva as a wandering mendicant and endless number of yalis(mythical figures of lions). There is a Temple Art Museum in the hall now where icons, photographs, drawings, and other exhibits of the 1200 years old history of the temple is displayed. Just outside this hall, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note.

 
 

   Temple tangles....
 
 

   Lord Vishnu (left) giving his sister Meenakshi's hand away to Lord Shiva (right)
 

Festivals   The most important festival associated with the temple is the "Meenakshi Thirukalyanam" (The divine marriage of Meenakshi) that is celebrated in April every year. The marriage of the divine couple is regarded as a classic instance of south Indian female-dominated marriage, The marriage brings together rural and urban people, deities and mortals, Saivas (those who worship Shiva) andVaishnavas (those who worship Vishnu) in order to celebrate Meenakshi as the royal monarch. During the one month period, there are a number of events including the "Ther Thiruvizhah" (chariot festival) and "Theppa Thiruvizhah" (float festival). As per the tradition , even today every evening, before closing the temple, a ritual procession led by drummers and a brass ensemble carries the image of Sundareswarar to Meenakshi's bedroom to consummate the union, to be taken back to his day setting the next morning at dawn.

 
Searching information and writing  for this article was very nostalgic....Its been 22 yrs since my last stay/visit...I want to visit this city and the temple with my husband... (Often, I remind God not to take me away before I check this one off my list)...sometimes it feels like one life is just not enough for all the beauty on this earth.....
 
 
Sources: Wikipedia, internet..
 

 

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