Madurai Meenakshi Temple is one of the largest Temples of the World and an Architectural marvel. Over the last 2500 years Madurai Meenakshi Temple has been the lifeline of the City of Madurai. Madurai Meenakshi Temple has played a crucial role in promoting Tamil Art, Music, Dance & Culture. In fact, Madurai Meenakshi Temple is supposed to have been the host of the third assembly of Tamil Sangam, the ancient Literature Meet. As many as 30000 sculptures can be found in the Madurai Meenakshi temple complex! No wonder it was in the list of top 30 nominees of “New Seven Wonders of the World”.
Madurai is 460 km from Chennai and 440 km from Bangalore by road. It is well connected by buses to all major cities in Tamil Nadu. Madurai Junction is an important railway junction in South Tamil Nadu and is well connected by trains to many parts of India like Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai & Delhi. Madurai also has a domestic airport.
You can visit Madurai Meenakshi Temple between 0500hrs & 1230hrs and then again between 1600 hrs. & 21.30 hrs.
The wedding of Lord Shiva and Meenakshi or Meenakshi Thirukalyanam, is celebrated every year during Mid-April for 10 days in the form of Chittarai festival. More than a million pilgrims visit the Madurai Meenakshi Temple during this time. If you want to beat the heat and crowds at Madurai Meenakshi Temple, then plan your visit any time between Oct and Feb.
The Madurai Meenakshi Temple was built 2500 years ago by King Kulasekara Pandya. Spread over 65000 meters, Madurai Meenakshi Temple has two major shrines dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar or Shiva. Figures of deities, mythical animals and monsters painted in vivid colors adorn the 12 majestic Towers of Madurai Meenakshi Temple.
Enter the Madurai Meenakshi Temple from the eastern side thro through the Ashta Shakti Mandapa or “Hall of eight Goddesses”. Adjacent to the Hall is Meenakshi Nayakar Mandapa which is a splendid sight with 110 pillars. Keep a lookout for a lamp holder with 1008 lamps in this Hall. During festivals, the lit lamps are a spectacular sight.
After the Meenakshi Nayakar Mandapa, you can visit The Seven storied Chitra Gopura the tallest tower in the Madurai Meenakshi Temple complex. It simply mesmerizes you. Adjacent to this is the Potramarai Kulam or Golden Lotus Tank, with steps leading down to the water. It is surrounded by pillared corridors with paintings from Vijayanagar period. It is believed that poets from Sangam period met in the place that surrounds the tank!
On the western side of the tank is the Oonjal Mandapa. Every Friday the idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are made to swing in Mandapa. Next to this Mandapa is the Meenakshi Shrine, one of the two main shrines, which is guarded by two huge “Dwarabalagas” or Door Keepers. Lord Sundareswarar Shrine, the second main shrine, is situated at the center of the complex amid columns that bear the fish motifs.
Mukkuruni Pilliar is a shrine of Lord Ganesh located outside the Sundareshwarar shrine. It is believed that the idol was found during an excavation work by King Thirumalai Nayakar about 3 km from the temple. The king brought the idol to the temple and erected it here.
The Kambattadi Mandapa is situated in front of the Shiva Shrine, has a pavilion with a seated Nandi and carved pillars depicting 24 forms of Lord Shiva. To its east is the famed Thousand Pillared Hall with 985 beautifully decorated pillars. Its walls depict the history of more than 1200 years in the form of sculptures and drawings. A marvel in this hall is a set of pillars which produce the seven notes of Carnatic Music!
The Pudhu Mandapa is another noteworthy structure to visit. It is 100 m long and was built by King Thirumalai Nayakar and is located outside the main temple complex. Within that, there are various paintings which depict the wedding of Lord Shiva and Meenakshi. It also houses market selling spices, saris and jewelry.
Tamil Literature from the period 300BC-300AD is called Sangam Literature and it dealt with love, war, governance, trade and bereavement. As per Tamil Scholars, there have been 3 assemblies of Sangam where Tamil scholars and poets met, debated and discussed literature. The last of these was supposed to have been held in the 5th Century at the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. The Sangam at Madurai Meenakshi Temple has inspired political, social, and literary movements in Tamil Nadu for generations till as recent as the early 20th century.
The Meenakshi Thirukalyanam is not just a festival of the divine Meenakshi and Lord Shiva. It has come to symbolize the custom of Bride dominated marriages in South India, referred these days as "Madurai marriage”! In contrast the “Chidambaram Marriage” is a custom of Groom dominated marriage inspired by Shiva Temple of Chidambaram.
For my pilgrim diaries on other religious instituions and heritage sites, please visit Great Pilgrimage Ideas.