Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
The first thing that comes to the mind of any devotee when they hear the name of the historic city Madurai is the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple located on the banks of the legendary River Vaigai. The presiding deity of the Temple is Goddess Meenakshi (Goddess Parvati) and her consort Lord Sundareshwara (Lord Shiva). As per historical research, initially, Lord Sundareshwara was worshiped as the primary deity. However, in due course of time, the importance shifted to worshiping Meenakshi as the primary deity. Such is the love and devotion of people towards the Goddess that no one who visits the city even thinks about leaving it without seeking her blessings. Meenakshi Temple is one of the epitomes of the Dravidian style of architecture. As one enters the Meenakshi Temple premises, one can feel the spiritual pull towards the shrines and a feeling of peace of mind.
Meenakshi Temple is considered as the city center of the 2500-year-old ancient city. Ancient records show that the Meenakshi Temple was the center of the city from which the streets arose and spread in all directions. The Meenakshi Temple has been mentioned innumerable times in Tamil literature such as the Sangam literature. The Meenakshi Temple has been glorified in the revered Tevaram, a 7th-century work by the three Saivite Nayanars, Appar, Sundarar, and Thirugnanasambandar.
Meenakshi Temple Temple has four main entrances, one in each cardinal direction. The four Gopurams of each of the main entrances are intricately carved depiction sculptures of several Gods and Goddesses, holy animals and even demons. The tallest Gopuram among them is the South Tower (built in 1559)at a height of 170 feet (52 m). The oldest among them is the East tower built in 1238. The shrines of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwara are covered on top by a golden vimanam or a shikhara. The ceilings of the inner corridors are colorfully painted and provide a beautiful visual experience. It is estimated that around 33,000 exquisite sculptures are found in the Temple complex.
Goddess Meenakshi can be distinctly identified because she is always represented as a graceful lady wearing a green saree holding a Parrot in her right hand. The name Meenakshi can be split into “Meen” meaning Fish and “Akshi” meaning Eyes, thus giving the meaning as the “Lady with the Eyes of a Fish”.
Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple
Madurai Meenakshi Temple History
- The present structure of Meenakshi Temple Complex was built by the Nayakars of Madurai, especially during the reign of King Thirumalai Nayakar in the 15th century. However, the original Temple is believed to date back to as old as the 7th century. This is evident by the works of the Tamil Saint Thirugnanasambandar who has sung praises of the deity and the Temple in his work that dates back to the seventh century. The original temple is believed to have been constructed sometime during the late 6th to an early 7th century by the Pandya King Kulashekhara.
- In the 14th century, there arose an internal disharmony over the succession to the throne after the downfall of the Pandyas dynasty. Taking advantage of the dispute, Ala-ud-din Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate sent his general Malik Kafur in 1310 to invade Madurai. He marched south and ransacked all the cities and small kingdoms that fell on the way. When he reached Madurai, he pulled down the Temple towers and destroyed several sculptures and historical records. However, the main shrine of Meenakshi Amman and Sundareshwara were left intact. This incident led to the beginning of the spread of Islam in southern India, especially in Tamil Nadu.
- The renovation and rebuilding of the Meenakshi Temple started under King Viswanatha Nayak. The Meenakshi Temple was then expanded into its current state under the reign of Thirumalai Nayak during 1623 – 1655. He was responsible for the construction of several mandapams inside the Meenakshi Temple complex, especially the Vasantha Mandapam and the Kilikoondu Mandapam (Corridor of Parrots).
- The corridors of the pristine temple tank, as well as the Meenakshi Nayakar Mandapam, were built by the famous and brave Rani Mangammal, one of the very few Women rulers of Ancient India.
- According to the legends, the Pandyan King Malayadhwaja, and his queen Kanchanamala were childless and performed “Putra Kameshti Yagna” for a child. Lord Shiva was appeased and requested Goddess Parvati to be born to them. She obliged and arose from the sacrificial fire as a little girl with three breasts. The king was worried but was assured by the Lord that the third breast will disappear once she meets her match. The girl was named Taadanthagai and was brought up as a princess.
- At the time of her coronation, she waged war against the three holy kingdoms of Sathyaloka (Brahma’s abode), Vaikunta (Vishnu’s abode) and Amravati (Devas’s abode). After defeating them all, when she reached Kailash to defeat Lord Shiva, she stopped as she realized that Lord Shiva was her divine companion. Her third breast disaapeared at the spot. She realized that she was the avatar of Goddess Parvati. It was decided that they will marry and rule the city of Madurai together.
- On the day of the marriage, Lord Shiva came to the wedding ceremony without anyone accompanying him except a dwarf named Gundodara. Meenakshi was surprised and haughtily remarked that all the wedding arrangements will be wasted as there were not many attendees on behalf of the bridegroom. Lord Shiva challenged them to fulfill the needs of the dwarf. The king fed the dwarf everything from the wedding kitchen as well as every dish prepared in the city that day, but the dwarf could not be satisfied. When there was nothing else left to eat, he demanded water to quench his thirst. The city’s water supply was exhausted. Goddess Annapoorneshwari recommended that only Ganga would satisfy his thirst. Lord Shiva summoned River Ganga to flow and directed the river to flow through the city. The river was eventually named as Vaigai.
- The marriage was a divine occurrence and was attended by all the Gods and the Goddesses. Lord Vishnu was supposed to attend the event but was delayed by Indra. Angered, he left to Alagar Kovil but was eventually convinced by Lord Shiva. The event is described as Alagar Thiruvila and is still celebrated. The marriage was presided over by a local deity known as Pavalaakanivai.
- After the marriage, both Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi ruled Madurai for a period of time before returning to Kailash.
- As per ancient history, a Lotus-shaped city was built by the Pandyan King Kulasekhara around the Shiva Linga (Sundareshwara) worshiped by Lord Indra. It is believed that Lord Shiva was impressed by his devotion and blessed him. During the blessing, nectar dripped from his locks of hair and fell on the Earth. As a result, the city came to be known as Madhurapuri, Madhu meaning Honey. With the passage of time, the name became Madurai.
Significance of the Meenakshi Temple
- The idol of Shri Meenakshi Amman is made of greenish black stone. The Linga of Lord Sundareshwara is believed to be one of the 68 Swayambhu Lingas worshiped in India. The Swayambhu Lingas are believed to be the representations of Lord Shiva that have risen from the ground by themselves. They have not been manmade and are naturally occurring. The Linga is supported by 64 Bhootaganas, 32 Lions, and 8 Elephants.
- The Meenakshi Amman Temple is one of the Pancha Sabhai Sthalangal of Lord Nataraja, a form of Lord Shiva. Pancha means Five, Sabhai means hall and Sthala mean place. Lord Nataraja is referred to the form of Lord Shiva when he performs the different forms of Cosmic Dance. These five Sthalas or places represent the different forms of cosmic dance performed by Lord Nataraja. They are symbolized in sculptures depicting the respective postures and made out of precious elements. The sculpture of Lord Nataraja worshiped at the Meenakshi Amman Temple is called “Velli Ambalam Natarajar” and it is made of “Velli” meaning “Silver”. The uniqueness of this representation is that Lord Nataraja is shown with his right leg raised instead of the usually left leg as represented in the other depictions. The other four Temples with such unique sculptures are located in Chidambaram (Gold), Thiruvalangadu (Emerald), Tirunelveli (Copper) and Coutrallam (Art).
- The Porthamarai Kulam, meaning the “Pond with the Golden Lotus” is the name given to the sacred Temple Tank. It is also called as Adi Theertham, Shiva Ganga, Utthama Theertham, Gnana Theertham and Mukthi Theertham. It is believed that the tank was initially created by Lord Shiva himself when he thrust his Trishul into the Earth on request from Nandi.
- It was believed in ancient times that the worthiness of any new literature can be judged by placing the book on the surface of the tank. The poor quality literature would sink while the scholastic ones would remain afloat. It is believed that taking a bath with the water from the Theertham will provide Mukti or Moksha in life. It will also lead to the fulfillment of desires.
- Meenakshi Temple is an architectural wonder. The imposing 14 Gopurams of the Temple Complex are awe inspiring and intricately carved. The numerous Mandapas of the Temple like the Thousand Pillars Mandapam, Ashta Shakthi Mandapam, Kambatadi Mandapam, Puthu Mandapam, Viravasantharaya Mandapam, Kalyana Mandapam, Mudali Pillai Mandapam and the Mangayarkarasi Mandapam tell us stories about Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati sculpted out of rock. There are several legends of Lord Shiva depicted in statues like the Thiruvilayadal (Games of Lord Shiva), Mahabharatha, Bikshadanar, and Ramayana.
- A unique fact that can be observed about the placement of shrines is that the shrine of Lord Sundareshwara is exactly one-fourth of the total area of the temple. The shrine of Goddess Meenakshi is exactly one-fourth of the area of Lord Sundareshwara’s shrine. This might indicate that in the earlier times, Lord Shiva was given ritualistic importance over Goddess Meenakshi.
- Meenakshi Temple forms a part of the new top 30 wonders of the World and was a nominee for the “New Seven Wonders of the World”.
- A huge Ganapathi idol is worshiped just outside the sanctum out of Goddess Meenakshi. This idol is supposed to be at least 1500 years ago. It was discovered by the King Thirumalai Nayak during the digging of the Temple area for its renovation.
- As one comes out of the sanctum of Goddess Meenakshi, one must look up to the ceiling to see a recently painted 3-Dimensional image of Lord Shiva’s Linga. The Linga gives us an illusion of following us as we circle around it below.
Madurai Meenakshi Temple Timings
- Madurai Meenakshi Temple opens at 5am and closes at 9:30pm. It remains closed in the afternoon from 12:30pm to 4pm.
- The devotees can choose to have a free darshan or a paid darshan depending on the crowd. Special darshan tickets are available at Rupees Fifty and Rupees Hundred.
- Persons with disabilities and their one companion will be allowed to have darshan through a special entrance.
Men and women with exposed shoulders and legs are not allowed to enter the Temple premises. The main sanctums of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwara are open to only Hindus. However, visitors can view the Mandapams and the other architectural features of the Temple.
Festivals celebrated at Meenakshi Temple
- Chitthirai Brahmotsavam – Arulmigu Thirukalyanam – The grand festival of the wedding between Lord Sundareshwara and Goddess Meenakshi is celebrated for a period of 12 days in the month of Chitthirai (April). The festival begins with the flag hoisting on the Dhwajasthamba as an invitation to all the Gods and Goddesses to attend the celebrations. The Pattabhishekam (Coronation) of Goddess Meenakshi takes place on the 8th day of the festival. The Dikvijayam procession begins on the 9th day signifying the victories of the Goddess until she reached Kailash. The tenth day is celebrated as the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam. Thousands of pilgrims gather at the temple premises to witness the divine moment. The Ther or the Rath Yatra of the deities begins on the next day. The gigantic and decorated chariots are pulled by thousands of ardent devotees and taken around the streets of the temple. Lord Alagar is also worshiped on the banks of the Vaigai river where he halted to bestow gifts to the deities.
- Aavani festival – The important festival is celebrated for 18 days during the month of Aavani (August). This marks the event of the coronation of Lord Sundareshwara as the King of Madurai.The first six days of the festival are dedicated to Lord Chandrashekhar. the coronation takes place on the seventh day. The ritual of Tirupparakundram Subramanya and Thiruvadhavur Manickavasaka Perumal bidding farewell takes place on a ninth day.
- Navarathri – The festival dedicated to Goddess Amman is celebrated in a grand manner for ten days. The idol of the Amman deity is decorated in a different manner on all the nine days and her blessings are sought by thousands of pilgrims. The “Kolu” is arranged in the “Kolu Mandapam”. Kolu is the unique way of celebrating Navarathri, especially in Tamil Nadu in which several idols of the Gods, Goddesses, and their creations are kept in several steps and worshiped. Kalpa Pooja and Laksharchana is performed for the Goddess every day. The Temple premises are lit with lamps throughout. Several cultural festivals are held in the temple premises.
- Teppotsavam – The float festival is annually held in the city during the Tamil month of “Thai” which happens in January. The idols of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwara are taken around in a grand procession in the waters of the famous Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam. The festival attracts thousands of devotees who come to have a spiritual darshan of their favorite deities on this joyous occasion. The festival was started in the 17th century by the King Thirumalai Nayak. On this special day, the idols are taken to the banks of the Teppakulam and kept on the Mandap near its banks. The devotees queue in miles to have a darshan. The idols are then kept on a raft and pulled by hundreds of men and women, who pull the raft amidst cheers to the deities. The Gopurams of the temples are lit up in the evening followed by the fireworks display which marks the end of the day’s proceedings. The idols of the deities are then taken back to the Meenakshi Amman Temple with great enthusiasm.
Some of the other major festivals celebrated at the Temple are Maasi Mandala festival in February, Kanda Shashti in November, Deepavali, Oonjal festival, Aadi Moolaikottu festival, Vasanthotsavam, Arudhra darshanam, Thiruvenbavai and Thiruppavai festival.
Poojas and Rituals of Meenakshi Temple
- The daily ritual of worship includes Pooja at six times of a day. Each Pooja consists of Abhishekam of the deities, Alangaram (decoration with ornaments), Naivedyam (offering of food) and Deepa Aradanai (Aarti with lamps).
- Thiruvanandal Pooja – This is the first Pooja of the day and begins at 5 AM. The deities are bathed as per ritual and then dressed up in decorative ornaments. The morning Aarti is performed.
- Vilaa Pooja and the Kalasandhi Pooja – These Poojas comprising of Abhishekam and Aarti takes place between 6:30 AM to 7:15 AM.
- Thrikalasandhi Pooja and the Uchikkala Pooja – These Poojas begin at 10:30 AM and continue till 11:15 AM.
- Maalai Pooja (Evening Aarti) – This ritual can be observed between 4:30 PM till 5:15 PM.
- Ardhajama Pooja – The night Aarti takes place at 7:30 PM and the Naivedyam ends at 8:15 PM.
- Palliarai Pooja – The last Pooja of the day starts at 9:15 PM. This is a special Pooja where the idol of Lord Shiva is taken around in a palanquin to the sanctum of Goddess Meenakshi and both are put to rest for the day.
- Annadanam – The temple authorities allow Annadanam to be conducted on request of the devotees at the rate of Rupees Four Thousand per two hundred persons.
How to reach Madurai
- By Air – The nearest airport is the Madurai International Airport. The city is well serviced by flights connecting major cities like Chennai, New Delhi, Mumbai, Tiruchirapalli, Coimbatore, and Bengaluru. The airport also connects flights internationally to cities like Dubai, Singapore, and Colombo.
- By Train – The Madurai Junction is well connected to several important cities in India like Chennai, Trivandrum, Cochin, New Delhi, Mumbai, Patna, Kolkata, Bhopal, Bengaluru, Goa and many more. Several trains connect Madurai internally to other major towns like Tiruchi, Kanyakumari, Nagercoil, Tuticorin, Karaikudi, Rameswaram, Tirunelveli, Tanjore and Coimbatore.
- By Road – The city is well connected to all major cities in Tamil Nadu as well as the neighboring states. Several private bus operators also operate regular buses to the holy city until late midnight. The roads are clean and well-constructed.
Where to stay
The city provides a large number of options for stay ranging from five-star accommodation to low cost lodges and hotels. The Germanus Hotel, Supreme Hotel, and the Meenakshi Inn are some of the hotels preferred by the visiting tourists.
Where to eat
The city of Madurai is called “Thoonganagaram” meaning “the City that never sleeps”. It is a fact that the city offers unparalleled culinary delights to everyone who visits the city throughout the day and the night. Some of the must-tries among the food items are the roadside Kotthu Parathas, Jigarthanda drink, Badam Halwa, Curry Dosa, Idly, and Biryani. Some of the popular hotels that one must visit according to the locals are Amma Mess, Muniyandi Vilas, Simmakal Konar Kadai and Murugan Idly Kadai.
- Thirupparakunram MuruganTemple – The holy temple is located just 7 km away from the city of Madurai. It is considered as the first among the six abodes of Lord Murugan, also known as Lord Karthikeya. The Temple Complex consists of several rock cut caves that house the deities, Lord Karthikeya, Lord Vishnu. Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga, and Lord Vinayaka. The Temple is ancient and as per records, dates back to the Pandyan era. It is believed to have been built even before the 7th century. As per the legends, this is the place where Lord Karthikeya wed Devaiyani, daughter of God Indra.
- Pazhamudircholai Murugan Temple – The sacred shrine dedicated to Lord Murugan is located 25 km away from Madurai city. This Temple is one of the holy six abodes of Lord Murugan. The main shrine is located beside a stream called “Nupura Gangai”.Several popular local legends are associated with the Temple. One of the most popular legend being of the famous Tamil Poet Avvaiyar being given darshan by the Lord himself.
- Alagar Kovil – The sacred temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu is located just 20 km away from the Madurai city. The temple is one of the 108 Divya Desams of Lord Vishnu mentioned in the Divya Prabandha, a work by the Azhwar Saints in the 6th to 9th century. Hence, the temple is believed to exist even before the periods of the Alwars. The Lord is worshiped here as Kallazhagar, a local form of the deity. The main shrine of the majestic Temple houses Lord Vishnu a reclining posture (Uragamellayan posture), accompanied by Sridevi and Bhudevi.
- Vandiyur Mariamman Temple – This unique but mesmerizing temple is situated about 3 km away from the Meenakshi Amman Temple. The Temple is dedicated to Goddess Mariamman and Goddess Durga who merge together into a single form and worshiped here as Goddess Ambika – Durga or popularly as Durga-Mariamman. She is seen in a sitting posture with a smile, holding a rope and a stick, with her left leg pressing the demon Mahishasura onto the floor. The people of Madurai consider her as an Aadhi-Deivam. They seek permission and approval of the Goddess before planning and proceeding to any event in their lives.
- Yoga Narasimha Perumal Temple – The Temple is located 8 km from the city of Madurai in Otthakadai. The village of Narasingam is home to the ancient temple situated at the foot of the Yanaimalai hills. The Temple is more that 1300 years old as the date of construction around the main deity is believed to be 770 AD during the reign of the Pandyas. The Temple is mentioned in the Sthala Purana, Brahmanda Purana, and the Thiruvalaiyadal Purana. The deity worshiped is Lord Vishnu in a fierce Narasimha form. According to several legends, the temple is the site where Lord Shiva worshiped Lord Narasimha and took a bath in the holy Chakratheertha to be relieved from the Brahma Hatthi Dosha.
- Thirumohoor Chakrathalvar Temple – This legendary temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu is 12 km away from Madurai city towards Melur. This Temple is one of the 108 Divya Desams that are glorified in the Divya Prabandha composed by the Tamil Saints Alwars from the 6th to the 8th century. The deity is worshiped as Neelamegha Perumal and Lakshmi as Tirukannapura Nayaki. The region is also called as Mohanapuram and Mohanakshetram. This temple is believed to the site where Lord Vishnu appeared as the celestial beauty Mohini to annihilate the demon Basmasura. This is also supposed to be the place where Mohini lures all the demons during the churning of the oceans episode and gives them an empty pot. The Temple and the surrounding regions have been mentioned in Brahmanda Purana and Matsya Purana. The Chakrathalvar is unique in the feature that the idol represents 16 hands with 16 weapons. This type of representation can be found nowhere in India.