After completing 34 hours of journey by Dadar – Tirunelveli Express, I finally reached Madurai (the first destination on my list) at 7 AM on 11th June 2017
Madurai, known as the temple city of South India which is located on the banks of river Vaigai. According to mythology, Madurai was earlier a forest called Kadambavanam. Once a farmer named Dhananjaya who was passing through the forest saw Indra(the King of Gods) worshipping a Swayambhu lingam(self-created Shiva Lingam) under a Kadamba tree. This incident was reported to King Kulasekara Pandayan. The king cleared the forest and built a splendid temple, known as the Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple around the holy Lingam. Later King built a beautiful lotus-shaped city surrounding the temple. Lord Siva appeared at the naming ceremony of this city and blessed it. The divine nectar (Madhu) from the hair of Lord Siva fell on the blessed city and so, the city came to be known as “Madhurapuri“. Madhura meaning “Sweetness” in Tamil. Later this city named Madurai.
Some people also call this city The Athens of the East. Athens had the Greek pantheon located at an elevated plane which could be seen from anywhere in the city. Similarly, Madurai has the towers of Meenakshi Amman Temple which can be seen from anywhere in the city.
Meenakshi Amman Temple
Meenakshi Sundareshwar Temple is dedicated to Sundareshwar (a form of Lord Shiva) and Meenakshi (a form of Goddess Parvati). According to mythology, Meenakshi was born out of the holy fire as an answer to the prayers of King Malayadwaja and his wife Kanchanamalai. She married Lord Shiva and both ruled the city of Madurai as Lord Sundareshwar and Goddess Meenakshi.
It is said that in the 14th century, the Muslim raider Malik Kafur looted the temple for its valuables. Later in the 16th century, the reconstruction of this temple according to Shilpa Shastra was managed by the Nayak ruler Vishwanatha Nayakar.
The Entire temple is built in a square shape and in an area of 45 acres in the architecture of Dravidian style. The temple has 12 Gopurams(Towers). The outer four Gopurams i.e. East tower, West tower, North tower and South tower are the highest Gopurams which are ornamented with detailed sculptures and also the entrance to the temple. The inner Gopurams are smaller as compared to outer Gopurams and serve as the entrance to the inner shrines of Sundareshwar and Meenakshi. Sundareshwar’s shrine is covered in one-fourth area of the temple and Meenakshi’s shrine is one-fourth of Sundareshwar’s shrine.
I entered the temple from West Tower. There was a long queue towards the South tower to get an entry inside the Meenakshi shrine. It took me two hours to get a sight of Goddess Meenakshi. During these hours, I noticed the details of inner architecture of the temple. Every pillar of the temple is carved in the shape of animals like Lion, Elephant and some are shaped of Saints and Devas. After getting the sight of Goddess Meenakshi I moved towards the Sundareshwar shrine. Sundareshwar is in the Nataraja form of lord shiva. It took me 20-25 minutes to take a sight of Lord Sundareshwar. It was a blessed feelings after coming out from Meenakshi and Sundareshwar shrine.
Thousand Pillars Hall
After taking the sight of Meenakshi and Sundareshwar shrine, I moved my feet towards the Thousand Pillars Hall(Ayiram Kaal Mandapam in Tamil) which is the largest Mandapam in Meenakshi Amman temple. This Mandapam has built with nearly 985 pillars in the 16th century by Vishwanatha Nayakar. Each pillar in this hall is beautifully carved with the architecture of Dravidian style. There is a small museum area in the hall where icons, photographs, and drawings from the history are showcased. At the centre of this hall statue of Nataraja (a form of god Shiva) is placed.
It took me an hour to explore the beauty of this hall. It was nearly 2:30 PM when I finished my visit to Meenakshi Amman temple. It was quite hot outside, so I decided to take the refreshing taste of Jigerthanda which is a famous drink in Madurai. Jigar means Heart and Thanda means Cool. I took an auto for Famous Jigarthanda shop at Anna Nagar who serves the best Jigarthanda in Madurai.
Jigarthanda basically made of milk, almond and flavoured syrup which served with a scoop of ice cream and topped with some dry fruits. You can also call it the south Indian version of Falooda. I ordered Special Jigarthanda from the shop. It was yummy!! with chilling refreshment. People come from so far at Famous Jigarthanda Shop for having so many varieties of Jigarthanda. After getting a cool feeling with Jigarthanda, I moved towards the Thirumalai Nayak Palace.
Thirumalai Nayak Palace
Thirumalai Nayak Palace was built in the 17th century by King Thirumalai Nayak, a Nayaka Dynasty king. This palace is at a distance of 2 km from Meenakshi Amman temple. It was the living place of the king, Thirumalai Nayak. It is said that the original palace was 4-5 times greater as compared to the existing palace today. There were a royal residence, auditorium, rooms, pool, gardens and many more royal compartments. As time passed, the major structure of the palace got demolished. Today only a large rectangular courtyard called Swarga Vilasam exists. This can be visited by tourists between 9 AM-5 PM. I reached there by 4:00 PM. One hour was enough for me to explore the beauty of this Palace. The palace was surrounded by giant circular pillars. The design and architecture is a combination of Dravidian and Islamic styles. I was so amazed by witnessing the beautiful architecture of the palace.
Tamilnadu government organizes The sound and light show every day in this Palace at 6:45 PM in English. There is a chairs arrangement at the centre of this palace, from where people can enjoy this sound and light show. The show begins with the musical tribute to King Thirumalai Nayak. This 45 minutes show displayed some of the important events which took place in the life of the king. His victories over the enemies, his love for art, his devotion towards Goddess Meenakshi were described very interestingly. This show also represents some of the historical incidences of Madurai, which was little informative for me.
After a tiring day, I went for dinner at Kumar Mess who serves the best south Indian food in Madurai and which was near to my hotel as well. After dinner, I went to my hotel and signed off for the day.
At the end of the day, I was feeling blessed for starting my South trip from the cultural capital of South India. It was a perfect start that introduced me to the purity of South Indian culture. It’s proud for having such tradition as a part of Indian culture.