Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Parvati, known as Meenakshi, and her consort, Shiva, here named Sundareswarar. The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2,500-year-old city of Madurai and is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature though the present structure was built between 1623 and 1655 CE. It houses 14 gopurams (gateway towers), ranging from 45–50m in height. The tallest is the southern tower, 51.9 metres (170 ft) high, and two golden sculptured vimanas, the shrines over the garbhagrihas (sanctums) of the main deities. The temple attracts 15,000 visitors a day, around 25,000 on Fridays, and receives annual revenue of Rs. 60 million. There are an estimated 33,000 sculptures in the temple. It was on the list of top 30 nominees for the "New Seven Wonders of the World". The temple is the most prominent landmark and most visited tourist attraction in the city. The annual 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, celebrated during April and May, attracts 1 million visitors.
Meenakshi Amman Temple is an ancient and one amongst the most important temples of India. Located in the holy city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Meenakshi Temple can be reached easily by the means of local transport from Madurai. The city comprises its own domestic airport that is connected with all the major cities of India. Renowned for its astonishing architecture, Meenakshi Amman Temple has been nominated for the new Seven Wonders of the World. Hundreds and thousands of devotees come every year to pay their obeisance of the Lord.
The temple was almost completely destroyed in the year 1310 following the invasion of the Islamic conqueror Malik Kafur, one of the generals of Allaudin Khilji. The invaders destroyed most of the ancient sculptures of the temple.
Meenakshi Sundareswar Temple is dedicated to Sundareswar (form of Lord Shiva) and Meenakshi (form of Goddess Parvati). The term "Sundareswar" suggests "the beautiful lord" and "Meenakshi" means "the fish-eyed goddess". As per the Hindu folklore, Madurai is the same city where Lord Sundareswar (Shiva) appeared to marry Goddess Meenakshi (Parvati). Meenakshi Temple is regarded as one of the most sacred places of Parvati, other being Kamakshi at Kanchipuram, Akilandeswari at Thiruvanaikaval and Vishalakshi at Varanasi.
At the center of the sanctum sanctorum, the shrine of Shiva embraces the site. It is a famous image of Nataraja (Dancing form of Lord Shiva) on a massive silver altar. The shrine is also known as Velli Ambalam (Silver abode). In the proximity, there is a shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Known as Mukuruny Vinayakar, the temple adores the idol that was found during the excavation made in Temple Lake. On the left side of Shiva, the shrine of Goddess Meenakshi appears enchanting with quite less ornamentation.
The city of Madurai
The temple city of Madurai has retained the essential culture of yore. The history of Madurai dates back to the 6th century BC. Madurai was the seat of power of the Pandyan Empire. It was built by the Pandyan king Kulasekhara and was the capital city of the great Pandya kings of South India. It was later ruled by Cholas, Later Pandyas, Madurai Sultanate, Vijayanagara, Madurai Nayaks and finally British. Pandyas and Nayaks contributed enormously to the development of Meenakshi Temple and Madurai city.
According to legend, the sacred Swayambulingam discovered by Lord Indra at Kadambavanam was later enshrined by him in Madurai. The fact that the Lord is seen on the vehicle of Indira in this temple is said to be proof for this.
The Alagar Koil (Temple) about 18 kilometers from Madurai is located at the base of the Alagar Hills which feature in the poetry of Vaishnavite apostles. The beauty of the temple lies in the exquisite sculptures in the hall that faces the sanctum sanctorum. The place is easily reached by a good road. According to a legend, Alagar was the brother of Goddess Meenakshi and was coming to attend his sister's wedding. But when he reached the outskirts of Madurai he heard that the marnage had already taken place. He was greatly disappointed, and feeling that he had been slighted, he resolved to go back without even crossing the river or stepping into the town.
Legend has it that long ago, Malayadwaja, the Pandya king who ruled over this region performed an extensive Yagna, praying for a progeny. In the end, a three-year old girl sprang out of the pyre. However, she had one striking deformity – she had three breasts, one of which would vanish only when she met her consort. As years went by, Meenakshi grew up to become a valiant and beautiful princess, who excelled in warfare. On her conquest to the Himalayas to attack Kailasha, she met Lord Shiva and immediately her third breast vanished. She bowed her head down in shyness. Shiva came back to Madurai and they got married here and ruled this region.
To this day, the people of Madurai continue to celebrate their fish-eyed princess and deity, Meenakshi Amman with fondness. Indeed, for a temple as famous as the Meenakshi Amman temple in the old town of Madurai, there is simply no dearth of tales to listen to.
In the month of Chaitra (April-May), a festival celebrates the marriage of Sundareshwara with Meenakshi. It is a happy and crowded festival. After the wedding has been celebrated in the temple, a procession of the divine couple is taken out in the streets, and the images returned to the temple, the following day. The festive crowd moves on to the bed of river Vaigai, and welcomes Alagar, whose Image is brought from the temple to the edge of the river and taken back, providing three days of festivity.
About The Temple
The Meenakshi temple is believed to have been founded by Indra (king of Deva celestial deities).While he was on a pilgrimage to atone for his misdeeds. He felt his burden lifting as he neared the swayambu lingam (self formed lingam, a representation of Shiva used for worship in temples)of Madurai. He ascribed this miracle to the lingam and constructed the temple to enshrine it. Indra worshipped Shiva, who caused golden lotuses to appear in the nearby pool. Tamil literature speaks of the temple over the last two millennia. Thirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Saiva philosophy, mentioned this temple as early as the 7th century, and described the deity as Aalavai Iraivan. The temple is believed to have been sacked by the infamous Muslim invader Malik Kafur in 1310 and all the ancient elements were destroyed. The initiative to rebuild the structure was taken by first Nayak king of Madurai, Viswanatha Nayak (1559–1600) under the supervision of Ariyanatha Mudaliar, the prime minister of the Nayak Dynasty and the founder of the Poligar System. The original design by Vishwanatha Nayak in 1560 was substantially expanded to the current structure during the reign of Thirumalai Nayak (1623–55). He took considerable interest in erecting many complexes inside the temple. His major contributions are the Vasantha Mandapam for celebrating vasanthorsavam (spring festival) and Kilikoondu Mandapam (corridor of parrots). The corridors of the temple tank and Meenatchi Nayakar Mandapam were built by Rani Mangammal.
Rous Peter (1786–1828), the Collector of Madurai in 1812, was nicknamed 'Peter Pandian’ as he respected and treated people of all faiths equally. He donated a set of golden stirrups studded with diamonds and red stones to the temple. Goddess Meenatchi is believed to have saved Rous Peter from a fatal incident. He also wished that after his death, his body be buried in a position that would enable his eyes to face the temple.
During the period of early pandian kings, the king taxed the people for constructing this temple. People paid taxes and donations in the form of gold and silver. But the king wanted contribution as low as a bag of rice which would help in feeding the masons who constructed the temple. So the kings collected one handful of rice daily from every house. This would make few bags of rice in the month end. Thus people from all sectors of life contributed in building the temple. Thus, every family has an emotional attachment towards the temple.
Plan of Meenakshi Amman Temple
The temple is the geographic and ritual center of the ancient city of Madurai and one of the largest temple complexes in Tamil Nadu. The temple complex is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular enclosures contained by high masonry walls. It is one of the few temples in Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions. Vishwantha Nayaka allegedly redesigned the city of Madurai in accordance with the principles laid down by Shilpa Shastras (Sanskrit: silpa sastra, also anglicized as silpa sastra meaning rules of architecture) relevant to urban planning. The city was laid out in the shape of square with a series of concentric streets culminating from the temple. These squares continue to retain their traditional names, Aadi, Chittirai, Avani-moola and Masi streets, corresponding to Tamil month names. Ancient Tamil classics mention that the temple was the center of the city and the streets happened to be radiating out like lotus and its petals. The temple prakarams (outer precincts of a temple) and streets accommodate an elaborate festival calendar in which dramatic processions circumambulate the shrines at varying distances from the center. The vehicles used in processions are progressively more massive the further they travel from the center. The complex is in around 45 acres (180,000 m2).
Sculptures inside the temple
The central shrine of Meenakshi Amman temple 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 Meenakshi shrine has the emerald-hued black stone image of Meenakshi. The Sundareswarar 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 golden top can be seen from a great distance in the west through the apertures of two successive towers. 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 that of Sundareswarar.
The tall sculpture of Ganesh carved of single stone located outside the Sundareswarar shrine in the path from Meenashki shrine is called the Mukuruny Vinayakar. A large measure of rice measuring 3 kurini (a measure) is shaped into a big ball of sacrifice and hence the Ganesh is called Mukkurni Vinayagar (three kurinis). This deity is believed to be found during a 17th-century excavation process to dig the Mariamman temple tank.
Temple tank and surrounding portico
The sacred temple tank Porthamarai Kulam ("Pond with the golden lotus"), is 165 ft (50 m) by 120 ft (37 m) in size. In the Tamil legends, the lake is supposed to judge the worth of a new piece of literature. Authors place their works here and the poorly written works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to float, Tirukkural by Tiruvalluvar was one such work.
Only a fraction of 17th and 18th century paintings of Nayak period survives and one such portion is found in the small portico on the western side of the tank. It depicts the marriage of Sundareswarar and Meenkashi attended by Vijayaranga Chokkanatha and Rani Mangammal. The painting is executed on a vivid red background, with delicate black linework and large areas of white, green and ochre. The celestial couple is seated inside an architectural frame with a flowering tree in the background.
The corridor surrounding the sanctum the Meenakshi is called kilikoondu Mandapam ("bird cage corridor"). The space was once used to keep green parrots that were trained to utter the name of Meenakshi. There are two large cages full of squawking green parrots.
The Kambatadi Mandapam ("Hall of temple tree") with its seated Nandi (sacred bull) has various manifestations of Shiva carved and also contains the famous "Marriage of Meenakshi" sculpture. Sculptures of Shiva and Kali trying to out-dance one another are pelted with balls of ghee by devotees. A golden flagstaff with 32 sections symbolizes the human backbone and is surrounded by various gods, including Durga and Siddar.
The Puthu Mandapam ("new hall") constructed by Tirumala Nayak contains large number of sculptures. It is situated opposite to the east gopuram.
The Ashta Shakthi Mandapam ("Hall of eight goddess") is the first hall in the entrance of Meenakshi shrine tower near to East Tower. Ashta indicates eight and Shakthi refers to goddess - the hall has statues of eight goddesses. The gopurams (towers) can be viewed from this hall. The passage was named for eight forms of goddess Shakti carved on its pillars. Other sculptures and paintings depict the Tiruvilayadal (holy games of Shiva). The sculptures of heroes of Mahabharata, the Pancha pandavas can be seen in the Pancha Pandava Mandapam (Hall of Pandavas).
The Viravasantharaya Mandapam is a large hall with huge corridors. To the south of this hall is the kalyana mandapam, to the south of the pillared hall, is where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year during the Chithirai Festival in mid-April. The golden images of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are carried into the 16th century oonjal mandapam (swing corridor) and placed on the swing every Friday at 5:30 p.m. The shrine has a 3-storied gopuram guarded by two stern dwarapalakas (guardians) and supported by golden, rectangular columns that bear lotus markings. Along the perimeter of the chamber, granite panels of the divine couple are present. The hall is situated in the western bank of the temple tank.
The Mudali Pillai Mandapam or Iruttu Mandapam (Dark hall) is a wide and long hall built by Muthu Pillai during 1613. On the pillars of the halls, there are fine sculptures depicting the story of Shiva taking the form of Bikshadanar to teach the sages a lesson.
The Mangayarkarasi mandapam is a newly built hall situated opposite to the marriage halls and bears the name of saindy queen, Mangayarkarasi who contributed to Saivism and Tamil language. To the south of Mangayarkarasi mandapam lies the Servaikarar Mandapam, a hall built by Marudu brothers in 1795. The Nagara mandapam (Hall of beating drums) lies opposite to Sundareswarar shrine was built by Achaya Rayar, the minister of Rani Mangammal in 1635, The Kolu Mandapam is a hall for displaying dolls during the Navarathri festival celebrated during September–October. This hall is situated in the second corridor of the Meenakshi shrine at the western side.
The Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam ("Hall of 1000 pillars") has two rows of pillars carved with images of yali (mythological beast with body of lion and head of an elephant), commonly used as the symbol of Nayak power. It is situated to the north of Sundareswarar flag staff hall. The Thousand Pillar Hall contains 985 (instead of 1000) carved pillars. The hall was built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar in 1569 and blends engineering skill and artistic vision. Ariyanatha Mudaliar was prime minister and general of Viswanatha Nayak, the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559–1600). He was also the founder of Poligar System, the quasi-feudal organization of the country dividing it into multiple palayams or small provinces in which each palayam was ruled by a palayakkarar or a petty chief. At the entrance of the hall is the statue of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a horse-back, flanking one side of the entrance to the temple. The statue is periodically garlanded by worshippers. 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 Kama), 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 where icons, photographs, drawings, and other exhibits of the 1200 years old history of the temple are displayed. Just outside this hall, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note. The four streets surrounding the temple are pedestrian-only.
The temple has a happier, more joyful atmosphere than some of Tamil Nadu's more solemn shrines, and is adorned with especially colourful ceiling and wall paintings. Every evening at 9pm, a frenetic, incense-clouded procession carries an icon of Sundareswarar (Shiva) to Meenakshi's shrine to spend the night; visitors are welcome to follow along.
This is the place where a heated argument took place in the court of King Shenbaga Pandiyan about the meaning of a poem, the Lord defending poet Tharumi and got him the golden purse. This is the place that respected the freedom of expression through poet Nakkeeranar telling the Lord face to face that a poetic mistake cannot be justified by showing His eye on the forehead thus threatening his right.
Madurai is the place where Saivite Saint Tirugnanasambandar established the glory of Saivism by defeating the Jains through water and fire tests (Punal Vadam and Aunal Vadam). Lord came to the rescue of an old lady Vandhi as her coolie to patch the breach in Vaigai and received the cane blows from King Arimardhana Pandian. The temple is ever active with some festivals each day with fragrance of divinity filling the environment. A place of exquisite beauty of sculpture and painting making the temple a treasure of arts related to divinity.
Praised as Shivarajadhani, capital of Shiva Kingdom, the city planning of Madurai is unmatched. The temple has five entrances and 14 towers with the South Tower being the tallest. The Thousand Pillared Mahamandap is near the north tower. There are five musical pillars. There are also many statues sounding music. This is the biggest part of the temple. There are 985 pillars. The idol of Lord Nataraja is in the centre of the Mandap. Lord Shiva is a swayambumurthy. Of the five Sabhas where Lord performed His cosmic dance, Madurai Sabha is known as Rajatha (silver) sabha where the Lord changed the legs.This dance is called Sandhya Thandavam. The 7 feet tall Mukkuruni Pillayar-Lord Vinayaka was found from the Mariamman Teppakulam-tank. There are no fish or water creatures in the Pottramarai tank, due a boon granted to a crane by Lord Shiva.
Services in the Temple
Multi-purpose information centre
The Department of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) has established a Multi-Purpose Information Centre at the temple at a cost of Rs. 5 lakh with a view to disseminating information on all temples in the state in three languages for the convenience of north Indian devotees and foreign tourists.The centre is set up near the Amman Sannidhi entrance on the eastern side of the temple. There will also be a topographical map, which would provide the location of all important areas in the temple, near the South tower entrance.
A person, fluent in Hindi and competent in handling computers is being recruited to manage the centre. Information on puja timings of all temples in the state besides logistical details and availability of accommodation will be made available to the devotees. A touch screen system providing all information on the Meenakshi temple such as its history, significance, festivals and important events would be installed.
The Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Thirukkalyanam (wedding) is celebrated every year in the month of Chithirai (March/April). The Meenakshi temple is always filled with worshippers, but its grandest moments are in Chithirai, when a veritable human sea floods the temple on all ten days of the festival.
Walking westwards from the Ashta Shakti Mandapam, you enter the Meenakshi Naicker Mandapam. Each pillar in this hall has the sculpted figure of a yali - a lion-like animal with an elephant's proboscis. A small mandapam joins the Ashta Sakthi Mandapam and the Meenakshi Naicker Mandapam.
There is a verandah on each side of this mandapam. On the southern verandah there is a statue of Goddess Parvathi eight feet in height. She is in a dancing pose with a 'Soolayudham' (a fierce weapon) in one of her hands. A five-hooded serpent shelters her head from the sun and rain. Some consider this statue to be that of a huntress. On the northern verandah, there is a statue of a hunter. This statue is also eight feet high. The hunter has majestic look. The legends say that Lord Sundarar and Sree Meenakshi appeared in the form of a hunter and huntress and blessed a villain who repented for his crimes. It is believed that these statues relieve the suffering of those who repent for their sins.
Passing through another pavilion called the Mudali Mandapam, you came to the Potramaraikulam (golden lotus tank). This tank is 165 feet long and 120 feet wide. There are stone steps on all four sides leading almost to its bottom. The tank is filled with water during most part of the year. Only very rarely does the tank get dry. Before entering the sanctum sanctorum, the devotees who go into the temple bare-footed, wash their feet in the tank's water.
The southwestern comer of the Golden Lily Tank presents a grand view to one coming in from the Mudali Mandapam. In the background, we see the upper part of the majestic southern tower of the temple. The area around this tank was the meeting place of the Tamil Sangam - the ancient academy poets. The history of the Sangam goes back to the days when gods dallied with men. This academy judged the worth of any work of literature present by throwing it into the tank. Only those that did not sink well considered worthy of attention. The tank is surrounded by a pillared corridor steps lead down into the tank; enabling worshippers to bathe in it. The Oonjal (swing) Mandapam and Killikoodu (parrot cage) Mandapam are on the western side of the tank.
Every Friday, the golden idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are seated on the swing in the Oonjal Mandapam and hymns are sung as the deities gaily swing to and fro. The parrots in the Killikoodu Mandapam have been trained to repeat Meenakshi's name. But more interesting are the 28 pillars of the mandapam,which exhibit some excellent sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology. From here, you can enter Meenakshi's sanctum sanctorum through a gateway surmounted by a three-storied tower. Non-Hindus are riot allowed beyond this entrance. Having worshipped Meenakshi, you cross over to the Sundareswarar temple through a five-storied tower-entrance. Opposite this gateway is a huge idol of Vinayaka. The sanctum sanctorum of Sundareswarar, is closed to non-Hindus. Nevertheless, there is a lot to interest the non-Hindu visitor outside the sanctum sanctorum.
The Swamy Temple
On each side of the entrance to the Swamy temple (Lord Sundareswarar) is a statue of a Dwarabalaga or guard, 12 feet tall. On a nearby pillar, we see Lord Siva and his consort Sree Meenakshi, each with five heads. Other statues are that of Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manickavasagar. Next is the three-storied tower of the Swamy sannadhi, bearing in all 36 sculptures. Non-Hindus are not allowed to go beyond this entrance. Inside : the gateway of this tower are Adhigara Nandhi and Chamundi.
After the pragaram, we enter the inner pragaram of Lord Sundareswarar. We first come to a big hall called 'Veli Ambalam' where we see the dancing idol of Nataraja. The idol of Nataraja is plated with silver. It is unique, as there is no other known idol of the Lord standing on his left leg with his right leg raised to his shoulder. Generally, it is the other way around.
The Veera Vasantharayar Mandapam is in the Adi Veedhi, a street which runs around the Meenakshi - Sundareswarar temple. To the north of this mandapam is the fascinating Ayirankaal Mandapam (Hall of the thousand pillars). 985 pillars, each profusely decorated, provide an exuberant display of Dravidian sculpture. This 16th century mandapam also houses the Temple Museum.
Going south from the Thousand Pillar Mandapam, we come to an open space where we find a newly built mandapam, the Mangaiyarkarasi Mandapam. The statues of Mangayarkarasi, Kulachirayar, Koon Pandian and Gnanasambandar find a place in this mandapam. The Linga form of Lord Siva has also been installed in this mandapam. This mandapam is named after the queen who contributed well to the growth of the Tamil language and the Saivite religion.
To the south of the Mangayarkarasi Mandapam is the Servaikarar Mandapam, built by the Marudhu Pandyas. On the left pillar we see the figure of Elder Marudhu.
We next come to the Thirukalyana Mandapam in which the marriage ceremony of Sree Meenakshi is performed every year during the Chithirai Festival. On the southern and northern walls, the origin of the universe and the living beings is painted within big circles.Just outside this mandapam, towards the west, are the Auspicial Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different swara - musical note.
Another magnificent construction within the temple is the Vasantha Mandapam built by Tirumalai Nayakkar. Vasanthotsavam - the Spring festival - is celebrated in this mandapam in Vaikasi (April/May). Its pillars contain elaborate sculptures of Siva, Meenakshi, scenes from their wedding as well as the figures of ten of the Nayak Kings and their consorts. This is also called the Pudhu Mandapam
Out of a total of 12 Gopurams or high rising towers , the four tallest Gopuram are placed at the outer walls each measuring 49 meters. The temple built in Dravidian architecture has four entrances that leads to the Meenakshi Amman shrine. The Astha Shakti Mandapan can be reached from the eastern gateway. Built under the guidance of the Nayakar's wife Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholimamal, the scenes from Meenakhshi Amman's life as a princess is depicted on the pillars.
Thousand Pillar Hall
The Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam (“Hall of 1000 pillars”) has two rows of pillars carved with images of yali (mythological beast with body of lion and head of an elephant), commonly used as the symbol of Nayak power.It is situated to the north of Sundareswarar flag staff hall. The Thousand Pillar Hall contains 985 (instead of 1000) carved pillars. The hall was built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar in 1569 and blends engineering skill and artistic vision. Ariyanatha Mudaliar was prime minister and general of Viswanatha Nayak, the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559–1600). He was also the founder of Poligar System, the quasi-feudal organization of the country dividing it into multiple palayams or small provinces in which each palayam was ruled by a palayakkarar or a petty chief. At the entrance of the hall is the statue of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a horse-back, flanking one side of the entrance to the temple. The statue is periodically garlanded by worshippers. 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 Kama), 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 where icons, photographs, drawings, and other exhibits of the 1200 years old history of the temple are displayed. Just outside this hall, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note.
There is an unfinished Ray gopuram there in the new mandapam where there are lots of shops now. It is said that a lake called Ezhu kadal a meeting place of seven oceans, is no longer seen there. The lake was said to be created by Lord Shiva for the facility of his mother-in-law Kanchanamala to fulfill her wish to take bath in all the seven oceans of the world. The so called lake is now replaced by a complex building.
Many renovation works took place in the mandapams during the Kumbaabhishekam held recently. The cracks and weak beams were all removed and new ones were fixed. Even the Vimana of Meenakshi’s sanctum is wrapped with 30 kgs of pure gold. The fading paints of the twelve gopurams were repainted and now all the sculptures and paintings reflect in the sunlight. Lots of preservatives were used to safeguard the special aspects of the temple as it is now, for future generations to visit and enjoy.
In his book, published in 1979 by the Society for Archaeological, Historical and Epigraphical Research, Chennai, the late Devakunjari says: “The history of Madurai as a religious centre goes back to remote times when the temple, one of its oldest institutions, has had a coeval history with those of the rulers and remains as important as ever even after the rulers have disappeared. The Madurai temple is not only of hoary antiquity but possesses an entire purana of its own.”
The main shrines of Meenakshi and Sundarewarar are surrounded by three enclosures. There are four large outer towers to protect these inner towers in four directions. The outer towers are larger and higher than the respective inner towers. The shrine of Sundareswarar occupies the central place, which denotes that Meenakshi amman became the presiding deity at a later period.
One cannot pass by without having the darshan of Lord Vinayaka or Ganesha which is carved in single stone and is 7 foot tall. It is placed outside the Lord’s shrine and is on the way to goddess’s shrine. This Ganesha idol popularly known as Mukuruny Vinayakar is said to be found when the Mariamman temple tank was dug.
Other than these three shrines, separate places are there for Ellam Valla Sidhar, Nandi, Durga, Kala Bhairavar, Subramaniyar, Dhakshinamoorthy, Bhadra Kali, Navagraham, Hanuman and more.
The temple have twelve gateway towers called Gopurams all extensively and elaborately carved. Such Gopurams are a hallmark of all temples of Tamilnadu. Among the towers, the oldest one is the eastern one, which was built by Maravaraman Sundara Pandyan 1216 -1239.The most famous among the towers is the southern one which is the tallest going up to 170 foots (52 mt). All the 12 gopurams are multi-storeyed structures with marvelous carvings and figures of animals, gods, demons, devas etc. and they are made very attractive with glowing paints. All towers are invested with particular functionality. The outer towers, which are larger, serve as entrance to the temple from four directions while the inner towers facilitate the entrance to the shrines.
The Holy tank
This holy tank is called by many names and as it bears the Golden lotus it is gold Porthamarai Kolam. As mentioned in legends this pond does not have any marine life inside even now not even a fish is found there. The area surrounding the pond was said to be the meeting places of Tamil poets of those days. It is also called Adi theertham, Uttama Theertham and Sivaganga. The specialty of this pond is that it can be approached by all people, i.e. no restrictions for non Hindus; in fact, it is a meeting place for travelers and even the locals.
In Madurai Meenakshi Temple pujas or worship is done by Shivaites a sub-caste of Brahmins. Even on regular days there are almost 50 priests and they live at the northern area of the temple and the temple has six time pujas which is done with the accompaniment of temple instruments like Nadasworam, Thavil and in the background holy slokas (lyrics in praise of god) will be uttered by the priests.
About The Deity
Meenakshi is an avatar of the Hindu goddess Parvati - the consort of Shiva, one of the few Hindu female deities to have a major temple devoted to her.The name "Minachchi" means fish-eyed and is derived from the words "mina" meaning fish and "aksi" meaning eyes.The lady goddess Meenakshi is the principal deity of the temple, not Sundareswarar, unlike most Shiva temples in South India where Shiva is the principal deity. According to Hindu legend, in order to answer the prayers of the second Pandya king Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai, Parvati appeared out of the holy fire of the Putra Kameshti Yagna (sacrifice for childhood) performed by the king. According to another legend, the goddess herself gave notice to Kanchanamalai in one of her previous births that Kanchanamalai would have the privilege of mothering the goddess. The girl who came out of the holy fire had three breasts. A voice from the heavens told the king not to worry about the abnormality and added that the third breast would vanish as soon as the girl met her future husband. The happy king named the girl "Tadaatagai' and as the heir to the throne, Tadaatagai was trained carefully in all the 64 sastras, the fields of science .
The name of Mother-Goddess is Meenakshi, which in chaste Tamil is known as Angayarkanni, meaning her eyes are in the shape of a fish. As the fish protects its eggs with its eye sight, so protects Mother Meenakshi Her devotee with a very look of Her eyes. The fish does not have eye lash, so the eyes never close and ever open. Similarly, Mother never closes Her eyes and keep them ever open day in and day out without twinkling to take care of Her devotees. (Unmesha nimishodhpanna vipanna bhuvanavali-Sri Lalitha Sahasranama).
Mother Meenakshi has many names as Pachai Devi, Maragathavalli, Thadathagai, Abishekavalli, Abhiramavalli, Kayarkan Kumari, Karpooravalli, Kumari Thurayal, Komagal, Sundaravalli, Pandipiratti, Madurapuri Thalaivi, Manickavalli, Mummulai Tiruvazhumagal.
Mother Meenakshi grants everything the devotee wishes in life – happy wedding, children, prosperity, health, longevity and all their just needs. Devotees simply place their prayers at Her Lotus Feet.
God Chokkanathar-Meenakshi Sundareswarar assures all peace of mind and total salvation to the souls. The corridor of the temple is a convenient and comfortable spot for meditation. All can hear the divine sound Ohm. One can see a flood of devotees in the temple at all times.
Sundareswarar is an incarnation of Lord Shiva and his fish eyed spouse Meenakshi who are enshrined in twin temples. Enclosing these two shrines are the four huge gateways. These impart uniqueness to the temple as these four entrances are pointed towards the four directions, which only few of the temples in Tamil Nadu have. The city of Madurai was also redesigned as per the rules of architecture (Shilpa Shastras) and constructed in a square shape with its concentric streets finishing at the temple.
Meenakshi’s shrine is located to the southwest of Sundareswarar’s shrine; the north east position being that of dominance, architecturally, the shrine to Sundareswarar shows this dominance. The Koodalazhagar temple is also located to the Southwest of the Sundareswarar temple, thus reflecting the importance of the Sundareswarar temple.
Both the Meenakshi shrine and the Sundareswarar shrine are huge temples in themselves– with their own sets of 2 prakarams mahamandapams and gold plated vimanams. Here is also seen the Mukkuruni Vinayakar shrine, with a colossal image of Ganesha.
The Sundareswarar temple alone has 5 gopurams – four 5 tiered ones on its outer walls and a single three tiered one adorning the entrance to the inner prakaram. This tower is said to be an ancient structure. Crowning the sanctum is the Indra Vimaanam. Also seen here are several images of the manifestations of Shiva, as seen in the Tiruvilayadal Puranam. Within the Sundareswarar temple complex is a shrine to Nataraja – the Rajata Sabha or the Velliambalam.
The lady goddess Meenakshi is the principal deity of the temple and not Sundareswarar - this is unlike most Shiva temples in South India where Shiva is the principal deity.
Lord Sundareswarar's shrine is situated in the Northern side of the Kilikoontu Mandapam. There is the idol of Lord Sri Ganesh called as the Mukkurini Pillaiyar. It is believed that the idol was found when the king Thirumalai Nayakar planned to build a tank about 3 kms from the temple. He found the idol and brought the same to the temple and erected it there.
There is big statue of Lord Ganesh inside the temple. This 6 * 4 feet statue was discovered when the Nayak king was digging the earth for sand and stones for the temple. A big (Mukkuruni) kozukkattai or modak made up of 18 kilo rice and several kilos of jaggery/sugar is offered to it every year on Ganesh Chathurthy day. Kozukkattai or Modak is steamed rice offering inside which is Puranam made of coconut or other grains.
Legend And Stories
Legend has it that the reigning deity Meenakshi was born out of 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 also believed that Lord Indra founded the temple when he found a suyambu lingam. There’s also mention about the temple in ancient Tamil literature through
It is said that Lord Vishnu, Meenakshi’s brother travelled all the way from Srivaikuntam- his abode to witness the marriage. But he couldn’t make it on time and the marriage was solemnized without his presence. Angered by this insult, he vowed never to enter Madurai and settled in nearby Azaghar Kovil. He was later convinced and to this day, his pacification is celebrated as Azhaghar Thiruvila.
As the time came for Tadaatagai's coronation, she had to wage war in three worlds encompassing eight directions. After conquering Brahma's Abode, Sathyaloka, Vishnu's Abode, Vaikunta, and Devas' abode Amaravati, she advanced to Shiva's Abode Kailasha. She very easily defeated the bhoota ganas and Nandi, the celestial bull of Shiva, and headed to attack and conquers Shiva. The moment she looked at Shiva, she was unable to fight and bowed her head down due to shyness, and the third breast vanished immediately. Tadaatagai realized that Shiva was her destined husband. She also realized that she was the incarnation of Parvati. Both Shiva and Tadaatagai returned to Madurai and the king arranged the coronation ceremony of his daughter, followed by her marriage with Shiva.
It is said that the temple was plundered in the 14th century by the Muslim raider Malik Kafur who looted the temple of its valuables. Restoration was undertaken by the Nayak ruler Vishwanatha Nayakar around the 16th century. It was Vishwanatha Nayak who rebuilt the temple in accordance to shilpa shastra.
Vishnu weds Meenakshi to Shiva
The marriage was to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Meenakshi, prepared to travel from his holy abode at Vaikuntam to preside over the marriage. Due to a divine play, he was tricked by the Deva, Indra and was delayed on the way. After the marriage, the pair ruled over Madurai for a long time and then assumed divine forms as Sundareswarar and Meenakshi, the presiding deities of the temple. Following the tradition, 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 the next morning in dawn. The marriage is celebrated annually as Chithirai Thiruvizha in Madurai. During the period of Nayakar rule in Madurai, the ruler Thirumalai Nayakar linked the festival Azhakar Thiruvizha and the Meenakshi wedding ceremony.
Lord Nataraja changing legs in dance
The divine wedding of Mother Meenakshi with Lord Shiva was going on in a grand way.The divine couples invited the Devas and Maharshis for lunch. Sages Patanjali and Vykrapada told the Lord that they use to eat only after seeing His dance in the Golden Hall-Ponnambalam.This is in Chidambaram. With a view to respect the principle of the Rishis, Lord created a Silver Hall (Velli Ambalam) in the Meenakshi Amman Temple itself and performed His divine dance. Their joy knowing no bounds, the Rishis enjoyed the wedding lunch also.
Rajasekhara Pandian, son of Vikrama Pandian who ruled Madurai was a master of 63 of the 64 arts, the one remaining was dancing. He thought that while Lord Nataraja is ever dancing, how he could learn the art. Meantime, he came to know that Karikal Chozha, his counterpart in Chola kingdom, was a master of all the 64 arts including dancing. Pandian decided that he too learn this art and experienced the pain of learning dancing. Happy with his mastery over all the arts, he came to Lord Shiva seeking His blessings. Experiencing the pain during the practice of art, he thought how the Lord could endure this pain as He is dancing forever without any break. He wondered how the Devas and Rishis never thought of this difficulty of the Lord. He was hesitant to put this question to Lord when great souls remained mute.Shivrathri came. After completing four pujas, Rajasekhara Pandian stood before the Lord and spoke with tears, “Oh! Lord, you are dancing on only one leg for long. Can’t you change the leg for me? If you don’t, I shall plant my sword before you and fall on that and end myself.” So saying, he closed his eyes in meditation. When he opened his eyes, he was excited to see the Lord dancing with His right leg pressing the left on the stage. Lord could not see His devote suffering from any reason. The king sang in praise of the Lord’s response to his prayers. He also secured a boon from the Lord that he would stay in Madurai in the same dancing form.
During the rule of Abhisheka Pandian, Lord Soma Sundara-Meenakshisundara was going round the parts of Madurai doing miracles in the guise of a Siddha. He made the aged a youth, man the woman, iron to gold, lame to run, dumb to sing, dancing on a needle by the toe and many such bone chilling acts. Informed of the miracles happening in the city, Abishek Pandian summoned Siddha to his court. As those who went to Siddha did not return, the king sent his minister. The Siddha told the minister that he had no use of the king and said that the king may come to see him if he so desires.
Knowing that the king was coming to see him, the Siddha entered Meenakshi Temple and went into deep meditation facing northwest. (The place where the Siddha went in is in front of the Durga shrine on the Meenakshisundareswarar shrine prakara).The king’s men could not disturb the meditation of the Siddha and their raised hands simply stood up as it were.
The shocked king spoke to Siddha and offered his wishes if any. Siddha opened his eyes and said that He was all in the universe and that he was the origin and end of the world moving everywhere. “I give my people the boon they wish. I am a siddha of supreme capabilities.” The king asked the siddha if he could make the stone elephant eat the sugar cane in his hand. Siddha just cast his look on the stone. In fraction of a second, the statue got life, picked not only the sugar cane and ate it but also snatched the jewel on the chest of the king. The king fell at the feet of the Siddha-Shiva, sought his pardon and child boon.The king was blessed with a son.The Siddha was known as Sundaranandar.Expressing their gratitude to the Lord, devotees build flower tents and worship the Siddha.
Murthy Nayanar, born in a trader community on Kruthika star day in the month Aadi (July-August) and belonging to the congregation of 63 Saivite Nayanmars was serving the Lord by grinding sandal for His pujas. Madurai was then under the rule of a king who was a coward. Taking advantage of the weakness of the country, Karnataka king invaded Madurai, defeated the king and had Madurai as his capital. As a Jain, he began to harass Shiva devotees, brought the Gurus to spread Jainism. He prevented the growth and spread of Saivism and did not allow renovations of temples. He also prevented supply of sandalwood to Murthy Nayanar.
Though Nayanar could not get sandalwood for Lord’s puja, he ventured to use his hand as sandalwood and began to grind. He began to bleed. Bones were damaged. Pleased with the steadfast devotion of Nayanar, Lord appeared before him and suggested to wage a war against the Karnataka king, recover the land from the enemy and ensured salvation to him. Nayanar’s hands were immediately cured. Karnataka king’s end also came in. His rule too came to an end. Saivism got a new lease of life. Karnataka king had no heir to succeed him. As was the custom then to choose a king, ministers of Madurai gave a garland to an elephant. The one garlanded by the elephant shall be the king of the region. Murthy Nayanar was the choice of the elephant. Nayanar refused to accept precious jewels and offered to rule the city wearing only Rudraksha, sacred ash the Vibuti etc. The land was prosperous under Nayanar’s rule. After long years of service to the subjects of the region, Nayanar attained the Lotus feet of Lord Shiva.
Madurai was once called forest KADAMBAVANAM. Once a merchant named Dhananjaya who was passing through the forest, saw INDRA - the king of Gods, worshipping a SWAYAMBHULINGAM under a kadamba tree in the forest. This was reported immediately to the king Kulashekara Pandyan. Kulashekara cleared the forest and built a magnificent Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple around the sacred LINGAM and he built a lotus shaped city around the temple. On the naming ceremony of the city, Lord Shiva appeared magnificently to bless the city. The divine nectar (madhu) from the matted locks of Shiva fell on the blessed city. So, then the city was named "Madhurapuri".
As early as the 3rd century BC, Megasthanes visited Madurai. Later many people from Rome and Greece visited Madurai and established trade with the Pandya kings. Madurai flourished till 10th century AD when it was captured by Cholas the arch rivals of the Pandyas.
The Cholas ruled Madurai from 920 AD till the beginning of the 13th century. In 1223 AD Pandyas regained their kingdom and once again become prosperous. Pandian Kings patronised Tamil language in a great way. During their period, many master-pieces were created. "Silapathikaram", the great epic in Tamil was written based on the story of Kannagi who burnt Madurai as a result of the injustice caused to her husband Kovalan.
In April 1311, Malik Kafur, the general of Alauddin Khilji who was then the ruler of Delhi, reached Madurai and raided and robbed the city for precious stones, jewels, and other rare treasures. This led to the subsequent raids by other Muslim Sultans.
In 1323, the Pandya kingdom including Madurai became a province of the Delhi empire, under the Tughlaks. The 1371, the Vijayanagar dynasty of Hampi captured Madurai and it became part of the Vijayanagar empire. Kings of this dynasty were in habit of leaving the captured land to governors called Nayaks. This was done for the efficient management of their empire. The Nayaks paid fixed amount annually to the Vijayanagar empire. After the death of Krishna Deva Raya (King of Vijayanagar empire) in 1530 AD, the Nayaks became independent and ruled the territories under their control.
Among Nayaks, Thirumalai Nayak (1623-1659) was very popular; even now he is popular among people, since, it was he who contributed to the creation of many magnificent structures in and around Madurai. The Raja Gopuram of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, The Pudu Mandapam and The Thirumalai Nayakar's Palace are living monuments to his artistic fervor.
Madurai started slipping into the hands of the British's East India Company. In 1781, British appointed their representatives to look after Madurai. George Procter was the first collector of Madurai.
The temple’s origin and development as any other old temple in India cannot be proved with evidence. Madurai is an ancient Indian city which seems to have been in existence even before Christian era during Sangam period. Traits of this temple can be traced back even to early A.D. Madurai city flourished well during the rule of Pandyas and following them Cholas also contributed well to the development.
Proof is there to show that the temple was completely looted by the army of Malikkapur around the year 1310. Due to the continuous rule and attacks of many Islamic rulers the sculptures and valuables of the temple were totally ransacked.
Another revival occurred only when Vijaya nagar dynasty captured Madurai and they were good contributors towards the development of the city. Following them Nayaks came to rule and that can be described as the golden time for the temple and its developments. The city’s major landmarks including Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal and Meenakshi amman gopurams were all constructed by them.
The former name of Madurai was Kadambavanam, meaning an area covered with dense forest. The legend about the temple can be traced back to the time of Kulaasekara Pandya. A farmer named Dhananjaya found a swyambhu (Shiva Linga) which was said to be worshipped by Indra, under a Kadamba tree. He reported his finding to the King so that he could take necessary steps.
The forest was cleared and a shrine was built for Shiva Linga and in due course a big city was formed around the temple. It is a generally believed notion that when the city was being created Lord Shiva passed above the city and a drop of honey fell on the city from his head. Hereafter the city came to be known as Mathuram which means sweetness in Tamil language. Now it is transformed into Madurai and is also known as the City of Nectar. According to legends and Sivapuranam, Lord Siva had performed most of his ‘Thiuvilayadals’ (wonders or miracles of Lord) in Madurai and that adds great importance to this temple and Madurai city.
Another story about the birth and upbringing of Meenakshi is there. Malayadwaja Pandyan and his wife Kanchanamala were childless for many years and with the desire of having a child the couple conducted a ceremonial prayer during which a baby girl appeared in front of them. She was another avatar of Parvati and the purpose of her birth was to join Lord Siva at Madurai. It is said that she is also the sister of Lord Vishnu. The divine wedding was conducted with pomp and splendor and it was Lord Vishnu who gave her away to Lord Shiva as his wife. The pictures and paintings of Lord Vishnu handing over Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswara are depicted here.
Why in a Shiva temple is Meenakshi the main deity, a question may arise. It is here in Madurai that Lord Shiva married Parvati in the form of Meenakshi. Unlike in other Shiva temples only here after having the darshan of Meenakshi devotees will go to the shrine of Lord Shiva.Madurai and Meenakshi temple both have grown simultaneously and the temple is one among much sought after ancient temples of Southern India.
Story of Kannagi
In fact, the Madurai that we know today is not the Madurai of ancient times, for it is said that the entire city was once destroyed in an all-consuming fire. The story behind that fire is told in the 5,270-lined epic poem Cilappatikaram ("The Story of the Jewelled Anklets") written by a Jain monk by the name of Ilango Atikal in the 5th century C.E. According to the author of the poem, it is a story about the importance for kings following dharma, the glory of a chaste woman and the effects of past-life karma.
Although Cilappatikaram was written only 1,500 years ago; the story itself is much older. The poet-monk only learned of the story when visiting the countryside near the Periyaru River with his brother, Senkuttuvan, a Chera King. On the banks of the river, villagers told the king and Ilango the story of Kannagi, a woman with a single breast who sat down under a tree and did austerities for 15 days, without food or water, until she died. The villagers worshipped Kannagi as the Goddess of Chastity, and her story so inspired the king that he asked his brother to immortalize it in poetry for the benefit of mankind.
Rather than retell the story, here are lines extracted from the translation by Professor A.L. Basham from the original Tamil.
Kovalan, the son of a wealthy merchant in Kaverippattinam, married Kannagi, the lovely daughter of another merchant. For some time they lived together happily, until, at a festival at the royal court, Kovalan met the dancer Madavi and fell in love with her. He bought her favors and in his infatuation forgot Kannagi and his home.
Gradually he spent all his wealth on the dancer. At last he was penniless, and returned repentantly to his uncomplaining wife. Their only fortune was a precious pair of anklets, which she gave to him willingly. With these as their capital they decided to go to the great city of Madurai, where Kovalan hoped to recoup his fortunes by trade.
On their arrival at Madurai, they found shelter in a cottage, and Kovalan went to the market to sell one of Kannagi's anklets. But the queen of Nedunjeliyan, the king of the Pandyas, had just been robbed of a similar anklet by a wicked court jeweller.
The jeweller happened to see Kovalan with Kannagi's anklet, and immediately seized it and informed the king. Guards were sent to apprehend Kovalan, who was then killed on the king's orders. When the news was brought to Kannagi, she went out into the town, with her eyes ablaze with anger, carrying the remaining anklet in her hand as proof of her husband's innocence. (The city caught ablaze from the fire in her eyes.)
At last the patron goddess of the city (Meenakshi) interceded with Kannagi, and she agreed to withdraw her curse, and the fire abated. Weak with loss of blood from her self-amputated breast, Kannagi struggled to a hill outside the city, where after a few days she died, and was reunited with Kovalan in Heaven. Meanwhile the news of her death spread throughout the Tamil Land. She was deified, temples were raised and festivals held in her honour, and she became the patron goddess of wifely loyalty and chastity.
One interesting story is about the chief minister Neelakanda Deekshithar of King Thirumalai Nayak. King had ordered the statues of his family. Great sculptors took the work and executed them to the minute details. But one flaw they couldn’t rectify. A chip from the thigh area of the queen kept on falling off. When it was reported to the chief minister Deekshithar, who was a great Sanskrit scholar and a devotee of Meenakshi came to know through his third eye that the Queen had a big mole in her thigh. He asked the sculptors to leave it as it was. When the king saw the statues consternation flared up instead of admiration. He suspected the integrity of the chief minister and sent his soldiers to arrest him immediately. When king’s soldiers went to his house he was doing final Aarti/ Deepa Aradhana to the God. The soldiers told him the reason for his arrest and he felt so upset and blinded his eyes with Aarti fire. When the king realised his mistake he apologised to the chief minister and gave him all the honours like land and cash. Deekshithar composed a long hymn on Meenakshi and regained his vision by her grace.
Procedure for Worship
Worshipping Arulmighu Meenakshi Amman at first had been the manner of prayer traditionally. Devotees should enter the temple through East Gopuram, pass along Ashtasakthi Mandapam, Meenakshi Nayakar Mandapam and Mudali Mandapam, take a bath in the Golden Lotus pond and wear clean clothes. Foremost, they must worship the Viboothi Vinayakar on the south of the sacred pond. From the southern bank, devotees could worship the golden pinnacles of Swamy and Amman temples. They can see the 64 miracles of Lord Shiva on the walls surrounding the pond.
After worshipping the Sithi Vinayakar and other deities in the parrot cage mandapam, one must go round the altar at the Amman Sannidhi, and then enter the sanctum through the main entrance. Men and women should stand in separate rows and worship the deity. Devotees should meditate the five holy alphabets, recite the sacred names of the Lord, sing divine songs and go round the shrine. It is the normal practice to seek the permission of Nandiam Perumal to grant permission to enter the temple.
After that the Anukgnai Vinayakar and the Nandi at the main entrance to the Swamy temple must be worshipped. Next, the devotees should proceed along the six pillared pedestal and worship Chandrasekarar and other deities and the Natarajar who danced changing his legs at the Velliyambalam and then worship the Lord at the sanctum. While going round the first corridor of the Swamy temple, Vandhiyammai, Sivalingam, Sun, Kalaimagal, the Saints, Somaskander, various Lingams, Pitchadanar, Kasiviswanathar, Ellam Valla Siddhar, Durgai Amman, Kadamba tree, Kanagasabai Natarajar, Chandikeswarar, Atcharalingam, Mahalakshmi, Rathnasabai Natarajar, Vanniyum well, Lingam and Bhairavar should be worshipped in that order before coming out. On the north of the main entrance is the shrine of Arulmighu Palani Andavar. Having worshipped the deities including Sadayappar between the Nandhi Mandapam and coming round the hundred pillar hall, Agni Veeraputhirar, Ahora Veerapathirar, Ooothuva Thandava Moorthy and Badrakali, devotees should proceed to the Thirugnanasambandarmandapam and there, offer worship to the four deities, Mangayarkarasiyar, Kulachirayar and Nedumaranayar and then after paying obeisance to the flag pole, they should sit down for a while. Later the idols of Hanumar, Krishnar and other deities on the pillars at the back and then enter the middle way and leave through Amman Sannidhi.
A distinct feature of Meenakshi in terms of iconography is the presence of parrot in her right hand. The parrot is generally associated with the Vaishnava azhwar saint Andal. "Pancha Sabhai" refers to the five royal courts of Nataraja (dancing form of Shiva) where he performed cosmic dance. The Tamil word velli means silver and ambalam means stage or altar. This massive Nataraja sculpture is enclosed in a huge silver altar and hence called "Velli Ambalam" (silver abode). This is a special figure of Natarja which usually differs from Chola bronzes; in the Chola images, Nataraja is shown dancing with his left leg raised, but this sculpture has the right leg raised. According to the Tiruvilayaadal Puranam (Shiva's sacred games), this is on the request of Rajasekara Pandya, who was a sincere devotee of Shiva. He requested the deity to change his position, as he felt that keeping the same foot raised would put enormous strain and got a graceful acquiescence from the divine master.
God’s sanctum sanctorum (garba griha) was constructed as if it is borne by 8 elephants, 32 lions and 64 ganas. Till 50 years ago the sun light was falling on the god exactly on Pongal (Major festival celebrated on Thai first corresponding to 14th January).
The biggest festival of the temple is called Chitra festival which occurs in April/May every year. It attracts a million people from different parts of India. A big Chariot is pulled through the city by thousands of people. Idols from two other temples also join the God and Goddess.
Speciality of the Idol
Madurai Meenakshi statue is made of a particular green colour stone called Maragatha Kal. But it is not the precious emerald. Hindus associate green colour with the planet Mercury (Bhudhan). Anyone who has got a weaker Bhudha in their horoscope come to Madurai to cure the evil effects of the planet. It is a Bhudha Kshetra.
Meenakshi is also associated with the green colour bird parrot. It is in her hand. Till recently a lot of parrots were kept in a big cage inside the temple. Now they are all freed.
Goddess Meenakshi’s influence is so great even the children born in Madurai are named after her. Even the lullaby the children hear is about Meenakshi.
Buttered for 70 years
Near that Kambaththadi Mandap are huge statues of Veera Bhadrar and Bhadrakali. Butter is applied by the devotees continuously for seven hundred years on this huge Kali statue. When a Muslim Fakir started building a mosque in temple land in spite of objection from the devotees, blood came out from the eyes of this Kali statue. Immediately the fakir stopped construction. Just to subdue the anger of Kali butter was thrown on her. This has been going on for centuries now.
Of the 64 divine acts of Shiva a heron, a swallow, pigs, tiger and deer, an elephant, horses and foxes are involved. Shiva blesses not only human beings but also the birds and animals in Madurai.
There are five musical stone pillars in the temple. One who knows musical notes can play on them with stones. A single pillar is separated in to columns or smaller tender pillars. When they are tapped or struck with stones they emit different musical notes like musical instruments.
Just in front of the sanctum sanctorum of Sri Sundareswarar is the Kambathadi Mandapam. The monolith statues there are carved with very great skill. 25 forms of Lord Shiva are shown here. The statue of most famous wedding scene of Meenakshi and Sundareswara is located here. Like one enjoys Michael Angelo’s most famous Creation of Adam painting at Sistine Chapel of Vatican City where one hand reaches the other hand, minute carvings of fingers and hands of three figures-Meenakshi, Shiva and Vishnu on a monolith is really a wonder in stone.
Golden Lotus Tank
Inside the temple there is a tank where a Golden Lotus is floating. Thousands of years ago a merchant by name Dhananjayan saw Indra doing Puja with golden lotus flowers. In memory of this one golden lotus is floated in the tank. The lotus is the National Flower of India.
Once the poets from the ancient Tamil (Sangam) Academy competed with one another to launch their books inside the temple. The legend is that it wouldn’t allow any unworthy poets to climb the Sangam float or board. It will throw them out. Tiruvalluvar launched his most famous Tamil book Tirukkural in the temple by boarding the Sangam float.
Sweet weighing over 18 kilos
There is big statue of Lord Ganesh inside the temple. This 6 * 4 feet statue was discovered when the Nayak king was digging the earth for sand and stones for the temple. A big (Mukkuruni) kozukkattai or modak made up of 18 kilo rice and several kilos of jaggery/sugar is offered to it every year on Ganesh Chathurthy day. Kozukkattai or Modak is a steamed rice offering inside which is Puranam made of coconut or other grains.
48 year wonder
When Malikkaffur, the commander of the Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji, invaded Madurai region he plundered all the palaces and destroyed the temples. But the clever priests and administrators removed all the priceless idols and jewels to distant places like Kanyakumari and erected a fake sanctum sanctorum. Behind this was the real sanctum sanctorum (Garbha Griham). After Muslim rulers were driven away, the temple authorities opened the temple and the oil lamp was still burning there which was lit 48 years before. The flowers were still fresh. It was recorded in the temple record books called Seethala Puththakam.
Vijayanagar Empire sent a commander by name Kampanna Vudaiyar who drove away the invaders. His brave wife Ganga Devi accompanied him to the battle field and wrote whatever she saw there in Sanskrit poems. The book is called Madura Vijayam. Her live reports from the battled field beat the modern day BBC and CNN war correspondents. She did it 700 years ago.
Aarti To Mirror
Lord Shiva blesses his devotees in three ways Rupa, Arupa and Ruparupa: Form, Formless and shapeless (form but not a shape - Linga). To express this principle there is a festival celebrated every year in Ani Uththiram (June) and Markazi Arudra day. The Nataraja idol is taken to a mandap and a circular mirror is placed in front of the idol. It reflects the idol. On that day Aarti/Deeparaadhana is done to Nataraja idol (RUPA), reflected image in the mirror (ARUPA) and the main god in Linga form in the sanctum sanctorum (RUPA ARUPA). A big principle is explained to the general public with demonstration. One feels like a science student attending a laboratory in the science class.
Near the God’s Garba Griha is Six pillar mandap where in 108 dance gestures are depicted. In addition to the five musical pillars in the Adi Veethi , we have musical pillar in the Kampaththadi Mandap and 1000 pillar mandap. The sculptors had selected such type of stones to show their skills."
Recently a poem written like a drawing (Chiththira Kavi) is discovered inside the temple. The letters are in a circle. If one starts from the middle and read it like we add up numbers in magic squares, the poem will appear in full. This type of poem is called Chiththira Kavi meaning Picture poems or Drawing Poems. It may be squares or circles or pictures of flowers or chariots --anything one could imagine.
Best Time to Visit
The best times to visit are from 4:00 AM to 12:30 pm, and from 4:00 pm to 9:30 pm every day. The ideal parts of the year to visit the temple are from late October to early March.
One can see the entire temple in about an hour or two, and travelling inside the temple is by foot. It costs Rs. 5 for an Indian to see the Temple Art Museum, and Rs. 50 for a foreigner. Entering the temple with a camera requires you to pay Rs. 50.
Visiting the temple would require to wear a dhoti for men. One is restricted from carrying cameras, mobile phones, bottles, food and many other items. Early mornings or late evenings are the best times to avoid crowds, and there’s often classical dance somewhere in the complex on the weekends.
The daily pooja schedules include the Thiruvanandalpooja from 5:00 AM to 6:00 AM, the Vizhapooja from 6:30 AM to 7:15 AM, the Kalasandhipooja from 6:30 AM to 7:15 AM, the Thrikalasandhipooja from 10:30 AM to 11:15 AM, and the Uchikkala Pooja from 10:30 AM to 11:15 AM. There is the Maalai Pooja from 4:30 PM to 5:15 PM, and the Ardhajama Pooja from 07:30 PM to 08:15 PM, and the Palliaraipooja from 9:30 PM to 10:30 PM.
In this popular temple festivals are celebrated thoughout the year. Some of the most popular festivals of the temple are Chitra festival, Avanimoola festival, Masi Mandala festival, Thepporstovam, and Navarathri cultural festival.
Chithirai - Chithirai Brahamostavam / Arulmigu Thirukkalyanam
Vaikasi - Vasantham Festival
Aani - Unjal Festival
Aadi - Aadi / Mulai Kottu Festival
Aavani - Aavani Moolam Festival / Puttukku Mansumantha Leela Festival
Purattasi - Navarathri festival
Ayppasi - Kolattam Festival
Karthikai - Kolattam Festival
Margali - Thiruvathirai / Arudhra Dharsan Festival and Thiruvembavai and Thiruppavai Festival
Thai - Major portion of utsavam performed in Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple. Thepporstovam in Mariyamman temple theppam
Masi - Mandala utsavam for 48 days
Panguni - Summer Vasantham Festival
All round the year, there is some or the other festival celebrated at Madurai Meenakshi temple. Among them, most popular and important is Meenakshi Thirukalyanam (the divine marriage of Meenakshi). Every year it falls in the month of April. The marriage takes place with all the ingredients of a South Indian female dominated wedding. People from all parts of India, irrespective of caste and creed, participate in this royal marriage. It is a celebration of 12 days culminating in the marriage of Meenakshi with Lord Shiva. Now, it is a practice among the people that if the marriage is male dominated it will be called as Chithambaram marriage (Chithambaram is Shiva’s main temple) and if it is female dominated it will be called Madurai Marriage.
Major Hindu festivals like Navarathri, Sivarathri are also celebrated here in a grand manner. Generally, in Tamilnadu the Fridays of Aadi (July–Aug) and Thai (January- February) are considered very auspicious, similarly in Madurai temple people gather to dedicate their offerings and make worship. Chariot Festival is a common factor in all temples of Tamilnadu. Theppa thiruvizha (float festival) is of immense interest for the locals here. As per the tradition, everyday at night with the accompaniment of drummers and nadaswaram the image of Lord Sundarswarar will be taken to Meenakshi amman’s bedroom to consummate the union and the next dawn he will be taken back to his shrine.
There are close to 50 priests in the temple who perform the puja (rituals) during festivals and on a daily basis. Like other Shiva temples of Tamil Nadu, the priests belong to Shivaite to the Adishaivas, a Brahmin sub-caste. The priests live in a closed area north of the temple. The temple has a six time pooja calendar every day, each comprising four rituals namely abhisheka (sacred bath), alangaram (decoration), neivethanam (food offerings) and deepa aradanai (waving of lamps) for both Meenakshi and Sundareswarar. The puja (worship) ceremonies are held amidst music with nadhaswaram (pipe instrument) and tavil (percussion instrument), religious instructions in the Vedas by priests and prostration by worshippers in front of the temple mast. The common practise is to worship Meenakshi before Sundareswarar. Margazhi (December–January) ritual is prominent one for winning a perfect, god-like husband - it is Meenakshi's ennai kappu festival. Aligned with the cardinal points, the street plans forms a giant mandala (group) whose sacred properties are believed to be activated during the mass clockwise circumambulation of the central temple.
To get rid of the disturbances from the enemies, to end sooner the imprisonment and to get cure from heat related diseases, people pray here.
India is first and foremost a spiritual country and always intense importance is given to temples and their development and preservation. Even when lots of foreign attacks and subsequent rules have bankrupted us in lot of ways, many good souls had tried their utmost to fight and safeguard the most valuable assets like monuments, temples and precious literary works. If not we would have been left with a bleak world with nothing there to savor and cherish.
Every temple of India now shining with glory has a very eventful as well as disastrous past, due to the change in the rules, customs and frequent wars and resultant problems. India had been under the rigorous rule of many Muslims kings for a long time and that period can be described as black days for Hindu temples. Though the existence of Meenakshi temple is mentioned by the famous poet and Saint Thirugnanasabandhar in his writings during 7th century after that for a long time nothing was heard about this temple, as such.
History shows that Madurai has some foreign links as there is proof for the visits of Megasthanes during 3rd century and many travelers from Greece and Rome also are said to be here for trade purposes with Pandya kings. After that when Madurai came under Chola rulers nothing remarkable happened and there was no mention of any kind of progress made. Beginning of 13th century was a milestone in the development of Madurai as Pandya kings regained the power and then onwards there was no looking back.
It is during this period maximum contributions were made in literary field also. The great epic of Tamil Literature Silapthikaram deserves a mention here. Many of the writings of this period revolve around the temple of Lord Shiva and Meenakshi. After the Pandyas the Vijaya nagar rulers took over. They and their governors the Nayakas had influenced the present day status of the Temple and the city very extensively. Almost all of the monuments in the city including the main shrine in the temple were constructed by Thirumalai Nayakar. That explains why even now he is very popular among the people there at Madurai.
After that the British came and they had their hands on the rule and maintenance of the city and temple. Madurai Meenakshi temple is a symbol of the classic age of Tamil history, the Sangam age. Anyhow the temple had travelled through hundreds of years of renovation and reconstruction resulting in the present day marvel and no wonder Madurai Meenakshi temple was one among the 30 nominees of the seven modern wonders of the world.
Lord Shiva performed 64 miracles to save his devotees in Madurai which are known as 64 Divine Acts. So every week a festival is celebrated in the temple. Madurai temple is one of the 64 Sakthi kendras (centres).
Madurai was a forest full of Kadamba trees 2,000 years ago.There is one Kadamba tree still protected inside the temple, very near Durga statue. Kadamba tree was the temple tree in other towns like Thiruk kadambur, Kadambanthurai. We can see Kadamba trees growing in many other places. This has got many medicinal properties. A Tamil proverb goes as “udambai kadambaal adi“ meaning “Beat your body with Kadambu”. The hidden meaning is “Treat your body with Kadambu”.
There are 44 epigraphs in the temple. In Kangasabhai next to Kadamba tree there is a musical inscription with Ragas and 35 Talas (Tune and Rhythm).
In addition to separate shrine for the Navagrahas (nine planets), Navagrahas are carved on the ceiling as well.
Tirumalai Nayak and his two wives are portrayed in two places inside the temple and outside the temple. But he has made his figures carved on the floor as well. This is just to get the dust of the devotees from their feet. Hindus believe God’s devotees are greater than Gods themselves. Several stories are there to show that God had asked his devotees to get the apologies from the devotees when they were hurt.
Madurai has an Airport. The temple is about 15 kms from the airport. There are daily flights to Chennai. Chennai is the closest international airport to Madurai.
Madurai is an important railway junction of the Southern Railway and is directly connected to Chennai (Egmore station), Coimbatore, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Tirunelveli.
There are several buses from Chennai, Thiruchirapalli, Coimbatore and Thirunelveli. There are also buses from neighboring states of Kerala and Karnataka.
Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Thirukkoil,
Chithirai Street, Madurai,
Tamilnadu State, India,
Pincode - 625 001.
Devotees visit this temple to seek fulfillment of the following:-
- Relief from diseases
- Purchase of vehicles
- Gain Knowledge
Kailaasarana Shiva Chandramouli Phaneendra Maathaa Mukutee Zalaalee Kaarunya Sindhu Bhava Dukha Haaree Thujaveena Shambho Maja Kona Taaree
Meaning -Oh Lord Shiva who is seated on Mount Kailash, where the moon decorates his forehead and the king of serpents crown his head, who is merciful and removes delusion, You alone can protect me. I surrender to thee.
Aum Trayambakam Yajaamahey Sugandhim Pusti Vardhanam Urvaarukamiva Bandhanaath Mrutyor Muksheeya Maamritaat
Meaning -We worship the fragrant Lord Shiva, who has 3 eyes and who cultivates all beings. May He free me from death, for immortality, as even a cucumber is separated from its bond with the vine.
5 a.m. to 10 p.m.