|» Location :
||Madurai, Tamil Nadu
|» Deity Worshipped :
||Lord Somasundara (Lord Shiva) And Goddess Meenakshi
|» Built By :
||The Pandyan King, Kulasekhara
|» Festivals Celebrated :
||Meenakshi Kalyanam In April-May And The Teppam
Madurai or "the city of nectar" is the oldest and second
largest city of Tamil Nadu. This city is located on Vaigai River and was
the capital of Pandyan rulers. The Pandyan king, Kulasekhara had built a
gorgeous temple around which he created a lotus shaped city. It has been
a center of learning and pilgrimage, for centuries. Legend has it, that
the divine nectar falling from Lord Shiva's locks, gave the city its
name - 'Madhurapuri', now known as "Madurai".
The Origin Of The Meenakshi Temple
The Sri Meenakshi Sundareswara temple and Madurai city originated
together. According to tradition, Indra once committed sin when he
killed a demon, who was then performing penance. He could find no relief
from remorse in his own kingdom. He came down to earth. While passing
through a forest of Kadamba trees in Pandya land, he felt relieved of
his burden. His servitors told him that there was a Shivalinga under a
Kadamba tree and beside a lake. Certain that it was the Linga that had
helped him; he worshipped it and built a small temple around it. It is
believed that it is this Linga, which is till under worship in the
Madurai temple. The shrine is called the "Indra Vimana".
When the next Pandya, Malayadhvaja, and his queen, Kanchanamala,
performed a sacrifice for a child, Lord Shiva caused Goddess Parvati
Herself to step out of the fire as a little girl. She had three breasts.
Lord Shiva told the couple that the third breast would disappear when
she set eyes on he who was to be her husband. They were to name her "Thadathagai"
and bring her up as if she were a boy.
Once Dhananjaya, a merchant of Manavur,
the Pandyas had arrived after the second deluge in Kumari Kandam, having
been overtaken by nightfall in Kadamba forest, spent the night in the
Indra Vimana. When next morning he woke up, he was surprised to see
signs of worship. Thinking that it must be the work of the Devas, he
told the Pandya, Kulasekhara, in Manavur, of this. Meanwhile Lord Shiva
had instructed Pandya in a dream to build a temple and a city at the
spot Dhananjaya would indicate. Kulasekhara did so. Thus originated the
temple and city.
She succeeded her father to the throne at his death. She gained many
military victories. Finally she marched on Kailasa itself. When she saw
Lord Shiva, her third breast disappeared. The Lord told her to return to
Madurai and said that He would marry her there. The divine marriage was
celebrated. This is the theme much beloved of Madurai artists. There is
a superb sculpture of this in the temple. The crowning of Meenakshi, for
She was the same as Thadathagai, is celebrated as a festival in the
The Lord performed many miracles at the wedding. These are described in
a celebrated poem, the "Tiruviayadal Puranam". Under the name
of "Sundara Pandya", the Lord ruled the land as a mortal.
After sometime, crowning Lord Muruga, their son, who was named "Ugra
Pandya", Sundara Pandya and Thadathagai went into the temple and
assumed divine forms as "Lord Somasundara" and "Goddess
About The Temple
While the temple originated in times to which no date can be assigned,
the structures that are standing today date mostly from the twelfth to
the eighteenth century. They occupy a vast space, 258 m by 241m. There
are the two main shrines, no less than twelve Gopuras, a tank and
innumerable Mandapas. At every turn there is superb sculpture,
Earliest References Of The Temple
Paranjothi Munivar wrote the Tiruviayadal Puranam in the sixteenth
century. It is regarded as the temple's Sthalapurana. An earlier work
adds a few celestial sports not included in the latter. These are, or
rather were painted on the walls around the Golden Lily Tank. Some of
the painted wooden panels are in the Temple Museum.
In the 14th century an invasion by Malik Kafur damaged the temple. In
the same century Madurai was under Muslim rule for nearly fifty years.
The temple authorities closed the sanctum, covered up the Linga, and set
up another in the Ardhamandapa. When the city was liberated, the sanctum
was opened, and, tradition says the flower garlands and the sandalwood
paste placed on the Linga were as fresh as on the first day, and two oil
lamps were still burning.
The earliest references available to any structure in this temple is a
hymn of Sambhandar's, in the seventh century, which refers to the "Kapali
Madil". The present inner walls of the Lords shrine bear this name
today. In the early times the entire temple must have been confined to
the area between these walls, and the structures must have been of brick
Mudali Pillai Mandapa
The Mudali Pillai Mandapa follows the Chitra Gopura. Added in 1613, it
is 183m long and 7.6m wide. On its wall are many puranic scenes. It used
to be without any natural light, but windows were added in the last
The Golden Lily Tank
The lovely and historic Golden Lily tank then comes into view. It is
from its banks that most popular photographic views of the temple are
taken, showing the gigantic south outer Gopura. The northern corridor
leads directly to the shrine of the Goddess. On its pillars are the
images of some of the Sangam poets, of Kulasekhara Pandya, the first
builder of the temple, and of Dhananjaya, who figures in the traditional
story of its origin. There is no fish in the tank.
The corridors around the tank are rightly called the "Chitra
Mandapa", for the walls carry paintings of the divine sports of the
Lord, as narrated in the "Tiruvilayadal Puranam". They have
been renewed from time to time. A short while ago there were paintings
on wooden panels affixed over an older series. They have since been
removed to the Temple Museum in the thousand-pillared Mandapa, leaving
some dilapidated murals to view. It is impossible to ascertain the date
It was in the sixteenth century that the corridors and the steps
leading down to the tank were constructed; the northern corridor and
steps in 1562, those on the east in 1573, and those on the south five
Samagam Meenakshi Naicker Mandapa
A smaller Mandapa connects the large one with another large one with
another large hall, called the "Samagam Meenakshi Naicker Mandapa",
after its builder, a minister of Vijayaranga Chokkanatha (1706-32), who
erected in 1707. In former times the temple's elephants camels and bulls
used to be stabled here. A brass "Tiruvatchi" holding a
thousand and eight lamps stands here, 7.6m high. Marudu Pandya, one of
the early opponents of the growing British power, installed it.
The Meenakshi Naicker Mandapa is a huge hall, 42.9m long and 33.5m
wide. It contains 110 stone columns, each 6.7m high. There are yalis in
the capital and delicate reliefs below. Some of the carvings are
The "Chitra Gopura", its name amply justified by its
exquisite sculptures, 740 in number, stands over the entrance from this
Mandapa into the shrine complex of the Goddess. It could have been the
original entrance into the sanctum. Over seven tiers, and 35.6m high, it
is the tallest of those over the shrine of the Goddess. It was built
about 1570 by Kalatthi Mudaliar, a son of Aryanatha Mudaliar, who helped
Vishwanatha Nayak, the founder of the Madurai Nayak dynasty, to
consolidate his power. He rose from poverty and obscurity to the highest
post after the Nayak. There are equestrian statues of him in two places
in the temple, in the Pudumandapa and in the thousand-pillared hall. The
Gopura was extensively renovated in 1960-63.
Ashta Sakthi Mandapa
It is a convention in this temple, different from that followed in
others, that the devotee offers worship first to Goddess Meenakshi.
Therefore, while there are four other entrances into the temple, under
huge Gopuras in the four cardinal directions, it is customary to enter
not through any of them but through a Mandapa, with no tower above it.
This entrance leads directly to the shrine of the Goddess.
An interesting story is told of what an artist did in 1923 when adding
some paintings there. In one of these depicting the coronation of
Goddess Meenakshi, he included a figure of Mahatma Gandhi. The British
authorities ordered that it be removed. What the artist did was to add
to the lasting oil painting long locks of hair in watercolour so that a
sage resulted. But shortly after, the locks disappeared and Gandhiji
This Mandapa is an impressive structure, with a hemispherical ceiling.
It is 14m long and 5.5m wide. There are bas-reliefs all over the place.
Over the entrance one of them depicts the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi
with Lord Somasundara. The Mandapa derives its name, the "Ashta
Sakthi", from the fact it contains sculptures of the eight Sakthis
(also spelt as Shakti). Those of the four principal Nyanmars were added
during renovation of the temple in 1960-63.
Queen Rudrapathi Ammal and Queen Tholiammal, consorts of Tirumalai
Nayak (1623-1659) erected the Mandapam. Tirumalai, the greatest of the
Nayaks of Madurai, who were originally viceroys of the Vijayanagar
Rayas, but who later made themselves virtually independent, was the
grandest builder in the history of the temple and the city. Formerly,
pilgrims used to be fed in this Mandapa.
The Unjal And Kilikatti Mandapas
Two Mandapas, the Unjal and the Kilikatti, stand on the farther way to
the shrine of the Goddess. On their ceilings are more paintings. A
celebrated mural, opposite to the entrance of the shrine, depicts the
marriage of Goddess Meenakshi. The Kilikatti Mandapa derives its name
from the fact that there are parrots in a cage here. On its walls are
carvings of the divine sports. The most ornamental of the temple's
Mandapas, it was built in 1623.
Near the flagstaff is a six-pillared structure, which is of historic
interest. A famous poet, Kumaragurubarar, composed verses in praise of
the Goddess at the request of Tirumalai Nayak. He recited the work in
this part of the temple with Tirumalai present. As he was doing so, a
little girl walked upto the Nayak, took a pearl necklace from his neck,
gave it to the poet and disappeared. She was the Goddess Meenakshi
Herself. There is a stone bell on the ceiling of the Mukhamandapa. The
entire shrine measures 68.5m by 45.7m.
A Gopura of three tiers stands over the entrance from this Mandapa into
the shrine of the Goddess. Built in 1227 by Vambathura Ananda Tandava
Nambi, it is named the Vambuthurar Gopura after him. The shrine consists
of a square sanctum, an Ardhamandapa and a Mukhamandapa. In the niches
on the walls of the shrine are images of Iccasakthi in the south,
Kriyasakthi in the west, and Jnanasakthi in the north. There are shrines
of Vinayaka and Subramanya in the outer Prakara. They probably belong to
the fifteenth century.
On the way to the Lord's shrine from here there are two Gopuras, the
Nadu Kattu over the doorway leading from the Kilikatti Mandapa, and the
Gopuranayaka, which rises above the actual entrance into the shrine.
Each is of five storeys and perhaps belongs to the mid-sixteenth
Beyond the former, facing south, is a huge image of Lord Vinayaka,
engagingly the "Mukkuruni Vinayaka" from the fact that a
single enormous edible, the "Kozhukattai", made from 34 kg of
rice, is offered to Him on Vinayaka Chaturthi Day. There is a tradition
that the image was discovered when Tirumalai Nayak was digging the
beautiful tank on the outskirts of the city, called the "Vandiyur
The Kambathadi Mandapa
The Kambathadi Mandapa, which contains the flagstaffs of the Lord's
shrine, has, besides some of the most striking baroque sculpture in the
country. It was originally built by Krishna Veerappa Nayak (1572-95) and
renovated in 1877 by the Nagarattars, a class of Chettiars, who have
built and renovated many a fane in Tamil Nadu.
This Mandapa encloses the Nandi shrine, two flagstaffs and the
balipitha, has eight monolithic columns, which carry huge sculptures of
the Lord in various forms. These includes Somasundara, the Protector of
Markandeya, Nataraja, Chandrasekhara, Ardhanariswara, Dakshinamurti,
Bikshatana, Somaskanda,Rudra, Ekapadamurti and Rshbaruda. There are also
the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. It is here that the celebrated
sculpture of Goddess Meenakshi's marriage is to be found. On either side
of the entrance there are imposing monoliths of Bhadrakali, Agora
Virabhadra, Agni Virabhadra and Urdhatandava. A carved ceiling made of a
single stone covers the Nandi shrine.
Over the entrance into the shrine stands a Gopura of three storeys. It
was originally built by a Pandya in 1168 and, therefore, is one of the
oldest surviving structures in the temple. Flanking the entrance are
huge dwarapalkas, each 3.6m high, made of a single stone each, and
standing on a pedestal about 1.5m high.
The shrine is a square of 10.4m. Eight elephants, thirty-two lions and
sixty-four sportive dwarfs support its base. On its outer walls there
are prominent niches on the three sides, each projecting 1.8m. In the
south there is Dakshinamurti in the west Lingodbhava, and in the north
Durga. These niches are so big as to be small shrines. Stone elephants
about 3m high flank each of them. There is always a concourse of
worshippers in front of the Durga image. The Vimana above the sanctum is
of three storeys. The Sikhara is plated with gold.
In front of the shrine there are successively an Antarala, an
Ardhamandapa, a Mukhamandapa and a Mahamandapa so that this is virtually
a temple by itself. The whole measures 128m by 94.5m. There are two
Prakaras and five Gopuras. The outer walls are called the "Sundara
Pandya Madil" and the inner ones, which measure 76.2m by 47.5m, the
"Kapali Madil". The latter is referred to by Sambandar in the
Thousand Pillared Mandapa
Among the other Mandapas in the temple is the celebrated thousand
pillared one. Aryanatha Mudaliar, who bestrides a horse at the entrance,
erected it in 1569. Measuring 76.2m by 73m, it contains 985 pillars. The
central nave leads to a shrine of Lord Sabapati. On every pillar there
are sculptures. These are varied iconographic interest. Among themselves
they make a veritable pantheon. On the ceiling near the entrance there
is a wheel, which gives the cycle of sixty years of Tamil calendar.
Fergusson calls the Mandapa "The wonder of the place".
West of it is a small Mandapa added during the renovation of 1960-63.
It commemorates Sambandar's reclamation of the Pandya to Hinduism. It
contains a Linga and images of 'Sambandar', 'Mangayarkarasi',
'Kulachirayar' and 'Kun Pandya'. The second was the queen, the third the
minister of the Pandya.
The Historic Shrines In The Prakaras
There are a number of historic shrines in the Prakaras. Opposite to an
entrance into the first from the Mahamandapa there is one of Lord
Sabhapathi. This is the famous Velliambalam where one of the Lord's
divine sports took place when, at the request of the sages, Patanjali
and Vyagrapadha, He danced as Lord Nataraja.
In the second Prakara a shrine, now called that of the Sangam poets,
contains images of many of them. In the same Prakara there is a shrine
apparently dedicated to Kariyamanikka Perumal, but now empty. Also in
the same Prakara there is a row of fourteen small shrines, called the "isvarams".
Many of them contain Lingas.
Near the east outer Gopura stands the celebrated Pudumandapa. Built by
Tirumalai Nayak between 1626 and 1633, it is a large hall, 100m by 32m,
and contains a hundred and twenty four pillars. These magnificent
columns carry bold reliefs. There are equestrians and yalis on the outer
pillars, while at the centre there are portraits of ten Nayaks from
Viswanatha, the first of them to Tirumalai.
There are, besides, some of the Tiruvilayadal scenes, the wedding of
Goddess Meenakshi, Goddess Meenakshi as Thadathagai, and Ekapadamurti,
among other themes. At the western end there is a canopied Mandapa, the
Vasanta, where the images of the Lord and the Goddess are brought on
certain festival occasions.
The Kalyanamandapa, built by Vijayaranga Chokkanatha (who stands here
in effigy) in the first decade on the eighteenth century, contains much
excellent woodwork. It was originally open on all sides. In the center
is a large platform, where annually the marriage of the Lord and the
Goddess is celebrated. On two of the walls are two huge paintings of the
"two worlds" of Hindu cosmogony, each about 1.8m in diameter.
The Gopuras Of The Temple
The Gopuras Of The Temple The four outer Gopuras in the four directions
are marvellous works of art. They are of perfect proportions, though
they were built at different time and though, moreover, they have been
repaired and renovated from time to time. The Gopuras of Tamil Nadu, by
themselves, form a chapter in the history of Indian Art. Some of the
brightest pages are due to the towers of Madurai.
The West Gopura
The west Gopura was built in the fourteenth century, a troubled period
in the history of the temple and the city following the Muslim
invasions. It is difficult to believe that a venture of this magnitude
could have been possible in that time of travail. But the sources of
information are clear. They attribute the Gopura to a Parakrama Pandya.
There were many kings of that name in the century. Since the famous
Pandya crest of two carps appears on this Gopura, it may be accepted
that the Pandyas did build it. This was their swan song in the temple,
which will always be associated with their piety, munificence and glory.
It is 48m high, rising on a base that is 31m by 14m. Like the three
other Gopuras, it is of nine tiers.
The Southern Gopura
The most beautiful and the most artistic of the four, the southern,
frequently photographed for its lovely eminence over the Golden Lily
Tank, is also the tallest, 49m. Its stone base measures 32.9m by 20.4m.
The tower sweeps in a graceful curve. It was built about the middle of
the sixteenth century by Siramalai Sevvanthi Murti Chettiar, a scion of
a family of Tiruchi, which has contributed much to the temple.
The Northern Gopura
The latest in date is the northern Gopura, which was built by Krishna
Veerappa Nayak (1564-72). For some reason, it was without a Sikhara and
was not plastered. Therefore, it was called the "Mottai"
Gopura. The deficiencies were supplied in renovation about the end of
the last century.
Such an ancient and renowned fane has attracted considerable literature
and many beautiful traditions, apart from those narrated above. It is
said for example Rous Peter, a Collector in the early decades of the
last century, was so beloved of the people that they called him "Peter
Pandya". Every day he would go round the temple on horseback. One
night when he was asleep, there was heavy rain. A little girl woke him
up and beckoned him outside his house. The girl then vanished. Peter,
convinced that She was Goddess Meenakshi, presented valuable jewels to
Connected with the temple is the lovely tank called the "Mariamman
Teppakulam", about 3 km to the east. It measures 345m by 290m, and
has steps leading down to the water. In the center is a towered Mandapa,
with four smaller Mandapas around it. The tank was excavated and the
Mandapas built by Tirumalai Nayak. On his birthday a float festival of
the images of the Lord and the Goddess is celebrated. On the other side
of the road there is a famous Mariamman temple.
Other Temples In Madurai
§ Azhagar Koil
Located 21 km. northwest of Madurai is a Vishnu temple located on a
picturesque wooded hill. Here Lord Vishnu presides as Meenakshi's
brother 'Azhagar'. It is one of the few temples in the country built in
tiers. The tower consists of 3 tiers depicting Lord Vishnu in 3
postures, sitting, standing and reclining. The shadow of the Vimanam
never falls on the ground.
On entering the temple, one can see the life-size sculptures carved in
the stone Mandapam built by Tirumalai Naicken. These are similar to
those found in Madurai temple. The deity is known as "Kalazhagar"
as he is the household deity of the Kallas, a low caste people.
Major Festivals Celebrated in Madurai
§ Meenakshi Kalyanam At Madurai
The annual solemnization of the marriage of Meenakshi with Lord
Sundareshwar (Shiva) is one of the most spectacular temple festivals at
Madurai's famous Meenakshi temple in Tamil Nadu. Car processions of the
goddess and the god are some of the colourful features of this festival.
Meenaskhi Kalyanam, the wedding festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord
Sundareshwar is celebrated for twelve days from the second day of the
lunar month (i.e. two days after the new moon). This is a spectacular
festival celebrated in the month of Chaitra (April-May).
The festival is characterized with royal decorated umbrellas, fans and
traditional instrumental music. Scenes from mythology are enacted and
the deities of Lord Shiva, Goddess Shakti and Goddess Meenakshi are
taken out in a colourful procession. Thousands of devotees from all over
the country gather in the city of Madurai on this occasion.
Places to stay in Madurai, Tamilnadu
Accommodation is available at the luxurious, moderate class and small
budgeted hotels, devasthanam cottages, lodges, and dharmashalas in
How to Get There
Madurai is connected by air with Mumbai and
Chennai. Madurai airport is 10-km away from the city.
Madurai has direct rail connections to
Bangalore, Coimbatore, Kollam, Chennai, Rameshwaram, Thanjavur,
Tiruchirappalli, Tirunelveli, Tirupathi and Tuticorin.
There are excellent roads connecting Madurai
to all parts of South India. Madurai city has 5 Major Bus Stands-
Periyar Bus Stand, Anna Bus Stand, Palanganatham Bus Stand, Arapalayam
Bus Stand, Mattuthavani Bus Stand. From Madurai town buses, suburban
buses, taxis, auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are available to reach
Tour Packages of Tamilnadu