Meenakshi Temple at Madurai
Meenakshi Templae (or Meenakshi Amman Temple) at Madurai is one of the largest
and anciant temples of South India. 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 Sri Meenakshi Sundareswara temple and
Madurai City originated together. 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 pool and innumerable Mandapas. At every turn there is superb
The Meenakshi temple complex is one of the
largest and certainly one of the most ancient. According to legend Madurai is
the actual site where the wedding between Shiva and Meenakshi took place. The
gigantic temple complex,the statues exploring the entire range of human
emotions,everything here is larger than life. The soaring and exquisitely carved
towers enclose the temple dedicated to Meenakashi. The south gateway contains
the twin temples of Shiva and Meenakshi and is about nine storeys high.
Once Dhananjaya,a merchant of Manavur,where 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.
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
Ashta Sakthi Mandapa :
This Mandapa 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.
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.
Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam
This hall 42.9m long and 33.5m wide is adjacent
to Ashta Shakthi Mandapam. It contains 110 stone columns,each 6.7m high carrying
the figures of a peculiar animal with a lion's body,and an elephant's head
Lotus Tank) :
This temple tank is an ancient tank where
devotees take bath in the holy water. The corridors around the tank are rightly
called the Chitra Mandapa,for the walls carry paintings of the divine
sports of the Lord. The area around this tank was the meeting place of the Tamil
Sangam - the ancient academy of poets.This academy judged the worth of any work
of literature presented before it by throwing it into the tank. Only those that
did not sink were considered worthy of attention. The tank is surrounded by a
pillared corridor. Steps lead down to the tank,enabling worshippers to take
bathe in it.
The Thousand Pillar Mandapam
It is the 'wonder of the place',Actually the
number of pillars count to 985. Each pillar is sculptured and is a monument of
the Dravidan sculpture. There is a Temple Art Museum in this 1000 pillars hall
where you can see icons,photographs,drawings,etc.,exhibiting the 1200 years old
history. There are so many other smaller and bigger mandapams in the temple.
Just outside this mandapam,towards the west,are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar
when stuck,Produces a different musical notes.
Vasantha Mandapam :
This mandapam was built by Thirumalai Nayakkar.
Vasanthosavam - the Spring festival-is celebrated in this mandapam in Vaikasi
(April/May). Its pillars contain elaborate sculptures of Shiva,Meenakshi,scenes
from their wedding as well as the figures of ten of the Nayak Kings and their
consorts. This is also called Pudhu Mandapam.
Oonjal Mandapam :
Two Mandapas,the Unjal (swing) and the
Kilikatti (parrot cage),are on the western side of the tank. On their
ceilings are more paintings. The Kiliatti Mandapa has on its walls the carvings
of the divine sports. The most ornamental of the temple's Mandapas,it was built
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 Kilikoontu 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
Swami Sundareswarar Shrine :
Lord Sundareswarar (Shiva) the consort of
Goddess Meenakshi is to the north of Kilikoontu Mandapam . On your way you can
worship a gigantic idol of Sri Ganesh called Mukkurini Pillaiyar. When the king
Thirumalai Nayakar excavated a temple tank 3 km from Meenakshi temple he
unearthed this idol of Vinayaka and erected the same here.
In the outer pragaram (corridor outside the
main shrine) there is stump of the kadamba tree,which is said to be a part of
the same tree under which Indra worshipped Shiva linga. Also in the outer
corridor there are the Kadambathadi Mandapam and big hall called ' Velli Ambalam'
. Here, An idol of Nataraja (Shiva as the Lord of Dance) is seen. This idol of
Nataraja is covered with silver leaves. Hence this hall is named as Velli
Ambalam (Silver Hall)..
The famous festivals held at Madurai,include Teppam
festival, the annual Float Festival,wherein the images of Sri Meenakshi and
Lord Sundareswara (also spelt as Sundreshwara) are mounted on floats,and taken
to Mariamman Teppakkulam Tank,where for several days they are pulled back and
forth across the water in the middle of the tank,on an illuminated raft
embellished with flowers,before being taken back to the main temple.
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.