The name of Madurai immediately brings into mind the huge
Meenakshi Temple. The temple is indeed the star attraction of Madurai, with a
few more ancient structures surrounding it.
Overview. Madurai is an all season destination, though it
can get hot in summer. Winter is the best time to go, as the days will be pleasant
and it hardly gets cold in the night.
The city of Madurai has a long history and is one of the
oldest in southern parts of India. Megasthanese, the well-known Greek
traveller is said to have visited the city in 3rd century BC. The city was
ruled by Pandyas and Cholas for most part of its history, and Nayak kings from 17th
century before the British took over from them. The Meenakshi Temple is said to
be first erected by Pandya Kings. Legend has it that Madurai is the place where
Shiva wedded Parvati.
Orientation. Madurai is well connected by rest of the
country by trains, since it falls on the route connecting Chennai and
Kanyakumari. It is located on the plains of Tamil Nadu, close to Western
Ghats near Kodaikanal. It is medium sized city that can be comfortably covered
from end to end by an auto-rickshaw. Most of the old structures of Madurai are
located at the center of the city, around Meenakshi Temple. A few new
attractions, like Gandhi museum will require some additional commute.
Sightseeing and activities.
Meenakshi Temple. The Meenakshi temple is a huge complex and
can take a complete day to see from end to end. The temple can be roughly
divided into three sections - the enclave of Meenakshi shrine, of Sundareswarar
shrine and the areas in the eastern part comprising markets and the thousand-pillar
Meenakshi Shrine. The shrine can be approached directly from
north gate or through a passage on the east gate. When you enter through east
gate, you walk past the beautiful environs of the Golden Lotus Pond -
Potramarai Kulam. The Meenakshi shrine has a golden gopura, which can be seen
from a corner of the Pond. In the inner courtyard, there is a silver statue of
Nataraja, and further ahead is the sanctum of the goddess.
Sundareswarar Shrine. This is a separate section to the
south of Meenakshi Shrine, enclosed in layers of walls. When you enter from
east, you walk to a mantapa hosting Nandi. The pillars of the Mantapa have statues of Shiva in various forms, such as Bhairava and Nataraja. A mural of Hanuman on a
pillar to the left of the mantapa is popular with devotees. Entering through
two more set of doors takes you to the sanctum where you can see the lingam
resting under a four headed serpent.
Thousand Pillar Hall. This is a large hall filled with
pillars, located close to the eastern entrance of the temple. This is now
made into a museum that hosts many stone statues and other artifacts.
Unfortunately, the museum is poorly maintained and the artifacts are unaesthetically
Markets. Near the eastern gate is a market selling various
pooja materials, trinkets, photos and statues of all possible gods and
goddesses. It is a nice place to hang around and see interesting materials for
sale. There is also a small flower market that is a separate section, near the
entry to Meenakshi shrine.
Pudu Mantapa and Raya Gopura. Just outside the eastern gate to
Sundareswarar shrine is a large mantapa, called Pudu Mantapa. It is worth a
visit to the place just to see the scale of the large Mantapa and the size of
big pillars inside. Unfortunately, the Mantapa is not properly maintained and
the gates are locked, which means you can only take a peek from outside. To the
opposite side of Pudu Mantapa is another ancient structure with four tall pillars,
called Raya Gopura.
Nayak Palace. This is a palace built by Nayak Kings, located
a kilometer away from the temple. Only a part of the palace has now survived,
which includes a large hall and a private auditorium call Natakasalai. The big open
hall with its giant pillars and paintings on the roof make the palace worth a
Gandhi Museum. The Gandhi Museum contains many artifacts and
materials tracing the history of India since the landing of Europeans, in the
perspective of freedom struggle. A very visible artifact in the museum is the
blood stained dhoti of the Mahatma that he was wearing when assassinated.
Food and Accommodation. There is no dearth of hotels of all
classes in Madurai. You can find many conveniently located budget hotels along
the streets surrounding the temple. Madurai is a good place to taste
traditional South Indian food if it is not your everyday diet.