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Meenakshi Amman Temple
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrMeenakshi Amman Temple (aka) Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and His wife Goddess Parvati, lies on the south of Vaigai River in the city of Madurai . Madurai is also often referred to as the Athens of the East. The temple is the nerve center of this city and has been referred to in ancient Tamil literature and in several religious manuscripts spread through different eras. With a feature in the list of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’, this temple is visited by approximately 15,000 devotees per day. On Fridays, this number even goes beyond 25,000.
HistoryMeenakshi is another name for Lord Shiva’s consort, Parvati, and the name derives from the word ‘Minacchi’ – ‘Mina’ meaning fish and ‘Aksi’ meaning eye. Hindu mythology of the Pandyan Dynasty suggests that when King Malayadwaja Pandya’s prayers were answered by Parvati, a girl came out of the holy fire of the sacred ritual. This girl who had three breasts, was named Tadaatagai, and was the heir apparent of the King of Pandya. After conquering the abode of Vishnu and Brahma, Tadaatagai went on to invade Mount Kailash, the scared and holy abode of Lord Shiva. Over there, after she defeated the army of ghosts of the Lord, when Tadaatagai was about to attack the Lord Himself. However, she couldn't bring herself to fight and was completely enamored with the Lord’s glory. It was then that she realized she was none other than Lord Shiva’s wife, Parvati Herself, and Shiva has always maintained her destiny. Next, according to the scriptures, the holy union of Tadaatagai and Lord Shiva was held in Madurai and was presided over by Lord Vishnu.
Soon after their marriage, Tadaatagai and Shiva came to be the patron deities in the Madurai city.
Another legend tells us that the temple was constructed by Lord Indra, the King of Heaven, who was repenting for his sins. As the burden of Lord Indra’s sins eased away when he approached the Shiva Lingam of Madurai. So Lord Indra did build the Meenakshi Amman Temple in honor of Lord Shiva.
Sacked in 1310 by Malik Kafur, the temple was rebuilt by Viswanatha Nayak , around 1560 and completed by Thirumalai Nayak in the 17th-century.
Major Tourist AttractionsThe Meenakshi Amman Temple has four gates in four directions and its compound stretches over an area of 45 acres. The temple is surrounded by 10 tall gopurams (towers), the tallest of which rises to nearly 170 feet above the ground. Each of these towers has many tiers and is embellished with millions of brightly painted small stone images of Gods, demons and animals in their mythical forms. The central shrine of Meenakshi Amman Temple contains the enamel coated, shiny, black stone statue of Goddess Meenakshi. Both the shrines of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar have gold plated gopurams above the sanctums.
There is also a tall statue of Lord Ganesha carved out from a block of stone outside the shrine.
Potramarai Kulam or the Golden Lotus Pond is the sacred tank of this temple. Tamil legends tell us that the lake used to evaluate the works of writers in olden times, as writers used to bring their works and throw them in the lake. While the inferior writings used to get drowned, the good ones floated on the lake’s surface. The corridor of Meenakshi Amman Temple which encompasses the inner sanctum is called Kilikoondu Mandapam which means bird cage since the space used to be full of parrots who could utter the Goddess’ name. The hall of this temple which is known as Kambatadi Mandapam has an idol of a seated bull with different forms of Shiva engraved on the temple’s walls and the famous sculpture which depicts the marriage of Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi. The hall of eight goddesses has statues of the eight deities and the Pancha Pandava Mandapam which contains a sculpture of the heroes of India's great epic- Mahabharata .
The Hall of a Thousand PillarsThe Hall of a Thousand Pillars in this temple is an architectural wonder with two rows of richly carved pillars, containing images of a legendary beast with an elephant’s head and a lion’s body known as Yali. Built in 1569 by Ariyanatha Mudaliar, it reflects the epitome of the architectural skill and the fine aesthetic sense of the architect. Each of these pillars embodies the richness of Dravidian sculpture and they also produce a musical note when struck.
There are almost 50 priests of the ‘Shivaite’ order in the temple who perform the sacred rituals every day of the year. The rituals consist of four parts - a holy bath of the deities, decorating the deities, offering of food to the Gods and lighting of the oil lamps.
Festivals Celebrated in This TempleOne of the greatest festivals celebrated in this temple is the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam or the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi, celebrated in the month of April. The festival attracts lots of domestic and foreign tourists, and also devotees as this celebrations continue for about a month when other festivals like the Float Festival and the Chariot Festival are also observed during this time. Other festivals like Navarathri and Shivarathri are also observed in this famous temple which lies in the southern part of India.
The temple opens at 4 AM and closes at 9.30 PM. The best uncongested time to visit this temple is between 4-8 AM, during the morning hours.
How to Get ThereThe city of Madurai has an airport located about 9 miles from the old city, and there are regular flights to all important Indian cities, especially Chennai. With a centrally located railway station, Madurai city is well connected to other main cities like Chennai, Bangalore, New Delhi, Kolkata, Patna and Mumbai. A drive from Chennai or Bangalore to Madurai takes approximately 10 hours. There are also many buses which connects this city with all other major cities and even smaller townships of South India.
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Author: SubhasishMitra. Last updated: Jan 19, 2015