Madhurai - Menakshi temple
This 17th century temple has two sanctuaries: one dedicated to Lord Siva as Sundareswar (“Lord of Beauty”) and the other to Meenakshi, his wife. Meenakshi holds a parrot and a bouquet. It is a huge temple, in which you can get lost.
Tirumala Nayak built the present temple in the early 17th century, but its history goes back to the Pandya kings, 2,000 years ago. It has some of the most impressive gopurams (temple towers) in India. It is estimated that there are 33 million carvings in the temple. This temple has some of the best architecture in India. About 10,000 people visit the temple every day. Around 25,000 people come on Fridays, which is the day sacred to Meenakshi.
The temple has a hall with a thousand pillars (actually 985). There is an interesting art gallery and museum in this hall. The museum can be visited while the temple is closed in the afternoon, between 1 and 4 pm. The temple is open daily 5 am to 12.30 pm and 4 to 9.30 pm.
Every night at around 9.30 pm there is a dramatic ceremony during which Lord Siva is carried into the bedroom of Parvati. He is taken back to his temple around 6 am each morning.
The inner sanctums are restricted to Hindus only, but everyone can go anywhere else on the temple grounds.
It is interesting to visit the temple both during the day and at night, as the dark corridors, with lamps burning here and there, are very impressive.
The story of the deities is that Meenakshi was born—with three breasts—out of the yajna (sacrificial) fire that the Pandyan king, Malayadhwaja, was performing to get a son. The king was told that one of the breasts would disappear when Meenakshi met the man she would marry. It is said that Meenakshi conquered the world defeating all the gods and demons. She then set out to conquer Lord Siva.
When she met Lord Siva on Mt Kailash her third breast disappeared. Siva told her to return to Madurai, and eight days later he arrived in the form of Lord Sundareswar to marry her. Their wedding is celebrated in a grant fashion every year in Madurai. Meenakshi means “one who has eyes like a fish.” Just as a mother fish has to just glance on her spawn to develop life in them, so in the same way her worshiper’s spiritual life comes alive when goddess Meenakshi glances at them.