By editor - 12.7 2017

One of South India's great temple towns, Madurai is synonymous with the celebrated Meenakshi Temple. Situated on the banks of river Vaigai, Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil era more than 2500 years old. Madurai was an important cultural and commercial centre even as early as 550 AD. It was the capital city for the great Pandya kings.

The Pandyan King Kulasekarar built a great temple and created a lotus shaped city around the temple. On the day the city was to be named, as Lord shiva blessed the land and its people, divine nectar (Madhu) was showered on the city from his matted locks. This city was henceforth known as Madhurapuri. Madurai is famous for Jasmine Flowers.

The Meenakshi Temple – Madurai

The most well known of Madurai is the Meenakshi Sundareshwarar twin temple, the pivot around which the city has evolved. The Meenakshi temple complex is literally a city one of the largest of its kind in India, undoubtedly one of the oldest. Various kings have renovated it, adding convoluted corridors. It is believed that most of the temple as it stands today, owes its existence largely to the endeavour of the Nayaks, who, descending from Vijayanagar rulers, guided its destiny in the 17th century.

Shiva in his incarnation as Sundareshwarar and his fish-eyed spouse, Meenakshi, are enshrined in this twin temple. There are four massive gateways enclosing these two temples. Facing the shrine of Sundareshwarar is the lavishly embellished 'Pudu Mandapam', also known as 'Vasantha Mandapam'. On each of the pillars, is represented Shiva in his various manifestations. The attractive life-size statues of the ten Nayaka rulers together with their consorts are installed here. To the south of the main shrine dedicated to Shiva, is the temple of Goddess Meenakshi. The structure with its two concentric enclosures is about half the size of the main shrine. The porch leading to the temple is called "Ashta Shakti Mandapam' on account of the eight Shakti Goddesses figured therein.

There are in all eleven towers to this temple, the largest and most beautiful being the one on the southern doorway. Rising to a height of about 70 metres, this impressive 'gopuram' is by far the most ornate and florid of the Dravidian towers. It has nine stories and crowded with grinning gargoyles and gryphons that perch on the ornate curved edges. The surface of the 'gopurams' on the southern door way is covered with plastic figures of deities and semi- divine characters, freely sculptured and drawn from Hindu mythology representing the appearance of a pulsating mass of masonry. With frequent renovations and additions being done down the centuries, there are more than 1,600 sculptured figures.

The temple complex is within a high-walled enclosure, at the core of which are the two sanctums for meenakshi and Sundareshwara, surrounded by a number of smaller shrines and grand pillared halls. Especially impressive are the 12 Gopuras. Their soaring towers rise from solid granite bases, and are covered with stucco figures of dieties, beasts and monsters painted in vivid colours.

Temple Towers 
There are 12 temple towers(Gopurams). The outer towers are the landmarks of Madurai. They are: East Tower (Nine Storeys).Height 161'3". This Gopura has 1011 sudhai figures. South Tower (Nine Storeys).Height 170'6". This Tower has 1511 sudhai figures. West Tower (Nine Storeys).Height 163'3". This Tower has 1124 sudhai figures. North Tower (Nine Storeys).Height 160'6". This Tower has lesser figures of sudhai than other outer towers.

Ashta Shakthi Mandapam

Above: The roof of the Ashta Sakthi Mandapam is painted with rich colors A visitor who enters the temple through the eastern gateway, first enters this Mandapam (Hall). It was built by Thirumalai Nayakar's wives Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholimamai. In this hall food was once distributed to the devotees who came from far off places. Next to this hall is the Meenakshi Nayaka Mandapa, a spacious columned hall used for shops and stores. This hall has a votive lamp-holder with 1,008 lamps, which are lit on festive occasions and present a spectacular sight. The sculptures on the pillars here relate some of Lord Shiva's Thiruvilayadals (miracles) and also the story of Meenakshi's birth and her life as the princess of Madurai.

The Puranic story

It is narrated that Madurai was originally a forest known as Kadambavanam. One day, a farmer named Dhananjaya who was passing through the forest, saw Lord Indra (The king of the gods), worshipping a swayambhu (self createdLingam ) under kadamba tree. Dhananjaya, the farmer immediately reported this to King Kulasekara Pandya. Kulasekara Pandya cleared the forest and built a temple around the Lingam. A city was soon planned with the temple as its centre. On the day the city was to be named, Lord Shiva is said to have appeared and drops of nectar from his hair fell on the town. So, the place was named Madurai – mathuram meaning "sweetness" in Tamil.

Madurai has a rich historical background in the sense that Lord Shiva himself performed sixty-four wonders called "Thiruvilaiyadals".

After King Kulasekara Pandyan had already build a small temple with the Lingam which is now referred to as Lord Sundarar. His son, Malayadhwaja Pandyan became the next King of the Pandyanempire.

For years, Malayadwaja and his consort Kanchanmala were unable to conceive any children. In attempts to beget a child, Malaydwaja conducted many Vedic sacrifices. Finally, in the middle of one such ritual, a three-year-old girl with three breasts emerged from the flames and sat on Kanchanmala's lap. The girl in fact was Goddess Parvati, who had taken birth as Kanchanmala's daughter in response to a prayer of hers in her past life.

In fact, Malayadwaja was a bit sad that he was not blessed with a son. But suddenly he heard a disembodied voice tell him that he should name the girl "Thadathangai" and to raise her as if she was were a son. The voice ensured Malayadwaja that Girls third breast would be absorbed back into her body when she first cast her eyes on the man who would become her husband—i.e Lord Shiva.The fish-eyed baby also never blinked her eyes, which was later thought of as "always keeping a careful eye on Madurai". For this reason, Madurai is also called "Thoonganagaram" which means "The city that never sleeps".

Malaydwaja obeyed the divine command. He named Thadathangai his successor and taught her the art of war. After Malayadwaja's death, Thadathangai ascended to the throne. She was the beloved of the people and came to be known as "Meenakshi"—the one with fish-like eyes. Meenakshi embarked on a dig-vijaya, a military campaign of victory across the length and breadth of India. After numerous victories on earth, Meenakshi attacked Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. She defeated all the soldiers and generals of the Lord. Seeing this, Shiva himself came to fight the undaunted queen. But as soon as Meenakshi saw the Lord, the prophecy of her youth bore fruit: she instantly fell in love with him and her third breast went back inside her body.

Shiva directed Meenakshi to return to her home city, promising her that he would join her in eight days as her bridegroom. And this is exactly what happened. They were married in Madurai with Lord Vishnu himself giving away Meenakshi to Shiva. MeenakshiKalyanam—the marriage of Meenakshi with Shiva—is celebrated annually to this day. According to the sthalapurana, Meenakshi and Lord Shiva ruled over the city of Madurai for a long time appearing as of human.

It is said that the Lord Shiva performed several miracles during his wedding. There was nothing on the side of the bridegroom's party to match the regal splendour of the preparations made for his marriage; the story goes that on the wedding day, much to the astonishment of all, Lord Sundareshwara, the bridegroom came only with a dwarf named "Gundodhara'. Meenakshi, with a view to show her husband that she was very rich and powerful than him, haughtily remarked that the grand wedding arrangements would go waste since the bridegroom had not brought with him a large retinue befitting the occasion. Sundareshwarar said that it would be sufficient if they would be able to feed the dwarf brought with him. To the amazement of all, everything that Madurai could produce in shape of things to eat and drink was not enough to satisfy appetite of Gundodhara. Gundodhara quickly consumed both cooked and uncooked things and started asking for more. When there was nothing else left to eat, the dwarf  began to cry for water to quench his thirst. All the water in the wells reservoirs of the city had gone in the same way as the food. Sundareshwarar then directed a flow of water from his matted hair which is said to be Vaigairiverand by drinking this the dwarf was satisfied.

This wonderful theme has been taken by the South Indian artits to create superb sculpture and paintings. They have found the marriage of Shiva and Parvathi a traditional source of inspiration. The celebrated poem Tiruvilayadal Puranam describes that Sundara Pandya and his queen ruled the kingdom as mortal kings. In course of time, they got a son who was named Ugra Pandya, later on to be called as Lord Muruga. After crowning their son to take over the kingdom, they revealed their real identities as Lord Sundareshwara and Goddess Meenakshi.

Temple Design & Architecture

The temple is designed based on the human body. There are 5 main entrances based on the human senses (see, hear, smell, taste and touch). There are 9 smaller entrances to the inside complex that denote the 9 orifices of the human body (2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 ears, mouth, urethra and anus). The streets of Madurai are constructed as concentric circles, with the temple at the center. This is also thought of as a "Lotus Formation". The temple is one of the masterpieces of Dravidian architecture and many recent temples abroad were constructed based on this style.Siva Subramanya Temple in Fiji is such an example.

Above: The southern tower of Madurai Meenakshi Temple, heavily ornated by thousands of dieites


Lord Balaram visited Madurai on his holy tours.

(From there He went to Rishabha Mountain, where Lord Krishna also lives, and to the southern Mathura -MADURAI. SB 10.79.11-15.)

Lord Chaitanya visits Madurai : 
Daksina-mathura (Southern Mathura) is presently known as the City of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. It's ancient place name was Madura. Chaitanya charitamrita Madhya lila 9.166

When the Lord arrived at Rishabha Hill, He saw the temple of Lord Narayana and offered obeisances and various prayers. 
Rishabha Hill (Anagada-malaya-parvata) lies twelve miles north of Madurai City, in the district of Madurai, in southern Tamil Nadu. It is one of the mountains known as the Kuttakacalas. Nearby Rishabha Hill is the forest where Lord Rishabhadeva burned Himself to ashes.

Paramananda Puri had stayed at Rishabha Hill during the four months of the rainy season, and when Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu heard this, He immediately went to see him.Upon meeting Paramananda Puri, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu offered him all respects, touching his lotus feet, and Paramananda Puri embraced the Lord in ecstasy. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu stayed with Paramananda Puri in the brahmana’s house where he was residing. The two of them passed three days there discussing topics of Krishna.Paramananda Puri informed Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu that he was going to see Purushottam at JagannathaPuri. After seeing Lord Jagannatha there, he would go to Bengal to bathe in the Ganges.Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then told him, “Please return to Jagannatha Puri, for I will return there very soon from Rameshvara [Setubandha].“It is My desire to stay with you, and therefore if you would return to JagannathaPuri, you would show great mercy to Me.” After talking in this way with ParamanandaPuri, the Lord took his permission to leave and, very pleased, departed for southern India.

Daksina-mathura is one of the tirthas Lord Caitanya visited twice during His journey. The significance of both these visits centers upon Mahaprabhu's interactions with a brahmana, and His delivery to that fortunate soul, whose name was RamadasaVipra, of an original leaf manuscript of the KurmaPurana. This story is told in Madhya lila 9.178 to 218.

9.178: "When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu arrived at southern Mathura from Kamakosthi, He met a brahmana.

9.179: The brahmana who met Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu invited the Lord to his home. This brahmana was a great devotee and an authority on Lord Sri Ramacandra. He was always detached from material activities.

9.180: After bathing in the river Krtamala, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu went to the brahmana's house to take lunch, but He saw that the food was unprepared because the brahmana had not cooked it.

9.181: Seeing this, Sri CaitanyaMahaprabhu said, "My dear sir, please tell Me why you have not cooked. It is already noon."

9.182: The brahmana replied, "My dear Lord, we are living in the forest. For the time being we cannot get all the ingredients for cooking.

9.183: "When Laksmana brings all the vegetables, fruits and roots from the forest, Sita will do the necessary cooking."

9.184: Sri CaitanyaMahaprabhu was very satisfied to hear about the brahmana's method of worship. Finally the brahmana hastily made arrangements for cooking.

9.185: Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu took His lunch at about three o'clock, but the brahmana, being very sorrowful, fasted.  9.186: While the brahmana was fasting, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu asked him, "Why are you fasting? Why are you so unhappy? Why are you so worried?"

9.187: The brahmana replied, "I have no reason to live. I shall give up my life by entering either fire or water.

9.188: "My dear Sir, mother Sita is the mother of the universe and the supreme goddess of fortune. She has been touched by the demon Ravana, and I am troubled upon hearing this news.

9.189: "Sir, due to my unhappiness I cannot continue living. Although my body is burning, my life is not leaving."

9.190: Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu replied, "Please do not think this way any longer. You are a learned pandita. Why don't you consider the case?"

9.191: Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu continued, "Sitadevi, the dearmost wife of the Supreme Lord Ramacandra, certainly has a spiritual form full of bliss. No one can see her with material eyes, for no materialist has such power.

9.192: "To say nothing of touching mother Sita, a person with material senses cannot even see her. When Ravana kidnapped her, he kidnapped only her material, illusory form.

9.193: "As soon as Ravana arrived before Sita, she disappeared. Then just to cheat Ravana she sent an illusory, material form.

9.194: "Spiritual substance is never within the jurisdiction of the material conception. This is always the verdict of the Vedas and Puranas."

9.195: Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then assured the brahmana, "Have faith in My words and do not burden your mind any longer with this misconception."

9.196: Although the brahmana was fasting, he had faith in the words of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and accepted food. In this way his life was saved.

9.197: After thus assuring the brahmana, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu proceeded further into southern India and finally arrived at Durvasana, where He bathed in the river Krtamala.

Presently the Krtamala River is known as the river Bhagai or Vaigai. This river has three tributaries, named Suruli, Varaha-nadi and Battilla-gundu. The river Krtamala is also mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.5.39) by the sage Karabhajana.

9.198: At Durvasana Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited the temple of Lord Ramacandra, and on the hill known as Mahendra-saila He saw Lord Parasurama.

9.199: Sri CaitanyaMahaprabhu then went to Setubandha [Ramesvara], where He took His bath at the place called Dhanus-tirtha. From there He visited the Ramesvara temple and then took rest.

9.200: There, among the brahmanas, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu listened to the KurmaPurana, wherein is mentioned the chaste woman's narration.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura remarks that only two khandas of the Kurma Purana are now available, namely the Purva-khanda and Uttara-khanda. Sometimes it is said that the Kurma Purana contains six thousand verses, but according to Srimad-Bhagavatam the original Kurma Purana contains seventeen thousand verses. It is considered the fifteenth of the eighteen Maha-puranas.

9.201: Srimati Sitadevi is the mother of the three worlds and the wife of Lord Ramacandra. Among chaste women she is supreme, and she is the daughter of  King Janaka.

9.202: When Ravana came to kidnap mother Sita and she saw him, she took shelter of the fire-god, Agni. The fire-god covered the body of mother Sita, and in this way she was protected from the hands of Ravana.

9.203: Upon hearing from the Kurma Purana how Ravana had kidnapped a false form of mother Sita, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu became very satisfied.

9.204: The fire-god, Agni, took away the real Sita and brought her to the place of Parvati, goddess Durga. An illusory form of mother Sita was then delivered to Ravana, and in this way Ravana was cheated.

9.205: After Ravana was killed by Lord Ramacandra, Sitadevi was brought before the fire and tested.

9.206: When the illusory Sita was brought before the fire by Lord Ramacandra, the fire-god made the illusory form disappear and delivered the real Sita to Lord Ramacandra.

9.207: When Sri CaitanyaMahaprabhu heard this story, He was very pleased, and He remembered the words of RamadasaVipra.

9.208: Indeed, when Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu heard these conclusive statements from the Kurma Purana, He felt great happiness. After asking the brahmanas' permission, He took possession of the manuscript leaves of the Kurma Purana.

9.209: Since the Kurma Purana was very old, the manuscript was also very old. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu took possession of the original leaves in order to have direct evidence. The text was copied onto new leaves in order that the Purana be replaced.

9.210: Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu returned to southern Mathura [Madurai] and delivered the original manuscript of the KurmaPurana to RamadasaVipra.

9.211-212: "When he was petitioned by mother Sita, the fire-god, Agni, brought forth an illusory form of Sita, and Ravana, who had ten heads, kidnapped the false Sita. The original Sita then went to the abode of the fire-god. When Lord Ramacandra tested the body of Sita, it was the false, illusory Sita that entered the fire. At that time the fire-god brought the original Sita from his abode and delivered her to Lord Ramacandra."

These two verses are taken from the Kurma Purana. 9.213: RamadasaVipra was very pleased to receive the original leaf manuscript of the Kurma Purana, and he immediately fell down before the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and began to cry.

9.214: After receiving the manuscript, the brahmana, being very pleased, said, "Sir, You are Lord Ramacandra Himself and have come in the dress of a sannyasi to give me audience.

9.215: "My dear Sir, You have delivered me from a very unhappy condition. I request that You take Your lunch at my place. Please accept this invitation.

9.216: "Due to my mental distress I could not give You a very nice lunch the other day. Now, by good fortune, You have come again to my home."

9.217: Saying this, the brahmana very happily cooked food, and a first-class dinner was offered to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

9.218: Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu passed that night in the house of the brahmana. Then, after showing him mercy, the Lord started toward the Tamraparni River in Pandya-desa."

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur also visited Madurai

“Bimalaprasad toured South India in 1904 and again in 1905-places like Tirupati, Srirangam, Singhachal, Raj Mahendry, Madras, Perambadur, Kanchiveram, Kumbhakonam and Madurai.

While on tour he collected all the information about the rites and rules of Vedic tridanda Vaishnava sannyasa from a Ramanujatridandi swami at Perambadur. Wherever he would go in his travels he would lecture, write and debate the learned panditas of the day. He soon acquired such a reputation that his name would strike fear in the hearts of his philosophical adversaries. All bogus cults and sects were doomed in his presence.” – A Ray of Vishnu.

Srila Prabhupada also visited Madurai

“It was at Madurai that Abhay showed some of his writings to Muthuswamy Chetty, another medical salesman. Mr. Chetty was impressed and felt he could persuade his wealthy friend Dr. Allagappa, the famous "Birla of the South," to finance the printingof Geetopanishadmanuscript.” – Prabhupada Lilamrita . However this project could not progress ahead as Abhay found his original manuscript missing from his house which he could never ever find. Probably stolen by servants or given out for some money by family members.

How to Reach Madurai

By Air:- 
Madurai is well-connected by domestic flights with Mumbai and Chennai. The Airport is 10 km away from the main city.

By Rail:- 
Madurai is well-connected by direct trains with cities like Coimbatore, Kollam, Chennai, Bangalore, Rameshwaram, Tanjore, etc.

By Road:- 
Madurai is well-connected with all the major cities of Sough India. the city has 5 major bus stands – Anna Bus Stand, Palanganatham Bus Stand, Periyar Bus Stand, Mattuthavani Bus Stand and Arapalayam Bas Stand.