One of the most famous pilgrimages, Meenakshi Madurai Temple, is a place worth seeing by every art lover. This architectural masterpiece is a finest example of Dravidian style of architecture. The most important part of Madurai tour, this temple was built during the Pandya reign and is now under the administration of HR and CE department of Tamil Nadu. Dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswara, who is an incarnation of Lord Shiva, this temple is located in the heart of Madurai city. Madurai city in the shape of lotus surrounds the temple. Meenakshi temple is considered to one of the oldest and the largest temples of India. Majestic architecture, intricate carvings, beautiful paintings, exquisite sculptures and an ancient history associated to it makes this temple one of the most visited tourist destination of South India.
Although it is always an ideal time to visit and seek divine blessings at this temple, visiting during a festival lead to an enriching experience. Avanimoola festival, Masi Mandala festival, Chitra festival, Navarathri cultural festival and Float festival are some of the popular festivals that are celebrated with great fervor here. Thousands of devotees visit the temple during this time.
Meenakshi temple of Madurai is a historically rich temple which also bestows devotees with blessings of the Lord and Goddess. Meenakshi temple was built during the Pandya reign by Kulasekarer Pandya. According to historical findings, creation of this temple can be traced back to early A.D. There are mentions of this temple in the songs of great Hindu Saint Thirugnanasambandar who lived during 7th century. It is also said that during 12th or 13th century, at the time of Islamic conquer; this temple was destroyed to an extent. However, later it was restored to its present structure. It was later expanded during the rule of Thirumalai Nayak (1623-55 AD). During this time, the present structure of temple came into being.
There are many legends associated with this temple. According to stories, the main deity of this temple, Meenakshi Devi came out of the pious fire as a result of ardent devotion and prayers of Pandyan King Malayadwaja and his consort Queen Kanchanamalai. The ruling couple was childless and hence they performed a yagam to get blessing in the form of child. It is then goddess Parvati in the form of Goddess Meenakshi arrived as a three old girl. The king then announced the girl as heir to his throne. Later Goddess married Lord Shiva and then ruled the city of Madurai for a long time. After that, both assumed the forms of Goddess Meenakshi and God Sundareswarar, and became the reigning deity at Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple.
According to legends, Lord Indira who is considered as the Kings of Gods and resides in heaven had discovered the sacred Suyambulingam at Kadamba Vanam. Upon finding lingam of Lord Shiva, he had placed it in Madurai where the temple stands. Devotees can see that this temple has Lord on the Indira’s vehicle, which in a way verifies this legend.
This temple has received architectural contributions from each changing dynasty. Madurai Meenakshi temple is built over an area of a vast area, with five different entrances. This temple has fourteen majestic towers. Four of these massive towers known as Rajagopurams are nine tier, while there is one seven tier gopuram as well. There are five numbers of five tier gopurams. Along with these, there are two three tier gopurams and two golden gopurams. All the gopurams display a fine sculpting with intricate carvings on them, adding on to the grandeur of the Meenakshi temple.
Ashta Shakti Mandapam is one of the most captivating parts of the temple. This mandapam hall is said to be built by the wives of Thirumalai Nayakar and used for the purpose of serving food to the devotees. The walls and pillars of themandapam are carved with stories from the lives of Lord Shiva and various stages of Goddess Meenakshi’s life. Golden Lotus Tank of the temple is said to be the place where a golden lotus blossomed for the puja which was performed by Lord Indira.
This temple has a museum as well. The majestic thousand pillar hall of the temple has been serving as a museum since 1966. It houses a great collection of artistic and cultural importance. It is a place which is worth spending your time, admiring the beauty and exquisiteness of work excellence, that have been displayed here. Some of the items displayed at this imposing hall of thousand pillars are various rare photographs, antique idols made up of five metals, antique coins, carved tusks, antique items related to Shaiva and Vaishnava religion, etc.
It also has various paintings which were damaged with time, but now have been renovated with the help of various natural dyes. These gripping paintings at the temple belong to the period of Naick reign, depicting various miracles of Lord Shiva. There are also paintings on the northern wall of the temple which face Pottamarai kulam of tank of the golden lotus. There are also paintings on the songs by Nakkeerar, Panchaga sabhas of Tamil Nadu, representation of Earth and heaven, etc.
Another striking feature of Meenakshi Temple is the stone inscriptions. These stone inscriptions can be seen on the walls to the shrines of Sundareswarar and Meenakshi Amma shrine. These inscriptions have details about performing prayers, rituals, religious history as well as social history of ancient times.
Every part of the temple is an example of mesmerizing craftsmanship. The majestic structure of this temple along with compelling sculptures, drawings, paintings and serenity of religious piousness mesmerizes every visitor. A visit to this temple makes every Madurai Tour memorable.
Opening timings of Madurai Meenakshi temple is from 5 AM to 12.30 PM. It again opens for darshan at 4 PM to 9.30 PM.
When going for darshan at Meenakshi Temple, make a plan for at least two three hours for a relaxed exploration of the temple and darshan of the deity. During festival, it takes around 4 to 5 hours to get darshan.
Meenakshi Temple is easily accessible via road. A prominent attraction, it is known to almost everyone, hence reaching is very easy. It is located just 2 km away from Madurai railway station. Tourists can hire a cab or take an auto rickshaw to the temple.