Tamil Nadu has many pilgrimage sites across the state. But one of the most prominent ones is located in Madurai. The Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. This temple is the pride of this land, around which the city is created. The temple is about 2000 years old and showcases some excellent examples of architecture and sculpture from ancient times. Devotees, architects, historians, and others visit the temple from across the country. You could take a flight, bus, or train, or get a cab from anywhere in India. Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Salem, or Chennai to Madurai cabs are conveniently available for a more comfortable journey.
History of Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundaraswarar Temple
According to legend, the Madurai temple was built by Kulasekhara Pandya, sometime in the 6th and 7th centuries. He dedicated the temple to Lord Shiva but built an adjacent shrine for h=Lord SHiva’s consort, Goddess Parvati. Both Shiva and Parvati preside over here in their incarnations of Sundareswarar and Meenakshi. Meenakshi means fish-eyed, to denote the beautiful eyes of the goddess. Over the period, the goddess became the main deity and the temple is now known to be under her.
The temple complex of Meenakshi Temple Madurai is vast. The ancient temple complex was built and expanded by several dynasties over the years. But Alauddin Khilji destroyed most of this structure when he conquered the south. Even then, the main shrines were untouched. Later in 1623-55 AD, Thirumalai Nayak of the Nayak dynasty built this present-day complex including the towers and most of the sculptures that you see inside the temple. The temple now measures almost 65000 sq m in area, making it on the list of largest temples in the world itself.
Marvels of Madurai Meenakshi Temple
It is not just its sheer size and area that make this temple unique. Several structures inside the temple deserve special mention. They include,
- The Towers: There are a total of 14 towers inside the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. There are four 9-storied towers in the exterior perimeter. The oldest of these is the eastern tower made in the 12th century. The tallest of them is the southern tower with a height of 52 m or 170 ft. The fifth one is a 7-storied tower. There also are 5 towers with 5 stories, and two have 3 stories. The two inner sanctums each have single-storied gold gilded towers. Each of these towers has intricately carved shapes of different gods and goddesses on them.
- Musical Pillars: One of the unique features of Madurai Meenakshi temple is its musical pillars. Some pillars in the outermost corridors can produce musical notes when they are tapped. Each pillar has different tones as well.
- Ayiramkaal Mandapam translates to the Hall of Thousand Pillars, is exactly what it sounds like. This corridor has almost 1000 pillars each placed in a straight line to give a spectacular view with its special life-like sculptures on all the pillars. This is one of the most marvellous views that you can enjoy while visiting this temple. This mandapam is now a museum that displays various sculptures and paintings that depict its history.
- Ashta Shakti Mandapam is another wonderful place to be inside this temple. This used to be a hall where Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholimamai, the wives of Thirumalai Nayakar, provided food for the devotees. This is located at the eastern entrance of the temple.
How to Reach Madurai?
- By Air: The Madurai airport is an international airport that has connectivity from Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi for domestic travellers, and from Colombo, Dubai, and Singapore for international travellers. Domestic flights are available daily while international flights are available only three days a week. Each destination has a different weekly schedule.
- By Train: Trains to Madurai Junction Railway Station are available from different parts of Tamil Nadu, Bangalore, Delhi, West Bengal, etc.
- By Bus: Buses to Madurai are available from Chennai, Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, and other cities in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka.
- By Cabs: Cabs are another convenient option for a less expensive but more comfortable option than flights. You can book a cab from nearby cities or states. Chennai to Madurai cabs is a popular option. You can book a cab with redBus rYde and choose a cab type as per your budget.
Best Time for Pilgrimage to Madurai
As per the weather conditions, the best time to visit Madurai temple is from October to March. The climate will be comfortable with a cooler temperature during the daytime than at any other time. Summer is not an ideal time for a visit. The early morning hours or the evening hours will be a good time.
Apart from the seasons, the main festival at the temple is another time to witness some wonderful festivities here. The Thirukalyanam festival or Chithirai Thiruvizha happening annually in April-May is the occasion of the wedding ceremony of Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi. This annual marriage festival is celebrated on a grand scale. Navratri festival is another one to have a spectacular view. Apart from these, the daily night ritual of Palliyarai Puja where the Lord Shiva’s idol is brought to be placed near the Goddess’s shrine, to celebrate the powerful couple’s divine bonding.
Things to Note
- There is a ban on the usage of mobile phones inside the Madurai Meenakshi Temple as well as at any other temple in Tamil Nadu. So it will be better to keep your mobile phones at the hotel or in the cabs. Having Chennai to Madurai cabs or from anywhere will let you safely keep your belongings.
- It is also important to dress modestly with your body and legs properly covered. Short dresses, jeans, and lungis etc, are not allowed here.
This popular pilgrimage destination in Madurai opens its gates from 5 am to 12.30 pm and later from 4 pm to 11 pm. You can have a free darshan, take a ticket for INR 50 or INR 100 for special darshan queues.