We had a devotional trip to Madurai and Rameshwaram when my in-laws came for a stay with us in Bangalore in Month of May. We started from Bangalore by Kallada Travels AC Semi-Sleeper Volvo at 1 O’clock on Friday night and reached Madurai at 7 O’ Clock on Saturday Morning. Being early morning, It was not very hot yet. We took an Auto and checked-In to an Hotel near the Meenakshi Amman Temple to freshen up, had breakfast at small eatery and then headed-up to the famous Meenakshi Amman Temple.
Madurai is famous for its jasmine flowers. All around the temple, and actually all over the city, you will find women selling these flowers tied tightly to make a thick strand, ready to be wound around your hair. Just place one thick strand of these flowers on your hair, and you won’t need perfume! We purchased few strands for me and MIL.
Meenakshi Amman Temple is an ancient and one amongst the most important temples of India. Renowned for its astonishing architecture, Meenakshi Amman Temple has been nominated for the new Seven Wonders of the World. Hundreds and thousands of devotees come every year to pay their obeisance of the Lord.
Sprawled over an area of 17 acres has 4 entrances facing 4 directions has significant history. There are 12 gopurams, all encrusted with a staggering array of gods, goddesses, demons and heroes, all richly painted, and all different. The four main gopurams are massive. The credit for the present architecture and structure goes to the Nayakas, who ruled the region between the 16th and 18th centuries and brought the architecture of the temple to its present majesty. The temple is huge and there are just too many things to see! Every pillar has something of interest, and in every corner or niche there is a beautiful sculpture telling us a story.
The temple is dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi with a sanctum for her consort, Sudareshwar. The story of Meenakshi begins and ends at Madurai. She was the daughter of the second Pandya King – Malayadhwaja, and his wife, Kanchanamala. The childless couple prayed to Lord Shiva for a child, and they were blessed with a divine daughter – the reincarnation of Parvati, destined to re-unite with Lord Shiva. She was born with three breasts – a reminder that she was divine – and it was foretold that the third breast would disappear when she met her Lord. She was named ‘Taadathagai’, but was called ‘Meenakshi’ – the one with the fish-shaped eyes. As the only child, she was loved and pampered, but also taught all the arts she would need to rule the land. She learnt to wield weapons just as well as she did the needle, and in time, took over the reins of her kingdom. While her father had ruled the land well, content with all he had, she was ambitious, and chose to extend her reign over the whole of the subcontinent. She led her army past the Deccan Peninsula to the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas, where she eventually met her divine consort – lord Shiva. It took but one glance, and her third breast melted away, showing her that it was indeed He who was her match. They were wedded in Madurai amidst great pomp and splendor, and together, settled down to rule over the whole land till it was time for them to return back to their abode in the heavens. The temple was built to commemorate the divine couple and their marriage, but it is Meenakshi who steals the show. The Lord himself acquiesced to his consort’s wishes and took on a more pleasing form than this usual one, so that he might not offend or scare her mother or the other guests. This is why he is called Sundareswarar – the handsome one!
The Shrine of Lord Sundareswarar the consort of Goddess Meenakshi is to the north of Kilikoontu Mandapam . There’s a gigantic idol of Ganpati called Mukkurini Pillaiyar on the way. There’s a stump of a Kadamba tree, in the outer corridor, which is said to be a part of the same tree under which Indra worshiped Shiva linga. There’s also Kadambathadi Mandapam in the outer corridor and big hall called ‘Velli Ambalam (Silver Hall)’ as it holds an idol of Nataraja covered with silver leaves.
The Ashta Sakthi Mandapa is a convention in this temple, different from that followed in others, that the devotee offers worship first to Goddess Meenakshi. Therefore, while there are four other entrances into the temple, under huge Gopuras in the four cardinal directions, it is customary to enter not through any of them but through a Mandapa, with no tower above it. This entrance leads directly to the shrine of the Goddess. This Mandapa is an impressive structure, with a hemispherical ceiling. It is 14m long and 5.5m wide. There are bas-reliefs all over the place. Over the entrance one of them depicts the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi with Lord Somasundara. The Mandapa derives its name, the “Ashta Sakthi”, from the fact it contains sculptures of the eight Sakti. Those of the four principal Nyanmars were added during renovation of the temple in 1960-63.
The lovely and historic Golden Lily tank then comes into view. It is from its banks that most popular photographic views of the temple are taken, showing the gigantic south outer Gopura. The northern corridor leads directly to the shrine of the Goddess. On its pillars are the images of some of the Sangam poets, of Kulasekhara Pandya, the first builder of the temple, and of Dhananjaya, who figures in the traditional story of its origin. There is no fish in the tank. The corridors around the tank are rightly called the “Chitra Mandapa”, for the walls carry paintings of the divine sports of the Lord, as narrated in the “Tiruvilayadal Puranam”. They have been renewed from time to time. A short while ago there were paintings on wooden panels affixed over an older series. They have since been removed to the Temple Museum in the thousand-pillared Mandapam.
This temple visit took around 3-4 hours of time, and it was afternoon already. So after we took darshan, we visited a Local Famous restaurant near the Temple and had Masala Dosa with tasty Sambar and filled our tummies for further journey to Rameshwaram.
One Comment Add yours