- TAMIL NADU
is one of the oldest cities of southern India. It has been
a centre of learning and pilgrimage, for centuries. Legend
has it, that the divine nectar falling from Lord Shiva's locks,
gave the city its name - Madhurapuri, now known as Madurai.
Madurai's history dates back to over 2000 years ago, when
it was the capital of the Pandyan kings. In the 10th century
AD, Madurai was captured by the Chola emperors. It remained
in their hands, until the Pandyans regained their independence
in the 12th century, only to lose it to the Muslim invaders
under Malik Kafur, a general in the service of the Delhi Sultanate.
Malik Kafur's dynasty was overthrown by the Hindu Vijaynagar
kings of Hampi. After the fall of Vijayanagar, in 1565, the
Nayaks ruled Madurai until 1781 AD.
During the rule of the Nayaks, the bulk of the Meenakshi temple
was built, the main attraction for visitors, today. Madurai
also became the cultural centre of the Tamil people. Madurai
passed on to the East India Company in 1781, and in 1840,
the Company razed the fort which had previously surrounded
the city, and filled in the moat. Four streets, the Veli streets,
which were constructed on top of the fill, till today, define
the limits of the old city.
What to See
Shree Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple:
Every day, the Meenakshi Temple attracts pilgrims in thousands,
from all over India. The temple is named after the daughter
of a Pandyan king who, according to legend, was born with
three breasts. At the time of the birth, the king was told
that the extra breast would disappear, when she met the man
she was supposed to marry, and this happened when she met
Lord Shiva on Mount Kailas. Shiva arrived in Madurai, later,
in the form of Lord Sundereswara, and married her.
The Meenakshi temple is an excellent example of Dravidian
architecture, with gopurams or multi pillared halls, covered
from top to bottom, in a profusion of multicoloured images
of gods, goddesses, animals and mythical figures. The temple
occupies an area of around six hectares, and has four entrances
to it. The museum called the Temple Art Gallery, is located
within the temple and contains beautiful stone and brass images,
examples of South Indian scripts, friezes and attempts to
explain the Hindu pantheon and many other legends associated
About a kilometre away from the temple is the Tirumalai
Nayak Palace, which was built in 1636, by the ruler,
after whom it has been named. Much of the palace has now fallen
into ruins, and only the entrance gate, main hall and dance
hall remain. Gandhi Museum provides
some of the little - known facts about Mahatma Gandhi. It
has the blood - stained dhoti worn by Mahatma Gandhi, at the
time of his assassination. Mariamman
Teppakkulam Tank, few kilometres east of the old city,
is the site for Teppam Festival
(Float Festival) in the months of January and February.
The famous festivals held at Madurai, include Teppam
festival, the annual Float Festival, wherein the images
of Shree Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswara are mounted on floats,
and taken to Mariamman Teppakkulam Tank, where for several
days they are pulled back and forth across the water in the
middle of the tank, on an illuminated raft embellished with
flowers, before being taken back to the main temple.Chithirai
festival held during March-April, celebrates the marriage
of Shree Meenakshi to Lord Sundereswara. On the occasion,
an elaborately decorated chariot bearing the images of the
divine couple, is taken around the city. The resounding notes
of the nadaswaram and the drums, creates a vibrant ambience.
Avanimoola festival is held
in late August-early September, when temple cars are drawn
around the streets of Madurai.
How to get there
Air: There are daily flights to and from Tiruchirapalli,
Madras and Bangalore.
Rail: There are train connections
to Madurai from Madras, which takes eight hours via Trichy
and from Rameshwaram, takes six hours. If you approach Madurai
from Kerala, some spectacular scenes of the Western Ghats
can be viewed.
Bus: There is very good service from Madurai to most
of the major cities in the state. State run or private buses
commute at regular intervals.