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Meenakshi Temple – An Architectural Marvel In Madurai

Meenakshi temple in Madhurai

The Meenakshi Temple is certainly one of the most beautiful Indian temples. This exquisite temple, dedicated to goddess Meenakshi, is in Tamil Nadu.

Meenakshi Temple attracts thousands of pilgrims each day, and it is also one of the major architectural treasures of India. This temple’s primary deities are Meenakshi and Sundareswarar, forms of Parvati and Shiva.

Meenakshi Temple in the state of Tamil Nadu
The magnificent Meenakshi Temple in the ancient city of temples, Madurai

Meenakshi Amman Temple History

The Meenakshi Temple has a history dating from around 1,500 to 2,000 years back. It was indeed the revered religious and cultural centre of the ancient Pandyan Kingdom of Tamil Nadu. Later, in the 14th Century AD, Malik Kafur plundered and looted this temple. He destroyed it, taking back with him all the temple treasures.

However, the Vijayanagara Empire rose to power and restoration work began. Then, in the 17th century, Thirumalai Nayak further expanded the temple.

In 1995, the temple celebrated a Kumbhabhishekam after one more renovation process.

Some Interesting Facts About This Temple You Didn’t Know

Location of the Temple

The temple is located in the heart of the city of Madurai, which is in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India.

Major Festival

The Chithirai Thiruvizha in April-May celebrate the marriage of Meenakshi with Sundareswarar. It also attracts millions of pilgrims from across India and across the world.

Meenakshi Amman Temple Timings

In the morning, the Meenakshi Amman Temple is open from 5:00 am to 12:30 pm. While in the evenings, you can visit between 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm.

Meenakshi Amman Temple Dress Code

In this temple, you should not wear clothes that expose your shoulders or legs.

Meenakshi Temple Architecture

The architecture and layout of this temple are among its outstanding features. The first Madurai Nayak king Vishwanatha Nayak (1529–64 CE) redesigned the city as per the rules of architecture that are laid out in the Shilpa Shastras. The city and the temple align to the directions of the compass. The temple is the centre of the city. The concentric layout of the internal complex resembles a mandala pattern. In the center is the Potramarai Kulam or the Golden Lotus Pond. The streets around the temple are in concentric quadrangles. The Ancient texts describe the temple as the lotus with the streets as petals. The temple’s procession chariots are designed for the width of the streets for each festival.

Temple Layout
Temple Layout

Above all, the pillared corridors and halls, the exquisite carvings and paintings, and the towering gopurams – all make this temple one of the major architectural treasures of the country.

Meenakshi Temple's Golden Lotus Pond
The Golden Lotus Pond inside the temple

There are 12 Meenakshi Amman Temple Gopuram and two vimanas (towers over the main shrines). In particular, the temple has four huge, nine-tiered, outer towers called rajagopuram. Additionally, the temple has one seven-tiered gopuram, five five-tiered gopurams, and two two-storeyed gopurams.

Mandapams

The thousand pillared hall is a noteworthy feature in the temple. It has 985 exquisitely carved pillars that feature different deities and celestials. The temple also has musical pillars that each produces a different note when struck. A small Mandapam features a swing on which the deities are placed every Friday. The other halls or Mandapams are the Mandapa Nayaka Mandapam, Kambathadi mandapam, Ashta Shakthi Mandapam, Kilikoondu Mandapam, Kambatadi Mandapam, Vira Vasantha Raya mandapam, Pudumandapam, Golu mandapam and other smaller Mandapams.

Thousand Pillar Hall
Thousand Pillar Hall

Meenakshi Amman Temple Images are indeed magnificent. These include lovely paintings, sculptures, and engravings on the pillars, walls, and ceilings. In fact, there are around 33,000 sculptures here.

Pancha Sabhai

The Nataraja form of Lord Shiva is highly revered. Lord Shiva as Nataraj performs the cosmic dance. There are five temples that are associated with this dance. They are the Pancha Sabhai Sthalams. ‘Pancha’ means five, ‘Sabhai’ means halls and ‘Sthalam’ is a temple. So, the Pancha Sabhai temples are the five halls where the Lord Danced. The Madurai Meenakshi Temple features one of the famous Pancha Sabhai halls called the Vellichabai. This translates as the silver hall. Lord Nataraja performed the Sandhya Thandavam in this hall. 

The other Pancha Sabhai Sthalangal are the Sri Vadaranyeswarar Temple, Thiruvalangadu, the Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram, the Kutralanathar Temple, Kutralam/Courtralam as well as the Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli. 

The Deities At Meenakshi Temple

This temple has two main deities –  Meenakshi and Sundareswarar. Here, Meenakshi is the primary deity, with her image carved out of an emerald-hued stone. The Sundareswarar Shrine has a snake hooded Shiva Lingam. Ganesha, Murugan, and Nataraja also have shrines here.

The shrine to Meenakshi Devi is on the Eastern side of the temple complex while the shrine for Sundereshwarar is on the Northern side. The Cokkar is a pair of embossed feet representing Sundereshwara. The divine feet remain near the Sundereshwarar shrine all day. They are then moved ceremonially to Meenakshi Devi’s shrine every evening. The ritual symbolises them spending the night together. They are woken up every morning and the Lord as Cokkar is then taken back to his shrine again. 

The Unforgettable Legends Of Suriyanar Kovil

The Story of Meenakshi

A Pandya king, Malayadhwaja, prayed to Lord Shiva for a child. A daughter was born to him, but she had three breasts. However, a divine voice assured the parents that the third breast would disappear once the girl saw her future husband. Meenakshi then grew into a beautiful, highly intelligent and brave woman. This warrior princess soon began expanding her kingdom, even conquering heaven (Indraloka). She then set her sights on Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva.

A sculpture showing the marriage of the goddess and Lord at the Meenakshi Temple
The sculpture depicting the marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar.

Meenakshi’s Marriage

When the princess saw Shiva, her third breast disappeared as foretold, and she realized she had met her future husband. And so, the grand marriage ceremony took place between Parvati as Meenakshi and Shiva as Sundareswarar. Mahavishnu, as Parvati’s brother, gave her away in marriage.  Meenakshi, as the ruling princess of the region, then became the main deity here.

Festivals

The temple has a calendar of festivals that has one festival every month. The most significant festival is that of the celebration of the marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareshwar called the ‘Meenakshi Thirukalyanam’. This festival is 12 days long and attracts over a million visitors. It is celebrated in the month of Chithirai (around April).

The temple unites the branches of Shaktism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism. Since the Lord Vishnu gives Devi away in marriage to Lord Shiva the relationship between the three is strongly established. 

The Navratri festival that is celebrated in other parts of the country as Dussera is celebrated here as well. Golu dolls are displayed and the temple is also lit up with festive lights.

Meenakshi Temple Lit At Night
Meenakshi Temple Lit At Night

Travel Route to Meenakshi Temple

You can fly from Chennai to Madurai. From the Madurai Airport the temple is around 11 km away. You can also travel by bus or train to Madurai. The temple is less than 2 km from both the bus terminal and the railway station. The travel time is around 8 hours.

Like road trips? Take a taxi, or just drive your car from Chennai. You can reach Madurai in about 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Must-visit Places

  1. Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal – This used to be the place of the Mayak kings, built in the 17th century.
  2. Thiruparankundram – This temple is also one of the Arupadai Veedu or six special abodes of Murugan in Tamil Nadu.
  3. Koodal Azhagar Temple: This temple is a Vishnu temple. Here, devotees can see Vishnu is all three poses – Standing, Sitting and Reclining.
Koodal Azhagar Temple near Meenakshi Temple
Koodal Azhagar, a temple which is located close to the Meenakshi Temple.

Best Hotels Near The Temple

Madurai is a big city and so you have a wide range of hotels to choose from. Mani’s Residency, BG Residency, Hotel Nambi, and Hotel Senthil Residency are favorite choices among tourists. Other, more expensive, options include Madurai Residency, Royal Court Hotel, Astoria Hotels, and Hotel Park Plaza.

Madurai and the Meenakshi Temple are places that you must visit at least once in your lifetime.