Madurai situated on the banks of river Vaigai is one of the oldest cities of India. Hindu mythology has legends mentioning this place in events that happened millions of years ago. Madurai is believed to be the site of the celestial wedding of Lord Shiva and Tadaatagai (an incarnation of Goddess Parvati). An annual 10 day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival is observed during April and May to celebrate the wedding, which attracts over 1 million visitors. The Meenakshi Amman temple is believed to have been founded by Indra while he was on a pilgrimage to atone for his misdeeds. Thirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Saivism had mentioned this temple as early as in the 7th century and described the deity as Aalavai Iraivan. The temple is declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and was among the top 30 nominations for 7 Wonders of the World.
When to visit? Although the temple is crowded throughout the year, the winter months are the best time to visit Madurai owing to the excruciating temperature and humidity of Tamil Nadu in other months.
How to reach? Madurai is well connected with trains from all over the country. You can also get regular bus service from Bangalore and Chennai at varied prices depending on the luxury.
Where to stay? The best place to stay is the TPK Road. This place is very close to the railway station (Madurai Junction) as well as the Periyar bus stop. The Meenakshi Aman Temple and Koodal Azhagar shrines are at walkable distances. Due to proximity to the bus stop, you can easily get government buses to all major places.
Meenakshi Amman Temple due to its mythological importance, archaeological structure and number of annual visitors, ranks first among all Hindu temples in India. It has 14 grand gopurams (gateway towers), the tallest being the southern tower which is 51.9 metres (170 ft) high, and two golden sculptured vimanas over the sanctums of the main deities. Although the temple is christened after Goddess Meeenakshi, the temple consists of two shrines- one is the shrine of Goddess Meenakshi and the other is that of her consort Lord Sundareshwar (a form of Lord Shiva).
I went to Madurai from Bangalore. I took a private bus which departed from Bangalore at 11:30 PM and reached Madurai at 6:15 AM in the morning. I got down at the Periyar bus stop and my accommodation (Hotel Vijay in TPK Road) was at a walkable distance from the bus stop. As I mentioned earlier, it is best to stay in this region. After that I checked in, freshened up, had breakfast and ready to visit the temple.
I arrived at the South Gate of the temple. The gopuram at the south gate is the largest among the fourteen. It was very tall and colourful. There were intricately carved idols of Gods, musicians and demons in the gopuram which were painted with vivid colours. These gopurams are the structures which provide Meenakshi Amman Temple a unique identity among the other temples. I didn’t enter the temple through this gate and decided to go around and have a look at the small shops and kiosks selling fancy trinkets and puja items. There are five entrance gates to the temple symbolic of the five human senses. My stroll through these shops took me to the eastern gate. I entered into the temple through this gate. There is a free footwear collection point beside the entrance gate. You are given a coupon carrying a number in exchange for your footwear. There is a separate counter for luggage which has a nominal charge. Shorts are not allowed. Cameras are not allowed into the temple. However, you can carry mobile phones with camera in it. As bizarre a rule it is, you are allowed to take photos with phone cameras by taking a ticket of Rs.50. However, this ticket is not checked and you may not buy it.
As I entered the temple through the east gate, I went to the Sundereshwar shrine first. People entering through the South gate arrive at the Meenakshi Amman shrine first. There are shops selling brass items, puja items, garlands, diyas etc inside the temple. On the right side of the east gate is the 1000 pillar mantapa which has now been converted into a temple museum.
As I entered the temple, there was a resplendent gold pillar. It was dazzling and was strikingly beautiful. In front of it were many carved statues, most discernible being the one depicted dancing with one leg raised. Then there is a Nandi bull (the mount of Lord Shiva). There was a temple elephant who was blessing the devotees in return of some money to the mahout 😛
On the left, there is a ticket counter. There are special darshan tickets of Rs. 100 for both Sundareshwar and Meenakshi temple and Rs. 50 ticket for one shrine. There are also Rs. 20 tickets. Though I generally prefer the general darshan queues, due to the limitation of time and holiday season crowd, I bought a special darshan ticket. These tickets substantially reduce the time for darshan. Even a Rs.20 ticket can considerably reduce the time. All the queues culminate into a raised platform which takes the devotees to the door of the sanctum sanctorum. After standing in the queue for about 20 mins, I got the first glimpse of Lord Sundareshwar- A shinning shivalinga amidst the lamp lights in the dark inner sanctum decorated with flowers and customarily smeared with sandalwood paste.
After darshan of Lord Sundareshwar, I went to the shrine of Goddess Meenakshi. As expected, the queue here was much longer. Even if you have not taken special tickets for the darshan of Lord Sundareshwar, you may consider taking one here. Here also there are 3 queues- special ticket queues of Rs. 50, Rs. 20 and the free general darshan queue. It takes much longer to get darshan of Goddess Meenakshi. It took me around 40 mins even with special darshan ticket. On reaching inside as in the Shiva shrine, the queues culminate into a raised platform. You get very less time to see the seraphic idol, so make most of it and imbue a clear image of her divine form which you can behold in your memories for years.
After visiting the Meenakshi shrine and seeking her blessings, I came out and strolled in the corridors of the vast temple. The temple interiors, especially the ceiling, is painted with vivid colours and patterns. There is kalyani (pond) inside the temple with golden lotus in the corners. There are many other smaller temples and idols in the periphery of the main shrines. I had a good time visiting them and learning about the legends associated with them.
Finally, I went to the 1000 pillar mantapa inside the temple, which they have converted into a temple museum. There is a separate entry fee and camera fee for this place. Inside the mantapa there is a large statue of Natraj along with many other brass statues. Personally, I didn’t find anything amazing about this place.
After that, I returned to the hotel for some rest. I slept for a few hours, had lunch and went to visit the other places.
The Koodalazagar Temple:
It is one of the oldest temples consecrated almost at the time of the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Here there is a gigantic black statue of Lord Vishnu, worshiped here as Koodalazagar, in sitting posture with his consort Goddess Laxmi as Madhuravalli Thayar. The statue looks mesmerizing and is extremely attractive. Another interesting point here, we can worship Lord Vishnu in three postures, in different levels of the altar. In main sanctum Koodal Azagar in sitting posture, just above this, Lord Ranganatha in reclining posture and then Lord Vishnu in standing posture.
How to reach?: This place is about 250 m from the Periyar bus stop. You can easily walk to the temple.
The Gandhi museum:
Inaugurated in 1959, by the erstwhile Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, it is one of the five Gandhi Sanghralayas (museum) in India. It doesn’t have many artifacts or major collections. Sealed in a glass box is a part of the blood-stained garment worn by Gandhiji on the day of his assassination. There are many original photographs and the story of the freedom struggle of India is painted on the walls and display boards.
How to reach?: Take a bus from the Periyar bus stop to Anna Nilayam stop. Its another 500 m walk from this stop.
Thirupparamkunram Murugan Temple:
This temple is considered to be one of the five abodes of Lord Murugan (son of Lord Shiva). The temple has shrines for Lord Murugan, Lord Shiva and Lord Ganesha along with many other deities. Inside the temple, you can find the mounts of the three (Peacock of Lord Murugan, Mouse of Lord Ganesha and the Nandi bull of Lord Shiva) at one place. The deities are situated in a sanctum which seems to be is at a remote corner.
How to reach?: Take a bus from the Periyar bus stop and ask to drop you at the Murugan Temple. From here its a walk of about 300 m
Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal:
This is the palace of Thirumalai Nayak. It is a small yet beautiful palace built by combining the Dravidian and Rajput styles of architecture. The interior of the palace is beautifully decorated. A light and sound show is held in the evening (6.45 PM to 7.35 PM) in English and later in Tamil.
I covered these places except the Murugan temple (I went there next morning) in the afternoon. In the evening, I revisited the Meenakshi Amman Temple. This temple has a mystic charm in the evening and people often suggest to visit there in the evening too. Luckily I witnessed the daily evening chariot procession of Lord Shiva. Lord Mahadeva is carried to the room of his consort, Goddess Meenakshi every night in a procession in which a small chariot is pulled by the devotees around the temple amidst mantra chanting, cymbals rings and drumbeats. I too offered my service to the lord by pulling his chariot along with other devotees which gave me a deja vu of the famous Rath Yatra festival of my state.
Below is a video of the chariot procession:
After that, I came back to the hotel, had dinner and slept with a peace of having visited the grandest temple in the country. Next morning, I visited the Thirupparamkunram Murugan Temple and then returned to Bangalore from the Omni bus stand of Madurai.
Thanks for reading. If you too have been to this temple, do share your experiences in the comments sections. If not visited yet, What are you waiting for?? Plan your trip right away to one of the Top 10 places in the country. See you soon.. Keep Travelling and spread Love.