Madurai

The undoubted centerpiece of Madurai's history is the magnificent Meenakshi Temple, considered as the greatest of dravidian temples architecturally. The temple is however a heavily protected place now and photography of any sort is prohibited inside the premises. The temple is surrounded by grand entrance gateways called gopurams, the tallest of which, the famous southern tower, rises to over 170 ft (52 m) and was built in 1559.

The oldest gopuram is the eastern one, built by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan during 1216-1238. Each gopuram is a multi-storeyed structure, covered with thousands of stone figures of animals, gods and demons painted in bright hues.

A vendor sells offerings for deities outside the Meenakshi Temple. The temple has of late come under threats by Islamic terrorist groups and visitors are not allowed to carry any object with them in person other than such offerings.

Though the Meenakshi Temple is the cynosure of pilgrims and tourists visiting Madurai, there are many fascinating monuments scattered around the old city. Most people in Madurai know well about the Pudu Mandapam, right in front of east tower of Meenakshi Amman temple. Many also know that it was built by Thirumalai Naicker during his rule between 1623 and 1659. But, few know that the historic structure housed Madurai's first museum and library in the 1920s.

The Pudu Mandapam, which has unique pillar sculptures, is in a poor state today. Thousands of visitors to the Meenakshi Amman temple also visit the Pudu Mandapam, but they go there not to look at the minute sculptures but to purchase clothes and fancy items. This is a giant statue of Shiva in his Urdhvatandava form.

Walk into Pudhu Mandapam and it is hard to miss the unmistakable drone of around a dozen sewing machines clustered near the entrance. While one tailor is stitching lace to the edges of a flag, another is attaching velcro to the sides of a mosquito net. The continuous snip of scissors cutting cloth fills the air. The 50 odd tailors, who presently have their shops in Pudhu Mandapam, have followed in their families’ footsteps and taken to the profession. Pudhu Mandapam now also houses shops that sell imitation jewellery, bags, shawls, fabric and assorted trinkets.

A statue of Meenakshi Amman in the pudu mandapam. Legend has it that she was born with three breasts and sages told her father that the extra breast would disappear when she met her future husband. She was named Minakshi meaning fish-eyed. In one of her expeditions she went to the Himalayas she met Shiva, and her extra breast disappeared. They got married and is also considered as an Avatar of the Hindu Goddess Parvati.

The pudu mandapam, like most other monumental architecture in Madurai, was built by the Nayakas. The huge pillared courtyard once hosted cultural programs. Also, the royal women used to halt at the mandapam during their visit to the Meenakshi Amman temple and during the Chithirai festival. On either side of the central corridor of this hall there are imposing pillars having the figures of 14 of the Naik rulers including Thirumalai Nayakkar, the patron builder of Meenakshi Temple.

In the forest of pillars and giant statues of Hindu gods and goddesses in the pudud mandapam, the pièce de résistance is this magnificent statue of Shiva and Parvati seated on Mount Kailash and Ravana trying to dislodge the mountain from below. Running next to the statue is a lane selling metal temple ware with craftsmen hammering away on metal sheets.

A statue of that rarest of rare icons from the Ramayana - Rama's arch enemy the great asura king Ravana. Ravana's depiction is rare in indian iconography and this state in the pudu mandapam is surely one if the finest I have ever seen. Though its left hand is missing, the statue is remarkably well preserved with all the heads and the gets of the hands. The locals worship it daily as can be seen from the marks on its heads, crown and hands.

A metalware market in madurai selling brass lamps called Nilavilakku. Nila means floor and vilakku is lamp. Traditionally nilavilakku is lighted and kept at the main front entrance to a home. Lighting the Nilavilakku on any inauguration is believed to be auspicious. Nilavilakku plays an important role at the presentation of various art forms.

The fascinating metal market around the pudu mandapam selling all types of metallic objects of daily domestic and religious use. Most of the items are made in brass, copper or aluminium.

A craftsman hammers designs on a metal sheet in a metalware market under a row of stairs in the Pudu Mandapam.

Men line up plastic buckets early morning at a communal tap next to a Ganesh shrine.

The monumental Thirumalai Nayak Palace is a 17th-century palace erected by King Thirumalai Nayak, a king of Madurai's Nayaka dynasty who ruled Madurai from 1623–59. This Palace is a classic fusion of Dravidian and Islamic styles. The original Palace Complex was four times bigger than the present structure. In its heyday, the Tirumalai Nayak Palace was considered to be one of the great architectural wonders of the Deccan.

The palace was divided into two major parts, namely Swarga Vilasam and Ranga Vilasam. The royal residence, theatre, shrine, apartments, armory, palanquin place, royal bandstand, quarters, pond and garden were situated in these two portions. The courtyard and the dancing hall are the major center of attractions of the palace.

During the 18th century many structures that were part of this palace were pulled down or incorporated into buildings in the adjacent streets. What remains is the enclosed court known as the Svarga Vilasam and a few adjoining buildings. The audience chamber of the Svarga Vilasam is a vast hall with arcades about 12 m high. The interiors are adorned by a profusion of gargolyes.

The Nayaks of Madurai ruled Madurai from 1545 till 1740’s. During the 17th centuries the Madurai Kingdom had Portuguese, Dutch and other Europeans as traders, missionaries and visiting travelers. Tirumala Nayak is believed to have recruited the services of an Italian architect, for the construction of his Palace. Over a span of 400 years many parts of the buildings suffered from the destructive effects of war. Some parts were sufficiently in repair to be converted into use by the garrison, as granaries, store-houses, powder magazines during time of East India Company.

This is another Mani Ratnam favorite. Thirumalai Nayaka Mahal was introduced to the Tamil movie audience as a shooting location with the widely popular & tastefully picturized ‘Kannaalane’ song from the movie Bombay. Other Mani Ratham movies whose songs were shot in the Thirumalai Nayaka Mahal are Iruvar and Guru.

The tank is connected to Vaigai River through an ingenious system of underground Channels. It has total of 12 long stairs made of granite on all four sides. The temple as well as the stairs was built by the King Thirumalai Nayak. Mariamman Teppakulam is famous for the celebrations of the Float festival, which is celebrated in the Tamil month of Thai (January / February). The idols of Goddess Meenakshi and her consort Lord Sundareshwarar, the deities of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, come down to the tank in colorful floats, presenting a mesmerizing sight.

Description

Ah Madurai! If there is one city in southern india which embodies the grand history of the ancient dravidian people of the region, it has to be Madurai and its magnificent Meenakshi Temple, a true wonder of medieval engineering. The city is believed to be of significant antiquity and has been ruled, at different times, by the Early Pandyas, Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Later Pandyas, Madurai Sultanate, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Chanda Sahib, Carnatic kingdom, and the British. The city has a number of historical monuments, with the Meenakshi Amman Temple and Tirumalai Nayak Palace being the most prominent. Madurai is an important industrial, medical and educational hub in Tamil Nadu.