Visiting Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Madurai

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When we were recently in Madurai to visit Sri Ramana Maharshi sites, we made it a point to go to see Meenakshi Sundareswar Temple. Photos of this famous temple are shown in this posting.

Meenakshi Temple is really two temples. The central one is for Meenakshi, the lovely consort of Lord Siva; and to Lord Siva himself (Sundareswarar). It is one of the holiest places of worship in South India, drawing thousands of devotees every day. It has also been the center of Tamil culture, sponsoring literature, art, music and dance for the last two millennia.

The elaborately painted gopurams (gates) are one feature of the temple. One is shown below.

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These are repainted every 12 years. Repainting was being done during our visit, so we were not able to see these beautiful towers. Rather they were covered for painting.

This temple, like Madurai itself, has ancient roots. Madurai is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city on the Indian Peninsula, dating back at least 2,500 years. Here is a link to a Wikipedia article on Madurai. Madurai has a population of almost one million people, making it the third largest city in Tamil Nadu.

Meenakshi Sundareswar Temple dates back to almost the beginning of Madurai. Early records of it are in poetry recorded by members of the famous ‘college of poets’, the Sangam. The Sangam is described as having been held on the banks of the Pond of Golden Lotuses in the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple. Before we came to India, I read about the ancient history of Tamil Nadu and was most impressed to hear of the founding of a college of poets 2100 years ago. This gave me a sense of how long Tamil Nadu has had a really advanced culture. When was the first such similar institution founded in Europe?

The temple was destroyed by the infamous Muslim invader Malik Kafur in 1310, and all the ancient elements were destroyed. The initiative to rebuild the structure was taken by Arya Natha Mudaliyar , the Prime Minister of the first Nayak of Madurai (1559-1600 A.D.). Then came the most valuable contributions of Thirumalai Nayak circa 1623 to 1659. He took considerable interest in erecting the Vasantha Mandapa of the temple complex.

The complex covers around 45 acres, and the temple is a massive structure measuring 254 by 237 meters. The temple is surrounded by 12 towers, the tallest of which, the famous Southern tower, rises to over 170 ft (52 m) high. Below is a map for the temple. I think North is to the right on the map.

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We started towards the temple from Sri Ramana Mandiram, near the south gopuram.

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When we got closer we could see some of the artwork, but most was  covered for repainting.

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For some reason we could not enter the South Gate, so had to walk around the temple to the East Gate.

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As is common in India, even in the center of a one-million-person city, we see cows, ranging free on the street.

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On the map above, we entered from the bottom. There is a gate on the right side that is now shown on the map.  When we entered the temple, signs of repair and maintenance were everywhere.

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We were surprised to find a thriving market just inside when we walked in.

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The first thing we could look at was the ‘Thousand Pillared Hall’. This cost (since we are foreigners) Rs 50 each for tickets, plus another Rs 50 for a ‘photo ticket.’ There was another small fee so we could visit a museum inside as well.

Going through the gate into the ‘Thousand Pillared Hall’ we are first greeted by a set of statues, perhaps 15 – 20 feet high.

Here is Sarasvati.

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Dancing Ganesh.

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Carol standing by statues to give an idea how big they are.

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An Indian couple wanted us to take their picture with Carol.

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They are working on the hall, putting in a marble floor. Much of the museum is not available due to this work.

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Another statue. This is of a woman goddess, I do not know who. Notice that some of the statue is blackened. I do not know if this is from being touched by many devotees over the years, or the lighting of incense, lamps, etc.

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Man carrying woman. Again this is probably 15 feet high.

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The hall leads to a special statue.

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Here is Siva, in the form of Nataraja, Dancing Siva. I think the nearby statue is of Parvati.

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On the posts were various carved images, about 15 inches high. All of these seemed worn down from centuries of people touching them.

Here is a woman.

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Here is a warrior with a sword and shield.

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Here is a saint or sadhu.

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Also here were collected images from other places. Below is a carved Brahma sitting on his peacock.

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There were also many old panels, colored with the original dye colors, not the vibrant colors made today from chemical dyes.

Here is Rama against Ravana (see Ravana with 10 heads on the righthand side), in a scene from the Ramayana..

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A woman serving food to two other women.

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In the museum area there was a small temple. I think this was from some other place, and shown here in the museum.

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Two small female  figures in the museum.

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We came out of the Thousand Pillared Hall and headed towards the main Meenakshi Temple. Many people were here. Ahead is a Nandi.

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The Meenakshi Temple is ahead.

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In front of the temple is a copper or brass column. This is a flagstaff, or Kodimaram, used to signal the start of a festival.

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This flagstaff rises through a hole in the top of the building.

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We were not allowed into this temple, ‘Hindus only.’ We walked around it. There were many niches with wonderful idols and statues.

Below is one of a simple sadhu or saint. While he is dressed most simply, he is surrounded by ornate brass decoration.

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Lord Subramaniaa sitting in peacock, with two painted guardians at the door.

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This photo gives an idea of the magnitude of the temple. Around each of the two main temples, there were these massive pillared halls.

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Painted ceilings adorn the halls.

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This, I am told, is Komatha, above a shrine.

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Two Tamil women, putting a kolam on the floor in front of a shrine. One of them brought her young daughter, who sits and watches.

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Here is an ancient Siva Lingam, with a Nandi in front, and Ganesh at the doorway.

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Mahalakshmi -with 2 elephants on her side – Mahalakshmi is wife of Lord Vishnu and Goddess for wealth and prosperity . You can see the reverence in which this figure is held, by the flowers, yellow turmeric, and red kum kum that have been used for decoration.

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A procession of men walked through the hall, led by a man with a container balanced on his head. There are reeds blaring and drummers drumming.

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Here are Siva and Parvati. Again they have been decorated with vibhuti, turmeric, and kum kum by people visiting the temple .

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Siva with Parvati.

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Ganesh is shown here in an elaborately decorated shrine, with a polished bronze door ornament.

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Carol, standing by three small statues that are covered with a thick layer of vibhuti.

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Moving through the temple, I think toward the Siva Temple.

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Many people are here. This photo is typical of the crowd in the temple.

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Here is the tank, Potramarai Kulam.

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Walking out of the temple. Here are a Sabarimala bhakthass walking out of the temple.

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Leaving, we  look up at a gopuram, covered with thatch. It will be finished, we are told, in June of 2009.

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Meenakshi Temple was bigger and more complex than anything we have seen so far in India. And much work was being done to repair and restore it.

There is so much in this temple, more than can be absorbed in one visit. We will return, maybe after the towering gates have been repainted.

We also like the city of Madurai. We’ll be back.

Related posts:

Visiting Sri Ramana Maharshi Sites in and  near Madurai

Bhuminatheswara Temple – A lesser known Gem

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5 Responses to “Visiting Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Madurai”

  1. Ramana Maharshi Timeline and Places – by Richard Clarke | Luthar.com Says:

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