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Meenaakshee Temple
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Meenaakshee Temple is locate in Madurai, Tamil Naadu state of India. Madurai City is also known as the Temple City of South India. It is the second largest city in Tamil Naadu and is situated on the banks of the river Vaigi. This city is tantamount with the Meenakshee Sundareshwar twin Temple. This gigantic temple complex is dedicated to Shiv, known here as Sundareshwar and his consort Paarvatee who is known here as Meenaakshee. This temple is the focal point around which the city of Madurai has developed over 2500 years.

The sprawling Temple complex is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country and is almost like a city unto itself. It covers an area of over 65,000 square meters. Even though the Temple was originally built by the Pandya King, Kulasekaran, the temple has grown due to the contribution of each dynasty and victorious monarchs. The Temple, as we see it today was built by Tiurmalai Nayakar who ruled Madurai from the 16th to the 18th century.

The Temple itself is set within a high-walled enclosure at the center of which are the two shrines - one for Meenaakshee and another for Sundareshwar. There are four massive gateways enclosing these two shrines which are surrounded by a number of smaller shrines and majestic pillared halls. The complex also contains 14 impressive Gopuram (gateway towers) which range from 720-800 feet (45-50 meters) in height. The towers have solid granite bases and are covered with stucco figures of deities, mythical animals and monsters painted in bright colors. There is not a single visitor who is not overwhelmed by the vast number of paintings and sculptures. About 33,000 sculptures can be found in the temple complex.

The temple is one of utmost importance for the Tamil people, which can be seen by the number of visitors it attracts. Around 15,000 people visit this temple daily with it increasing to 25,000 on Fridays. It was even in the list of Top 30 nominees of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” and gets annual revenue of 60 million Indian Rupees. Its opening Hours are 5:00 am - 12:30 pm and 4:00 pm - 9:30 pm.

12 Gopur
Especially impressive are its 12 Gopur. Their soaring towers rise from solid granite bases, and are covered with stucco figures of deities, mythical animals and monsters painted in vivid colors. Out of the 12 temple towers (Gopur), the our outer towers are the landmarks of Madurai. They are:

East Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 161' 3". This Gopur has 1011 sudhai figures.
South Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 170' 6". This Tower has 1511 sudhai figures.
West Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 163' 3". This Tower has 1124 sudhai figures.
North Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 160' 6". This Tower has fewer figures of sudhai than other outer towers.

The figures of deities on the towers are repaired, repainted and ritually re-consecrated every 12 years.

Asht Shakti Mandap
If one enters the temple through its eastern gate, he first enters this Mandap (Hall). Next to this hall is the Meenaakshee Naayak Mandap, a spacious columned hall used for shops and stores. This hall has a votive lamp-holder with 1,008 lamps, which are lit on festive occasions and present a spectacular sight. The sculptures on the pillars here relate some of Shiv's miracles and also the story of Meenaakshee's birth and her life as the princess of Madurai. The story described on the stones is as follows: ---

Story of Meenaakshee - There was a king of Madurai named Malayadhwaj Pandya who was childless for a long time. He performed a number of Yagya to get an heir to his throne. On one occasion, a three-year-old girl came out of the fire and Malayadhwaj adopted her. But the girl had three breasts and this worried Malayadhwaj. However, a divine voice assured him that the third breast would disappear as soon as she met her consort. The girl grew into a brave and beautiful princess. she won many battles, but eventually lost her heart to Shiv, when she met him on the battle-field in Kailaash. As soon as she saw him, her third breast disappeared and she recognized her divine consort, for the princess was none other than Shiv's wife, Paarvatee. After ruling over the Pandya kingdom for a while, they settled in the Madurai Temple as Meenaakshee and Sundareshwar

Meenaakshee Nayakkar Mandap
This big hall is adjacent to Asht Shakti Mandap, consisting of 110 pillars carrying the figures of a peculiar animal with a lion's body, and an elephant's head called Yalli.

Oonjal Mandap
Every Friday, the golden idols of Meenaakshee and Sundareshwar are seated on the swing in the Oonjal (swing) Mandapam and hymns are sung as the deities gaily swing to and fro. The parrots in the Kilikoontu (parrot) Mandap have been trained to repeat Meenaakshee's name. But more interesting are the 28 pillars of the Mandap which exhibits some excellent sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology.

The Thousand Pillar Mandap
The most stunning feature of this temple is the magnificent Hall of Thousand Pillars or "Ayiramkaal Mandapam". It is the 'wonder of the palace'. It is an architectural marvel wherein each pillar features high, elaborate and bold sculptures that look life like. What’s more, that these pillars appear to be in a straight line when viewed from any angle. Just outside this Mandap, towards the West, are the Musical Pillars. The beautiful musical pillars are located in the outermost corridors and are carved out of one stone. When tapped, each pillar produces a different musical note. Actually the number of pillars count to 985 beautifully decorated columns. Each pillar is sculptured and is a monument of the Dravidian sculpture. There is a Temple Art Museum in this 1000 pillars hall where you can see icons, photographs, drawings, etc exhibiting the 1200 years old history. The Kalyaan Mandap is to the South of this pillared hall. It is the place where the marriage of Shiv and Paarvatee is celebrated every year during the Chitirai Festival (Chaitra Maas) in mid-April.

Vasant Mandap
There is a vasant Mandap where Vasanthosavam - the Spring festival - is celebrated in Vaishaakh Maas (Vaikasi or April/May), that is why it is called Vasant Mandap.  Its pillars contain elaborate sculptures of Shiv, Meenaakshee, scenes from their wedding as well as the figures of ten of the Naayak Kings and their consorts. This is also called Pudhu Mandap.



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 09/30/13