Visit The Mesmerizing Meenakshi Temple in Madurai (2023)
The state of Tamil Nadu is home to many famous and revered temples. Perhaps the most famous temple is the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Also known as the Meenakshi Temple or Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple, this is a historic Hindu temple dedicated to the Goddess Meenakshi and her consort Lord Sundareshwar, a form of Lord Shiva.
Where is the Meenakshi Temple Located?
The Meenakshi Temple is located in the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Madurai is frequently addressed as the Temple City of Tamil Nadu. The Meenakshi Temple is the most famous tourist attraction in Madurai, dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi, a form of Goddess Parvati. The temple is located in the center of the ancient city of Madurai.
How Old is the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai?
According to Tamil literature, the Meenakshi temple is older than the 6th century CE. According to legend, over 3500 years ago, the god Indra installed a small tower at this place over a naturally formed lingam of stone as his devotion to Lord Shiva. Soon, other gods started to follow in Indra’s lead and began worshipping at this place. Soon, a human devotee who was also worshipping here witnessed a truly miraculous scene of the gods gathered at this lingam and worshipping Lord Shiva. He alerted the King of Madurai of that time, King Kulashekhara Pandya, who then proceeded to build a temple at this site.
What Is The Story Behind Meenakshi Temple?
While legend proclaims that the gods themselves used to pray here, the story behind how this temple was named after Goddess Meenakshi is also an interesting folklore in Madurai.
The legend describes a Pandya King named Malayadhvaja, who was praying to have a son as his heir. He spent many years performing various ceremonies and praying to the gods to fulfill his wish. However, he was blessed with a daughter named Meenakshi, who was born with three breasts. The gods told the king not to worry and to continue raising Meenakshi just the way he would raise a son, like a brave warrior. The gods also told the king that once she grows up and meets her true love, the third breast will disappear.
Over the years, Meenakshi proved herself battle-worthy, and she conquered kingdoms in all directions. However, while attacking the northern direction, she confronted Lord Shiva, the protector of the direction who resided on Mount Kailash deep within the Himalayan mountain range. The day she saw Lord Shiva, one of the three breasts fell off, and thus the prophecy was fulfilled. It is said that Lord Vishnu himself presided over the marriage of Meenakshi and Lord Shiva. The divine couple went on to make their home in Madurai and continued to rule as king and queen. Since then, the temple has been dedicated to both Goddess Meenakshi and her consort Lord Sundareswarar, a form of Shiva.
It is believed that the Meenakshi Temple was one of the earliest temples to be constructed in Madurai somewhere during the 7th century CE. However, the actual temple complex that is there today was primarily built during the 16th and 17th centuries by the Nayak Dynasty. The kings of the Nayak dynasty enlarged the temple complex and also redesigned the nearby streets to keep up with the tradition of Vastu Shastra. Vastu Shastra are various Hindu texts that prescribe the proportions, forms, measurements, and overall layout of architecture for any building or structure).
So Who Built The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai?
There is no exact data on who exactly built the original Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, but it is widely believed that the King Kulasekara Pandya built the main parts of the three-storeyed gopura that is located at the entrance of the shrine of Lord Sundareswarar, and also the central part of the Goddess Meenakshi Shrine. These parts of the temple are said to be the earliest surviving parts of the temple that you see today.
Breathtaking Architecture of the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai
The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai is one of the best examples of Dravidian architecture that exists in southern India. Dravidian architecture is one of the most common forms of Hindu architecture, typically including tall entry gate towers, covered porches over the temples, two or more sides, multiple-pillared halls, a water tank, or a water reservoir for ritualistic bathing, etc.
The Meenakshi Temple has two main sanctuaries that are only accessible to Hindus. These two sanctuaries are located in the center of the temple complex. One is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi, and the other is dedicated to Lord Shiva, her consort. A gold finial, which is an ornament placed at the top or end of any object, usually at the apex of the roof or at one end of a rod or pole, is visible from a high vantage point. Each of these sanctuaries is capped off at the top with these gold finials. In front of each of the sanctuary is a mandapa, which is a pillared and porch-like structure from where pilgrims pass through to make their way into the garbhagriha, which is the innermost sanctum or sacred area of the temple.
When Is The Best Time To Visit The Meenakshi Temple?
The Meenakshi Temple is thronged with devotees throughout the day. The best time to visit the temple is, therefore, in the early morning. Between 5:00 am to 6:30 am, the first aarti and worship are scheduled. The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai opens at 4:30 am. So if you get in the queue at 4:30 in the morning, you will get a relatively crowd-free darshan of the temple. However, keep in mind that even so early in the morning, there are around 400 to 500 people waiting to get into the queue.
During the week, Friday is the most crowded day, and there are over 25,000 devotees who visit the temple on any given Friday. On other days of the week, you can expect around 15,000 people. The temple hosts an annual festival known as Meenakshi Thirukalayanam during April, and at this time, devotees from all over the country flock to the temple. On the last day of the festival, there is a celestial wedding ceremony of Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi. Over one million devotees visit the Meenakshi Temple to take part in this festival. The festival also includes a procession wherein Lord Sundareshwara, and Goddess Meenakshi travel together in a chariot pulled by thousands of volunteer devotees. During the marriage procession, Lord Vishnu gives away his sister Goddess Meenakshi to Shiva. The festival of Meenakshi Temple lasts for one month, during which there are several events such as the ‘Theppa Thiruvizhah’ (the float festival) and the ‘Ther Thiruvizhah’ (the chariot festival).
If you are up to facing the huge crowds, then visiting the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai during this wedding festival is a great idea. You can also visit the temple during the Tamil month of Purattasi, which falls during September and October. During this month, the Meenakshi Temple celebrates the Navratri festival with great gusto. At the culmination of the Navratri festive, Dussehra is celebrated, during which the temple complex is lighted up with garlands of light and with various other colorful displays. The Madurai Dussehra celebrations are famous all over India for the lavish pomp and enthusiasm with which the festival is celebrated.
Over the centuries, the Meenakshi Amman Temple has been an important center of education, literature, culture, art, music, and dance. It is one of the most revered temples in all of South India, and devotees from all over the country gather here to pay obeisance to the Goddess Meenakshi and her love Lord Shiva.