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About Madurai

The temple city of Madurai, poised on the banks of the Vaigai river, stands testimony to the fact that the Sangam age was the golden era of architecture in the history of South India. The history of Madurai goes back over 2400 years, and it is known to be the only city to be continuously inhabited, in the Southern peninsula. Madurai is the third largest city in Tamil Nadu and has been poetically referred to as the Athens of the East and the City of Festivals.

The entire city of Madurai has grown around the renowned Meenakshi Sundereswarar Temple. In earlier times the temple was always the centre for learning, performing arts and a social fulcrum. Invariably patronized by the ruling kings, the temple played host to musicians, artists, poets, dancers and sculptors. Writers composed some of the greatest literary pieces of the time within the temple precincts. The Madurai temple is surrounded by concentric rectangular streets which make up the city. This pattern of architecture is believed to symbolize the cosmos, and is peculiar to Madurai.

For all your travel and sightseeing arrangements. Please feel free to contact our Travel Desk.

History

Goddess Meenakshi was the daughter of the valourous Pandya king. This warrior queen dared to confront Lord Shiva, but when she discovered he was to be her spouse, she laid down her weapons. Lord Shiva is known to have visited Madurai, in the guise of Sundereswarar, to marry Meenakshi.

Madurai has been described as the Pandyan dynasty’s seat of power, in the Sangam literature. It was home to the third and last Sangam (between 300B.C – 200AD). There are references to Madurai in Kautilya’s Arthashastra and the Tamil epic, Silappadikaram. Megasthenes’ account dating back to 3rd century B.C refers to Madurai as “Methora” and there are references to the city in the works of Roman historians, Ptolemy and Pliny the Younger as well as in the Greek geographer, Strabo’s works.

Madurai remained under Kalhabra rule till mid 6th century, the Pandyas ruled it for the next four centuries and the Cholas ruled the area till the 13th century, with Madurai as the capital city. Soon after Madurai became a protectorate of the Delhi Sultanate, only to break away and become the independent Madurai Sultanate later. Madurai succumbed to the powerful Vijaynagar Empire in 1378, and it was later under the sway of the Nayaks (1559-1736) and then the protectorate of the Nawab of Arcot (1764-1801).

In 1801 Madurai was brought under the Madras Presidency by the British East India Company. In 1837 the fortifications around the temple were demolished, the moat was drained and the debris was used to construct the new streets - Veli, Marat and Perumaal Mesthiri streets, in order to accommodate the growing population. The city was constituted as a municipality in 1866.

Madurai played a significant role in the Indian Independence Movement. It was in Madurai that Mahatma Gandhi decided to switch to wearing a loin cloth after seeing agricultural laborers wearing it. Madurai was home to several leaders of the Indian independence movement like N. M. R. Subbaraman, Mohammad Ismail Sahib and Meer Niyamatullah Ibrahim Sahib. Post-independence (1947) Madurai was the second largest city of Madras State. Currently Madurai remains the most important and populous city in Southern Tamil Nadu.

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Getting There

Madurai is now on the world tourist map and well connected by air, road and rail. It is approximately 400km from Chennai and 200km from Coimbatore. The world-class, modern airport is about 15km from the city, with daily flights from Chennai, Bangalore and Coimbatore. The nearest international airport is at Thiruchirapalli (Trichy).

A vast rail network links Madurai to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore etc. Madurai-Chennai is connected by the Pandian and Vaigai Express trains, and travel time can take between 8-10 hours. Sampark Kranti Express connects Madurai to Delhi, Anantpuri Express runs between Madurai – Trivandurum and Pearl City Express connects Madurai to Tuticorin.

Madurai is well-connected by ordinary and deluxe buses to all major cities. Most overnight and inter-state buses terminate at Mattuthavani Bus stand. Private buses are found closer to the city center near Periyar bus stand, also offering ticketing and reservation facilities at the bus stand itself.

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Meenakshi Temple

The original Meenakshi temple was destroyed at the hands of Muslim invaders in 1320 AD, and rebuilt soon thereafter, across a sprawling 17 acres. The present temple dates back to 1600 and is dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consort, Parvati. The temple was built by Kulashekhara Pandya and further embellished and developed by the kings of the Nayak dynasty (16th – 18th century).

The temple has five entrances, a holy tank and four stately towers. There are five golden towers (gopurams ) sitting directly atop the sanctum sanctorum. The tallest tower is 51.9 m. The temple also has halls (mandapams) exquisite sculpture, paintings and a museum. 44 ancient inscriptions are engraved on the stone walls of the temple corridors, providing valuable documented history of the period.

The temple is renowned for its 1000 pillar hall, which hosts 985 intricately carved pillars. Every carved pillar is a tribute to the exquisite Dravidian sculpture. Nearby can be found the “Musical Pillars”- when each pillar is struck, it produces magically different notes. The “Golden Lotus Tank” is where the devotees complete their ablutions before entering the temple precincts. A large statue of the dancing Natraja, covered in glistening silver dominates the “Velli Anbalam” hall.

This ancient architectural marvel is barely 20 minutes away from Meenakshi’s Sunshine Hotel. Our helpful travel desk will be happy to arrange a temple tour for you upon request.

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Other Temples

Madurai is indeed a treat for lovers of history and architecture. Apart from the renowned Meenakshi temple, Madurai also boasts of several other temples.

The Koodalazhagar Divya Desam is a Vaishnavite temple boasting of the Lord in three different postures, sitting, lying down and standing.

Tirupparamkunram stands atop a hillock, about 8km from the city. Dedicated to Lord Muruga – Kartikeya, the inner chamber of the temple is carved out of the hill and the walls are lined with images of Hindu deities.

The Alagar Temple is about 20km away from the city centre, perched atop a hill. This Vaishnav temple nestles beside a natural stream descending from the hills, and is dedicated to the brother of Goddess Meenakshi.

Pazhamudir Solai, the temple dedicated to Lord Karthikeya, stands amidst the thick Solai jungles. Don’t miss the utsavam daily at 7pm, when the deity is taken out on a golden chariot.

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Things to Do

Apart from a detailed visit to the temple, you could take a city tour and soak in the religious flavour of the city. Wander through the bazaars, shop for handicrafts or temple jewellery replicas. Madurai is known for its batik sarees, called Madurai chungdi. Look out for bell metal sculptures, wood or stone carvings, hand woven silk and cast bronzes.

Spend some time at the Gandhi Memorial Museum, gleaning information about the Father of the Nation, viewing his visual biography, walk through the gallery highlighting India’s struggle for freedom and the “Hall of Relics.” The museum also houses a large open-air theatre and a well-stocked library.

Alternately you could make Meenakshi’s Sunshine Hotel your home away from home, and take day tours to nearby places of interest: the hilly retreat, Kodaikanal is 2 hours away (150 km), Rameswaram is 3 hours (170km) from Madurai and the wild life preserve, Thekkady is a 3 hour drive (150km).

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To assist you in customizing your travel and tours, please feel free to contact our Travel Desk.