The crowning glory of temple architecture of South India, Meenakshi Amman Temple is one of the most popular attractions of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Placed on the southern banks of River Vaigai in temple city of Madurai, this temple is also known as Meenakshi Amman Kovil and Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. It is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi or Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva, who here is known as Sundareswarar.
If statistics are to be believed the temple receives as many as 15000 devotees on a daily basis and over 25000 on Fridays. The temple also featured in the list of 30 nominees for the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’. A prominent landmark of Madurai, this temple is one of the most-visited ones in the state.
If legends are to be believed, God Indra discovered the sacred Suyambu Lingam at Kadambavanam, which he later brought to Madurai. This thing is proven from the fact that the Linga is seen on Lord Indra’s vehicle. It is stated that the temple has a history that goes even before the early A.D times. It was almost ruined at the time of invasion by Malikkapur, a Muslim ruler in 1310. The temple and the Lord as Alavai Iraivan also find their mention in the songs of the Hindu saint Thirugnanasambandar who lived in the first half of the 7th century.
Meenakshi Amman temple was restored in a grand way during the second half of the 14th century by the first ruler of Nayaka dynasty, Viswanatha Nayak. Important additions in the architecture of the temple were later made by King Thirumalai Naicker.
Today the temple is taken care of by the HR and CE department of Tamil Nadu.
The mythological connection behind the temple says that Goddess Parvati was the result of the prayers of Pandya ruler Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai. She emerged from Yagna fire in the form of three-breast Goddess Meenakshi. A voice from the heaven assured the parents that the superfluous breast would disappear when she would meet her prospective husband. She was named as Tadaatagai/Meenaskhi. During the conquest of Digvijayam (all eight directions), she defeated all and went to Kailasha, the abode of Lord Shiva. As she set her eyes on the Lord, her third breast melted and she came to know that he was her man and she was the manifestation of Goddess Parvati. Both of them came to Madurai and everyone on earth witnessed the grand wedding. Meenakshi’s brother, Vishnu was travelling for the wedding but was delayed because of tricks of Lord Indra. This union is celebrated as Chitirai Thiruvizha festival in April-May, every year. After the marriage, they presided over Madurai for some time and later became Sundareswarar and Meenakshi, the deities of the temple.
Placed in the geographical center of Madurai and one of Tamil Nadu’s largest temple complexes, Meenakshi Amman temple complex (45 acres) with four entrances in four directions, is segregated into a number of quadrangular spaces that have masonry walls. It is believed that King Vishwantha Nayaka reconstructed Madurai as per the rules of Shilpa Shastras and as the temple is in city’s center, its streets radiate like lotus and its petals. The outer area of the temple/temple prakarams are used for circumambulating the temple during different festival processions.
The sanctum sanctorum of the temple has 14 gopurams in total. All the gopurams have been designed and sculpted in an exotic manner:
- Rajagopurams (Nine Tier Gopurams)
- South Rajagopuram
- North Rajagopuram (Tower Without Roof)
- The West Rajagopuram
- The Towers Of Swami Shrine
- Amman Sannithi Gopurams
The idol of Lord Sundareswarar and her consort Goddess Meenakshi are encircled by 3 closed spaces wherein each one is bounded by 4 small towers like 4 points of a compass. While the idol of the Goddess is emerald-color black stone idol in her shrine Mukuruny Vinayakar, the Lord’s image is placed right in the complex’s center. Both the idols are gold-plated. In the center of the shrines of Sundareswarar and Meenakshi is a huge Lord Ganesha’s sculpture, carved-out from a single stone. The Meenakshi shrine is on the left side of the Shiva shrine.
Temple tank and the surroundings
The temple complex also has a sacred tank, Porthamarai Kulam or ‘Pond with the golden lotus’. It is believed that an excellent work of literature would float while the ones that are not-worthy would sink. Just a few paintings of 17th and 18th century are found in a small portion near the western side of this tank. One such painting depicts the grand union of Sundareswarar and Meenkashi.
Oonjal Mandapam, lying on the tank’s western band, consists of the main deities and the hall of parrots or Kilikootu Mandapam has parrots that chant the Goddess’s name. On every Friday, golden-colored idols are positioned on the swings and a grand worshipping ceremony follows hymns and offerings by the devotees.
The very popular Aayiram Kaal Mandapam or Thousand Pillar Hall of Meenakshi Amman temple was erected keeping in mind Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli. The entrance of the hall has a huge idol of a man who is seated on a horse. This hall actually has 985, beautifully cared pillar.
Towards the west side of this hall are the Musical Pillar. When a pillar is struck, a musical sound is produced, a different one from different pillars. To the south of this is Kalyana Mandapa, the venue of the marriage of Shiva and Parvati or the Chithirai Festival.
The first hall on the entrance of the Meenakshi shrine is Ashta Shakthi Mandapam, close to the Eastern Tower. This Mandapa has 8 idols of the Goddess and thus named so.
- Thiruvanandal - 5.00 am - 6.00 am
- Vizha - 6.30 am - 7.00 am
- Kalasandhi - 7.30 am - 8.30 am
- Thrikalasandhi - 10.30 am- 11.30 am
- Uchikkala - 10.30 am- 11.30 am
- Maalai - 4.30 pm- 5.00 pm
- Ardhajama - 7.30 pm - 8.30 pm
- Palliarai - 9.15 pm - 10.00 pm
Popular Festivals at Meenakshi Amman Temple
The temple becomes the venue of festivals all throughout the year. Following are the popular ones in the order of their occurrence:
- Chithirai - Chithirai Brahamostavam / Arulmigu Thirukkalyanam
- Vaikasi - Vasantham Festival
- Aani - Unjal Festival
- Aadi - Aadi / Mulai Kottu Festival
- Aavani - Aavani Moolam Festival / Puttukku Mansumantha Leela Festival
- Purattasi - Navarathri festival
- Ayppasi - Kolattam Festival
- Karthikai - Kolattam Festival
- Margali - Thiruvathirai / Arudhra Dharsan Festival and Thiruvembavai and Thiruppavai Festival
- Thai - Thepporstovam in Mariyamman temple theppam
- Masi - Mandala utsavam
- Panguni - Summer Vasantham Festival
Rules at Meenakshi Temple
- Entering the temple without bathing is not allowed.
- Caps and shorts are not allowed inside the temple premises.
- Chewing tobacco is prohibited inside the temple.
- Do not enter the temple while wearing socks and footwear.
- Female devotees are not allowed inside the temple during menstruation days.
- Maintenance of cleanliness inside the temple premises is important.
- Spitting and smoking is prohibited
Other popular temples near Meenakshi Amman Temple
Azhagar Koil, Palamudhirsolai and Thiruparankundram are some of the popular temples, lying in the vicinity.