|Madurai Meenakshi Kovil (Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple) is a Hindu temple located in the temple city of Madurai in Tamilnadu, India. The temple is dedicated to the consort of Lord Shiva, Parvathi also known as Meenakshi, who is the presiding deity. Another deity of the temple is Lord Shiva Himself, called Sundareswarar, meaning “The beautiful God”. The temple is also known by other names such as ‘Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple’, ‘Meenakshi Amman Kovil’, ‘Madurai Meenakshi Kovil’ and ‘Tiru-Aalavaai’.The temple forms the heart of the 2500 years old city. The temple is renowned for its beautiful architecture around which the city was constructed in the shape of a lotus flower.
The temple is located in Madurai city that is fraternal with the celebrated Meenakshi Temple. Situated on the banks of river Vaigai, Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil era more than 2500 years old. Madurai was the capital city for the great Pandya kings and it was an important cultural and commercial center even as early as 550 AD.
The history of the original structure is not properly known, while many citations have been found in the Tamil literature written in the past two millenniums. The temple was referred by Thirugnana sambandhar in his literature that dates back to the 7th century.
However, the Pandya King Kulasekarar is said to have built this great temple earlier and created a lotus shaped city around the temple. On the day the city was to be named, Lord Shiva is said to have blessed the land and its people with divine nectar (Madhu) showering on the city from his matted locks. This city was then known as Madhurapuri.
The temple was almost completely destroyed by the Muslim emperor, Malik Kafur in early 1310 and all the valuables have believed to be sacked. The temple returned back to its pristine beauty in the 16th century by the initiative taken by the Nayaka king, Viswanatha Nayak (1559–1600) under the supervision of Ariyanatha Mudaliar, the prime minister of the Nayak Dynasty. The king Thirumalai Nayakar played a vital role in the reconstruction of this temple to its present form.
The temple has five entrances covering an area of 254 meters by 238 meters. The temple has 14 ‘Gopurams’ (towers) – four Rajagopurams (majestic towers), five towers on the top of the sanctum of Lord Shiva, three on the top of the sanctum of the Goddess, and two other golden towers. Among these gopurams, the South Rajagopuram is the tallest Gopuram standing up to 52 meters in height.
A Golden pinnacle – ‘Indira Vimanam’ also known as ‘Ashtagaja Vimanam’ – is present in the sanctum of Lord Shiva. It is said to have been installed by Lord Indira himself. This pinnacle is designed as if it is carried by 8 elephants and 32 lions and 64 Sivaganas (giants). This pinnacle was given gold plating by Viswanatha Naicker (1559 – 63). Golden pinnacle of the Amman Sannithi was installed by Siramalai Sevanthi Murthy Chetti in the year 1559.The figures of deities on the tower are repaired, repainted and ritually reconsecrated every 12 years.
The eastern gateway of the temple leads to Ashta Shakthi Mandapam, a spacious hall in which the food is distributed to the visitors. It is said that this hall was built by Thirumalai Nayakar’s wives Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholimamai. The hall has a votive lamp holder consisting of 1000 lamps that is lighted during festivals presenting a spectacular sight.
Other important sections of the temple are Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam, Potramaraikulam (golden lotus tank), Oonjal Mandapam, Swami Sundareswarar Shrine, The Thousand Pillar Mandapam (Ayirankkal Mandapam) and Vasantha Mandapam. On the west of the Ayirankkal Mandapam are the Musical Pillars that produce a different musical note when stuck.
Madurai Meenakshi Kovil is believed to be founded by Lord Indira (king of celestial deities) when he was on a pilgrimage to cure his misdeeds. He was burden-free and experienced peaceful tranquility when he came near the Swayambu Lingam (self formed lingam that represents Lord Shiva). Indira constructed a temple around the lingam and worshipped the Lord everyday. It is also believed that Lord Shiva caused the appearance of golden lotuses in the nearby pond.
The sculptures on the pillars of the temple relate some of the Thiruvilayadal (miracles) of Lord Shiva. The sculptures also represent the birth of the deity, Goddess Meenakshi as follows:
Malayadwaja Pandya, a king of Madurai was childless for many years. He conducted many Yagnas (sacrifices made before sacred fire) to be able to father a child. On one such yagna, a beautiful girl came out of the fire who is adopted by the king. But, he gets shocked on seeing his child with three breasts. He hears an oracle saying that the third breast will vanish once the girl meets her husband.
The girl grows as a very beautiful and a courageous princess, Tadaatagai. She conquers all the three worlds – Brahma’s Abode (Sathyaloka), Vishnu’s Abode (Vaikunta), and Devas’ abode (Amaravati). Then, she advances to Shiva’s Abode Kailasha, but once she looks at Shiva, she could not move further. Instead, she bows her head because of shyness. When Lord Shiva looks at her, the third breast vanishes and Tadaatagai understands that the divine lord is her husband and also understands that she is the Goddess Parvathi. Both of them gets married and rules Madurai for some time.
Then both of them assume divine forms as Meenakshi and Sundaran in this temple. Following this tradition, a ritual procession is conducted during which the image of Sundareswarar lead by drummers is carried to Meenakshi’s bedroom to consummate the union and the image is taken back every morning.
The temple is very famous for the Chithhirai Brahamostavam Festival or Meenakshi Thirukkalyanam, the divine marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi. It is celebrated in the Tamil month of Chithhirai (April) every year. Theppa Thiruvizha (float festival) is held for seven days in the month of January.
During the period of Nayakar rule in Madurai, the ruler Thirumalai Nayakar linked the festival Azhakar Thiruvizha and the Meenakshi wedding ceremony.
Madurai city is well connected by road, rail and air.
Madurai airport is located 12 kms away from the city and there are two daily flights connecting Madurai to Chennai.
Madurai Junction Railway Station is the nearest railway station, which is a few minutes walk from the temple. There are many trains passing through Madurai.
Madurai Central Bus Station is located nearby and regular bus facility is available from almost all towns of Tamilnadu and a few cities of neighboring states.