Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located in the holy city of Madurai in India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva – who is known here as Sundareswarar or Beautiful Lord– and his consort, Parvati who is known as Meenakshi. The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old city of Madurai. The complex houses 14 magnificent Gopurams or towers including two golden Gopurams for the main deities that are elaborately sculptured and painted. The temple is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, and has been mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature, though the present structure is believed to have been built in 1600. The tallest temple tower is 51.9 metres (170 ft) high.

History:

According to Hindu legend, in order to answer the prayers of the second Pandya king Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai, Goddess Parvati appeared out of the Holy Fire of the Putra Kameshti Yagna performed by the king. According to another legend, the goddess herself had given a boon to Kanchanamalai in one of her previous births that she will have the privilege of mothering the goddess. This girl, who came out of the holy fire had three breasts, to the king’s shock. A voice from the heavens told him not be worried and that the third breast will vanish as soon as the girl meets her future husband. The happy king named the girl as ‘Tadaatagai’ and brought her up. The girl does not have any realization of her birth and she grows up as a normal human girl. Being the heir to the throne after Malayadwaja, Tadaatagai was trained carefully in all the 64 fields of knowledge, which includes warfare, too. As the time came when Tadaatagai should be coronated, according to the customs, she had to wage war on the three worlds across eight directions (Digvijayam). After conquering Satyaloka (Lord Brahma’s Abode), Vaikuntha (Lord Vishnu’s Abode) and Amaravati (the Divine Abode of the Devas), she advanced to Kailasha (Lord Shiva’s Abode). She very easily defeats the Ganas and Nandi, the celestial bull; she headed to attack and conquered Shiva, the owner of the place. No sooner she looked at the Lord, the third breast vanished immediately. Tadaatagai, realizes the reason and understands that Lord Shiva is her destined husband, and she realizes that she is the incarnation of Parvati. Then both of them return to Madurai and the king arranges the coronation ceremony of his daughter, followed by her marriage with Shiva, the next day. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Meenakshi, was travelling to preside over the marriage from his holy abode at Vaikuntam. Due to a divine play, he was tricked by God Indra and delayed on the way. Meanwhile, the marriage was presided over by a local god from Thirupparankundram Pavalaakanivaai Perumal. This is celebrated annually as ‘Chitirai Thiruvizha’ in Madurai. During the period of Nayakar rule in Madurai, the ruler Thirumalai Nayakar then linked the ‘Azhakar Thiruvizha’ and the ‘Meenakshi Wedding’. Hence born the ‘Azhaghar Thiruvizha’ or ‘Chithirai Thiruvizha’.

Pandya king

Kulasekara Pandya was the king who constructed the temple, but in later it was developed by Madurai Nayak dynasty. It is the temple with lot of wonder with itself.

Modern history

The history of the original structure is not properly known, but Tamil literature speaks about the temple for the last couple of millennia. Thirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Shaiva philosophy, mentioned this temple as early as the 7th century, and described the Lord as Aalavai Iraivan. The temple was believed to have been sacked by the infamous Muslim invader Malik Kapur in 1310 and all the ancient elements were destroyed. The initiative to rebuild the structure was taken by first Nayak King of Madurai Viswanatha Nayak (1559-1600 A.D.) under the supervision of Ariyanatha Mudaliar, the Prime Minister of the Nayak Dynasty and the founder of the Poligar System. Then came the most valuable contributions of King Thirumalai Nayak circa 1623 to 1659. He took considerable interest in erecting many Complexes (Veeravasantharayar Mandapam) inside and outside the temple and he built Vasantha Mandapa for celebrating vasanthorsavam and Kilikoottu Mandapam, corridors of Teppakulam etc., was built by Rani Mangammal. Meenakshi Nayakar Mandapam was built by Rani Meenakshi.

The Temple Structure

The temple is the geographic and ritual centre of the ancient city of Madurai. The temple walls, streets and finally the city walls (ancient) were built around the temple in concentric squares. Ancient Tamil classics mention that the temple was the centre of the city and the streets happened to be radiating out like the lotus and its petals. It is one of the few temples in Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions.

The complex is in around 45 acres (180,000 m2) and the temple is a massive structure measuring 254 by 237 meters. The temple is surrounded by 12 towers, the tallest of which, the famous Southern tower, rises to over 170 ft (52 m) high.

Shrines

This temple is a complex of many deities. The Shiva shrine lies at the centre of the complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed later. Outside the Shrine, lies huge sculpture of Ganesh carved of single stone and there is a shrine for a giant Ganesh temple, called the Mukuruny Vinayakar. This deity is believed to have been found during an excavation process to dig the temple lake. The Meenkashi shrine is on the left of the Shiva shrine and is of sculpturally less valuable than the Shiva shrine.

Velli Ambalam

This is one of the five royal courts (Sabai or Sabha) where Lord Shiva is found as Nataraja, performing his Cosmic Dance. The Tamil word ‘Velli’ means Silver and ‘Ambalam’ means Stage or altar. This Shiva shrine also consists of an unusual sculpture of Nataraja. This massive Nataraja sculpture is enclosed in a huge silver altar and hence called ‘Velli Ambalam’ (The Silver abode). The famous Hindu marquee and a dancing form of Shiva that normally has his left foot raised, has his right foot raised in this temple. According to the Tiruvilayaadal Puranam, this is on the request of Rajasekara Pandya, who was a sincere devotee of Lord Shiva. He asked the Lord to change his position, as he felt that always keeping the same foot raised would put enormous stress on it, based on his personal experiments in dancing.

Porthamarai Kulam

The sacred pond inside the temple is a very holy site for devotees. People go around the 165 ft (50 m) by 120 ft (37 m) lake before entering the main shrine. The name means the Pond with the Golden Lotus, and the lotus that grows in it has a golden colour. According to legend, Lord Shiva promised a stork that no fish or other marine life would grow here and thus no marine animals are found in the lake. In the Tamil legends, the lake is supposed to be a judge for judging a worth of a new literature. Thus, authors place their works here and the poorly written works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to float.

Thousand Pillar Hall

Thousand Pillar hall of Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple was built with the oldest Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunelveli as a model. The Aayiram Kaal Mandapam or Thousand Pillar Hall contains 985 (instead of 1000) carved pillars. It is considered culturally important and is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The Thousand Pillared Hall was built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar in 1569. He was the Prime Minister and General of Viswanatha Nayak of the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559-1600 A.D.). He was also the founder of Poligar System, the quasi-feudal organization of the country, which was divided into multiple palayams or small provinces and each palayam was ruled by a palayakkarar or a petty chief. At the entrance of the Mandapam, we can still see his statue; the majestic pose of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a beautiful horse-back which flanks one side of the entrance to the temple. The statue is still periodically crowned with garlands by modern worshippers. Each pillar is carved and is a monument of the Dravidian sculpture. There is a Temple Art Museum in the hall where icons, photographs, drawings, and other exhibits of the 1200 years old history are displayed. Just outside this mandapam, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note. The kalyana mandapa, to the south of the pillared hall, is where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year during the Chithirai Festival in mid-April.

Ashta Shakthi Mandapam

This is the first hall in the entrance of Meenakshi shrine tower near to East Tower. The hall carry the statues of eight goddesses and hence the name. At present we could find many shops selling pooja items in this hall.

Festivals

The most important festival associated with the temple is the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam (The divine marriage of Meenkashi) that is celebrated in April every year. During that one month period, in which most Tamil Nadu temples celebrate their annual festivals, there are a number of events including the Ther Thiruvizhah (Chariot festival) and Theppa Thiruvizhah (Float festival) are celebrated. Apart from this, major Hindu festivals like Navrathri, Shivrathri are celebrated in a grand manner. Like most Shakti temples in Tamil Nadu, the Fridays during the Tamil months of Aadi (July 15 – Aug 17) and Thai (Jan 15 to Feb 15) are popularly celebrated with thousands of devotees thronging to the temple. In every Tamil month some festive occasions will happen in the temple like Aavani Urchavam, Maarghazi Urchavam, Navaraathri, etc. Like Meenakshi Thirukalyanam Festival, Avani Moola Utsavam is also the major important festival in Meenakshi Amman Temple. This is a 10-day festival mainly devoted to Lord Sundareswarar which describes His various leelai a.k.a. Thiruvilayadal performed in Madurai city to save His devotees from distractions and problems.

The towers of the temple were covered in scaffolding for repainting till March 2009. The work was completed in early April 2009 by numerous Temple craftsmen who abstained from a number of vices to be eligible to undertake the work. Also most of the archaeological retrieval works on the paintings, walls, scriptures, statues inside the temple were completed on a war-footing. The Temple adorns a very fresh look now.

The temple consecration (Kumbabhishekam) took place on Wednesday, April 8, 2009 between 9:00 am and 9:45 am by 300 Sivachariars in a grand fashion.

 

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