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Meenakshi Amman Temple information
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Meenakshi Amman Temple

Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Tamil Hindu temple located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Parvati, known as Meenakshi, and her consort, Shiva, here named Sundareswarar. The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2,500-year-old city of Madurai and is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature. Though most of the present structure was built between 1623 and 1655 CE. It is said that the temple was originally built in the 6th century BC by survivors of the Kumari Kandam. In the 14th century, the Sultanate Muslim Commander Malik Kafur plundered the temple and looted it of its valuables. It was rebuilt by the Nayak ruler Vishwanatha Nayakar around the 16th century. It was Vishwanatha Nayaka who rebuilt the temple in accordance to shilpa shastra. It houses 14 gopurams (gateway towers), ranging from 45–50m in height. The tallest is the southern tower, 51.9 metres (170 ft) high,[6] and two golden sculptured vimanas, the shrines over the garbhagrihas (sanctums) of the main deities. The temple attracts 15,000 visitors a day, around 25,000 on Fridays, and receives an annual revenue of ₹ 60 million. There are an estimated 33,000 sculptures in the temple. It was on the list of top 30 nominees for the "New Seven Wonders of the World". The temple is the most prominent landmark and most visited tourist attraction in the city. The annual 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, celebrated during April and May, attracts 1 million visitors. Meenakshi is a form of the Hindu goddess Parvati - the consort of Shiva, one of the many Hindu female deities to have a major temple devoted to her. The name "Mīnachchi" means fish-eyed and is derived from the words "mīna" meaning fish and "akṣi" meaning eyes. The goddess Meenakshi is the principal deity of the temple, not Sundareswarar, unlike most Shiva temples in South India where Shiva is the principal deity. According to Hindu legend, in order to answer the prayers of the second Pandya king Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai, Parvati appeared out of the holy fire of the Putra Kameshti Yagna (sacrifice for childhood) performed by the king. According to another legend, the goddess herself gave notice to Kanchanamalai in one of her previous births that Kanchanamalai would have the privilege of mothering the goddess. The girl who came out of the holy fire had three breasts. A voice from the heavens told the king not to worry about the abnormality and added that the third breast would vanish as soon as the girl met her future husband. The happy king named the girl "Tadaatagai" and as the heir to the throne, Tadaatagai was trained carefully in all the 64 sastras, the fields of science . As the time came for Tadaatagai's coronation, she had to wage war in three worlds encompassing eight directions. After conquering Brahma's Abode, Sathyaloka, Vishnu's Abode, Vaikunta, and Devas' abode Amaravati, she advanced to Shiva's Abode Kailasha. She easily defeated the bhoota ganas (IAST: Bhūtagana, meaning Shiva's army) and Nandi, the celestial bull of Shiva, and headed to attack and conquer Shiva. The moment she looked at Shiva, she was unable to fight and bowed her head down in shyness, and her third breast vanished immediately. Tadaatagai realized that Shiva was her destined husband. She also realized that she was the incarnation of Parvati. Both Shiva and Tadaatagai returned to Madurai and the king arranged the coronation ceremony of his daughter, followed by her marriage to Shiva. The marriage was to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Meenakshi, prepared to travel from his holy abode at Vaikuntam to preside over the marriage. Due to a divine prank, he was tricked by the Deva, Indra and was delayed on the way. After the marriage, the pair ruled over Madurai for a long time and then assumed divine forms as Sundareswarar and Meenakshi, the presiding deities of the temple. Following the tradition, every evening, before closing the temple, a ritual procession led by drummers and a brass ensemble carries the image of Sundareswarar to Meenakshi's bedroom to consummate the union, to be taken back the next morning in dawn. The marriage is celebrated annually as Chithirai Thiruvizha in Madurai. During the period of Nayakar rule in Madurai, the ruler Thirumalai Nayakar linked the festival. Legend has it that the Meenakshi temple was founded by Indra (king of Deva celestial deities). While he was on a pilgrimage to atone for his misdeeds. Indra felt his burden lifting as he neared the swayambu lingam (self formed lingam, a representation of Shiva used for worship in temples) of Madurai. He ascribed this miracle to the lingam and constructed the temple to enshrine it. Indra worshipped Shiva, who, in his grace, caused golden lotuses to appear in the nearby pool. Tamil literature speaks of the temple over the last two millennia. Thirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Saiva philosophy, mentioned this temple as early as the 7th century, and described the deity as Aalavai Iraivan. The initiative for some changes to the structure was taken first by Nayak king of Madurai, Viswanatha Nayak (1559–1600) under the supervision of Ariyanatha Mudaliar, the prime minister of the Nayaka Dynasty and the founder of the Poligar System. The original design by Vishwanatha Nayaka in 1560 was substantially expanded to the current structure during the reign of Tirumalai Nayaka (1623–55). Thirumalai Nayak took considerable interest in erecting many complexes inside the temple. His major contributions are the Vasantha Mandapam for celebrating Vasanthorsavam (spring festival) and Kilikoondu Mandapam (corridor of parrots). The corridors of the temple tank and Meenatchi Nayakar Mandapam were built by Rani Mangammal. During the period of early Pandian kings, the monarchy taxed the people for constructing this temple. People paid taxes and donations in the form of gold and silver. But the king wanted contributions as low as a bag of rice, which would help in feeding the masons who constructed the temple. So the kings also collected one handful of rice daily from each house. Thus, people from all sectors of life contributed in building the temple, and every family in Madurai has an emotional attachment to the temple. Rous Peter (1786–1828), the Collector of Madurai in 1812, was nicknamed 'Peter Pandian’ as he respected and treated people of all faiths equally. He donated a set of golden stirrups studded with diamonds and red stones to the temple. Goddess Meenatchi is believed to have saved Rous Peter from a fatal incident. He also wished that after his death, his body be buried in a position that would enable his eyes to face the temple. The temple is the geographic and ritual center of the ancient city of Madurai and one of the largest temple complexes in Tamil Nadu. The temple complex is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular enclosures contained by high masonry walls. It is one of the few temples in Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions. Vishwantha Nayaka allegedly redesigned the city of Madurai in accordance with the principles laid down by the Shilpa Shastras (Sanskrit: śilpa śāstra, also anglicized as silpa sastra meaning the rules of architecture) relevant to urban planning. The city was laid out in the shape of square with a series of concentric streets culminating from the temple. These squares continue to retain their traditional names, Aadi, Chittirai, Avani-moola and Masi streets, corresponding to Tamil month names. Ancient Tamil classics mention that the temple was the center of the city and the streets happened to be radiating out like a lotus and its petals. The temple prakarams (outer precincts of a temple) and streets accommodate an elaborate festival calendar in which dramatic processions circumambulate the shrines. The vehicles used in the processions are progressively more massive the further they travel from the centre. The temple is surrounded by gopurams (gateway tower) - There are 14 gopuram the tallest of which, the famous southern tower, rises to over 170 ft (52 m) and was built in 1559. The oldest gopuram is the eastern one, built by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan during 1216-1238 Each gopuram is a multi-storeyed structure, covered with thousands of stone figures of animals, gods and demons painted in bright hues. The outer gopuram presents steeply pyramidal tower encrusted with plaster figures, while the inner gopuram serves as the entrance to the inner enclosure of Sundareswarar shrine. The central shrine of Meenakshi Amman temple and her consort Sundareswarar are surrounded by three enclosures and each of these are protected by four minor towers at the four points of the compass, the outer tower growing larger and reaching higher to the corresponding inner one. The Meenakshi shrine has the emerald-hued black stone image of Meenakshi. The Sundareswarar shrine lies at the centre of the complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed later. Both the Meenakshi and Sundareswarar shrines have gold plated Vimanam (tower over sanctum). The golden top can be seen from a great distance in the west through the apertures of two successive towers. The area covered by the shrine of Sundareswarar is exactly one fourth of the area of the temple and that of Meenakshi is one fourth that of Sundareswarar. The tall sculpture of Ganesh carved of single stone located outside the Sundareswarar shrine in the path from Meenashi shrine is called the Mukuruny Vinayakar. A large measure of rice measuring 3 kurini (a measure) is shaped into a big ball of sacrifice and hence the Ganesh is called Mukkurni Vinayagar (three kurinis). This deity is believed to be found during a 17th-century excavation process to dig the Mariamman temple tank. The sacred temple tank Porthamarai Kulam ("Pond with the golden lotus"), is 165 ft (50 m) by 120 ft (37 m) in size. In the Tamil legends, the lake is supposed to judge the worth of a new piece of literature. Authors place their works here and the poorly written works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to float, Tirukkural by Tiruvalluvar was one such work. Only a fraction of 17th and 18th century paintings of Nayak period survives and one such portion is found in the small portico on the western side of the tank. It depicts the marriage of Sundareswarar and Meenkashi attended by Vijayaranga Chokkanatha and Rani Mangammal. The painting is executed on a vivid red background, with delicate black linework and large areas of white, green and ochre. The celestial couple is seated inside an architectural frame with a flowering tree in the background. The Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam ("Hall of 1000 pillars") has two rows of pillars carved with images of yali (mythological beast with body of lion and head of an elephant), commonly used as the symbol of Nayak power. It is situated to the north of Sundareswarar flag staff hall. The Thousand Pillar Hall contains 985 (instead of 1000) carved pillars. The hall was built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar in 1569 and blends engineering skill and artistic vision. Ariyanatha Mudaliar was prime minister and general of Viswanatha Nayaka, the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559–1600). He was also the founder of Poligar System, the quasi-feudal organization of the country dividing it into multiple palayams or small provinces in which each palayam was ruled by a palayakkarar or a petty chief. At the entrance of the hall is the statue of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a horse-back, flanking one side of the entrance to the temple. The statue is periodically garlanded by worshippers. Each pillar in the hall is a carved monument of the Dravidian sculpture. The more prominent among the carved figures are those of Rati (wife of Kama), Karthikeya, Ganesha, Shiva as a wandering mendicant and endless number of yalis (mythical figures of lions). There is a Temple Art Museum in the hall where icons, photographs, drawings, and other exhibits of the 1200 years old history of the temple are displayed. Just outside this hall, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note. A distinct feature of Meenakshi in terms of iconography is the presence of parrot in her right hand. The parrot is generally associated with the Vaishnava azhwar saint Andal. "Pancha Sabhai" refers to the five royal courts of Nataraja (dancing form of Shiva) where he performed cosmic dance. The Tamil word velli means silver and ambalam means stage or altar. This massive Nataraja sculpture is enclosed in a huge silver altar and hence called "Velli Ambalam" (silver abode). This is a special figure of Natarja which usually differs from Chola bronzes; in the Chola images, Nataraja is shown dancing with his left leg raised, but this sculpture has the right leg raised. According to the Tiruvilayaadal Puranam (Shiva's sacred games), this is on the request of Rajasekara Pandya, who was a sincere devotee of Shiva. He requested the deity to change his position, as he felt that keeping the same foot raised would put enormous strain and got a graceful acquiescence from the divine master.


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