The Meenakshi Temple Madurai

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|| Sree Meenakshi Temple Page I || Page II || Picture Gallery ||

||
Kubabisheka Pictures ||
|| TempleLayout ||

According to a mythological story, the Pandyan king Malayadhwaja and his queen Kanchanamala performed the 'Putra Kameshti Yaga' for a child. At the suggestion of Shiva, his eternal consort Parvathi consented to become the child of the pious king. She rose effulgent from the sacrificial fire as a little girl, with breasts; the third of which would disappear when Shiva set his eyes on her. The girl was named Thadathangai and she was brought up as a 'princess' under divine instructions.

Princess Thadathangai succeeded her father to the throne and led armies on successful campaigns of conquest. In her last campaign in North India, she challenged Shiva himself at Kailas, but when She saw the great Lord, She fell in love with him. The bridegroom followed her home, married her, took the name Sundara Pandya and together they ruled Madurai.

The legend says that the Lord performed several miracles during his wedding. There was nothing on the side of the bridegroom's party to match the regal splendour of the preparations made for his marriage; the story goes that on the wedding day, much to the astonishment of all, god Sundareshwara, the bridegroom came only with a dwarf "Gundodhara'. Meenakshi, with a view to show her husband that she was very rich and powerful than him, haughtily remarked that the grand wedding arrangements would go waste since the bridegroom had not brought with him a large retinue befitting the occasion. God Sundareshwarar said that it would be sufficient if they would be able to feed the dwarf brought with him. To the amazement of all, everything that Madurai could produce in shape of things to eat and drink was not enough to satisfy appetite of Gundodhara, as the legend relates. Gundodhara quickly consumed both cooked and uncooked things and started asking for more. When there was nothing else left to eat, the dwarf began cry for water to quench his thirst. All the water in the wells reservoirs of the city had gone in the same way as the food. It was only Mother Annapurneshwari that could satisfy his hunger and Ganga his thirst, when they were summoned for the purpose by Lord Shiva. Sundareshwarar asked the dwarf to place his palms on the ground and directed a flow of water which is said to be the picturesque Vaigai river on the banks of which grew the charming city of Madurai.

This wonderful theme has been taken by the South Indian artits to create superb sculpture and paintings. They have found the marriage of Shiva and Parvathi a traditional source of inspiration. Sixty four such legends relating to this marriage have been dedicated to the Goddess. The celebrated poem Tiruvilayadal Puranam describes that Sundara Pandya and his queen ruled the kingdom as mortal kings. In course of time, they got a son who was named Ugra Pandya, later on to be called as Lord Muruga. After crowning their son to take over the kingdom, they revealed their real identities as Lord Sundareshwara and Goddess Meenakshi.

Being in the heart of Tamilnadu, Madurai has fostered through centuries, an essentially Dravidian and Tamil culture. It was in Madurai that three successful Tamil academies, known as Sangams flourished under the benevolent royal support. Silappadhikaram, one of the early known literary compositions of the world, was composed at Madurai by Elango Adigal, a celebrated ascetic and brother of Cheran Senguttavan, a Cheran king, where Kannagi sought justice for her husband from the Pandyan king. Madurai is famed as one of the five traditional dance halls of Shiva where in his aspect as Nataraja, he is standing on the right foot, while in all other four halls, he is standing on his left foot. The famous hall ,is known as the 'Rajatha Sabha' {Silver Hall) or Vasantha Mandapam, as contrasted with 'Ponnambalam', the 'Hall of Gold' in Chidambaram.

The most well known of Madurai is the Meenakshi Sundareshwarar twin temple, the pivot around which the city has evolved. The Meenakshi temple complex is literally a city one of the largest of its kind in India, undoubtedly one of the oldest. Various kings have renovated it, adding convoluted corridors. It is believed that most of the temple as it stands today, owes its existence largely to the endeavour of the Nayaks, who, descending from Vijayanagar rulers, guided its destiny in the 17th century. Shiva in his incarnation as Sundareshwarar and his fish-eyed spouse, Meenakshi, are enshrined in this twin temple. There are four massive gateways enclosing these two temples. Facing the shrine of Sundareshwarar is the lavishly embellished 'Pudu Mandapam', also known as 'Vasantha.Mandapam'. On each of the pillars, is represented Shiva in his various manifestations. The attractive life-size statues of the ten Nayaka rulers together with their consorts are installed here. To the south of the main shrine dedicated to Shiva, is the temple of Goddess Meenakshi. The structure with its two concentric enclosures is about half the size of the main shrine. The porch leading to the temple is called "Ashta Shakti Mandapam' on account of the eight Shakti Goddesses figured therein.

There are in all eleven towers to this temple, the largest and most beautiful being the one on the southern doorway. Rising to a height of about 70 metres, this impressive 'gopuram' is by far the most ornate and florid of the Dravidian towers. It has nine stories and crowded with grinning gargoyles and gryphons that perch on the ornate curved edges. The surface of the 'gopurams' on the southern door way is covered with plastic figures of deities and semi- divine characters, freely sculptured and drawn from Hindu mythology representing the appearance of a pulsating mass of masonry. With frequent renovations and additions being done down the centuries, there are more than 1,600 sculptured figures.
An interesting incident is revealed by the local people which happened during the time of renovation work in 1923 A.D. While depicting the coronation of Meenakshi, the artist out of his own imagination included the figure of Mahatma Gandhi among the figures of audience. Some British officers who noticed it seem to have taken objection to it. It is understood that the figure of Gandhi was altered to depict a sage with a long beard.
During the year 1960A.D., some of these figures were completely rebuilt and painted with gorgeous colours at great cost by Nattukottai Chettis. The northern 'gopuram' long known as "Mettai " is no there longer since a courageous Chetty endowed it with the plaster top; still it carried terracotta figures.
No one enters or leaves the temple by the eastern tower which has become a taboo since a temple employee flung himself down from its top in the reign of Chokkanatha nayaka as a protest against an unjust levy. Visitors generally enter by the Ashta Lakshmi Mandapam.

The entrance to the temple by way of Meenakshi Nayakan Mandapam and also the Pudhu Mandapam is packed with stalls and shops which sell all sorts of things and spoil the dignity and beauty of the structures. At the farther end of the mandapam is a door way surrounded by a brass frame covered with scores of oil lamps lighted daily.

The high point of Meenakshi temple is its celebrated " Court of Thousand Pillars ". Built around the year 1560A.D ., it is a great work of structural engineering as well as sculpture and art. Every one of its thousand pillars is subjected to an amazing variety of ornate carvings. the sculptured figures of a nomadic tribe called Kuravi and his wife at the entrance itself are very interesting. There is an eye-catching sculpture of a main carrying a woman on his shoulders . From any point inside the Hall of pillars, it presents a magnificient view.

The hall's other statues explore the entire range of human emotions. Some of the sculptures are immense, the stone gleaming with the antic lustre. In the corner is the statue of the fierce Bhadrakali. Small balls of butter are hurled at the deity by the devotees to appease her anger.

The monolith figure of Rati(goddess of love) is a marvellous sculpture. The slightly elongated Pandyan beauty wears large earings. Her arms, neck, waist, bosom and feet are encrusted with swirls over thighs, calf muscles and ankles. She has long hair done in a loose knot. She sits astride a swan. The foot of the flag shaft is guilded with gold and faces the shrine directly.

The thousand pillar mandapam is supposed to have been built by Arya Natha Mudaliyar , the Prime Minister of the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559-1600 A.D.) and the founder of 'Poligar System'. An equestrian statue of the Mudaliyar flanks one side of the steps leading to the 'mandapam'. Except the inner shrines, probably no part of the temple is older than the 16th century. The general plan of the sanctuary is typical of the gigantic South Indian temples with vast quadrangular enclosures and lofty 'gopurams' overlooking the central shrine. Round about the temple, outside the higher walls, is a neat garden fenced with iron railings.

Even a casual visitor is fascinated by the many paintings and sculptures in this shrine. The ceilings are decorated with large paintings showing Shaivite and Vaishnavite themes. There is a beautiful painting "of the marriage of Sundareswarar with Devi Meenakshi". Another beautiful painting is that of Harihara.

In the outer corridor are the most popular musical pillars, five in number, each composed of twenty two slender rods carved out of a single rock of granite, which produce the 'Saptha Swaras' when gently tapped with a wooden rod. There is a spacious 'pushkarini' in front of the Meenakshi shrine called the Golden Lotus Tank or 'Ponthamaraikulam'. Beautifully paved stone steps on all the four sides are set to reach the placid water. The great tower , of the south reflected in the Golden Lily Tank is perhaps the best known view of the Meenakshi Sundareshwarar temple.
According to mythology, Indra from Devaloka entered this tank and it was filled with golden Lillies. It is said that the tank was also, used to judge the literary merit of the manuscripts of poets and authors. When placed on the water, the manuscripts would float supported by a plank if its value was considered worthy: otherwise it would sink to the bottom. This testing miraculous plank was called 'Sanga Palkki' (sanga plank) and can still be seen in the temple museum. This tradition amply substantiates the view that Madurai once a centre of learning and erudition. The Pandyan kings were great patrons of arts and letters. One of the first monarchs of the dynasty, Ugra Paruvaludi (128-140 A.D.) is gratefully ,remembered for the patronage he extended to poet Tiruvalluvar.

For about ten years after shifting to Madurai, Tirumala Nayaka devoted most of his time in improving defences and fortifications. He built the portions of Meenakshi temple that had been destroyed. He added the Pudumandapam, in front of the main temple. One of the greatest structures of its kind, it took seven years to complete the master sculptor Sumantimurthi. During this time, Nilakanta Dikshitar, the famous poet was Nayaka's Minister and adviser.

The construction of these 'mandapams' resulted in some interesting incidents which are worth mentioning. According to tradition, it is stated that when the chief sculptor was carving out of a pillar a figure of the principal queen of the Nayaka, a small stone piece chipped away from the thigh portion of the figure making an ugly depression. When the matter was reported to Minister Dikshitar, he is said to have asked the sculptor to ignore the damage and proceed further. After the idol was finished, Nayaka came to know the story and suspected the Minister, as his queen really had a similar mole on her thigh. Deciding to punish Dikshitar by blinding his eyes he sent word to him to come to the palace. But the Minister scented the intention of the king and he himself blinded the eyes by applying burning camphor to his eyes. Nayaka rushed to Dikshitar and expressed his remorse and sorrow. Nilakanta Dikshitar is said to have composed a Sanskrit poem of 107 stanzas called 'Anandasagara Sthavanam' in praise of the Goddess and by her grace he got back his vision to the joy of every one.

Another incident is equally interesting. Tirumala Nayaka took considerable interest during the erection of the Vasantha Mandapa. According to the story, it is said that Sundaramurthi Achari, the master Architect was so deeply engrossed in creating a relief sculpture of an elephant eating sugarcane. The Nayaka who was standing nearby rolled some betel leaves and arecanuts and handed them over to the sculptor. Without knowing who gave the betel leaves, the sculptor mechanically took them and began chewing without seeing around. After a while, he realised that Nayaka himself gave the betel leaves. Deeply affected by the mistake, he damaged his two fingers which received the betel leaves. Moved by his devotion to his master, Nayaka consoled him and gave him valuable presents.

Nayaka's architectural masterpiece was his own palace. Even in its present remnants show, what a marvellous building it should have been when it was completed in April 1636 A.D., when the Nayaka moved into it. The Jesuit Fathers of that time who visited Nayaka in this palace, have said that the new palace built compared well with the ancient monuments of Thebes in ancient Greece. There is a tradition that Chokkanatha Nayaka, his grandson, dismantled portions of the palace and its golden decorations and other ornamental structures and transferred them to Tiruchirapally. The great palace was allowed to be neglected and go to ruin. In 1886 A.D., when Lord Napier was the British Governor of Madras, he ordered to preserve this palace as a historical monument.
Some of the wars of Tirumala Nayaka are chronicled in a brilliant Tamil ballad called 'Ramappayam Annanain' and are sung in the rural areas. Tirumala Nayaka has immortalised himself more through his mighty buildings and monuments than by the victories in war.
Many festivals are celebrated in the Meenakshi temple which is known as the 'Temple of feasts'. The numerous festivals celebrated at the shrine almost around the year, represent the ideas and thoughts of the cultured and progressive people of that region in the field of philosophy, religion, science and art.



|| Sree Meenakshi Temple Page I || Page II || Picture Gallery ||

||
Kubabisheka Pictures ||
|| TempleLayout ||



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