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Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal

When Krishna Devaraya was the King of Vijayanagar, he sent one general Nagama Naick to Madurai to control the internal confusion in the Madurai regional politics. Nagama Naick controled the waring groups and restored peace, but declared himself as an independant ruler. This act provoked the King Krishna Devaraya and he sent Viswanatha Naick, the son of the revolutionary Nagama, to arrest and produce his father in the royal court. Viswanatha fulfilled the order of the King, but justified his father's act and explained the real condition of the region. King, being convinced by the explanation of Viswanatha, released his father and crowned Viswanatha as the ruler of Madurai as a reward to his loyalty. Thus the Madurai Naick Principality was established about 1530 A.D.

This Palace was built in 1636 by King Thirumalai Nayak with the help of an Italian Architect. The building we see today was the main Palace where the King lived. The original Palace Complex was four times bigger than the present structure. This palace consisted mainly of two parts, namely Swargavilasa and Rangavilasa.

In these two parts, there are royal residence, theatre, shrine, apartments, armoury, palanquin place, royal bandstand, quarters, pond and garden. King Thirumalai Nayak celebrated festivals like Sceptre festival, Navarathri, Chithirai festival, Masi festival and the Float festival.

He conducted daily dance and music performances in the palace. This palace was destroyed by his grandson Chokkanatha Nayak and the valuables were transferred to other places.

During 19th century, Lord Napier, governor of Madras between 1866 and 1872 made several renovation works. Today, only the spacious rectangular courtyard called the swarga Vilasam and a few adjoining biuldings survive, their awesome scale evoking the grandeur of a vanished era. The courtyard measures 3,900 sq.m and is surrounded by massive circular pillars. To its west lies the Throne Chamber, a vast room with a raised, octagonal dome. This room leads to the Dance Hall. Then the palace was utilized to house some officials of the judiciary and district administration. After independence, this palace was declared as a national monument and is now under the care of the Tamilnadu Archaeological Department. It can be visited from 9a.m to 5 p.m on payment of the entrance fee.

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 wall 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 Lilly 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 was 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.

In the 14th century, Madurai aroused the cupidity of Malikkafur who invaded it and set up a Mohammadan dynasty that remained in power for nearly fifty years, at the end of which it was conquered by a General of the Vijayanagar Empire and became a feudatory. The Vijayanagar Emperor, while guarding the kingdom against the invaders, subsequently restored it to the descendants of the Pandyan kings.

From the middle of the 16th century, right up to the eighth decade of the 18th century. the city retained its glory as the principal seat of the Nayakas. Although Vishwanatha Nayaka, the first and greatest of a long line of distinguished rulers, is credited with having laid the foundations of a well planned and well fortified city. Tirumala Nayaka, who ascended to throne in 1623 A.D., and ruled over Madurai for 36 years can be said to have made the largest single contribution towards the enhancement of the beauty and splendour of the town by magnificent edifices and monuments.

A little away from the temple precincts in the town is the ruins of Palace of Tirumala Nayaka constructed during his reign (1623-1645 A.D.). It contains beautiful domes and arches. One of the domes stands without the support of girder -an architectural feat of everlasting wonder. They must have been an extravagance of stucco in its heyday.

Tirumala Nayaka was undoubtedly the greatest of the Nayaka rulers. The Nayakas of Madurai like those of Thanjavur and gingee ruled South India as the Governors of Vijayanagar emperors and gradually became independent rulers as the empire began to decline and breakup, though they did not like to call themselves as kings due probably to their reverence to the dynasty.

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