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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Temples in Madurai

Madurai is Known as Athens of the East, Madurai is a place of great historical and cultural importance. It is the oldest city in Tamil Nadu and Madurai lies on the banks of the River Vaigai. Madurai is one of the liveliest cities in South India it was originally known as Kadambavanam or the "forest of Kadamba" or the Nauclea kadamba. Legend says that Lord Shiva appeared in the dream on the king, Kulasekhara Pandya. The king was amazed to see drops of nectar or madhu falling down of earth from Lord Shiva's matted hair. The "madhu" was so sweet that the place where it fell came to be known as Madhurapuri, which in course of time became "Madurai." Tamil and Greek documents record its existence from the 4th century B.C. Being in the heart of Tamil Nadu, Madurai has fostered an essentially Dravidian and Tamil culture. Famous for its cultural and scholarly pursuits, the city had an academy consisting of critics, poets and savants highly esteemed both by kings and commoners. It was in Madurai that three successful conferences of Tamil scholars called sangams flourished under benevolent royal support.

Madurai is famous for housing one of the five traditional dance halls where Lord Siva, in his form as the Silver Hall or the Velli Ambalam. It is situated within the Meenakshi Temple. Madurai was the capital of the dynasty. The Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Shrine is its central glory. The Muslims invaded Madurai in the 14th Century. Later it came under the rule of the Nayaks, and the rule of Thirumalai Nayak, who is remembered as the maker of modern Madurai, was an eventful one. Madurai was known to be the centre of learning and pilgrimage for centuries. Today, Madurai is a modern commercial and industrial city, with a vast University campus and is renowned for its weaving mills and dyeing industry. The chungadi cotton sarees are the speciality of this city with its colourful tie and dye motifs. Handicrafts, brassware, bronze items and the famous wooden toys of Madurai are some of the notable artifacts.

Sri Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple Synonymous with Madurai is the Meenakshi Sundareswarar twin-temple. It is the pivot around which the city has evolved. The Meenakshi Temple complex is literally a city on its own. It is one of the largest of its kind in India and undoubtedly one of the oldest too. The temple grew bigger with the contributions of each dynasty and victorious monarchs, into an enormous complex extending over an area of 65000 sq. metres. The temple was first built 2000 years ago and was substantially expanded during the reign of Thirumalai Nayak between the years (1623-55 AD). Lord Siva in his incarnation as Sundareswarar and his spouse Meenakshi, are enshrined in this twin temple. She is called Meenakshi because it is believed that her eyes are shaped like that of a fish. The name is made up of two words - meen for fish and askshi for the eye. There are four massive gateways enclosing these two shrines. Visitors are fascinated by the many paintings and sculptures that adorn this temple. A striking feature of the temple is the astonishing structure known as Ayiramkaal mandapam or the Hall of a thousand pillars in the outermost corridor. The hall has 985 pillars and each pillar features high, ornate, bold sculptures that look life- like. Viewed from any angle these pillars appear to be in a straight line it is an architectural masterpiece indeed. In the outermost corridors are situated the matchless musical pillars carved out of stone. When tapped, each pillar produces a different musical note and the hall resonates with the sound of this note.

Thirumalai Nayak Mahal : About 1.5kms from the Meenakshi temple is this palace that was built in 1636 by the ruler whose named it bears. The imposing edifice is famous for the stuccowork on its domes and impressive arches. The Sorga Vilasam or the Celestial Pavilion, measuring 75mx52m, is constructed entirely of brick and mortar without the support of a single rafter or girder. It is a marvel of Indo Saracenic architectural style. Among the other striking features of the palace are the massive white pillars, several of which line the corridor that runs along the courtyard. Connected by well-decorated arches, these pillars measure 20m in height and have a circumference of 4m. Elsewhere, there are polished black stone pillars of varying heights. It was King Thirumalai Nayak's grandson who demolished much of the fine structure and removed most of the jewels and woodcarvings in order to build his own palace in Thiruchirapalli. That his dream never came true is another story. Thanks to Lord Napier, the then Governor of Madras, who partially restored the palace in 1866-72, and the subsequent restoration works carried out several years ago, today, we get to see the Entrance Gate, the Main Hall and the Dance Hall. These are worth seeing too. There's a daily sound - and - Light show in English at 6.45 p.m and in Tamil at 8.15 p.m. This half an hour show extols the virtues of king Thirumalai, particularly his passion for the arts, his victories in battle and his love for his subjects. Palace is open for visitors.

Alagarkoil : About 21kms north east of Madurai, stands a celebrated Vishnu temple dedicated to Lord Alagar. The temple is situated on a hill amidst panoramic surroundings. The shrine is known as Alagarkoil and the hill is known Solaimalai. The temple also contain some beautiful carvings and makes the visit rewarding. Solai malai Mandapam, one of the six abodes of Lord Subramanya is located atop the hill.

Koodal Azhagar temple : This ancient and acclaimed Vaishnavite temple is noted for its remarkable architectural and sculptural magnificence. The Lord here is in the sitting or asana, standing or sthanaka and reclining or sayana postures, all enshrined in one vertical plane.


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