Places to see in and around Madurai

Like Kanchipuram, one of the oldest living cities in India— and in the world—is Madurai, the City of Mother Meenakshi. In this article you can read about the legends associated with the city of Madurai and also get to know about the major places to see in and around Madurai.

Ancient Madurai was as much of a holy place as a busy centre of commerce, and no less a seat of culture. Ptolemy described it as emporium of the south. For centuries before Christ Madurai had trade links with Greece and Rome, apart from other old cities abroad.

We read in Kautilya's Arthashastra (4th century 13.c.) that Madurai was famous for its textile products and pearls.

How wealthy was the city? Note may be taken of this historical fact! After his plunder of the city, Sultan Alauddin Khilji returned with a booty that consisted of 512 elephants, five thousand horses and five hundred maunds (a maund is about 85 pounds) of jewels like diamonds, pearls, emeralds, and rubies!

Madurai was the capital of the Pandyas for long. Then it became a part of the Vijayanagar Empire. Still later it was the capital of thc Nayak rulers. Madurai is well connected with Chennai and Trivandrum by air; and by train and bus with all the major cities.

The Meenakshi Temple

This grand temple with majestic towers is situated in the heart of the city. In fact, the city was planned around the temple.

The Legend of Madurai

Once upon a time there was the forest—but charged with the presence of Shiva because he had been invoked by Indra who had done penance there. A king of Kalyanpur who was looking for a new site dreamt that Lord Shiva was sprinkling honey (madhu) on the forest. He made it his capital and named it Madhurapura , the city of honey or rather nectar. It came to be called in a shorter form as Madurai.

In some remote past a king had no son but a daughter—a highly gifted and beautiful one. She was called Meenakshi, as Meena (fish) for its form was an ideal simile for Akshi (eye).

Princess Meenakshi succeeded her father to the throne. The neighboring kings, hopeful of snatching the kingdom from the girl's hands marched upon Madurai—only to fall to Meenakshi's fierce sword or to her horse's kicks.

They just melted away before the princess and still the princess was galloping forth in search of any more enemy when, inside what was left of the forest, she met a smiling person. He was Shiva. At his sight Meenakshi remembered who she herself was—an incarnation of his eternal consort, Parvati. Meenakshi's temple has a shrine for Shiva, known as Sundareshwara.

Another legend explains the situation of the temple: a strange serpent was seen on the site which was chosen for the temple. The sanctum sanctorum stands where the serpent's head met the end of its tail. The area the serpent covered crawling, marked the boundary of the temple complex.

The temple complex occupies an area 830 feet by 730 feet. The central shrines are those of Goddess Meenakshi and Sundareshwara. Of the nine gopurams, the tallest is the southern one, rising to a height of 160 feet and nine inches.

Ferguson calls the thousand-pillared platform "the wonder of the place" . The pillars are beautifully filled with carvings. In the outer corridor are the famous musical pillars—each one sounding a different note when struck.

There are several Mandapams and the Golden Lotus Tank. This is said to have been the pool in which Indra had bathed. The tank has played a great role through the ages in inspiring literary compositions. It is said that there was a time when a manuscript would be thrown into its water. If it floated, it was a work of merit; if it sank, it was not of much worth. On the pillars are to he seen the figures of 24 ancient poets.

The Pudu Mandapam, a rectangular porch in front of the temple, constructed by king Thirurnala Nayak, is an outstanding monument. This has a granite roof supported by four parallel rows of 124 sculptured stone pillars, each 20 feet high, no one pillar repeating the sculpture or design of another.

We do not know when the earliest temple to this ancient deity had been built. Malik Kafur who invaded Madurai in the early 14th century destroyed the outer parts of the old temple.

Thirumala Nayak Mahal

The majestic palace built in Indo-Saracenic style is remarkable for the stucco work on its domes and arches. An aspect of it known as the Swarga Vilasam (Heavenly Luxury) was built with brick and mortar without the support of a single rafter or girder.

Vandidoor (or Mariamma) Theppakulam

This 1000 feet long and 950 feet wide tank has in it an island with a shrine. In January-February the colorful Floating Festival is held here to celebrate the birth anniversary of Thirumala Nayak. Various deities are taken out in illuminated and decorated floats.

Around Madurai


10 km south of Madurai, this is one of the six famous shrines of Lord Muruga (Kartikeya). This is a cave-temple. At its entrance there are 48 pillars with interesting sculptures.


One of the most ancient Vaishnava shrines in India, dedicated to Sri Kallalagar Sri Sundararajaswami, the temple is situated at the north-east of Madurai, 18 km away.
The shrine has for its backdrop a beautiful hill 3000 feet high with a spring at its top and shelter for visitors.

The water of only a specific sacred spring is sprinkled on the deity, as any other water blackens the image. The deity is annually taken to Madurai, with halts on the way. That is a great occasion.

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