A world famous Hindu temple of India.
Madurai,the second largest City of Tamil Nadu, hovers around this temple; almost all important roads of Madurai either start or end at this temple.
This temple and the Goddess Meenakshi inspired the Tamil life in many ways. The divine marriage of Meenakshi with Sundareswar was the favorite theme for the Tamil Literature for centuries. It inspired (still inspires) the Tamil culture and the Tamil way of life in many ways.
The legend is that Meenakshi was the daughter of Pandya king Malayadwaja Pandya. The king did many Yagnas for many years to get a child, as he wanted a heir to his throne. Finally, during a Yagna, a girl child came out of the sacrificial fire. But to King’s surprise, the girl child had three breasts. King became nervous as it is unusual.
At that time, he heard a divine voice. It told him the third breast shall automatically disappear once Meenakshi meets her consort.
In due course, due to the old age of Malayadwaja Pandya, Meenakshi became the ruler of Pandya kingdom. She had won many battles both on earth and on the ether world. Finally, she met Lord Shiva on the battle field at Kailas. The moment she met Shiva her third breast disappeared. At that moment the mortal girl Meenakshi realized that she was the incarnation of Goddess Parvati; destined to marry Lord Shiva.
The Pandya king Malayadwaja solemnized the marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareswar (Lord Shiva) in a grand manner. It is attended by almost all who is who of that time on earth. Besides all Gods, devas and rishis of devaloka.
Sundareswar or Lord Shiva is the principal deity of this temple although the temple became famous by the name of Meenakshi. According to another legend, Indra- the Chief of devas, consecrated the Shiva Linga here. He got the Linga from Kadambavanam (Kadamba is a divine tree that grows only in Devalokam.) The stub of a Kadamba tree is still preserved in the temple as a reminder of this legend.
The Original temple is built by Sri.Kulasekhara Pandya, a Pandya king of 8th Century AD. But in 1310 AD, the fanatic Muslim invader, Malik Kafur vandalized the original structure.
The credit to the present structure goes to the Nayak rulers of Madurai who ruled the area between 16nth to 18 nth centuries AD.
Vishwanath Nayak- the first Nayak ruler of Madurai (1559-1600 AD) took the initiative of re-building the ruined temple. He was aided by his able Prime Minister Sri. Ariyannatha Muthaliar.
Sree Tirumala Nayakkar, greatest ruler of the Nayak dynasty (1623-1659) made many noteworthy additions, making the temple as we see it today.
The majestic temple complex spans into about 55 acres. It has 12 gopuras and a spacious courtyard. The complex has four principal gopuras, of which, the Southern Gopura is the loftiest. Presently, the Southern Gopura is used as the principal entry point to the temple.
Every inch of the temple complex is used in aesthetic way. The thousand pillared (actually 985 in number) hall is an architectural marvel, so is the Kalyana mandapam adjacent to it. This Kalyana Madapam is the venue of famous Kalyan Utsav of Goddesss Meenakshi during the Chithirai festival in April. There is also a temple art Museum adjacent to the thousand pillared hall.
The Ashta Shakti Mandap on the Eastern gate, where eight idols of Goddess Durga in various forms are installed, is note worthy. But at present, this area is covered by shops and other vendors, nullifying the beauty of the sculptures.
The temple tank, known as Pottramarai Kulam (Golden Lotus Tank), is also significant. Earlier, Tamil Sangam or Academy of Tamil Scholars used to meet on the banks of this tank. They judged the worthiness of a new book or kriti by throwing it to the water of this tank; if the book floats, it is good; if not worthless (!!)
The shrine of Lord Nataraja, known as Velliambalam (the silver abode), is an important place. It is adjacent to Sundareswar shrine. Significance of this temple is that it is one of the Panchasabhas of Lord Nataraja. These Panchasabhas, made out of different materials, are considered as principal dance halls of Lord Nataraja. Other four Sabhas are Thiruvangadu (Rathna Sabha), Tirunelveli (Thamira-Copper Sabha), Kutralam (Chithira Sabha or picture hall) and Chidambaram (Kanka Sabha or Golden Hall)
Meenakshi tirukalyana festival in April is the most important festival of the temple, followed Avanimoola Utsav of Sundareswar.
Madurai is about 450 kilometers from Chennai, the State Capital. Being the second biggest city of Tamil Nadu, and also one of the major industrial centers in South India, reaching it may not be a problem.