Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple is one of the masterpieces of Dravidian architecture, designed based on the human body. Built by many generations of Pandyan rulers, the Temple sits on 16 acres of land. There are 14 towers which also serve as entrances into this Temple.
Address: North Chitrai Street, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 625001, India
91 452 234 4360 ()
Hours of operation: 5 AM - 12.30 PM ; reopens again 4 P.M - 9.30 PM
Fee: Entrance: 55 rupees ( US $1) Camera 50 rupees (US 91 cents) ; Video camera 250 rupees (US $4.50)
Rules: You cannot go in with shorts, only long pants. If you don't have pants, you can buy a "veshti" in nearby shops for $2 and tie it around your waist. Cannot wear shoes inside as it as a holy place. No socks either. It can get quite difficult to walk on the rocky floors on a sunny day. Foreigners pay extra. There are signboards that say "Only Hindus are permitted in the inner sanctum." You may be able to get into the Sanctum if you mingle with the crowd. Photography of the inner temple is prohibited. Many signboard warn you of dire consequences if seen taking pictures of Meenakshi idol. Buy a "special Dharisanam" ticket for 15 rupees which will bypass the crowd.
Shops: Buy plenty of souvenirs, snacks and other shops available inside the Temple Complex.
Restrooms: It is not customary to have restrooms inside Hindu temples, but it is possible they have a restroom. Decent public restrooms are generally not available in India.
Remember: Beware of con artists who target foreigners. They claim to be guides, lure you outside for a vantage point view of the towers and then rob you.
Above: The southern tower of Madurai Meenakshi Temple, heavily ornated by thousands of Gods
History: Kulasekara Pandian, the Grandfather of Queen Meenakshi constructed a small temple with a Lingam. Around 300 B.C Meenakshi reigned the Pandyan Kingdom, and ordered the massive construction of this Temple. The Temple was further expanded by the newer generations of Pandyan kings by clearing the forest of Cadamba trees (Kadambakaadu). The temple was partially destroyed by the Muslim Invader Malik Kafur in 1310 A.D. A restoration project was undertaken by Viswanatha Nayak (1559-1600) who also added many new structures to the Temple.
Above: Madurai Meenakshi Amman architecture described by a Tamil guide (English transcription)
Temple Design & Architecture: The temple is designed based on the human body. There are 5 main entrances based on the human senses (see, hear, smell, taste and touch). There are 9 smaller entrances to the inside complex that denote the 9 orifices of the human body (2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 ears, mouth, urethra and anus). In Hindu culture, it is believed that the air travelling through these 9 entrances (orifices) was the soul itself. If the air stopped flowing, your soul would leave the body. The streets of Madurai are constructed as concentric circles, with the temple at the center. This is also thought of as a "Lotus Formation". The temple is one of the masterpieces of Dravidian architecture and many recent temples abroad were constructed based on this style. SivaSubramanya Temple in Fiji is such an example.
Above: The top of the tower is protected by eyes-bulging, fierce warrior Hindu Gods
Towers & Entrances:
There are 5 outer towers ranging from 147 feet to 170 feet height. The tallest is the southern tower which is 170 feet tall. There are 9 smaller towers inside the temple complex. All the towers have huge gateways at the bottom to allow visitors. These towers are made up of 9 storeys of hollow chambers inside for the priests and sculptors to do worships and reparations. The mid portion of the towers are decorated with stucco work of thousands of deities. Every twelve years, these figures are repaired, repainted and reconsecrated. The top level of the towers are adorned with fierce monster deities. These fierce figures are considered to guard and support the top level.
Above: The Hall of Thousand Pillars aka Ayiram Kal Mandapam provides a magnificient view
Hall Of Thousand Pillars:
This is the biggest hall in the temple. It was built in 1569 A.D by Ariyanatha Mudaliyar. "Aayiram Kaal Mandapam" means the hall of thousand pillars. However, it only has 985 pillars. In the center of this hall, there are huge statues of Nataraja and Sivakami. It is also called Chithira Sabai. At the roof of the entrance to this hall, there are sculptures which illustrate the 60 year cycle of the Tamil calendar.
Above: Madurai Meenakshi Idol is not permitted to photograph, so this is the best available one.
Meenakshi Amman Idol: The Meenakshi Amman idol is carved out of a green stone, presumably Jadeite. Some people think it is made up of emerald, hence Meenakshi is also called "Maragathambal" or "Maragathavalli". Maragatham is the Tamil word for emerald. However, the statue is too large to be built entirely of emerald and Jadeite is perhaps the best guess. Taking pictures of this idol is prohibited, so the picture above is the best available. The distinctive feature of the statue is its eyes. The eyes are big, beautiful and mysterious and Meenakhi is indeed a very apt name(Meen=Fish & Eyes= Aksi). There is a tower directly on top of this shrine which is plated with gold.
Above: The shrines of Meenakshi and Sundarar are covered by gold plated vimanas
Sundareswarar Idol: The idol of Sundarar is a Lingam, a phallic symbol that shows the masculine power. This lingam was formed as a suyambu, meaning it was not carved, but found in this shape itself. Kulasekara Pandyan, the grand father of Meenakshi installed this Lingam here. At that point, it was merely worshipped as a symbol of Siva (masculine energy). During Meenakshi- Sundarar wedding, this Lingam was dubbed as Sundarar, and the tradition is kept till date.
Above: The sign board of the "Hall of 100 Pillars" which is used for meditation
Hall of 100 Pillars: This is a meditation hall built from stones and has 100 pillars supporting the ceiling. It is also called Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam or Nooru Kaal Mandapam. If you are not in a hurry, try and sit in here for a few minutes. It is a very pleasant and peaceful experience.
Above: The roof of the Ashta Sakthi Mandapam is painted with rich colors
Ashta Shakthi Mandapam: Built by the two wives of Thirumalai Naicker, it is dedicated to the eight forms of Shakthi (Feminine power). These 8 forms are sculpted on the eight pillars of the hall. The life history of Meenakshi is painted on the ceilings of this hall.
Above: Kamathenu, a mythical half woman - half cow is a symbol of abundance in Hindu mythology
The Museum: The temple also houses a museum, which has a collection of antique items. It has antique coins from different periods, rare paintings and also a collection of metal idols. These idols were made from an alloy of 5 different metals which produced unique malleable and ductile properties. It also has other unique items such elephant tusk carvings, etc.
Other halls: The other important halls are Kilikoondu Mandapam, Kambatadi Mandapam, Puthu Mandapam, Viravasantharaya Mandapam, kalyana mandapam, Iruttu Mandapam and Mangayarkarasi mandapam.
Above: Yali , a mythical half elephant - half tiger sculpture is a common feature in this temple
Sculptures: A variety of sculptures are seen all over the temple. These range from crude carvings from the walls in the outer complex walls to exquisite and intricately carved, mythical structures in the inner complex. One notable sculpture is Yali which is a combination of elephant and Tiger (Yaanai =Elephant and Puli=Tiger) . They stand in a pouncing position with protruding teeth, but also have the trunk of an elephant.
Above: A Hindu God holds an electric tube light and you can see wires being routed from his right
There is also another structure called Veerapathirar. He seems to be holding an electric tube light. it is even painted white to make it look like one! Remember the ancient Egyptian's light bulb? If Erich Von Daniken or other alien theorists see this, they can write another book on this.
Above: Mukkuruni Vinayagar is offered 40 pounds of rice dumpling (Kozhukattai) during Sathurthi.
Mukkuruni Vinayagar statue is also a very important one to be seen. Vinayagar is the elephant god of Hindu mythology. There are plenty of Vinayagar statues in the temple, but this is the largest of them all. The name Mukkuruni comes from Moonru=3 and kuruni = 13.2 pounds. Vinayakar is offered 3 kurunis (approximately 40 pounds) of rice dumpling called Kozhukkattai, on Vinayagar Sathurthi festival.
Above: The temple tank aka Potramarai Kulam is currently being revamped
The Temple Tank is 165 long and 120 feet wide. Surprisingly, there are no fish or aquatic animals in this Tank. The legendary Tamil Poet Thiruvalluvar's Thirukural was acknowledged here. On south side of this tank, all 1330 Thirukural verses have been carved. From the eastern stairs of this tank, you can see both Meenakshi's and Sundarar's Vimanam together. This view is not possible from any other vantage point.
Above: Hundreds of thousands of people throng the streets of Madurai, during festivals
Festivals are held every month in the Temple of Madurai. Each Tamil month is adorned with a festival. The month if Chithirai is the grandest of them all, as Meenakshi-Sundarar wedding is celebrated at this time. A few hundred thousand people attend this festival. Here is the list of all the festivals celebrated in Madurai Meenakshi Temple.
1. Float Festival – Thai month – January
2. Maasi Mandala utsavam – Masi month – February
3. Summer Vasantham Festival - Panguni month – March
4. Meenakshi Thirukalyanam Festival - Chithirai month - April
5. Vasantham Festival – Vaikasi month - May
6. Unjal Festival - Aani month - June
7. Aadi Mulai Kottu Festival - Aadi month – July
8. Aavani Moolam Festival – Puttukku Mansumantha Leela Festival – Aavani month - August
9. Navarathri Festival – Purattasi month – September
10. Kolattam Festival –Ayppasi month – October
11. Kolattam Festival - Karthikai month – November
12. Thiruvathirai – Arudhra Dharsan Festival and Thiruvembavai and Thiruppavai Festival – Margali month – December
Other interesting info:
Above: Hollow 'Lotus Rocks' found in Madurai Meenakshi Temple indicate underground passages
Underground Mystery: The floor of the entire temple is covered by neatly cut rectangular rocks. These rocks are mostly plain, devoid of any carvings. If you tap on these rocks, it does NOT sound hollow. But, every certain number of rocks, there are square rocks with a lotus carved on them. If you tap on these "lotus rocks", they sound hollow! This supports the theory that there are hidden, underground structures in the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. These "lotus rocks" could be secret gateways into underground passages or cellars. It is well documented that most Indian Kings had secret escape routes and hidden treasures underground.
Above: "Rotating Lingam" is a painting on the ceiling, with optical illusion elements
An Elephant is present inside the Temple complex. It will bless you by blowing on your head with its trunk for a small fee. The elephant is also used for other religious purposes.
Above: The Nataraja statue in Madurai Temple shows reversed leg positions
Adjacent to Sundarar shrine, there is a statue of Nataraja (The dancing god), but with a twist. Nataraja normally has Right leg on the ground and left leg raised. In this temple, he is doing the opposite.
Legend of 1000 Pillar Hall: Even though it is well documented that this structure was constructed in 1569 A.D by Ariyanatha Mudaliyar, there is an interesting local anecdote. Once upon a time a dwarf appeared before Meenakshi and challenged her to a sword fight. Meenakshi laughed at him, because he was only as tall as a one year old. However, the dwarf insisted that he could defeat anyone in a fight. So, she summoned her army chieftain to fight the dwarf. To her surprise, the dwarf defeated the army chieftain in seconds and killed him. Meenakshi realized that the dwarf possessed magical powers. So, she gave him an impossible challenge. He had to build a structure with 1000 pillars in a day. If he succeeded, it would be Meenakshi's turn to build a similar structure. The dwarf started chanting mantras and the nearby mountain split into rectangular rocks and pillars. He started arranging the pillars and towards dawn, he had set up the structure with 985 pillars, only 15 pillars were remaining. So, he took a nap deciding to wake up when the first ray of sunlight hits him. He still had plenty of time as he had time until noon. However, clever Meenakshi threw her earring into the sky which completely covered the sun, making the dwarf sleep until the afternoon. The dwarf admitted his defeat and burnt himself to ashes. This is why the structure of "1000 pillar hall" has 985 pillars, instead of 1000. This story is very similar to the dwarf of Uxmal, but the dwarf won the challenge in Uxmal.
Above: A Golden Lotus in the temple tank is now going to be buried in clay, due to renovations
Legend of the Temple Tank: Indra had once committed a terrible sin, and had to do a major penance to redeem himself. He came to Madurai, and decided to worship lord Shiva by offering 1000 lotuses. He was able to pluck 999 lotuses from the lake, but he couldn't find one more lotus. Heart broken, Indra wept and prayed to lord Shiva. A golden lotus bloomed from the center of the pond and Indra was able to redeem himself from his sin. That is why the temple tank is called Potramarai Kulam (Pon = Gold, Thamarai=Lotus).
Medicine & Arts: Apart from religious ceremonies, plenty of other activities were performed inside the temple. There was a dedicated area in the temple called Adhoorasalai where doctors treated the diseases. Dancing and Singing were taught everyday in another section of the Temple. Poets would have meetings at the Temple Tank section. These activities are well documented in the ancient Tamil chronicles.
History's point of view: After visiting this Temple, we browsed through many books and websites about Meenakshi Amman. Invariably, everyone talks about her as a Goddess with magical powers. We've put together a brief life history of Meenakshi as a human being from history's point of view. Read it here!