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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Madurai Meenakshi Temple

Date: 2 October'2008. Being Gandhi Jayanthi and a holiday, we decided to make a trip from Coimbatore to Madurai by road. The route: Pollachi-Palani-Odanchattram-Dindigul-Kodai Road-Madurai. The weather was bright & sunny and the Western Ghats gave us company for a better part of the journey. While bypassing Palani town we saw the abode of Lord Muruga atop Palani hills - a magnificent sight. Likewise at Dindigul we saw the Dindigul Fort (a 17th century fort currently under the management of ASI) with the Abhiramiamman Temple at the top. The hill is in a shape of a pillow or "Dhindu" in Tamil hence the name Dindigal. Reached Madurai in the evening after a five hour drive. Checked into the M.R.International Hotel located on Dhanappa Mudali Street near the Temple.
One of South India's great temple towns, Madurai is synonymous with the celebrated Meenakshi Temple. Situated on the banks of river Vaigai, Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil era more than 2500 years old. It was the capital city for the great Pandya kings. As per legend Lord Shiva blessed the land and its people while divine nectar showered on the city from his matted locks. Thus the city got the name of Madhura-puri. ("Madhura" means nectar)
The ancient city of Madurai supposedly was laid out in a lotus-like formation, with the temple at the center and streets and main thoroughfares layered one after the other concentrically, outward from the center. The important streets (veedis) around the proximity of the temple are Adi (innermost), Chittirai, Avani Moolam, Masi & Veli (outermost). Adi Veedi lies inside the temple walls whereas Chittirai Veedi is just outside. Chittirai Veedi has recently been nicely paved with cement tiles and no vehicular traffic is permitted. Devotees can therefore walk around the temple without hindrance.There are four main Gopurams through which the temple can be entered into - one in each cardinal direction.
Our visit coincided with the festival period of Navaratri and hence the temple was thronging with devotees.
After checking into the hotel, we freshened up, changed and walked to the temple through the West Tower Street. Entry through the West Gopuram was not permitted and we walked around the paved West Chittirai veedhi ,turned into the South Chittirai Veedhi and joined a long queue for entry through the South Gopuram. The queue was fast moving and within 20 mts we entered the Gopuram. Security was strict, devotees were frisked and all hand bags were electronically scanned. Once inside the Adi Veedi we had to stand in another queue before entering the prakaram. We passed through the Kili Mandapam & Oonjal Mandapam (west of Potramarai Kulam) before turning West into the Amman Sannithi prakaram. To the South of the Amman Sannithi outer prakaram, we witnessed a splendid Kolu arrangement- there were several stalls displaying hundreds of Kolu bommais of various gods & goddesses & depicting many legends. In the North corner of the South side was the Utsava Murthy of Goddess Meenakshi dressed in the finest silks & rich ornaments and bedecked by beautiful flower garlands. We also saw different vahanas (for carrying the deities) on display-covered in silver kavachams - Gundodharan,Swan, Kamadhenu the Divine cow, Yali which has a lions body & face and an elephant's trunk, Horse & Adhikara Nandi. After seeing the Kolu we entered the inner sanctum for Goddess Meenakshi's darshan. The crowd was well regulated and there was a raised walkway sloping downwards which allowed the devotees to have continuous darshan of the deity as you walked towards the garbha griha. The moolavar was so divinely & infinitely beautiful that you cannot simply take your eyes away even for a second. She fills you with joy and wonderment, lifts your spirits and you feel completely satisfied and totally at peace. Meenakshi's idol is made of green stone, hence she is also known as "maragathambal" or "maragathavalli".
There are twin pillayars just outside the garbha griha on the South side. As you circumambulate the prakaram there are subshrines for Pillayar ( south west corner facing east) and Muruga with his consorts (north west corner facing east). On the outer walls of the garbha griha there are niche images of the Goddess Sakti in different forms.
Next we emerged from the Ambal sannithi from the North side and entered the outer prakaram of Sundareswarar sannithi. The prakaram corridors are supported by magnificent carved pillars. On the west side is located the Kalyanasundareswarar Mandapam which is multi pillared mandapam where you can see large sculpted idols depicting Meenakshi Kalyanam. Then you reach the East side of the prakaram where the Navagrahas are located as also the Meditation hall. The most magnificent sculptures are found in the Kambathadi Manadapam which also contains the Nandi, Dwaja Sthambam as well as a large holder which can hold myriad lamps. There are also giant idols of Agni Veerbhadrar, Aghora Veerabhadrar, Alankattu Kali & Oorthvathandavamurthy. There are sculptures of Sadaasivan/Parvati and Gayatri Devi on either side of the entrance to the inner prakaram. There are several other pillars in the Kambathadi Mandapam carrying exquisite sculptures of deities & legends.
Next you enter the inner prakaram and straightaway go into the inner sanctum - here again the crowds are well regulated. There are fewer devotees here as compared to the ambal sannithi. As you walk towards the garbha griha you see the magnificent Velli Ambalam to the North - the silver mandapam (also known as the Rajatha Sabha) where stands the huge stone sculpture of Nataraja the eternal cosmic dancer - covered totally in silver kavacham. Huge standing idols of Patanjali & Vyakrapadar can also be seen there. In fact the entire mandapam is covered in silver. A unique feature of this Nataraja is that the Lord has his left leg on the ground and his right leg is raised in a dance pose. Lord Shiva performed seven types of dance. Among them, the dance he performed in Madurai came to be known as 'Paramananda Thandavam' and also 'Chokka Thandavam'. ( for more details log onto: http://www.madurai.com/velli.htm )
After offering prayers to Lord Sundareswara, we exit from the north side go towards the east and circumambulate the inner prakaram. The niche images on the outer walls of the garbha griha are: Dakshinamurthy on the South, Lingodbhavar on the west and Durgai on the north. All these niche images are at a height and there are steps leading up to them. Each of the niche deities is flanked by two stone elephants eating "karumbu" or sugarcane. In fact there are two stone elephants also flanking the Shiva Lingam just outside the garbha griha. The outer walls of the Garbha Griha depict in plaster the various stories from Thiru Vilayadal Puranam - a collection of 64 legends.
On the pillared pavilions of the inner prakaram as you circumambulate you can see: East- 63 Nayanmars, Saraswati, Saptha Mathas flanked by Ganesha & , West : Large east facing subshrine of Soma Skandar ( Swami & Ambal with Muruga in the centre), Muruga with his consorts, a large 16 faced linga, a Panchamukha linga, two Jwara Murthy's, the Kanaka Sabha, Bhikshadanar, Kasi Viswanathar & Visalakshi, several other lingams, North: Medha Dakshina Murthy, Mahalakshni,Ratna Sabha, East: West facing Bhairavar, Chandran, Suryan etc.
On the North side are also seen subshrines to Sitthar & Sandikeswarar. Adjacent to the Sithar shrine is the stump of the Kadambam tree where Indira is said to have worshipped Shiva to rid himself of the "Brahma Hathi Dosham". The Vimanam above the Garbha Griha is called the Indira Vimanam. After praying to Sundareswarar we walk back towards our Hotel. We enter the Mohan's Bhojanalaya on Dhanappa Mudali Street and order Gujarathi thali. The place is ordinary but neat and clean. The food is simple but excellent to taste and we enjoyed a hearty meal. Rate: Rs.45/thali. Strongly recommended.
3 October'2008: We get up early morning and reach the temple around 5.30 am. There were no queues. But there was a throng of devotees at the ambal sannithi. As we completed our worship we saw that the Utsavamurthy of the Lord had been taken out of the Palli Arai and being carried in a silver palanquin towards the Sundareswarar Sannithi to the accompaniment of nadaswaram & chants by devotees. We joined this congregation and accompanied the lord till they reached the swami sannithi. It was a wonderful experience. Then we prayed at the Sundareswarar sanctum. This time we took a special entrance ticket of Rs.15/- and could therefore have a darshan of the Lord at close quarters.
After this we went to the Ayiram Kaal Mandapam ( containign 985 pillars) and visited the museum which contained a large number exqusite sculptures, paintings, panchaloha idols, ivory & antique items, rare coins etc. It also houses the exquisite Chitra Sabha where you can see the magnificent dancing idol of Nataraja & his consort Sivagami.
Next we exited to the Oonjal Mandapam after praying to Mukkurini Pillayar in the swami sannithi prakaram south side. We went around the Potramari Kulam or the Golden Lotus Tank. This theertham is said to have been created by Lord Sivaperuman by thrusting his `Soolam' (three pronged spear) into the earth. This theertam is also called Adhi Theertham,Parama Theertham ,Gnana Theertham , Mukthi Theertham and as Sivaganga because the water from Ganga from the head of Lord Siva confluences with it and as `Uthama Theertham' because of its purity than any other theertham.
To the south west corner of the teertham is a small pillayar placed in a trough of vibhuti and completely smeared with vibhuti. It is customary for devotees to pick up vibhuti from the trough and smear the pillayar.
Finally we exited the temple complex, had lunch at Meenakshi Bhavan, went to the hotel & checked out and visited the Puthu Mandapam located outside the East Gopuram. This Mandapam was built by King Thirumalai Naicker with the work starting in 1626 and ending in 1645. Also known as the Vasantha Mandapam the central portion is kept locked for use during festivals. The surrounding pavilions have been let out for shops. The sculptures on the pillars are breathtaking. This great monument of National Heritage is ill maintained.
With that our visit to the Meenakshi temple concluded. For more details about the temple log on to:
http://www.maduraimeenakshi.org/templenew.php?link=history
We left Madurai after lunch - this time we took a different & shorter route - via Dindigul, Odanchattram -Dharapuram-Palladam-Coimbatore. From Odanchattram to Palladam was a state highway but road was excellent and there was very little traffic. We completed our return journey in less time and also travelled 30 Kms less. A memorable but action packed trip.
See photogallery at : http://picasaweb.google.com/ramakrishnan49/MaduraiMeenakshiTemple#

6 comments:

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  4. I want to go there just to see those amazing gopurams.
    The fact about the lotus-like construction of the city is news to me. Thank you. :)

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