MEENAKSHI TEMPLE is a historic Hindu temple located on the southern
bank of the
Vaigai River in the temple city of
Madurai , Tamil Nadu
India . It is dedicated to
Parvati , known as
Meenakshi , and her
Shiva , here named Sundareswarar. The temple forms the heart
and lifeline of the 2,500-year-old city of
Madurai and is a
significant symbol for the
Tamil people , mentioned since antiquity in
Tamil literature . Though most of the present structure was built
between 1623 and 1655 CE . In the 14th century, the Sultanate
Malik Kafur plundered the temple and looted it of its
valuables. It was rebuilt by the Nayak ruler Vishwanatha Nayakar
around the 16th century. It was Vishwanatha Nayaka who rebuilt the
temple in accordance to shilpa shastra. It houses 14 gopurams (gateway
towers), ranging from 45–50m in height. The tallest is the southern
tower, 51.9 metres (170 ft) high, and two golden sculptured vimanas ,
the shrines over the garbhagrihas (sanctums) of the main deities. The
temple attracts 15,000 visitors a day, around 25,000 on Fridays, and
receives an annual revenue of ₹ 60 million. There are an estimated
33,000 sculptures in the temple. It was on the list of top 30 nominees
for the "
New Seven Wonders of the World ". The temple is the most
prominent landmark and most visited tourist attraction in the city.
The annual 10-day
Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, celebrated during
April and May, attracts 1 million visitors.
* 1 Legend
* 2 History
* 3 Architecture
* 3.2 Shrines
* 3.3 Temple tank and surrounding portico
* 3.4 Halls
* 3.4.1 Hall of Thousand Pillars
* 4 Religious significance of the temple
* 5 Rituals
* 5.1 Worship
* 5.2 Festivals
* 6 Literary mention
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
* 9 External links
Birth of Tatatagai
Legend has it that the
Meenakshi temple was founded by
Indra (king of
Deva celestial deities). While he was on a pilgrimage to atone for his
Indra felt his burden lifting as he neared the swayambu
lingam (self formed lingam, a representation of
Shiva used for worship
in temples) of
Madurai . He ascribed this miracle to the lingam and
constructed the temple to enshrine it.
Indra worshipped Shiva, who, in
his grace, caused golden lotuses to appear in the nearby pool.
IAST Mīnākṣī Tamil மீனாட்சி) is a
form of the Hindu goddess
Parvati - the consort of
Shiva , one of the
many Hindu female deities to have a major temple devoted to her. The
name "Mīnachchi" means fish-eyed and is derived from the words
"mīna" meaning fish and "akṣi" meaning eyes. The goddess Meenakshi
is the principal deity of the temple, unlike most
Shiva temples in
Shiva is the principal deity. According to Hindu
legend, in order to answer the prayers of the second
Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai,
Parvati appeared out of
the holy fire of the Putra Kameshti Yagna (sacrifice for childhood)
performed by the king. According to another legend, the goddess
herself gave notice to Kanchanamalai in one of her previous births
that Kanchanamalai would have the privilege of mothering the goddess.
The girl who came out of the holy fire had three breasts. A voice from
the heavens told the king not to worry about the abnormality and added
that the third breast would vanish as soon as the girl met her future
husband. The happy king named the girl "Tadaatagai" and as the heir
to the throne, Tadaatagai was trained carefully in all the 64 sastras,
the fields of science .
As the time came for Tadaatagai's coronation, she had to wage war in
three worlds encompassing eight directions. After conquering
Vishnu 's Abode,
Vaikunta , and Devas ' abode
Amaravati, she advanced to Shiva's Abode
Kailasha . She easily
defeated the bhoota ganas (IAST: Bhūtagana, meaning Shiva's army) and
Nandi , the celestial bull of Shiva, and headed to attack and conquer
Shiva. The moment she looked at Shiva, she was unable to fight and
bowed her head down in shyness, and her third breast vanished
immediately. Tadaatagai realized that
Shiva was her destined husband.
She also realized that she was the incarnation of Parvati. Both Shiva
and Tadaatagai returned to
Madurai and the king arranged the
coronation ceremony of his daughter, followed by her marriage to
The marriage was to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole
earth gathering near Madurai.
Vishnu , the brother of Meenakshi,
prepared to travel from his holy abode at
Vaikuntam to preside over
the marriage. Due to a divine prank, he was tricked by the Deva, Indra
and was delayed on the way. After the marriage, the pair ruled over
Madurai for a long time and then assumed divine forms as Sundareswarar
and Meenakshi, the presiding deities of the temple. Following the
tradition, every evening, before closing the temple, a ritual
procession led by drummers and a brass ensemble carries the image of
Sundareswarar to Meenakshi's bedroom to consummate the union, to be
taken back the next morning in dawn. The marriage is celebrated
Chithirai Thiruvizha in Madurai. During the period of
Nayakar rule in Madurai, the ruler Thirumalai
Nayakar linked the
Temple wall painting depicting its founding legend
Sculptures in the interior, around 1870
Thirugnanasambandar , the famous Hindu saint of Saiva philosophy ,
mentioned this temple as early as the 7th century, and described the
deity as Aalavai Iraivan. The initiative for some changes to the
structure was taken first by Nayak king of Madurai, Viswanatha Nayak
(1559–1600) under the supervision of
Ariyanatha Mudaliar , the prime
minister of the Nayaka Dynasty and the founder of the
Poligar System .
The original design by Vishwanatha Nayaka in 1560 was substantially
expanded to the current structure during the reign of Tirumalai Nayak
Thirumalai Nayak took considerable interest in
erecting many complexes inside the temple. His major contributions are
Mandapam for celebrating Vasanthorsavam (spring festival)
Mandapam (corridor of parrots). The corridors of the
temple tank and Meenatchi
Mandapam were built by Rani
Rous Peter (1786–1828), the Collector of
Madurai in 1812, was
nicknamed 'Peter Pandian’ as he respected and treated people of all
faiths equally. He donated a set of golden stirrups studded with
diamonds and red stones to the temple. The goddess
believed by many to have saved Rous Peter from a fatal incident. He
expressed a wish that after his death, his body be buried in a
position that would enable his eyes to face the temple.
Early in the 14th century, disputes arose over the succession to the
Pandya throne. Taking notice of these events, Ala-ud-din of
dispatched his general,
Malik Kafur , in 1310 to invade the weakened
Malik Kafur marched south, ransacking kingdoms on the way and
causing enormous changes to the political configuration of central and
India . He marched into
Madurai , sacking the town,
paralysing trade, suppressing public worship, and making civilian life
miserable. The great
Meenakshi temple with its fourteen towers was
pulled down, destroying the nearby streets and buildings, and leaving
only the two shrines of Sundaresvara and
Meenakshi intact. The events
are controversial: as another account describes them,
...the Deccan was soon to feel the force of Islam, which was already
the master of Northern India. In the reign of the able Sultan of
Delhi, Ala-ud-din Khalji (1296—1315 AD), a series of brilliant
raids, led by the eunuch general Malik Kafur, a converted Hindu,
crushed the Deccan kingdoms, and for a time a sultanate was set up
even in Madurai, in the extreme south.
An aerial view of
Madurai city from atop the
The temple is the geographic and ritual center of the ancient city of
Madurai and one of the largest temple complexes in Tamil Nadu. The
temple complex is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular
enclosures contained by high masonry walls. It is one of the few
Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions.
Vishwantha Nayaka allegedly redesigned the city of
accordance with the principles laid down by the Shilpa Shastras
(Sanskrit: śilpa śāstra, also anglicized as silpa sastra meaning
the rules of architecture) relevant to urban planning. The city was
laid out in the shape of square with a series of concentric streets
culminating from the temple. These squares continue to retain their
traditional names, Aadi, Chittirai, Avani-moola and Masi streets,
corresponding to Tamil month names. Ancient Tamil classics mention
that the temple was the center of the city and the streets happened to
be radiating out like a lotus and its petals. The temple prakarams
(outer precincts of a temple) and streets accommodate an elaborate
festival calendar in which dramatic processions circumambulate the
shrines. The vehicles used in the processions are progressively more
massive the further they travel from the centre.
The temple has 14 gopurams , the tallest of which is southern tower,
rises to over 170 ft (52 m) and was built in 1559. The oldest gopuram
is the eastern one, built by
Maravarman Sundara Pandyan during
1216-1238 Each gopuram is a multi-storeyed structure, covered with
thousands of stone figures of animals, gods and demons painted in
bright hues. The outer gopuram presents steeply pyramidal tower
encrusted with plaster figures, while the inner gopuram serves as the
entrance to the inner enclosure of Sundareswarar shrine.
The golden shrine over the sanctum of
inside the temple
The central shrine of
Meenakshi temple and her consort Sundareswarar
are surrounded by three enclosures and each of these are protected by
four minor towers at the four points of the compass, the outer tower
growing larger and reaching higher to the corresponding inner one.
Meenakshi shrine has the emerald-hued black stone image of
Meenakshi. The Sundareswarar shrine lies at the centre of the
complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed
later. Both the
Meenakshi and Sundareswarar shrines have gold plated
Vimanam (tower over sanctum). The golden top can be seen from a great
distance in the west through the apertures of two successive towers.
The area covered by the shrine of Sundareswarar is exactly one fourth
of the area of the temple and that of
Meenakshi is one fourth that of
The tall sculpture of
Ganesh carved of single stone located outside
the Sundareswarar shrine in the path from Meenashi shrine is called
the Mukuruny Vinayakar. A large measure of rice measuring 3 kurini (a
measure) is shaped into a big ball of sacrifice and hence the Ganesh
is called Mukkurni Vinayagar (three kurinis). This deity is believed
to be found during a 17th-century excavation process to dig the
Mariamman temple tank .
TEMPLE TANK AND SURROUNDING PORTICO
The sacred temple tank Porthamarai Kulam ("Pond with the golden
lotus"), is 165 ft (50 m) by 120 ft (37 m) in size. In the Tamil
legends, the lake is supposed to judge the worth of a new piece of
literature. Authors place their works here and the poorly written
works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to
Tiruvalluvar was one such work.
Only a fraction of 17th and 18th century paintings of Nayak period
survives and one such portion is found in the small portico on the
western side of the tank. It depicts the marriage of Sundareswarar and
Meenkashi attended by Vijayaranga Chokkanatha and Rani Mangammal. The
painting is executed on a vivid red background, with delicate black
linework and large areas of white, green and ochre. The celestial
couple is seated inside an architectural frame with a flowering tree
in the background.
The corridor surrounding the sanctum the
Meenakshi is called
Mandapam ("bird cage corridor"). The space was once used to
keep green parrots that were trained to utter the name of Meenakshi.
There are two large cages full of squawking green parrots.
Mandapam ("Hall of temple tree") with its seated Nandi
(sacred bull) has various manifestations of
Shiva carved and also
contains the famous "Marriage of Meenakshi" sculpture. Sculptures of
Kali trying to out-dance one another are pelted with balls
of ghee by devotees. A golden flagstaff with 32 sections symbolizes
the human backbone and is surrounded by various gods, including Durga
and Siddar .
Mandapam ("new hall") constructed by Tirumala Nayak
contains large number of sculptures. It is situated opposite to the
The Ashta Shakthi
Mandapam ("Hall of eight goddess") is the first
hall in the entrance of
Meenakshi shrine tower near to East Tower.
Ashta indicates eight and Shakthi refers to goddess - the hall has
statues of eight goddesses. The gopurams (towers) can be viewed from
this hall. The passage was named for eight forms of goddess Shakti
carved on its pillars. Other sculptures and paintings depict the
Tiruvilayadal (holy games of Shiva). The sculptures of heroes of
Mahabharata , the Pancha pandavas can be seen in the Pancha Pandava
Mandapam (Hall of Pandavas).
Mandapam is a large hall with huge corridors.
To the south of this hall is the kalyana mandapam, to the south of the
pillared hall, is where the marriage of
celebrated every year during the Chithirai Festival in mid-April. The
golden images of
Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are carried into the 16th
century oonjal mandapam (swing corridor) and placed on the swing every
Friday at 5:30 p.m. The shrine has a 3-storied gopuram guarded by two
stern dwarapalakas (guardians) and supported by golden, rectangular
columns that bear lotus markings. Along the perimeter of the chamber,
granite panels of the divine couple are present. The hall is situated
in the western bank of the temple tank.
The Mudali Pillai
Mandapam or Iruttu
Mandapam (Dark hall) is a wide
and long hall built by Muthu Pillai during 1613. On the pillars of the
halls, there are fine sculptures depicting the story of
the form of Bikshadanar to teach the sages a lesson.
The Mangayarkarasi mandapam is a newly built hall situated opposite
to the marriage halls and bears the name of saindy queen,
Mangayarkarasi who contributed to
Saivism and Tamil language. To the
south of Mangayarkarasi mandapam lies the Servaikarar Mandapam, a hall
Marudu brothers in 1795. The Nagara mandapam (Hall of
beating drums) lies opposite to Sundareswarar shrine was built by
Achaya Rayar, the minister of
Rani Mangammal in 1635. The Kolu
Mandapam is a hall for displaying dolls during the Navarathri festival
celebrated during September–October. This hall is situated in the
second corridor of the
Meenakshi shrine at the western side.
Hall Of Thousand Pillars
A section of the Thousand Pillar Hall
Mandapam ("Hall of 1000 pillars") has two rows
of pillars carved with images of yali (mythological beast with body of
lion and head of an elephant), commonly used as the symbol of Nayak
power. It is situated to the north of Sundareswarar flag staff hall.
The Thousand Pillar Hall contains 985 (instead of 1000) carved
pillars. The hall was built by
Ariyanatha Mudaliar in 1569 and
blends engineering skill and artistic vision.
Ariyanatha Mudaliar was
prime minister and general of
Viswanatha Nayak a, the first Nayaka of
Madurai (1559–1600). He was also the founder of
Poligar System, the
quasi-feudal organization of the country dividing it into multiple
palayams or small provinces in which each palayam was ruled by a
palayakkarar or a petty chief. At the entrance of the hall is the
Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a horse-back, flanking one
side of the entrance to the temple. The statue is periodically
garlanded by worshippers. Each pillar in the hall is a carved monument
of the Dravidian sculpture. The more prominent among the carved
figures are those of Rati (wife of Kama),
Ganesha , Shiva
as a wandering mendicant and endless number of yalis (mythical figures
of lions). There is a Temple Art Museum in the hall where icons,
photographs, drawings, and other exhibits of the 1200 years old
history of the temple are displayed. Just outside this hall, towards
the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces
a different musical note.
RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TEMPLE
Depiction of the god
Shiva as the cosmic dancer
A distinct feature of
Meenakshi in terms of iconography is the
presence of parrot in her right hand. The parrot is generally
associated with the Vaishnava azhwar saint
Andal . The shrine of
Sundareswarar is considered as one of the
Pancha Sabhai (five courts),
where it is believed that
Shiva performed cosmic dance . The Tamil
word velli means silver and ambalam means stage or altar. This
Nataraja sculpture is enclosed in a huge silver altar and
hence called "Velli Ambalam" (silver abode). This is a special figure
of Natarja which usually differs from Chola bronzes ; in the Chola
Nataraja is shown dancing with his left leg raised, but this
sculpture has the right leg raised. According to the Tiruvilayaadal
Puranam (Shiva's sacred games), this is on the request of Rajasekara
Pandya, who was a sincere devotee of Shiva. He requested the deity to
change his position, as he felt that keeping the same foot raised
would put enormous strain and got a graceful acquiescence from the
The music of the tavil (shown) and the nadaswaram as considered
essential to temple worship
There are close to 50 priests in the temple who perform the puja
(rituals) during festivals and on a daily basis. Like other Shiva
temples of Tamil Nadu, the priests belong to Shivaite to the
Adishaivas, a Brahmin sub-caste. The priests live in a closed area
north of the temple. The temple has a six time pooja calendar
everyday, each comprising four rituals namely abhisheka (sacred bath),
alangaram (decoration), neivethanam (food offerings) and deepa
aradanai (waving of lamps) for both
Meenakshi and Sundareswarar. The
puja (worship) ceremonies are held amidst music with nadhaswaram (pipe
instrument) and tavil (percussion instrument), religious instructions
Vedas by priests and prostration by worshippers in front of the
temple mast. The common practise is to worship
Sundareswarar. Margazhi (December–January) ritual is prominent one
for winning a perfect, god-like husband - it is Meenakshi's ennai
kappu festival. Aligned with the cardinal points, the street plans
forms a giant mandala (group) whose sacred properties are believed to
be activated during the mass clockwise circumambulation of the central
Madurai temple festival
The most important festival associated with the temple is the
Meenakshi Thirukalyanam " (the divine marriage of Meenakshi) that is
celebrated in April every year. The wedding of the divine couple is
regarded as a classic instance of south Indian female-dominated
marriage, an arrangement referred as "
Madurai marriage". The male
dominated marriage is called "Chidambaram marriage", referring to
Shiva's uncontested dominance, ritual and mythic, at the famous Shiva
temple of Chidhambaram . The marriage brings together rural and urban
people, deities and mortals,
Saivas (those who worship Shiva) and
Vaishnavas (those who worship Vishnu) in order to celebrate Meenakshi
as the royal monarch. During the one-month period, there are a number
of events including the "Ther Thiruvizhah" (chariot festival) and
"Theppa Thiruvizhah" (float festival). Major Hindu festivals like
Shivrathri are celebrated in the temple. Like most
Shakti temples in Tamil Nadu, the Fridays during the Tamil months of
Aadi (July–August) and Thai (January–February) are celebrated in
the temple by thousands of devotees. "Avani Moola Utsavam" is a 10-day
festival mainly devoted to Sundareswarar describes his various
Thiruvilayadal meaning Shiva's sacred games.
Appar and Thirugnanasambandar in the temple
Down the centuries, the temple has been a centre of education of
culture, literature, art, music and dance. . During the third Tamil
Sangam , the comparative merit of the poets was decided by letting the
works float in the lotus tank of the temple. It was believed that a
divine force would cause the work of superior merit to float on the
surface while the inferior literary work would sink. Tevaram , the
7th-8th century Tamil canonical work on Shiva, are works by the three
Saivites ) namely Appar,
Thirugnanasambandar. The temple has been glorified by the hymns of
Tevaram by all the three poets. Different hymns of
Sambandar on the
temple mention the queen of
Pandya Nadu , his desire to defeat Jains
in debate, the miracles performed by him curing the king's fever, the
Jains' provocation of
Sambandar by burning his house and challenging
him to debate, and Sambandar's eventual victory over them. A poem
from the Third Tirumurai by
Sambandar is as under –
maaninaervizhi maatharaayvazhu thikkumaaperu:n thaevikae'l
paanalvaayoru paalaneengkiva nen'ru:neepari veythidael
aanaimaamalai yaathiyaaya idangka'li'rpala allalsaer
eenarkadke'li yaenalaenthiru vaalavaayara ni'rkavae.
"Lady who has eyes that are comparable to the startled eyes of the
the great chief queen of the Vaḻuti! listen to what I say. Do not
feel distressed that I am such a young boy from whose mouth milk is
flowing. when the god in Tiruvālavāy stands by my side as help, I
can not be easily defeated by the low people who inflict many
sufferings on others and who live in hills beginning with great
Kumaraguruparar , a 17th-century Tamil poet, composed Meenakshi
Pillaitamil in praise of presiding deity of this temple. King
Tirumalai Nayak's patronage of the poet Kumaraguruparar has an
important place in the history of pillaitamil (a genre of Tamil
literature). Kumaraguruparar visited a lot of temples and when he
visited this temple, he composed
Meenakshi pillaitamil dedicated to
the goddess Meenakshi. Legend has it that the goddess appeared in the
dreams of King Tirumalai Nayak, directing him to arrange the recital
of Kumaraguruparar before a learned assembly. The king made elaborate
arrangements for the poetry event. We are told that Meenakshi
impersonated herself, in the form of a small girl, and enjoyed the
poetic recital. As Kumaraguruparar explained in the 61st verse, the
goddess expressed her pleasure by garlanding the poet with a string of
pearls, after which she disappeared.
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