TEMPLE - TEMPLES IN TAMILNADU, INDIA
The name 'Madurai' evokes
in the minds of the Tamils the golden era when their language,
culture and arts flourished under the patronage of successive
Pandian kings. The city was the home of such illustrious institutions
as the 'Sangam' which revived and nurtured great works of
Tamil poets and artists. It now houses the largest temple
complex in Tamilnadu built by the Nayaka Kings who ruled Madurai
from the 16th to 18th century. They have left an indelible
imprint of their glorious period in the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar
temple. The goddess Sakthi rules the world as Meenakshi in
Madurai, as Kamakshi in Kanchi and as Visalakshi in Kasi.
But the most revered and worshipped of these three is the
Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai.
The Temple : At first glance the
most striking feature of the temple is the soaring
'gopuram' (gateway towers) built above the four entrances
on the four sides. The most popular entrance is on
the East Side through a towerless entrance in line
with the shrine of Meenakshi.
Location : Madurai has a small airport served
by flights from Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram and Bombay.
It is about 16 Km south of the city. There are four
bus stands serving local towns and towns afar. The
inter-state buses arrive at the TTC bus-stand which
is nearest to the centre of the town. The railway
station is just west of the temple complex.
|This entrance leads
to the 'Ashtasakthi Mandapam' where the pillars are
full of sculptures illustrating the different aspects
of Goddess Meenakshi and the miracles performed by
Lord Siva in Madurai.
This hall leads to the 'Ciththirai
gopuram' passing through which will take you to a passageway
on the eastern end of the 'Pottramarai kulam'. Steps go down
on all four sides of this tank to the water in the middle
of which stands a brass column. Walking around the tank in
a clock-wise direction brings into view the golden 'vimanam'
of the shrines of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar while on the
east of the tank. As you come round the tank you pass the
'Oonjal mandapam' where every Friday Meenakshi and Sundareswarar
are put on a swing while 'othuvars' sing the ancient Tamil
hymns. Passing the 'Oonjal mandapam' you arrive at the 'Kilikkoottu
mandapam' where parrots were used to be kept. Next is the
entrance to Meenakshi shrine. North of the entrance to Meenakshi
koil is the entrance to Sundareswarar koil.
Legends : There are many legends as to the origin of Meenakshi. The
Pandyan king, Malayathuwajan, performed a 'Yagna' seeking
the blessing of God for a child as he had none. From the sacrificial
fire appeared a 3 years old child with three breasts. This
caused a great anxiety among those gathered at the ceremony.
They were then told by a mysterious voice that the third breast
would disappear when she met her future husband. The voice
also commanded that the child be known as 'Thadathagai' and
be brought up as if she was a son. So she was given training
in all aspects of royal duties befitting a prince including
the art of war. One day while she was pursuing her princely
duties she came across a young person of immense beauty and
aura. She was so attracted by the majesty and divine nature
of this person that she became shy and was love stricken towards
this heavenly person. Her third breast also disappeared at
this point and she became aware that she had met her future
husband. This was none other than Lord Sunthareswarar who
had come to take her consort as pre-ordained.
The king was informed of his
daughter's wishes and a marriage ceremony was arranged. The
bride was decked with all fineries and taken to the temple
where she walked into the sanctum and became one with the
Lord. Over the years Goddess Meenakshi (meaning the one with
the beautiful fish-shaped eye) has gained prominence and the
temple is now called 'Meenakshi koil' though the original
name was Meenakshi-Sunthareswarar koil.
Another legend is that Goddess Sakthy was born to a Pandyan
king in Madurai. When she reached the age of marriage, she
was so beautiful that many suitors vied for her hand. She
was a warrior princess and vowed that she would marry only
someone who could defeat her in combat. Many of her suitors
came forward and faced defeat in her hands. Finally Lord Shiva
came in the guise of Sundareswarar and won her in combat.
He then took her as His consort, they thus becoming the deities
at the temple in Madurai.
The name Madurai itself has
a legend associated with it. King Kulasekara Pandyan heard
from his subjects that celestial beings were visiting his
kingdom in order to bathe in a pond and worship at the Lingam
installed nearby. He built a temple next to this tank and
arrangements were made to install this Lingam in the temple.
At the appointed hour Lord Shiva himself appeared and bathed
in the pond. As he came out of the water droplets from his
matted hair fell upon those gathered around and on the earth.
This water was found to be the sweetest of all waters (Mathuram
- Nectar of the Gods) and the place where this water fell
came to be known as 'Mathurai'. The temple where the Lingam
was installed came to be known as Sundareswar koil and later
as Meenakshi - Sundareswarar temple.
Opening Times and
Festivals: The temple is open for worship throughout
the day. There are festivals in this temple practically every
month. Two main festivals fall in the month of Chiththirai
(April/May) and in Aavani (August/September).The temple abounds
with sculptures depicting the various lore of Hindu mythology.
The dancing pose of Lord Nadarajar usually has the left leg
raised. In the 'Hall of Silver' (Velliamblam) there is a statue
of Lord Nadarajar with his right leg raised, which is very
unusual. Near the Southern tower there are five musical pillars
made up of 22 slender rods. Each of these rods gives out a
different note when tapped gently. The pillar is carved out
of a single piece of granite stone.