Madurai was born when the nectar from Lord shiva’s hair touched the ground. Madurai – Mathuram is Tamil for “sweetness .” Traditions and heritage run deep in Madurai, founded by Pandya’s. The Pandian rulers patronized the language of Tamil to a great extent creating much of the Tamilian heritage. They were usurped by their arch-rivals, The Cholas; after an extended period, they regained their rightful throne of Madurai from the Cholas. As the Pandya’s bloodline ran, their leaders started waxing and waning. Foes such as the Muslim sultans smelt blood. Following this, Madurai was handed over from dynasty to dynasty, Subsequently reaching the hands of the British Forces. However, every dynasty that laid its hands on Madurai left a unique imprint that forged the exquisite Tamilian culture we see today.
Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple
The vast history of Madurai starts with the Madurai Meenakshi temple, the main attraction in Madurai. It is simply too hard to miss. With a soaring tower, standing close to 15 stories high, brightly embellished with gods and demons. It takes a minute to process this exquisite gopuram. The gopuram essentially acts as a glimpse of what the visitor can expect inside the temple. The temple complex is steeped in rich Dravidian architecture, with every hall, shrine, and indoor or outdoor space offering visitors a vibrant visual display. The complex offers a surreal ambiance with the hustle and bustle, order, and chaos. This can only be associated with the authentic Madurai experience regarding the culture developed here.
Aayiram Kaal Mandapam
Another note-worthy place to visit is located inside the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple complex itself. Also called the Mandapam with a thousand pillars. The Aayiram Kaal Mandapam is a spectacular showcase of the Dravidian Architecture style. Every pillar has been intricately crafted with subjects ranging from deities to demons from Indochinese tradition. Each pillar is unique and distinct from the other. The Aayiram Kaal Mandapam is also home to the musical pillars, which are said to be carved to emit a tone that matches Carnatic musical styles when tapped.
It is located approximately 25 km north of Madurai, set against a scenic backdrop of the lush greenery found on the hillside. The gopuram of this temple dazzles in vibrant colors as opposed to the stark contrast of the subtle hillside backdrop. The interiors of this temple boast vividly colored interiors offering the visitors a visual extravaganza. The temple is built in devotion to Lord Muruga and his two consorts, Goddesses Valli and Deivayanai. It is said that lord Muruga appeared here in the form of a young child to bless one of his ardent devotees, Avvaiyar. Although open year-round, the temple is usually thronged by tourists during the Panguni Uthiram festival, which brings a certain spiritual aura to the temple and electrifies the atmosphere.
The Azhagar Kovil is located at a distance of 21km away from Madurai at the foothills of Alagar hills. The temple presents picturesque views with abundant greenery and historic ruins. Built during the Pandayan dynasty, it offers exquisite architectural details. Although it cannot be seen presently, the temple’s vimana was adorned by intricate gold plates. Subsequently, the Nayakas also contributed to amplifying the architectural grandeur of the temple. The mandapam displays Nayaka artwork, accompanied by eye-catching sculptures showcasing stories from many epics. The craftsmanship of the idols seen at the Azhagar Kovil is unsurpassed. Many theerthams surround the temple, said to have fallen directly from heaven.
Thirumalai Nayak Palace
Designed by an Italian architect as a home for the late King Thirumalai Nayak, it seamlessly blended Islamic and Dravidian architectural styles to produce a lovely Palace. The Palace is known for its majestic columns, which stand at a height of almost 82 feet and 19 feet wide—proceeding towards the interiors of the Palace, which are sights to see with intricate paintings adorning the ceiling. The Palace is divided into two segments, namely Swarga Vilasam and Ranga Vilasam, consisting of the royal residence, auditorium, religious places, the queen’s harem, etc. The decorated throne of Thirumalai Nayak can be found seated in the middle of an octagonal room covered by a 70-foot-high dome supported by massive columns. The Palace is truly one of a kind owing to its distinct amalgamation of Islamic and Dravidian Architecture styles.
Gandhi Memorial Museum
The Gandhi memorial museum is a building that once served as a palace to Rani Mangammal, repurposed to function as a museum dedicated to our nation’s father. At the museum front, a miniature hut replica of Gandhi Ji’s authentic hut is found in Sevagram. The Museum’s ground floor houses Khadi and other village industries revived by Mahatma Gandhi. The northern portion of the Museum boasts a library with many letters from Mahatma Gandhi. The southern part of the Museum is dedicated to an enormous open-air theatre. A broad spectrum of programs, from cultural programs to public meetings, is hosted here. The Palace unequivocally showcases the lif e of Mahatma Gandhi.
Koodal Azhagar Temple
Located at the heart of Madurai, Koodal stands for Madurai, whereas Azhagar denotes beauty. The temple is one of Lord Shiva’s 108 holy abodes. Visitors are greeted by a 5-tier gopuram extravagantly decorated with motifs; granite walls surround the temple at its perimeter. Initially built during the Pandayan dynasty, the temple is steeped in rich history. Subsequently, other dynasties, such as the Vijaynagar dynasty and the Nayak rulers, added many temple components over the years. Presently the temple can be seen in all its grandeur during festivals such as the car festival and float festival, which are some of the best times to visit.
Constructed in the 16th century under the Nayak supremacy by one of the prominent Nayak leaders Thirumalai Nayak, devoted to Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwarar as a summer abode. Hindu texts were carved on the pillars showcasing the staggering quality of craftsmanship. Puthu Mandapam functioned as a venue for annual festivals. The exceptional architectural brilliance of the Puthu Mandapam can be seen through its structure, standing 23 feet tall, spanning 330 feet, and a width of almost 105 feet while standing on a pedestal. One hundred twenty-four pillars adorn this masterpiece. These pillars have detailed engravings ranging from the 14 rulers to gods and goddesses. The Raya gopuram found at the Puthu Madampam is partially complete, although if completed, it would have been one of the largest gopurams in India.
The Samanar hills are located at a distance of 12km away from Madurai. These hills and caves offer a glimpse into the great and rich south-Indian history. The caves in these hills are the prime attraction, with cave paintings dating back until the 1sst Century A.D. Providing information and insights into the past of the Jain religion, which flourished here at the time. Archaeologists also predict that some of the inscriptions are more than 2000 years old Tamilian-Brahmi, according to which Jains used these caves for their Sallekhana, which means to fast until death. The caves offer a dive into the past with their avid paintings, sculptures, and carvings.
Thiruparankundram Murugan Temple
This temple is one of the six temples of Lord Murugan. The most outstanding feature of this temple is that it has been carved out of a rock. The temple was carved out of rock during the Pandayan rule, whereas the enormous mandapams were completed under the Nayaka supremacy. The idols have been carved on the Parankundram stone displaying the enthralling and intricate craftsmanship prevalent during the Pandayan rule. A distinct feature of this temple is that the idols are planned to face each other, which is unique. The temple has distinct artistic mandapams, of which the Aasthaana Mandapam truly stands for its sheer creative brilliance.
Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam
Another temple was built under the Nayak rule by Thirumalai Nayak and is located 2km from the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. The temple is known for its colossal temple pond—a temple complex with an artificial island right at the heart of it. An interesting fact about this temple is that the soil unearthed during the excavation for the temple pond was utilized to produce bricks for the Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal, because of which the Mahal was considered to be blessed. The temple pond, called Teppakulam, is fed by the neighboring river Vaigai via underground channels. The temple dazzles during January or February, when the temple festival is celebrated, due to which the temple is adorned by a thousand lamps.
Thirumohoor Kalamegaperumal Temple
It is a significant temple in the history of Madurai, as mentioned in many great Tamilian epics. Spread across a large area, the temple built during the reign of the Pandayan dynasty boasts an alluring Dravidian style of architecture. Although the Nayaks later produced some of the temple components. The temple complex and its shrines have four parakramas, surrounded at the temple perimeter by granite walls. The main hall has columned pillars; subsequently, the primary visual attraction of the temple is the raja gopuram, a five-tiered artistic masterpiece. There are separate shrines for many other gods where devotees can offer their prayers.
The Idaikattur church was built to resemble the Rheims cathedral in France, although other features help distinguish it from the Rheims Cathedral. The sheer variety of materials utilized in this church is astonishing. They were completed with around 200 tiles and bricks. The interiors are adorned with gothic arches which bear breathtakingly beautiful terracotta work. To reduce the heat load of the building, hollow technique was used to reduce the heat absorbed by the building. The church is embellished with remarkable stucco work showcased by close to 153 depictions of angels and other figures. The church has picturesque views of the Vaigai river and is located 500 meters from the river.
St. Mary’s Cathedral
St. Mary’s Cathedral is designed in a very eclectic style comprising gracefully fused European, continental and Roman architectural styles. The Cathedral boasts a rich history of over 150 years. Initially built as a church, it got its cathedral status recently. On the exterior, two tall bell towers in the alluring roman architectural style stand on either side of the Cathedral, welcoming the visitors and framing the front elevation of the Cathedral. Subsequently, the interiors present beautifully constructed and decorated gothic arches. St. Mary’s Cathedral is not only famous in Madurai but attracts visitors from all across south India.
Yoga Narasimha Perumal Temple
The temple is located at Narasingam in Yanaimalai. Situated at the foothills of the Yanaimalai hills, this temple is carved out of the Yanaimalai hill. Showcasing the brilliant cave sculpting skills of the Pandayan Reign. The main deity Lord Vishnu is engraved on the hill rock, due to which there is no circumambulatory path around the idol. The temple has three mandapams namely The Maha Mandapam, The Garuda mandapam and The Mukha Madampam. The temple is renowned for the utsava idol of Narasimha. The temple has various inscriptions dating back to the Pandya period between 1101-1124 A.D.
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