Devi's Corner - Temples in Tamilnadu - Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple
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Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple

     Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple Tamil is a historic Hindu temple located in the holy city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of Sundareswarar or Beautiful Lord and Goddess Parvati in the form of Meenakshi.

     This temple has a stunning architecture and a significant testimony for dravidians for their master architecture in sculpting this temple. The complex houses 14 magnificent Gopurams or towers including two golden Gopurams for the main deities, that are elaborately sculptured and painted. The present structure is believed to have been built in 1600. The tallest temple tower is 51.9 metres (170 ft) high.

     According to Hindu legend, Shiva came down to earth in the form of Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi, an incarnation of Parvati. Parvati had earlier descended to earth in the form of a small child in response to the great penance of Malayadwaja Pandya, the ruler of Madurai. After growing up to adulthood, she began ruling the city. The Lord appeared on earth and proposed to her. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Meenakshi, was traveling to preside over the marriage from his holy abode at Vaikuntam. Due to a divine play, he was tricked by god Indra and delayed on the way. Meanwhile, the marriage was presided over by a local god Koodal Azhaghar. This is celebrated annually as 'Chitirai Thiruvizha' in Madurai. During the period of Nayakar rule in Madurai,in order to link the 'Azhakar Thiruvizha' and the 'Chitirai Thiruvizha' a story was added that Vishnu was angered and swore he'd never cross 'Vaigai' Later he was pacified by the other lords. Hence born the 'Azhaghar Thiruvizha'.

     The legend says that the Lord performed several miracles during his wedding. There was nothing on the side of the bridegroom's party to match the regal splendour of the preparations made for his marriage; the story goes that on the wedding day, much to the astonishment of all, god Sundareshwara, the bridegroom came only with a dwarf "Gundodhara'. Meenakshi, with a view to show her husband that she was very rich and powerful than him, haughtily remarked that the grand wedding arrangements would go waste since the bridegroom had not brought with him a large retinue befitting the occasion. God Sundareshwarar said that it would be sufficient if they would be able to feed the dwarf brought with him. To the amazement of all, everything that Madurai could produce in shape of things to eat and drink was not enough to satisfy appetite of Gundodhara, as the legend relates. Gundodhara quickly consumed both cooked and uncooked things and started asking for more. When there was nothing else left to eat, the dwarf began cry for water to quench his thirst. All the water in the wells reservoirs of the city had gone in the same way as the food. It was only Mother Annapurneshwari that could satisfy his hunger and Ganga his thirst, when they were summoned for the purpose by Lord Shiva. Sundareshwarar asked the dwarf to place his palms on the ground and directed a flow of water which is said to be the picturesque Vaigai river on the banks of which grew the charming city of Madurai.

     Thirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Shaiva philosophy, has mentioned this temple as early as the 7th century, and describes the Lord as Aalavai Iraivan. The temple was believed to have been sacked by the infamous Muslim invader Malik Kafur in 1310 and all the ancient elements were destroyed. The initiative to rebuild the structure was taken by Arya Natha Mudaliyar, the Prime Minister of the first Nayak of Madurai (1559-1600 A.D.), the founder of 'Poligar System'. Then came the most valuable contributions of Thirumalai Nayak circa 1623 to 1659. He took considerable interest in erecting the Vasantha Mandapa of the temple complex.


     The temple walls, streets and finally the city walls (ancient) were built around the temple in concentric squares. Ancient Tamil classics mention that the temple was the center of the city and the streets happened to be radiating out like the lotus and its petals. It is one of the few temples in Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions. The complex is in around 45 acres (180,000 m2) and the temple is a massive structure measuring 254 by 237 meters. The temple is surrounded by 12 towers, the tallest of which, the famous Southern tower, rises to over 170 ft (52 m) high.

East Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 161'3". This Gopura has 1011 sudhai figures.

South Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 170'6". This Tower has 1511 sudhai figures.

West Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 163'3". This Tower has 1124 sudhai figures.

North Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 160'6". This Tower has lesser figures of sudhai than other outer towers.

     The Shiva shrine lies at the centre of the complex. Outside the Shrine, lies huge scultpture of Lord Ganesh carved of single stone and there is a shrine for a giant Ganesh temple, called the Mukuruny Vinayakar. This idol is believed to have been found during an excavation process to dig the temple lake. In the outer pragaram (corridor outside the main shrine) there is stump of the kadamba tree, which is said to be a part of the same tree under which Indra worshipped Shiva linga. The Meenkashi shrine is on the left of the Shiva shrine.

Velli Ambalam
     This is one of the five royal courts( Shabai or Shabha) of lord shiva velli(Tamil)=Silver Ambalam(Tamil)=Stage or altar.This Shiva shrine also consists of an unusual sculpture of the Hindu god Nataraja. This massive Nataraja sculpture is enclosed in a huge silver altar and hence called Velli Ambalam (Silver abode). Famous Hindu marquee and a dancing form of Shiva that normally has his left foot raised, has his right foot raised in this temple. According to the purana, this is on the request of the Rajasekara Pandya king a sincere devotee of the lord. Asked the Lord to change his position, as he felt that always keeping a single foot raised will pose enormous stress on that, based on his personal experiments in dancing.

The lake Porthamarai
     Porthamarai Kulam is the sacred pond inside the temple. The name means the Pond with the Golden Lotus, and the lotus that grows in it has a golden color. People go around the 165 ft (50 m) by 120 ft (37 m) lake before entering the main shrine. According to legend, Lord Shiva promised a stork that no fish or other marine life would grow here and thus no marine animals are found in the lake. In the Tamil legends, the lake is supposed to be a judge for judging a worth of a new literature. Thus, authors place their works here and the poorly written works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to float.

Thousand Pillar Hall
     Thousand Pillar hall of Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple was built with the oldest Nellaiappar Temple, Tirunleveli as a model. The Aayiram Kaal Mandapam or Thousand Pillar Hall contains 985 (instead of 1000) carved pillars. It is considered culturally important and is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The Thousand Pillared Hall was built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar in 1569. He was the Prime Minister and General of Viswanatha Nayak of the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559-1600 A.D.). At the entrance of the Mandapam, we can still see the statue of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a beautiful horse-back which flanks one side of the entrance to the temple. There is a Temple Art Museum in the hall where icons, photographs, drawings, and other exhibits of the 1200 years old history are displayed. Just outside this mandapam, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note. The kalyana mandapa, to the south of the pillared hall, is where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year during the Chithirai Festival in mid-April.

Ashta Shakthi Mandapam
     This is the first hall in the entrance of Meenakshi shrine tower near to East Tower. The hall carry the statues of eight goddesses and hence the name. It was built by Thirumalai Nayakar's wives Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholimamai. In this hall food was once distributed to the devotees who came from far off places. Next to this hall is the Meenakshi Nayaka Mandapa a spacious columned hall used for shops and stores. This hall has a votive lamp-holder with 1,008 lamps, which are lit on festive occasions and present a spectacular sight. The sculptures on the pillars here relate some of Lord Shiva's Thiruvilayadals (miracles) and also the story of Meenakshi's birth and her life as the princess of Madurai.

Oonjal Mandapam
     The Oonjal (swing) Mandapam and Killikoontu (parrot cage) Mandapam are on the western side of the tank. Every Friday, the golden idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are seated on the swing in the Oonjal Mandapam and hymns are sung as the deities gaily swing to and fro. The parrots in the Kilikoontu Mandapam have been trained to repeat Meenakshi's name. But more interesting are the 28 pillars of the mandapam which exhibit some excellent Sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology.

Vasantha Mandapam
     This mandapam was built by Thirumalai Nayakkar. Vasanthosavam - the Spring festival-is celebrated in this mandapam in Vaikasi (April/May). Its pillars contain elaborate sculptures of Shiva, Meenakshi, scenes from their wedding as well as the figures of ten of the Nayak Kings and their consorts. This is also called Pudhu Mandapam.


Festivals
     The most important festival associated with the temple is the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam (The divine marriage of Meenkashi) that is celebrated in April every year. During that one month period, there are a number of events including the Ther Thiruvizhah (Chariot festival) and Theppa Thiruvizhah (Float festival) are celebrated. Apart from this, major Hindu festivals like Navrathri, Shivrathri are celebrated in a grand manner. Like most Shakti temples in Tamil Nadu, the Fridays during the Tamil months of Aadi (July 15 - Aug 17) and Thai (Jan 15 to Feb 15) are popularly celebrated with thousands of devotees thronging to the temple. In every Tamil month some festive occasions will happen in the temple like Aavani Urchavam, Maarghazi Urchavam, Navaraathri, etc.

Timings
     The temple is usually open between 0500hrs and 1230hrs and again between 1600 hrs and 21.30 hrs.



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