Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva
and his consort Meenakshi (Parvati
) is the most famous temple in the city of Madurai
in Tamil Nadu
. The complex covers an area of 65000 sq m. The temple dates to around 100 AD and it was expanded during the reign of Thirumalai Nayak (1623-55). Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple is a splendid example of Dravidian architecture and attracts pilgrims from all over India. The deities of the temple are the Sundareswar (Lord Shiva) and his fish-eyed spouse, Meenakshi (Parvati).
Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple contains 12 gopurams and the main four gopurams are having nine storeys each. These four tall gopurams (towers) over the entrance gates is renowned for its sculptures and paintings. The southern tower is the tallest, a height of 170 ft with 1511 sudhai figures, and was built in 16th century. The oldest tower is the 13th century eastern gopuram, a height of 161 ft with 1011 sudhai figures, built by Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan. The western tower with a height 163 ft and 1124 sudhai figures and the northern tower is having a height of 160 ft.
The main feature of the temple lies in the Ayiramkal Mandapam or the Hall of Thousand Pillars. The specialty of the pillars is that each one is adorned with high, ornate, bold sculptures and the view of these pillars from any angle appears to be in a straight line. There are musical pillars carved out of stones in the outermost corridors. Each pillar produces different musical note when it is tapped.
The temple has an Ashta Shakthi Mandapam where food was once distributed to the devotees who came from far off places. Next to this hall is the Meenakshi Nayaka Mandapa. It is a spacious columned hall used as shops and stores. This hall has a votive lamp-holder with 1,008 lamps, which is lit on festive occasions. The hall consists of 110 pillars carrying the figures of a peculiar animal with a lion's body, and an elephant's head called Yalli.
Another feature of the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple is the golden lotus tank (Potramaraikulam). It is an ancient temple tank and lot of devotees take bath in the holy water. There are Oonjal (swing) Mandapam and Killikoontu (parrot cage) Mandapam on the western side of the tank. The mandapam contains 28 pillars, which depicts some excellent sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology.
The shrine of Lord Sundareswarar (Shiva) is to the north of Kilikoontu Mandapam. There is a gigantic idol of Sri Ganesh called Mukkurini Pillaiyar on the way to the Sundareswarar shrine. There is stump of the kadamba tree in the outer corridor which is said to be a part of the same tree under which Indra worshipped
shivlinga. Also in the outer corridor are the Kadambathadi Mandapam and big hall called 'Velli Ambalam.' The idol of
Nataraja in the mandapam is covered with silver leaves and thus named as Velli Ambalam (Silver Hall).
Vasantha Mandapam was built by Thirumalai Nayak for the celebration of the spring festival (Vasanthosavam), during the months of April and May. The mandapam consists of has 124 sculpted stone pillars depicting the scenes from wedding as well as the figures of ten of the Nayak Kings and their consorts. It is also known as Pudhu Mandapam.
Meenakshi Kalyanam is the main annual festival. It is the wedding festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar celebrated for twelve days from the second day of the lunar month (April and May).
The temple is open to devotees between 05:00 and 12:30 hrs and again between 16:00 and 21:30 hrs. It is at a walkable distance from the Madurai railway station.