Meenakshi Amman temple
Name : Meenakshi Sundereshwara Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple
Primary deity: Goddess Meenakshi (Parvati)
Architecture : Dravidian architecture
Location : Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple’ 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 his consort, Goddess Parvati (in the form of Meenakshi). The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old city of Madurai. This temple has a stunning architecture and a significant testimony for Vishwakarma Brahmins 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 temple is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, and has been mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature, though the present structure is believed to have been built only recently in the early 17th century. The temple was a frontrunner in the election for the modern seven wonders of the world for its architectural importance.] In 2009, the temple was selected one of the Seven Wonders of India by NDTV.
The divine marriage where brother Vishnu hands his sister Parvati to Shiva (from left, Vishnu, Meenakshi, Shiva)
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 anually 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 history of the original structure is not properly known, but Tamil literature speaks about the temple for the last couple of millennia. [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 1310and 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 structure
The temple is the geographic and ritual center of the ancient city of Madurai. 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.
This temple is a complex of many deities. The Shiva shrine lies at the centre of the complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed later. 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. The Meenkashi shrine is on the left of the Shiva shrine and is of sculpturally less valuable than the Shiva shrine.
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.
Other four courts of Lord Shiva in Tamil Nadu:
Shaba(court) Place Deity made of
Chitra Shabhai Courtallam or
Thamira Shabhai Thirnelveli copper
Rathna Shabhai Gems
The lake Porthamarai
Deity of Lord Shiva
Porthamarai Kulam, the sacred pond inside the temple, is a very holy site for devotees. People go around the 165 ft (50 m) by 120 ft (37 m) lake before entering the main shrine. The name means the Pond with the Golden Lotus, and the lotus that grows in it has a golden color. 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.). He was also the founder of Poligar System, the quasi-feudal organization of the country, which was divided into multiple palayams or small provinces and each palayam was ruled by a palayakkarar or a petty chief. At the entrance of the Mandapam, we can still see his statue; the majestic pose of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a beautiful horse-back which flanks one side of the entrance to the temple. The statue is still periodically crowned with garlands by modern worshippers. Each pillar is carved and is a monument of the Dravidian sculpture. 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.
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, in which most Tamil Nadu temples celebrate their annual festivals.
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.