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Madurai - Tamil Nadu




Day 1: Our 4 day tour of Tamil Nadu started with the temple city of Madurai. It is situated on the banks of River Vaigai and was the capital city of the Pandya kings who though are mentioned in the Sangam literature ruled strongly from the 6th century to the 16th century. The City of Madurai was originally built around the Meenakshi temple with the rectangular streets that surround the temple named after the Tamil months of Aadi, Chithirai and Maasi and the direction they faced. Madurai is the oldest city in South India and has earned the nickname 'Athens of the East' given its rich heritage and culture.

Our day started at the Pazhamudircholai temple, situated 19km from Madurai on the Vrishabhadri hill. This is the sixth sacred temple among the Aru Padaiveedu (Six abodes) of Lord Muruga. This is where Muruga is supposed to have toyed with Avvaiyar, the grand old lady of Tamil literature and his ardent devotee. On her way to Madurai she stopped here for some rest when she noticed a young boy sitting on the branch of a 'Naaval' (a type of berry) tree and asked him to throw down some fruits. He asked her if she wanted some hot or cold fruits and her curiosity piqued she asked for some hot fruits. The boy shook the branch of the tree and the berries fell to the ground. As she picked up the fruits and blew on them to remove the sand, the boy playfully asked if the fruits were too hot to eat and advised her to blow a little harder. Avvaiyar realized that the boy had tricked her with his word-play and then realised that it was her idol playing with her. The questions then asked by Lord Muruga in this encounter with Avvaiyar and the answers given by her in verse are a big part of Tamil literature.

At the bottom of the Solaimalai hill, from this temple is the Azhagarcoil, a Vishnu Temple dedicated to Sundararajar or Kallazhaghar. This temple plays an important part in the legend of the city as Vishnu the brother of Parvati couldn't attend the wedding due to a misunderstanding. Vishnu swore never to enter Madurai and thus is only present in this temple 21 kms from the city though every year on Chitra Poornima day, an elaborate procession is held on the river Vaigai with Vishnu bearing gifts travels to the Meenakshi temple to bless his sister and her husband. For this deity, Abhishekam is only done with water from a particular spring in the hills as it is believed that anything else will discolor the idol.

We headed back to Madurai and to the Meenakshi Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva (in the form of Sundareswarar) and his consort, Goddess Parvati (in the form of Meenakshi). The magnificence of this temple almost became world renowned with it being a strong contender for the modern Seven Wonders of the World contest. The mythological story tells us that a Pandya king, Malayadwaja Pandya was childless and upon performing a number of yagnas (austere penance and sacrifices) he was rewarded with a 3 year old girl who rose from the fire. He adopted her. The girl had three breasts and it was believed that she would become normal the day she met her consort. She became a powerful princess and while fighting in Mount Kailas she saw Lord Shiva and she immediately attained her true form of Goddess Parvati. Eight days later they were married and after ruling over the Pandya kingdom for a while, they settled in the Madurai temple as Meenakshi and Sundareswarar.

The Siva shrine and the temple walls existed from the 7th century. The shrine of Meenakshi and most of the temple was built by Kulasekara Pandya beginning in the 12th century but the Nayaks added a lot of intricate designs during the 16th to 18th centuries. There are supposedly over 30 million carvings in the temple. The complex is dominated by the 12 towers or gopurams the tallest of which is 170ft high. It will take days to completely tour the temple and admire all its majesty but the important points of interest apart from the two shrines are the Potramarai Kulam (The Golden Lilly Tank) which adds a sense of serenity to the temple complex at all times during the day, The Thousand Pillar Mandapam, which actually has only 985 pillars but each so uniquely carved and structured that when viewed from any angle the pillars would appear straight, Oonjal Mandapam (Hall of the Swing) and Killikoontu (parrot cage) where every Friday the golden idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are seated on the swing and hymns are sung, the Ashta Shakthi Mandapam and Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam both of which are fine examples for the pillar sculptures including the 110 pillars carrying the figures of Yazhi (an animal with a lion's body, and an elephant's head). The temple also houses the shrine of the Mukurunni Vinayakar, a large monolithic idol supposedly found when a nearby tank was being dug. Lord Ganesha is depicted in this idol with his trunk facing left as opposed to the right turning trunk of the Siddhi Vinayakar. The idol also shows Ganesha holding the broken piece of his tusk in one hand. Legend says that Ganesha broke his own tusk to write down the epic Mahabharata as the Sage Vyasa dictated it. Spend a few hours at the temple, admire the sculptures in the gopurams and within the complex, look at the painted ceilings and watch as the magic of the colors and the ancient art captivate you.

For lunch we visited the vegetarian restaurant in Hotel Supreme (link...). The meals (thali) are large and tasty. Another option is Murugan Idli (link...) the chain that is reinventing the simple but very staple idli. During the lunch hours when all the temples are shut, we were entertained by Henk (Pbase Gallery link...) and Anand (Pbase Gallery link...) who took us on a walking tour of the markets of Madurai and provided us a with a quick look at the extremely polite and respectful people of Madurai.

Around 4 when the temples reopen again, we first headed to the Mariamaman Teppakulam Tank built in 1946 by Thirumalai Nayak. This tank is connected by underground channels to the Vaigai river and there is a shrine for Lord Vigneshwara in the center. The popular float festival is held here every year in January-February. We then headed to the Thirumalai Nayak Palace built in 1636 also in the center of Madurai. The palace is famous for its grand white columns each with a 4m diameter, the impressive stucco-work on its domes and arches and the Sorga Vilasam (Celestial Pavilion) which is a large hall built without the support of a single rafter or girder. Though Thirumalai Nayak's grandson selfishly ransacked most of the palace to build his own which he finally never did, the palace was restored partially by Lord Napier between 1866-72. There's a daily sound and light show in the evening and is worth seeing though it is also under re-design now.

As dusk approached, we visited Thirupparamkundram. One of the Aru Padaiveedu, it is carved in rock on the face of a mammoth hill and dates back to the 8th century. It is here that Muruga married Devayanai, daughter of Indra, after the victory over Surapadman. During the last days of the great battle between the asuras and the devas, Surapadman the asura who ruled supreme took the the form of darkness but Muruga quelled it with his shining Vel (Spear). Then Surapdman took the form of a monstrous mango tree and stood on the bottom of the ocean. Muruga hurled his Vel and split the mango tree one half becoming a cock and the other half a peacock. Devayanai was then presented to Muruga by Indra for his valor in the battle. The temple is a great picnic spot in the evenings, as the light fades and the large Vel is lit up on the face of the gopuram, and it is easy to lose oneself in its serenity. A visit to this temple also highlights the secularity of India, as there is a mosque atop another peak of the hill and at the bottom of the hill is a workshop where sculptures of Jesus and Mother Mary are made.

We headed back to Madurai, spent an hour back at the Meenakshi temple, and then ate dinner at the rooftop restaurant at Hotel Supreme overlooking the Meenakshi temple complex, had our dosa tasted by a very curious French girl, and then retired to our room in Hotel Park Plaza (link...) a very good hotel with prices ranging from 1700 to 2000 rupees per night and an extremely well trained staff.

Click here to go to Day 2: Karaikudi


Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Pazhamudhircholai tower facade, Madurai, India
Pazhamudhircholai tower facade, Madurai, India
Muruga and Avvaiyar, Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Muruga and Avvaiyar, Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Dwarapalayas guarding the entrance, Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Dwarapalayas guarding the entrance, Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Ghee lamps, Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Ghee lamps, Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Pilgrims, Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Pilgrims, Pazhamudhircholai Temple, Madurai, India
Azhagarcoil architecture, Madurai, India
Azhagarcoil architecture, Madurai, India
Entrance to Azhagarcoil, Madurai, India
Entrance to Azhagarcoil, Madurai, India
Azhagarcoil, Madurai, India
Azhagarcoil, Madurai, India
An elephant at the entrance to the Azhagarcoil temple, Madurai, India
An elephant at the entrance to the Azhagarcoil temple, Madurai, India
Meenakshi temple at dawn, Madurai, India
Meenakshi temple at dawn, Madurai, India
South Gopuram with the Golden Lily Tank, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
South Gopuram with the Golden Lily Tank, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
North gopuram, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
North gopuram, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Gopuram, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Gopuram, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Signs of Securalism, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Signs of Securalism, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Gopuram view from within Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Gopuram view from within Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Details of the gopuram, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Details of the gopuram, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Narasimha Avatar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Narasimha Avatar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
East Entrance - marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
East Entrance - marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Gopuram sculptures, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Gopuram sculptures, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Lord Muruga, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Lord Muruga, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Symmetric scultpures, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Symmetric scultpures, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Paintings and scultpures mingle, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Paintings and scultpures mingle, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Statue of Kulasekara Pandyan, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Statue of Kulasekara Pandyan, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Golden Lily tank, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Golden Lily tank, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
The Golden Lily, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
The Golden Lily, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Typical Temple steps at the tank, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Typical Temple steps at the tank, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Paintings around the tank, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Paintings around the tank, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Painting on the ceiling, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Painting on the ceiling, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
The only off-center painting, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
The only off-center painting, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Corner stone carvings, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Corner stone carvings, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Paintings inside the 1000 pillar mandapam, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Paintings inside the 1000 pillar mandapam, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
The Zodiac symbols, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
The Zodiac symbols, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Durga Devi, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Durga Devi, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Brahma, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Brahma, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Vegetable dye colors still jump out at you, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Vegetable dye colors still jump out at you, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Story telling through paintings, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Story telling through paintings, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Half man, half woman, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Half man, half woman, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Nandi, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Nandi, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Mukkuruni Vinayakar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Mukkuruni Vinayakar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Musical pillars - Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sa, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Musical pillars - Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sa, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Masks inside the Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Masks inside the Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Brass carvings, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Brass carvings, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Prayers inside, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Prayers inside, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Lord Muruga, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Lord Muruga, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Ceilings are all painted, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Ceilings are all painted, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
A closeup of Veerabhadra, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
A closeup of Veerabhadra, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Golden flagstaff, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Golden flagstaff, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
The wedding of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
The wedding of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Guests to the wedding of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Guests to the wedding of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Laddus, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Laddus, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Hunter with his wife - musical pillar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Hunter with his wife - musical pillar, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Doors and windows painting, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Doors and windows painting, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Wooden door, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Wooden door, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Rathi, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Rathi, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Sri Meenakshi, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Sri Meenakshi, Meenakshi temple, Madurai, India
Madurai countryside
Madurai countryside
Madurai within the city
Madurai within the city
A city of striking colors, Madurai
A city of striking colors, Madurai
A city of temples in every corner, Madurai
A city of temples in every corner, Madurai
A city for Jigarthanda, Madurai
A city for Jigarthanda, Madurai
An afternoon siesta, Madurai
An afternoon siesta, Madurai
Two chicken to be vegetarian?, Madurai
Two chicken to be vegetarian?, Madurai
A wiry balancing act in the city, Madurai
A wiry balancing act in the city, Madurai
Repairing the water pump, Madurai
Repairing the water pump, Madurai
Water Pump , Madurai
Water Pump , Madurai
Parotas, Madurai
Parotas, Madurai
An afternoon coffee break, Madurai
An afternoon coffee break, Madurai
A shy but very helpful girl, Madurai
A shy but very helpful girl, Madurai
Madurai Malli seller
Madurai Malli seller
Vegetable vendor with his scale, Madurai
Vegetable vendor with his scale, Madurai
Lady seller waiting for her customers, Madurai
Lady seller waiting for her customers, Madurai
Carvings and paintings are everywhere, Madurai
Carvings and paintings are everywhere, Madurai
Colorful door, Madurai
Colorful door, Madurai
MGR on a rickshaw, Madurai
MGR on a rickshaw, Madurai
Mariamaman Teppakulam Tank, Madurai
Mariamaman Teppakulam Tank, Madurai
Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Grand Columns of the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Grand Columns of the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Columns, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Columns, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Evening light filters in, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Evening light filters in, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
The tower within the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
The tower within the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Many rooms of the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Many rooms of the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Unrestored carving, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Unrestored carving, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Unrestored ceiling, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Unrestored ceiling, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Partially restored ceiling, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Partially restored ceiling, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Intricately carved door, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Intricately carved door, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Shy angel, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Shy angel, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Restored ceiling, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Restored ceiling, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Exquisite carvings, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Exquisite carvings, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Restored carving, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Restored carving, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Beautiful patterns, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Beautiful patterns, Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Colors adorn the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Colors adorn the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai
Thirupanakundram, Madurai
Thirupanakundram, Madurai
Marriage of Muruga and Devayanai, Thirupanakundram, Madurai
Marriage of Muruga and Devayanai, Thirupanakundram, Madurai
It is Vel lit up at night, Thirupanakundram, Madurai
It is Vel lit up at night, Thirupanakundram, Madurai
Om, Thirupanakundram, Madurai
Om, Thirupanakundram, Madurai