Thursday, February 11, 2016

Thoonga Nagaram! A City That Never Sleeps- Madurai

This temple city is home to the iconic Meenakshi Amman Temple and several other grand temples and also the city where Silapathikaram one of the grand epics of Tamil literature came from. This city has lot of culture heritage and was considered a very important trade hub even in the ancient times. Legacy of Madurai the Meenakshi Amman temple was ransacked and demolished by Mughal invaders in the 14th century and restored to it's present day glory by Nayakkar family in the 16th century.

We fell in love with the beautiful age old monument Meenakshi Amman temple. This magnanimous temple has four entrances and at each entrance is a high raising Gopuram that is beautifully carved and brightly painted. There are intricate carvings of mythical creatures that took us back in time. The temple is dedicated to Meenakshi Amman and Lord Shiva. The temple walls are beautifully painted and how can one miss the brightly colored ceiling of the temple. The entire complex is supported by numerous pillars that are equidistant and placed with great precision.

Every pillar, wall and corner of this massive temple complex has elaborately carved monolithic mythical creatures and scenes from Hindu mythological epics. The sculptures in the temple depict the beauty of women by highlighting their features in an intricate manner. Big breasts, thin waist line and broad hip, all while staying in the realm of art. They were so precise in their carvings that they would create sculptures that were exactly how they saw women around them- voluptuous, highlighting their beauty and not creating a fake sculpture and expecting women to idolize it.

The other great attraction within the temple premises is the "One Thousand Pillar" mandapam aka "Aayiram Kaal Mandapam." this madapam has thousand pillars each again precisely placed with intricate carvings and paintings. The grandeur of this mandapam is enhanced by the sculptures with such minute details giving a feel that they might come to life any time. The mandapam has now been converted to an art museum with exhibits ranging from a 20 foot massive door that used to stand guard the temple to photographs to sculptures of various deities to antique coins. 

The main deity is Nataraja the cosmic dancer, however, the showstopper and the most puzzling aspect is a group of rock cut cylindrical pillars that greet you at the entrance. The puzzling aspect is if you places your ears on the pillar and knock the pillars you can hear unique musical notes, tunes from each pillar. These pillars seem to be hollow and each one creates a unique note.

The sacred pond within the temple premises is believed to be the testing ground for a new work of literature. Tirukkural by Tiruvalluvar was the piece that got the approval. Legend has is that no marine form of life exists in this pond and is considered very sacred. Walking around the pond offers a unique view point from where you have a view of the Golden Kalash or Gopuram above the main deities Shiva and Amman. To mark this spot the temple authorities have installed a copper plate.

The temple is open throughout the day however, the gates to the inner sanctum are open from 4 am to 12.30 pm and 4 pm to 9.30 pm. The age old structural engineering and water management are that effective that they still work flawlessly. Set aside at least a couple of hours to soak in the beauty of this ancient Indian monument. 

Digital cameras are prohibited inside the temple premises but mobile phones are allowed we failed to understand this logic. As you enter the lanes leading you to the temple shopkeepers pressurize you to leave your footwear and bags with them, free of any charges and in return would try to hard sell you their products. Please note that temple authorities have created safe deposit counters where devotees can leave their footwear and bags free of cost. 

Kudal Alazagar Perumal Temple, this extraordinary temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu is a couple of kilometers away from Meenakshi Amman temple. The sculptures on the Goparum at the entrance depict scenes from the epics - Ramayana and Mahabarata at various tiers. The massive walls and pillars of this incredible temple exquisitely portray the various incarnations of Lord Vishnu. The long and broad walkways have elaborate paintings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. A chamber of the temple is dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and the deity is beautifully carved.

As you enter the temple on the left do check out the elaborate carving on the wall behind a glass enclosure. This carving just blew our minds, it illustrates the Sun, Surya Bhagwan riding on a chariot pulled by 7 horses that depict 7 days of the week. Around the sun are 6 corners that depict different seasons and around them are the 12 sun signs. There are two serpents depicting Raghu and Kethu that stand guard on either side of the Sun. The serpent on the left has its tail curled outside denotes day and the one on the right with its tail curled inside denotes night. This carving was carved in ancient times before modern science, tool and gadgets, ultra powerful telescopes existed. This goes to prove the fact that our forefathers were extremely smart.

However, the sore part was concrete constructions within the temple premises eating up parts of this ancient wonder. Multiple AC vents have been drilled, ugly PVC pipes running around make the temple lose its charm. The temples is open all days from 4 am to 12 pm and 4 pm to 9 pm.

Mariamman Thepakolam Temple is built around a pond and is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess of rain- Mariamman. During Thaipusam, float festival a floating chariot goes around this temple and lights up the entire area. This festival commemorates the birth of King Thirumalai Nayak. Sadly, when we visited the pond it was absolutely dry and was being used as a cricket ground. The temple would have been an absolute fantastic site to see had the pond been filled with water. It is a perfect place to take a stroll for a relaxing evening. There are plenty of food carts around to make your day end with good food. 

Near Thepakolam is the Sri Muktheeshwarar Temple which is as old as Meenakshi Amman temple. This temple is very calm and peaceful and has some great architecture. As there was no Goparum for this temple, the temple constructed at the Tepokkalam serves as the Goparum for this temple. 

Nayakkar Mahal - This palace was built with the help of an Italian architect by King Thirumalai Nayak in 1636. The architecture was a combination of Italian, Dravidian and Islamic style and was built to be the most significant palace of South India. Though the exteriors of the palace were plain and simple the splendor interiors are worth watching. Unfortunately, very little of this palace remains now as King's grandson destroyed most of the palace structure.

Like many other beautiful churches St. Mary's Cathedral is a magnificent and eye catchy cathedral standing as a fine example of secularism practiced by our beautiful Country. The beauty of this cathedral draws you to this place, the architecture providing a touch of Roman and European style is a treat for the eyes. This church is a couple of minutes walk from Nayakkar Mahal. The school around the church adds a nice charming factor.

The perfect place to satisfy your hunger pangs is to head to "Modern Restaurant," a star attraction within this star city. This age old restaurant is now successfully run by their third generation. The legacy of this restaurant has still been kept intact, they ace in serving traditional vegetarian food to their patrons. This is the ideal place to treat your taste buds for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We recommend you try all three. The elaborate meals for lunch include chapati and korma, 4 different types of vegetable curries, rice, dal, dal powder, good amount of desi ghee, sambar, rasam, puli kolambu/vata kolambu, curd, more or buttermilk, pickle, appalam and dessert. When we dined we were served mysore pak as dessert that was drenched in ghee. After this sumptuous meal they served us a banana and healthy pan for easy digestion. This huge spread of meal is priced at only Rs. 80 per person.  To ensure the authentic traditional taste, they do not use any ready made masalas or artificial food colors or flavors. All masalas are handmade to perfection in traditional style even today.

If you are there for breakfast or dinner treat yourself with different varieties of dosas or classic upma. The korma, chutney and sambar compliment the tiffin very well. Though we are not big fans of idiyappam we fell in love with their masala idiyappam.  Also, do try out their jangiri sweet which is pretty famous in Tamil Nadu and you wont be disappointed . This place has seen a wide range of eminent guests such as Sir CV. Raman, Dr. Rajendra prasad, Nehru, and the Father Of The Nation himself Mohandas Karam Chand Gandhi.' This restaurant is on Netaji Road, walking distance from Meenakshi Amman temple.

We highly recommend "Jigardhanda Junction" outlet for their awesome Madurai special Jigardhanda. This sweet drink is a big hit and a specialty of Madurai city. This outlet is near 'Periyar Bus stand.' To beat Madurai heat keep yourself hydrated the Natural way and sip on tender coconuts that are available in abundance and your body will thank you a million times.

During our stay in Madurai we checked into Rani Mangamal Residency, this age old hotel now beautifully renovated with modern amenities is managed and run by a group of able people. This is a perfect budgeted hotel to stay in Madurai. The hotel offers spacious rooms with clean bath, 24 hour running water, satellite TV, free WiFi in the lobby and all of this at a super budgeted price. The Madurai Railway Station is right opposite the hotel. Despite the railway station being bang opposite the hotel, the thick walls managed to filter out all the chaos from the station or main road completely. The Periyar bus stand is just a few minutes walk, from where one can access most parts of Madurai. Meenakshi Amman temple is at walk-able distance from here. There are plenty of restaurants in the vicinity.

Madurai is a happening town and all parts of the city are easily accessible by public transport. Madurai is too hot a city even in the month of August so it would be a good idea to wear cotton clothes and carry a good pair of shades. Also, keep yourself hydrated to beat the heat as the heat is way too dry and more grilling than the heat you face when you travel up North.

Courtallam a perfect destination very close to Madurai.


  1. Excellent post and nice photography !! Thanks for the share

  2. Great virtual tour of temple city Madurai !!

    1. Thank-you Yogi, we had a great time covering the city :)

  3. Nice post. Madurai is best place for family tour. I have been there once. Really wonderful experience.

    Holiday packages in India

    1. Very true Anusha, Madurai has its own charm. Glad you liked the post :)

  4. Feeling blessed. Wonderful architecture and i have visit this place once. I want to go once again.

    tour and travel