The Magnificent Madurai Meenakshi Temple

posted in: Asia, Culture, Heritage, India, Tamil Nadu | 83

There are always some places that beckon you to return over and over again. It’s funny though how every time you visit those places, there is something unique that you discover. For me, one of those places is the Meenakshi temple in Madurai. Every Indian student finds a mention of it in the Indian history textbooks and every Hindu knows of it as a pious place. I always wanted to visit it for cultural and historical reasons and my first chance came in 2009 on a road trip down South India. Fate had me return later again in 2016 and once more in 2017 during my Golden Chariot train journey.

Meenakshi temple in Madurai
Meenakshi temple in Madurai

With every visit to the Madurai Meenakshi temple, I gleaned more about this epic destination. The fascinating corners, the stunning sculptures, the artistic ceilings and tales embedded within each one of them – the Meenakshi temple kept me entertained every single time. Sharing my favorite parts of the temple with you – all of which will serve as a Travel Guide to the Madurai Meenakshi Temple – should you decide to visit it.

Legend of the Madurai Meenakshi Temple

Goddess Meenakshi in the center with Lord Sunderswara on the right and Lord Vishnu on the left
Goddess Meenakshi in the center with Lord Sunderswara on the right and Lord Vishnu on the left

Meen means “fish” and Akshi means “eyes”. Essentially the name refers to a maiden with fish-shaped eyes. She is supposed to be an avatar of Goddess Parvati (Wife of the Great Shiva) who was born to a childless royal couple with three breasts. Legend has it that divine intervention advised the king that she be brought up as a son and when she meets her match, things will become normal. As predicted, she was raised like a prince and proclaimed as the King of the land till she met Lord Sundereswar (Lord Shiva) and she lost the third breast. She continues to rule the town of Madurai even now and is worshipped as Meenakshi.

History & Significance of the Meenakshi Temple

The Meenakshi temple finds a mention in the texts dating back to the 4th century A.D. However, the present day structure is said to have been built by Thirumalai Nayak – the ruler of Madurai in the 14th century. The infamous raider of the Delhi Sultanate – Malik Kafur plundered the temple soon after, destroying many aspects of it. However, it was restored and expanded in the 16th century by the same Nayak dynasty.

Madurai Meenakshi Temple
Madurai Meenakshi Temple

Madurai itself is over 2500 years old and has always been described as one of the holiest cities in India. They say that it is termed as South Mathura, making it an important part of the Hindu pilgrimages. While the Meenakshi temple has two important deities worshipped here – Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundereshwar, it is primarily devoted to the Goddess. In some ways, it is a significant gesture towards the power of women and the matrilinear society.

Layout of the Meenakshi temple in Madurai

Madurai as a city is centered around the ruling grounds of its protector – Goddess Meenakshi.  The Meenakshi temple forms the central square and the rest of the city is designed as outer squares. Even today when I visited the temple, this characteristic layout of the city was easy to observe. The tiny lanes lined with shops on both sides seem to run along parallel roads that turn only at right angles. It is kind of amusing as you walk the roads to get to the Meenakshi temple.

Inner Gopuram of Meenakshi temple
Inner Gopuram of Meenakshi temple

The Meenakshi temple is supposed to be the abode of the Goddess and thus, is designed to include 2 major sanctums that can be equated to the Bedrooms. The smaller shrine belongs to Lord Sundereswara and the larger one is for Goddess Meenakshi. Long passages lead you to these shrines and different hallways – each with their own significance. 14 gateways adorn the temple, of which the outer 4 are the tallest. On the whole, the Meenakshi temple struck me as more of a palace for the Goddess than really a religious sanctum.

Stunning Gopurams of Meenakshi temple

Every picture of Meenakshi temple that you might have seen showcases its huge gateways or Gopurams. Colorful and intricate, the outer Gopurams never fail to impress its first-time visitors. Even the careless electricity wires that run around them cannot diminish its vibrant beauty of this Dravidian styled architecture.

The impressive Gopuram of Madurai Meenakshi temple
The impressive Gopuram of Madurai Meenakshi temple

The gopurams differ in heights. The outer ones that I entered through were the tallest of them all, with the Southern one scaling 9 floors. Each level of the Gopuram is carved with deities and mythical creatures in action. They say that each level has a different tale etched and that there are over 4000 tales, just on the outer Gopurams.

Close up of the Marriage scene on the Gopuram of Meenakshi Temple
Close up of the Marriage scene on the Gopuram of Meenakshi Temple

Once I stepped inside the compound, there were two significant sights that I saw. One included several threads and cradles being tied to trees. Devotees here pray for happy marriages and the boon of a child through these symbols. Fits given that the temple is dedicated to a Goddess.

The Sacred threads and cradles tied around Madurai Meenakshi Temple
The Sacred threads and cradles tied around Madurai Meenakshi Temple

The other significant sight included a playful elephant who stands at one of the outer mantappas or halls before the main entrance. Give a coin to the elephant and he will raise his trunk to bless you. He is there almost every evening during the pooja hours and even during festivals. I missed him on my last visit to Madurai, when I visited in the morning.

The Sanctums within the Meenakshi temple

While the rest of the temple is open to everyone, the inner sanctums are only open to Hindus. After you have entered the temple, the first sanctum that faces the entrance is that of Lord Sundereswara. If you notice the devotees, they ignore this sanctum first and visit the main bigger sanctum of Meenakshi temple, devoted to the Goddess of place. It is only after that they return back to Lord Sundereswara’s shrine and exit the temple.

Hallway of Meenakshi Temple in Madurai
Hallway of Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

Huge hallways connect the two shrines and the most characteristic part of these hallways is its ceilings that are brightly colored in floral designs. Walking along the passage, I found myself torn between looking up at the magnificent ceiling or examining the sculpted pillars that lined the way. Each one had its own beauty and tale to tell.

Ganesha Shrine in Meenakshi Temple
Ganesha Shrine in Meenakshi Temple

At a junction between the two shrines is a third shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Photography of the same is not allowed now and the priest here will not hesitate to take away your phone (cameras are not allowed, only mobile photography) if he catches you. This rule interestingly has come in only in the last few years for I managed to get a picture of the sanctum on my first visit. Here it is for me to share.

The Meenakshi shrine has a statue of her holding a lotus and a parrot while the Sundereswara shrine has a Shiva Linga enclosed by his signatory snake hood. Another symbol lies in the Sundereswara shrine of feet marks on metal – called Cokkar and this is the point I share an interesting ritual that takes places every evening at Meenakshi temple.

As the day ends and before the temple closes, a huge band accompanies the Cokkar statue from Lord Sundereswara’s shrine to Goddess Meenakshi’s shrine. It is locked here in the evening only to be taken by every morning. This is to depict that Lord spends time in the Goddess’ bedroom at the end of the day only to return the next day morning. I swear – not joking! 😉

Kambatadi Mandapam at Meenakshi Temple

Kambatadi Mandapam at Meenakshi Temple (2)
Kambatadi Mandapam at Meenakshi Temple

One of the most intriguing hallways or Mandapam was the one facing the entrance of the temple. Called the Kambatadi Mandapam, this one catches your eye with the huge golden pole that is raised through the roof to the sky. I found this flagpole quite interesting for it passes through the roof enhancing its painted ceilings. And at different times of the morning, a beautiful ray of light from the hole in the roof lights up the various parts of the hall.

The Golden pole passing through the ceiling of Meenakshi temple
The Golden pole passing through the ceiling of Meenakshi temple
Lights through the roof of Meenakshi temple
Lights through the roof of Meenakshi temple

The hallway depicts the marriage hall of the two deities – Lord Sundereswara and Goddess Meenakshi. Carved around the golden flagpole, are sculptures depicting Goddess Meenakshi being given away by her brother Lord Vishnu to her betrothed. This is that one structure that pretty much depicts the main theme of this temple.

Marriage Scene at Meenakshi Temple
Marriage Scene at Meenakshi Temple

Surrounding the pole and around the entire passageway, you will be able to see Lord Shiva in his various forms. His Nataraja form or the dancing form and his war hero form being the most prominent. Other than that, you will see both Meenakshi and Shiva together on his favorite bull Nandi, both of them fused together and more. Each pillar that they are carved on is a real masterpiece and though I saw them in candlelight, the brilliance of the craftsmanship shone through.

One of the Carved Pillars of Kambatadi Mandapam at Meenakshi Temple
One of the Carved Pillars of Kambatadi Mandapam at Meenakshi Temple

The Golden Lotus Pond at Meenakshi temple

As you head towards Goddess Meenakshi’s shrine, you will pass by this hallway that overlooks a pond with a Golden Lotus. The pond is referred to as Porthamarai Kulum, literally translating to the Pond with the Golden Lotus.  The pond was essentially built to allow the pilgrims their ablutions before heading to the temple. The place is quite a pleasant one for you can sit on those steps and watch the birds fly around the tank.

Golden Lotus Pond at Meenakshi Temple
Golden Lotus Pond at Meenakshi Temple

There is an interesting story attached to the Golden Lotus Pond. It is said that the worth of a literary art was tested by the poets and scholars of yesteryears by throwing their creations into the pond. Should it sink, their creation was not up to the mark and it was not presented. Quite a test – don’t you think?

Kilikoondu Mandapam of Meenakshi temple

The halls and the corridors surrounding the Golden Lotus Pond were collectively termed as Kilikoondu Mandapam. They say that the corridor was filled with parrot cages wherein the birds were trained to say the name “Meenakshi”. The corridor today is still quite interesting for you can well appreciate the presence of the parrots – though now in the form of a bird sitting on a lady, carved onto a pillar. The corridors with their arched doorways, do make a pretty picture as you stand there to look at the Golden Lotus Pond and the Gopuram behind.

View from Kilikoondu Mandapam of Meenakshi temple
View from Kilikoondu Mandapam of Meenakshi temple

Besides the engraved artwork of the robust pillars, you will also, see painted murals of the celestial marriage of the Lords. The pictures are a story in itself and if you enjoy the details, you can spend a while appreciating the tiny nuances painted by the artist.

Wall paintings along Kilikoondu Mandapam of Meenakshi temple
Wall paintings along Kilikoondu Mandapam of Meenakshi temple

Somewhere in the same corridor, lies a gilded swing. Every Friday, the divine couple of the temple are taken from their shrine and taken to the swing. The Ritual has been in practice for centuries now and still continues. I somehow, never made it on that day to see it.

Hall of 1000 pillars of Meenakshi Temple

Shops of Meenakshi Temple
Shops of Meenakshi Temple

Once you exit the temple from the same entrance that you came in, continue straight ahead along the colorful shops till you reach a grand hall labeled the Hall of 1000 pillars. A typical case of rounding off numbers – only to prove that it started ages back, this hall actually contains 985 sculpted pillars. Built by the Prime Minister of the Nayak dynasty –  Ariyanatha Mudaliar in the 1590s,  this place will leave you spellbound.

Yellis at 1000 pillar hall at the Meenakshi Temple
Yellis at 1000 pillar hall at the Meenakshi Temple

The most common figure within this hall is that of Yelli (Half Lion, Half Elephant guardian). Right in the center, there is a huge statue of Nataraja – a mirror image of what you normally see elsewhere. In every Nataraja idol, you will see that Lord Shiva has his left leg up in a pose. However, this one has his right leg up. A deliberate but beautiful mistake by the artist.

Musical Pillars at Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
Musical Pillars at Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

Within the hall, don’t forget to look for the musical pillars. Though you no longer an tap them, they like the Vittala temple in Hampi, make the sound of a musical instrument.

Hall of 1000 pillar at Madurai Meenakshi Temple
Hall of 1000 pillar at Madurai Meenakshi Temple
Another pillar in the hall of 1000 pillars of Meenakshi temple in Madurai
Another pillar in the hall of 1000 pillars of Meenakshi temple in Madurai

There are plenty of other corners that I can point to in the Meenakshi temple, each with their own story and interpretation. A lot is left undiscovered by me for even with three visits, I could not complete it all. I am pretty sure that even you will find it hard to see the entire temple in one visit. The temple is so beautiful that you might get into a frenzy when you see it all. Stay calm and remember my tips – these will get you through the best of Meenakshi temple in Madurai. 😉

 

Getting here

  • Madurai has its own airport and railways station. It is well connected to all the major cities in India and one can arrive here directly.
  • Meenakshi temple is the hub of the city. There is no missing it. However, avoid taking your car there as there is no parking around the temple. Best to hire an auto rickshaw to get you there. Click here to get the exact location of Meenakshi temple on your mobile.

Travel Tips

  • This is the official website of the Madurai Meenakshi temple. Please refer to this for the latest information on the tickets and rules to the temple.
  • The entrance is free but for Hindus seeking a fast queue access or certain types of Pooja, there would be a minimum charge.
  • The temple is open everyday from 5 AM to 9:30 PM . It is however, closed during the noon from 12:30 PM to 4:00 PM.
Candles offered by a devotee at Meenakshi temple
Candles offered by a devotee at Meenakshi temple
  • It is a living temple and hence, expect a lot of crowd everyday. During the festivals, it is even more so.
  • Please respect the sentiments of the temple by following the basic norms needed to enter it. You will find the same detailed here on the post on Tips to visit a Hindu Temple.
  • Cameras and electronic items are not allowed in the temple. You can carry your mobile phone for pictures. The rest of the things have to be deposited in the lockers at the entrance. The same is at your own risk.
  • There is a small fee for mobile photography. Please retain the ticket for it as anyone can ask you for a confirmation within the temple.
  • Footwear has to be left at the entrance.
  • There are plenty of shops that allow you to keep aside your belongings and shoes with them for a minor charge or a purchase from their shops. Again, the same would be at your own risk.
  • No bags are allowed in the Temple.
  • You will have to undergo a security check before you enter the temple.
  • Certain sections of the temple, like the Shrine are accessible only to the Hindus.
  • There is a separate entrance fee of INR 10 for the Hall of 1000 pillars

 

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83 Responses

  1. Jyotirmoy Sarkar

    Meenakshi temple….the name is very familiar to me like all others but did not have so many infos about this temple…its designs,outer and inner parts, cant load so many infos at a time in my brain, read it twice now and have bookmarked it, will have to read two three times later.
    Its an awesome post and pictures are mind blowing as usual.

    • Ami

      Thank you Jyotirmoy. Now imagine, I still have not deciphered more even after three visits 😉

  2. Yogi Saraswat

    It is really beautiful . This shows how our architect designs the structure , can we learn something from them !! They did it without any modern technology . I just love it and want to be there a day .

    • Ami

      Thanks Yogi. Well said about the ancient technology. That is what makes the whole things so amazing.

  3. Lisa

    Your photos are absolutely stunning!! I might even consider becoming a hindu just so I can enter the areas of this wondrous temple. All the details of the deities and the stunning architecture makes me even more inclined to visit India soon. All the stories and legends here are wonderful.

    • Ami

      Trust me Lisa. Even without changing your religion, you will find so much here. You are allowed almost everywhere except the main shrines.

  4. Priyanka

    Great pictures. When I went there many years ago, they didn’t let us take any gadgets inside, hence I don’t have a single picture from that trip 🙁

    • Ami

      They used to allow mobile phones till last year. Just read the news that they might not allow them any more. Sigh! Glad I could get these when I could

  5. Heidi Medina

    WOW, what an amazing temple. The colors, the details and the artwork is just simply fantastic. I could easily spend days there just admiring everything. Thank you so much for sharing and all the beautiful photos.

  6. Hemal Shah from Indianomics

    I had visited the temple as a kid, couple of decades ago! Makes me feel so old!! This place still looks the same from whatever memory I have of the temple and surroundings. It was the first of my mega structure (the gopuram) that had me blown away. Lovely pics, great write up!

  7. Rachelle Gordon

    I’ve never heard of the Meenakshi Temple before, but it is simply stunning. I love all of the colors and different textures that we can see in all the areas. I can understand that as a living temple it would be crowded all the time, and especially if people are still using it as such.

    • Ami

      It is one of our oldest temples in India. 4th century and going strong. You should visit it sometime.

  8. Martha

    This temple is fabulous! So much color and vibrancy. When I look at your photos, it definitely gives me wanderlust and I want to book a flight ASAP. Also, as an architecture junkie the levels of complex and texture are outstanding. Great find!

    • Ami

      Thank you Martha. And since you are an architecture expert, you will love the whole layout of the temple and the city per say. Given it is so old, you should definitely get here to take a closer look

  9. Aditinona

    One of the most colourful and picturesque architectural beauty in Southern India, it has been on my list since long and I am thinking of ticking it off as soon as possible now. Your pictures have done full justice to its beauty and have intrigued me enough to plan it very soon

  10. Sam Sparrow

    The Meenakshi Temple is mindblowing! Your pictures are incredible, I can’t believe the intricacies and detail, and the incredible colours too. If you think how old the temple is too, it is incredible that such a feat of design was achieved. that’s for sharing – I can’t stop looking at it!

    • Ami

      Thank you Sam. It feels good to know that you liked the place and the pictures. I hope you get down to India soon – for both this and the Taj.

  11. Debbzie Leksono

    I’m always fascinated by colourful temple like this! What I really love about Meenakshi tempe is how details the sculptures are also the wall paintings. I’d really love to visit Meenakshi Temple one day and learn interesting stories behind each sculpture. Thanks for sharing these gorgeous pictures!

    • Ami

      Thanks Debbzie for the compliments. It is nice to see how intrigued you are with the temple. I hope you get to visit it in person.

  12. Indrani

    So many interesting stories associated with the temple. Though I had heard them before it still felt new. Pictures are excellent. I have been there twice but still wish to visit again.

  13. Samah

    That is a very intricately designed temple, I’ve never seen anything like it! The history behind it is very interesting, seems like a must visit when going to Madurai!

  14. Fairuz Ibrahim

    An impressive looking temple, definitely one of the most colourful one I’ve seen. The wall paintings and the ceiling in the hallway of the temple are a marvel. I love hearing stories about hindu gods/goddesses, in this case Goddess Parvati, because living in a western country we don’t get to know about them, but I guess that’s why we travel 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    • Ami

      Thank you Fairuz. The Indian Mythology definitely has some interesting legends and when you visit a place associated with them, there is a different joy. Hope you can visit this place. Cheers

  15. Parnashree Devi

    Wow..such great details of Meenakshi Temple. I was not aware of the story of three breasts and how she was treated as a son. I loved the intricate details of the stone carvings as well. I haven;t visited the temple yet , but after reading the history, I would definitely like to pay a visit.

    • Ami

      This is one classical temple. Hope you get down to visiting it sooner. Thanks Parna for the lovely comment.

  16. Kavita Favelle

    Your photos are really bring alive the beauty of Madurai Meenakshi Temple, it’s now firmly on my list to visit. I really appreciate finding more about the history and significance as well as the guide on how to find your way around. The photo with that shaft of light coming in from above is magical!

    • Ami

      Thank you Kavita. I am glad that I inspired you to visit the place. Hoping 2018 it would be. Cheers

  17. Noel Morata

    Gorgeous details and colors, what a magnificent temple to explore and the grounds are beautiful especially with that pond and golden lotus. You captured the scene and imagery so beautifully.

  18. Lydia Smith

    This is like straight outta a movie, so beautiful a magnificent. Meenakshi Temple is such that has every details fascinating Starting from layout to the very preserve cultural and historical antique. It’s truly epic! Reminds me of when I read The Rape of the Lock; I pictured something very exactly as the Meenakshi Temple I’ll like to visit this temple and I’m sure I’ll love it here Your pictures are clear a beautiful

    • Ami

      Thank you Lydia for the lovely compliments. I haven’t read that book but your connect to the temple is tempting me to pick it up. On it now.

  19. Flying Fluskey

    I can’t believe they leave those two Gods alone every night. How risqué!

    I love beautifully intricate the whole temple is. The outside, the 1000(ish) columns, the murals; so gorgeous.

    I’ve always wondered what it was so it was lovely read all about the temple and it’s different shrines. I really like the Ganesha idol. It’s a shame you can’t snap it any more, but at least you got one lol.

  20. DomOnTheGo

    India is one of our favorite places to travel when seeing temples. They are so unique, far more colorful than their neighbors and are actually used to practice religion. I’ve not been to visited the Meenakshi Temple, but your pics are stunning and highlight why this place is a must-see for the area.

    • Ami

      Thanks for stopping by. Nice to know that India is your favorite for the temples. Hope you come by to visit the Meenakshi one

  21. Ada

    I can’t believe I haven’t heard about Madurai Meenakshi Temple before as it looks so beautiful! I love all the colors and details about it! India has so many wonderful hidden gems I just can’t wait to visit this wonderful country! Love your photos!

    • Ami

      Thank you Ada. Meenakshi Temple is one of our oldest gems and a definite see. Hope you get around to it.

  22. Pranab Pal

    Great script …. Awsome pics ….
    Nicely described Meenakshi temple ….
    Love to read your article !!

  23. Sandy N Vyjay

    The Madurai Meenakshi temple is really exquisite. In spite of having visited it so many times, every time we discover some new and amazing aspect of the temple. We especially love the beautiful paintings on the ceilings of the corridors. Some of them are intriguing optical illusions. For some reason we find the golden lotus pond too really charming. You have brought alive the vibrancy and colour of the place alive for us once again.

    • Ami

      Thank you. Three times and not tired, I quite relate to what you say about finding something in every corner.

  24. Anita Hendrieka

    Wow, I really love how the temple is so colourful. I think I visited a temple that was similar looking in Kerala. I also love how intricate everything is. I could spend hours just gazing at this temple!

  25. ganesh

    Thanks a lot for posting this post, Your post has always been an informative source for me.

  26. Hang Around The World

    We have a friend who have always invited us to visit this area and the temple and now thank to your post we know why. With your photos you inspired us and we’d love to try your same experience!!

  27. Paige Wunder

    What a stunning temple. I LOVE all of the intricate, bright details. I love that it’s free, and I also love that there’s a fee for photography because then it discourages too many people to come and ruin spiritual experiences for people (those who aren’t respectful, that is.) Great post and guide to visiting.

    • Ami

      Thank you Paige. I agree with you on the part about a fee for mobile pictures. It definitely discourages some of those people. Cheers

  28. Nathan

    Interesting anecdotal account regarding the history of this temple! I’ve heard of Madurai, but not in such great detail before. Would love to pay the temple a visit when I’m in the area, as it showcases lovely architecture and skilled sculpting! 🙂

    • Ami

      You should go exactly for those reasons Nathan. And of course, the entertaining stories around it. Thanks for stopping by

  29. omiey07

    That’s quite a detailed blog post with impressive pics. I remember visiting this temple because my parents really wanted to go. We had a train to catch, but still managed to rush and see the temple. We weren’t able to revel in the temple’s magnificence because of that.

    • Ami

      Ah, that is a pity that you did not get much time there. I hope you can visit there sometime again, its a weekend getaway if you like heritage 😉 Thanks for stopping by Umang.

  30. kimberly erin

    Wow this temple is beautiful, I love all the colours of it, I have seen a lot of white or gold temples, but not really a rainbow one. Your photography also highlights it beautifully.

  31. anto

    Wow I love the picture where the sunrays come through the window. I’d love to visit Meenakshi Temple one day for sure!

    • Ami

      The detailing of the place is what makes it the most amazing. I am sure you will find many a stories if you visit here. Which I hope is soon. Thanks for stopping by

  32. AmanGaur

    I read your article it’s very interesting and helpful.
    And the temple color are very beautiful and her design and structure was great….
    thank you for sharing………

Would love to know what you think