Hailed as Koodal Managar, Madurai has a unique and enviable place in Tamil culture. This is an important city in the south that enjoys a long and wide reference in Tamil texts. Madurai was the capital city of the Pandiyas, one of the three ancient Tamil kingdoms. It was also the famous seat of Tamil Sangam where some of the most ancient and exquisite literary work in Tamil were written and compiled. Boasting of a rich and proud tradition, today Madurai has grown as one of the most interesting tourist places in Tamilnadu with a wide range of attractions. The chief features of Madurai tourism is its marvelous temples and incomparable architecture. Temples of Madurai are known for their breathtaking sculptural work replete with intricately designed ornamental embellishment. The inescapable charm of this city has been attracting visitors of a wide range of interests all round the year. Some of the prominent topics of the city include its world famous educational institutions, its pilgrim importance and jasmine flower and textile export business.
Sree Meenakshi Temple:
The magnificent Meenakshi Temple bears testimony to the highly famed architectural accomplishments of the Pandya dynasty. Dedicated to the presiding deities Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati named as Sundareshwara and Meenakshi, this temple was constructed by Kulasekara Pandya. The principal attraction of this temple is its magnificent Gopurams or huge ornamental gateways that are 12 in number. The towers of the temple soaring into the sky stand on granite bases and house a large number of stucco images of various deities occurring in the Hindu mythology in addition to mythical animals and monsters coming alive with vibrant colors.
Every visitor is sure to be enthralled by the Ashta Shakti Mandapam in the temple. This is a large pillared hall with a temple inside. This was constructed by the wives of Thirumalai Naicker namely Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholiammal. Till recently, this was regularly used as a dining hall to feed hundreds of devotees at once. Yet another Mandapam near this is named as Meenakshi Nayaka Mandapa. At present, this hall serves as a shopping plaza adorned by a long line of shops selling variety of goods ranging from items used for worship to interesting gifts. During festive occasions, this hall can be seen illumined by 1008 lamps. The hall also has sculptural depictions of the miracles of Lord Shiva and the story of Meenakshi who was the princess of Madurai city.
Termed as Oonjal Mandapam and Kiligoondu Mandapam, the names of the two other famous halls of this temple literally mean swing hall and parrot hall. These halls are extensively used for various rituals forming part of the customary worship procedure at the temple. On Fridays, golden statues of Mother Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwara are placed on the swing and musical recitations are performed in front of the deities in praise of their glory. The well trained parrot kept caged in this mandapam utters the name of Goddess Meenakshi. The intricately designed pillars of this hall are 28 in number.
Kadambathadi Mandapam houses an attractive idol of Lord Shiva in dancing pose. Called as Nataraja or the King of Dance, the idol here is coated with silver and called as Velli Ambalam, meaning the dancing platform in silver. There is a Kadamba tree in this place which is associated with a legendary story where Indra, the king of gods worshipped Lord Shiva.
The must see place in this temple is the thousand pillared hall or the Ayirankal Mandapam. There are about 985 pillars adorning this hall that are embellished with intricate carvings and bold images. The geometrical arrangement of these pillars inside the hall is a great wonder. Today, this hall houses a highly interesting museum. Some of the most interesting items displayed in the museum include a rich collection of icons in metal besides paintings and photographs. In the west of the hall one can find a single piece of granite stone with carvings of musical instruments. On gentle striking, the pillars produce lovely musical sounds.
Also called as Vasantha or Pudu Mandapam, the New Mandapam is an unfinished hall set near the eastern tower of the temple complex. There is also an unfinished tomb built by Thirumalai Naicker. The hall houses some of the most beautiful sculptures of Meenakshi, Shiva and the kings of the Nayak clan. The Vasanthotsavam or the spring festival is an annual feature organized in this hall.
Named as Swarga Vilasa, the Heavenly Pavilion of the temple is the only surviving example of its type standing as a living example for Indo-Saracenic architectural accomplishment. This hall is built with brick and mortar in a rectangle shape measuring 75 mtrs in length and 52 mtrs in breadth. In this hall, there is a highly decorated Colonnade which is very tall adorned with very high arches. On a daily basis, there are shows organized in this facility both in Tamil and English. Also, plays on some excerpts from the famous Tamil Epic Silapathigaram written by Elangovadigal are staged here in addition to some depictions on the glory of the king Thirumalai Naicker.
Thirumalai Nayak Palace:
Outside Madurai Meenakshi Temple, Thirumalai Nayak Mahal or Palace is a marvelous architectural accomplishment by King Thirumalai Nayak. Very interestingly, an architect from Italy has played a crucial role in designing this palace as early as 1636. This imposing palace has two parts namely Swargavilasa and Rangavilasa. Some of the most interesting spots of this palace are a theatre, armory, shrine, palanquin station, imperial bandstand, residential quarters, apartments, pond and a garden.
Gandhi Museum is a highly interesting tourist attraction in Madurai. This is one of the finest memorials found in the country on Mahatma Gandhi. The facility houses very interesting photos, paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, quotations, and some articles used by Gandhiji.
Mariamman Teppakulam can prove to be a unique attraction for visitors to Madurai. Located at a distance of about 8kms, this is a big tank with an idol of Lord Ganesh set in a platform at the centre. The float festival is an annual celebration in the Teppakkulam which is celebrated with great excitement and color.
Considered one among the six temples dedicated to Lord Subramanya, Thirupparankundram is a very popular rock-cut shrines built by Pandya kings. This temple is located at about 5kms from the main city of Madurai. The construction of this temple dates back to the 8th century and in course of time came to be called as Nayaka Hindu Temple. This temple is set on a hill and houses beautifully carved reliefs of various Hindu deities.
Travel and Stay:
Madurai is the second largest city in the state of Tamilnadu. Madurai Airport is located at a distance of about 13 km from the main city of Madurai. The facility has one terminal for the domestic flights. There are direct flights to Madurai from cities including Chennai, Bangalore, Trichy and Coimbatore. The five airlines operating their services from this facility include Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Paramount Airways, Kingfisher Airlines and Air Deccan.
Travelling by train is also convenient to Madurai. Madurai city is on the Madurai-Tiruchirappalli-Dindigul-Quilon line. Madurai city has five bus stands from where busses can be availed to a number of destinations.
Accommodation is available quite easily in the city of Madurai with a wide range of options ranging from deluxe hotels to guest houses offering bed and breakfast at reasonable prices. Some of the finest hotels at Madurai city are Best Western Germanus Hotel, Hotel Sangam, Hotel Taj Garden Retreat and Hotel Madurai Ashok.