Madurai is the heart of Tamil Nadu. It was recorded in history for spice trades done with the Greeks in the 4th century BC. It was ruled by many, one of them being king Vishvayata of the Nayak dynasty who began three construction of a majestic Hindu temple here in 1560. The temple was dedicated to fish-eye Sri Meenakshi, the three breasted goddess who according to tradition became the consort of Shiva. Since the construction, the temple, probably the largest and most impressive in the entire India, Madurai represented one of the most important center of Hinduism and an important place of pilgrimage.
Sri Meenakshi temple is actually an enormous complex spread on 6 hectares. From afar you may see a number of polychrome towers, adorned with deities, gods and goddesses, demons, heros and sacred vehicle-animals. There are 12 towers in total, named gopurams, and four of them mark the 4 cardinal entrances to the temple complex. You have to leave your shoes at the cloak room and absolutely nothing is allowed on you except money. No camera, in spite some notices that state that you can pay and go. In the morning I had to return to the hotel and drop my backpack and I came back to the temple just with the GoPro but even that they were able to find and asked me to leave it at the cloak room.
Inside the complex is another surrounding wall with gates that let in the temple compound. Inside is a forest of granite columns, each of 3-6 feet wide, that on one side are shaped as the column itself and on the other side comes out of the stone a deity or elephant sculpted from that huge block of granite. And everything is still only one piece together with the columns, all sculpted with intricate details. And this is granite, not limestone or marble…The labyrinth of corridors and spaces guarded by this forest of columns is at least confusing in the beginning. All these corridors converge somehow to the two main sacred temples of the complex dedicated first to Sri Meenakshi and the second one to Lord Shiva, both of them off sites for non-Hindu people. The entire complex is covered by a roof supported by this extensive forest of granite columns, with the exception of a pool area that is roofless.
Hindu believers show a profound devotion in all temples and this one is no exception. There are people stretched on the ground and kissing the yantra in front of the deities’ temples, there are ceremonies with trumpet, drum and bells where bare chested pujaris carry a shrine, in another corner musicians chants, in the courtyard is an elephant that takes the coin from your hand and blesses you by placing the end of his trunk on top of your head. You may lose yourself through the corridors and passages that bring you in and out and sometimes accidentally in the sacred shrines were Hindus wait in line for darshan. On one of the side area is the Temple Art Museum, with another forest of sculpted granite columns, where a dancing Shiva is lit at the end of a hall guarded by elephant columns that measures around 150 feet. The effect is spellbinding,
The temple is impressive and you can easily spend lots of hours there following the events.
But I did not have the luxury of time and I went back to the hotel, picked up my cameras and got in a tuk-tuk to visit the Palace residence of the Nayaks, named Tirumalai Palace, now in not such a great state. However the main courtyard is renovated together with what used to be the Dance Hall, that accommodate a museum. The decoration is done with plaster, nice but not remarkable.
From the palace I took a ricksha driven by an old man and went back to the temple to shoot anything the entrance towers and zipped to the hotel where Kumar was waiting for me to leave for Tanjavur.