The Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple is located in the heart of Madurai city, Tamil Nadu in India covering an area of around 45 acres. The greatest architectural marvel of India is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of Sundareswarar and his wife the Goddess Parvati in the form of Meenakshi.
Also called Meenakshi Amman Temple was built by Pandya King Kulasekara and reconstructed later by Ruler Thirumalai Nayak, the temple has patronized literature, art, music and dance ever since its inception. It is a significant symbol for the Tamil people attracting six thousand visitors a day and gets an annual revenue of rupees sixty million. Recently nominated in the list for the new Seven Wonders of the World and the temple was selected one of the Seven Wonders of India.
The temple complex is within a high-walled enclosure with five entrances covers an area of 254.1m long and 237.6m wide in the North South direction, surrounded by smaller shrines and grand pillared halls. There are 12 temple towers or Gopurams. Their soaring towers rise from solid granite bases, and are covered with stucco figures of dieties, mythical animals and monsters painted in vivid colours. The outer towers are the landmarks of Madurai.
East Tower (Nine Storeys) - 1011 sudhai figures.
South Tower (Nine Storeys) - 1511 sudhai figures.
West Tower (Nine Storeys) - 1124 sudhai figures.
North Tower (Nine Storeys) - It has lesser figures than other outer towers.
In addition there are five towers on top of the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord, three on top of the sanctum sanctorum of the Goddess and two golden towers or gopurams, and all which have been exquisitely designed and sculptured. All fourteen towers have been segregated based on the stages they are:
Nine tier gopurams(4)
Seven tier, Chittirai gopuram(1)
Five tier gopurams(5)
Three tier gopurams(2)
The Pyramidal Gates rise to a height of more than 50m. These towering gateways indicate the entrance to the temple complex at the four cardinal points, while lesser gopuras lead to the sanctums of the main dieties. The figures of deities on the tower are repaired, repainted and ritually reconsecrated every 12 years.
Some of the most largest and spectaculars mandapam or hall are:
Ashta Shakthi Mandapam
A hall food built by Thirumalai Nayakar's wives Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholimamai. In ancient times in this hall, the food was distributed to the devotees who came from far off places. This hall has a votive lamp-holder with 1,008 lamps, which are lit on festive occasions and present a spectacular sight. The sculptures on the pillars here relate some of miracles of Lord and also the story of Meenakshi's birth and her life as the princess of Madurai.
Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam
A spacious columned hall used for shops and stores is adjacent to Ashta Shakthi Mandapam, consisting of 110 pillars carrying the figures of a peculiar animal with a lion's body, and an elephant's head called Yalli.
An ancient Golden Lotus Tank where devotees take bath in the holy water. The area around this tank was the meeting place of the TamilSangam, the ancient academy of poets. The tank is surrounded by a pillared corridor. Steps lead down to the tank, enabling worshippers to take bathe in it.
The Oonjal or swing hall and the Killikoontu or parrot cage hall are on the western side of the tank. Every Friday, the golden idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are seated and hymns are sung as the deities gaily swing to and fro. The parrots in the Kilikoontu Mandapam have been trained to repeat Meenakshi's name. There are interesting 28 pillars which exhibit excellent sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology.
Swami Sundareswarar Shrine
The shrine is to the north of Kilikoontu Mandapam. There is a gigantic idol of Sri Ganesh called Mukkurini Pillaiyar where you can worship on your way. When the king Thirumalai Nayakar excavated a temple tank, he unearthed this idol of Vinayaka and erected the same here.
There is a stump of the Kadamba Tree in the corridor outside the main shrine, under which Indra worshipped Shiva linga. Visitors can also find the Kadambathadi Mandapam, a big hall called Velli Ambalam or Silver Hall where an idol of Nataraja, the Lord of Dance is seen, and covered with silver leaves.
The Thousand Pillar Mandapam
Actually the number of pillars counts 985 beautifully decorated columns and there are the wonder of the palace. Each pillar is sculptured and is a monument of the Dravidan sculpture. There is a Temple Art Museum in this 1000 pillars hall where you can see icons, photographs, drawings exhibiting the 1200 years old history. There are many other smaller and bigger mandapams in the temple. Just outside this mandapam, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar when stuck produces a different musical note. The Kalyana Mandapa, to the south of the pillared hall, is where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year during the Chitirai Festival in mid April.
Also called Pudhu Mandapam was built by Thirumalai Nayakkar where the spring festival is celebrated in Vaikasi, April-May. Its pillars contain elaborate sculptures of Shiva, Meenakshi, scenes from their wedding as well as the figures of ten of the Nayak Kings and their consorts.
According to Hindu legend, Shiva came down to earth in the form of Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi, an incarnation of Parvati who had earlier descended to earth in the form of a small child in response to the great penance of Malayadwaja Pandya, the ruler of Madurai. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai.
Many historical evidences of the temple have been found dating back from early AD. The temple was almost completely destroyed in the year 1310 following the invasion of the Islamic conqueror Malik Kafur. The invaders followers of Islam destroyed most of the ancient sculptures of the temple due to their intolerance towards other religions.
In the early 7th century the Hindu Saint, Thirugnanasambandar mentioned the temple and described to the Lord as Alavai Iraivan in his songs. In the late 14th century when the Hindu Kings came back to power in Madurai The temple was restored to its pristine glory and was a a new beginning of a new era in the history of the temple, when it was almost rebuilt. In according to records the King Thirumalai Nayak played an important role in the new temple construction with most valuable contributions.