Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple or Tiru-alavai (IAST minakshi Amman Kovil, Tamil: மீனாட்சி அம்மன் கோவில்/திருஆலவாய்) is a historic Hindu temple located in the south side of river Vaigai in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Parvati who is known as Meenakshi and her consort,Shiva named here as Sundareswarar(beautiful deity). The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old city of Madurai. The complex houses 14 gopurams(gateway towers) ranging from 45-50m in height, the tallest being the souther tower, 51.9 metres (170 ft) high,and two golden sculptured vimana(shrine) over sanctum of the main deities. The temple is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, and has been mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature, though the present structure is built during 1623 to 1655 CE.The temple attracts 15,000 visitors a day, around 25,000 during Fridays and gets an annual revenue of sixty million INR. There is an estimated 33,000 sculptures in the temple and it was in the list of top 30 nominees of the "New Seven Wonders of the World". The annual 10 day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival celebrated during April–May attracts 1 million visitors.
தமிழ்நாட்டில் உள்ள சிவபெருமானுக்கான கோவில்களில் மதுரை மீனாக்ஷி சுந்தரேசுவரர் கோயில் சிறப்புடைய ஒன்றாகும். இக்கோயில் அம்மனுக்கான 64 சக்தி பீடங்களில் ஒன்றாகவும் விளங்குகிறது. இத்தலத்தில் மீனாக்ஷி அம்மன் சந்நிதியே முதன்மை பெற்றது. ஆகையால் இத்தலத்தில் முதலில் மீனாட்சியை வணங்கி அதன் பிறகு சுந்தரேசுவரர் சந்நிதி சென்று அவரை வழிபடுவது மரபாக இருந்து வருகிறது.
Meenkashi (IAST mīnākṣi, Tamil மீனாட்சி) is an Avatar of the Hindu Goddess, Parvati - the consort of Shiva. She is also one of the few Hindu female deities to have a major temple devoted to her. The name Mīnachchi (meaning fish eyed) is derived from the words mīna (meaning fish) andakṣi (meaning eyes). Meenakshi(the lady goddess) is the principal deity of the temple, but not Sundareswarar - this is unlike most Shiva temples inSouth India where Shiva is the principal deity.According to Hindu legend, in order to answer the prayers of the second Pandya king Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai, Goddess Parvati appeared out of the Holy Fire of the Putra Kameshti Yagna(sacrifice for childhood) performed by the king. According to another legend, the goddess herself gave a boon to Kanchanamalai in one of her previous births that she would have the privilege of mothering the goddess. This girl, who came out of the holy fire had three breasts. A voice from the heavens told the king not to worry and added that the third breast would vanish soon the girl meets her future husband.The happy king named the girl as Tadaatagai and being the heir to the throne, Tadaatagai was trained carefully in all the 64 sastras(fields of science). As the time came when Tadaatagai was to be coronated, she had to wage war on the three worlds across eight directions. After conquering Sathyaloka(Brahma's Abode), Vaikunta(Sanskrit वैकुण्ठ, vaikuntha meaning Vishnu's Abode) and Amaravati(the abode of the Devas), she advanced to Kailasha(Shiva's Abode).She very easily defeated the bhoota ganas(IAST: Bhūtagana, meaning Shiva's army) and Nandi(the celestial bull of Shiva) and headed to attack and conquer Shiva. The moment she looked at Shiva, she was unable to fight and bowed her head down due to shyness; the third breast vanished immediately.Tadaatagai realized that Shiva was her destined husband. She also realized that she was the incarnation of Goddess Parvati. Both Shiva and Tadaathagai returned to Madurai and the king arranged the coronation ceremony of his daughter, followed by her marriage with Shiva.
The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Meenakshi, prepared to travel from his holy abode at Vaikuntam to preside over the marriage . Due to a divine play, he was tricked by the Deva, Indra and delayed on the way. The marriage was presided over by a local god from Thirupparankundram Pavalaakanivaai Perumal, an incarnation of Vishnu. After the marriage, the pair ruled over Madurai for a long time and then assumed divine forms as Sundareswarar and Meenakshi who are presiding deities of the temple. Following the tradition, every evening, before closing the temple, a ritual procession led by drummers and a brass ensemble carries the image of Sundareswarar to Meenakshi's bedroom to consummate the union, to be taken back to his day setting the next morning in dawn.The marriage is celebrated annually as Chithirai Thiruvizha(Tamil:சித்திரை திருவிழா meaning Chittirai festival) in Madurai. During the period of Nayakar rule in Madurai, the ruler Thirumalai Nayakar linked the Azhakar Thiruvizha(Tamil: அழகர் திருவிழா, meaning Azhagar festival) and the Meenakshi wedding ceremony.
The Meenakshi temple is believed to be founded by Indra(king of Devas, celestial deities) while he was on a pilgrimage to cure his misdeeds. He felt his burden taken off nearing the swayambu lingam(self formed lingam, a representation of Shiva used for worship in temples)of Madurai. He ascribed this miracle to the lingam and constructed the temple and enshrined the lingam there. Indra worshipped Shiva, who caused golden lotuses to appear in the near-by pool.Tamil literature speaks about the temple for the last couple of millennia. Thirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Saiva philosophy, mentioned this temple as early as the 7th century, and described the deity as Aalavai Iraivan. The temple was believed to be sacked by the infamous Muslim invader Malik Kafur in 1310 and all the ancient elements were destroyed.The initiative to rebuild the structure was taken by first Nayak king of Madurai, Viswanatha Nayak (1559–1600) under the supervision of Ariyanatha Mudaliar, the prime minister of the Nayak Dynasty and the founder of thePoligar System. The most valuable contributions was from king Thirumalai Nayak(1623–1659). He took considerable interest in erecting many complexes inside the temple. His major contributions are the Vasantha Mandapa for celebrating vasanthorsavam(spring festival) and Kilikoottu Mandapam(corridor of parrots). The corridors of the temple tank and Meenakshi Nayakar Mandapam were built byRani Mangammal
The temple is the geographic and ritual center of the ancient city of Madurai and one of the largest temple complexes in Tamil Nadu. The temple complex is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular enclosures contained by high masonary walls.It is one of the few temples in Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions. Designed in 1560 by Vishwanatha Nayak, the present temple was substantially built during the reign of Thirumalai Nayak(1623–55).Vishwantha Nayaka allegedly redesigned the city of Madurai in accordance with the principles laid down by Shilpa Shastras(Sanskrit: śilpa śāstra, also anglicized as silpa sastra meaning rules of architecture) relevant to urban planning. The city was laid out in the shape of square with a series of concentric streets culminating from the temple. These squares continue to retain their traditional names, Aadi, Chittirai, Avani-moola and Masi streets, corresponding to Tamil month names.Ancient Tamil classics mention that the temple was the center of the city and the streets happened to be radiating out like lotus and its petals. The temple prakarams(outer precincts of a temple) and streets accommodate an elobrate festival calendar in which dramatic processions circumabulate the shrines at varying distances from the centre. The vehicles used in processions are progressively more massive the further they travel from the centre. The complex is in around 45 acres (180,000 m2)and the temple is a massive structure measuring 254 by 237 meters.
The temple is surrounded by 12 gopurams(gateway tower),the tallest of which, the famous southern tower, rises to over 170 ft (52 m) and was built in the year 1559. The oldest gopuram is the eastern one, built by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan during 1216-1238.Each gopuram is a multi-storeyed structure, covered with thousands of stone figures of animals, gods and demons painted in bright hues.The outer gopuram presents steeply pyramidal tower encrusted with plastic figures, while the inner gopuram serves as the entrance to the inner enclosure of Sundareswarar shrine.
The central shrine of Meenakshi and her consort Sundareswarar are surrounded by three enclosures and each of these are protected by four minor towers at the four points of the compass, the outer tower growing larger and reaching higher to the corresponding inner one. The Meenakshi shrine has the emerald-hued black stone image of Meenakshi.The Sundareswarar shrine lies at the centre of the complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed later. Both the Meenakshi and Sundareswarar shrines have gold plated Vimanam (tower over sanctum). The golden top can be seen from a great distance in the west through the apertures of two successive towers. The area covered by the shrine of Sundareswarar is exactly one fourth of the area of the temple and that of Meenakshi is one fourth that of Sundareswarar.
The 7-foot tall sculpture of Ganesh carved of single stone lies outside the shrine is called the Mukuruny Vinayakar. A large measure of rice measuring 3 kurini (a measure) is shaped into a big ball of sacrifice and hence the Ganesh is called Mukkurni Vinayagar(three kurinis). This deity is believed to be found during a 17th century excavation process to dig the Mariamman temple tank.
Temple tank and surrounding portico
The sacred temple tank Porthamarai Kulam ("Pond with the golden lotus"), is 165 ft (50 m) by 120 ft (37 m) in size. According to legend, Shiva promised a stork that no fish or other marine life would grow here and thus no marine animals are found in the lake. In the Tamil legends, the lake is supposed to judge the worth of a new piece of literature. Authors place their works here and the poorly written works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to float, Tirukkural by Tiruvalluvar was one such work.
Only a fraction of 17th and 18th century paintings of Nayak period survives and one such portion is found in the small portico on the western side of the tank. It depicts the marriage of Sundareswarar and Meenkashi attended by Vijayaranga Chokkanatha and Rani Mangammal. The painting is executed on a vivid red background, with delicate black linework and large areas of white, green and ochre. The celestial couple is seated inside an architectural frame with a flowering tree in the background.
The corridor surrounding the sanctum of Meenakshi is called kilikottu Mandapam ("parrot cage corridor"). The space was once used to keep green parrots that were trained to utter the name of Meenakshi. There are two large cages full of squawking green parrots.
The Kambatadi Mandapa ("Hall of temple tree") with its seated Nandi (sacred bull) has various manifestations of Shiva carved and also contains the famous "Marriage of Meenakshi" sculpture.Sculptures of Shiva and Kali trying to out-dance one another are pelted with balls of ghee by devotees. On the left are two sculptures of Shiva killing the demon child. A golden flagstaff with 32 sections symbolizes the human backbone and is surrounded by various gods, including Durga and Siddar.
The Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapa (also called hall of 100 pillars) has two rows of pillars carved with images of yali (mythological beast with body of lion and head of an elephant), commonly used as the symbol of Nayak power.
The Puthu Mandapa ("new hall") constructed by Tirumala Nayak contains large number of sculptures
The kalyana mandapa, to the south of the pillared hall, is where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year during the Chithirai Festival in mid-April. The Ashta Shakthi Mandapam ("Hall of eight goddess") is the first hall in the entrance of Meenakshi shrine tower near to East Tower. Ashta indicates eight and Shakthi refers to goddess - the hall has statues of eight goddesses. Thegopurams(towers) can be viewed from this hall.The passage was named for eight forms of goddess Sakthi carved on its pillars. Other sculptures and paintings depict the Tiruvilayadal (holy games of Shiva).The sculptures of heroes of Mahabharata, the Pancha pandavas can be seen in the Pancha Pandava Mandapa (Hall of Pandavas).
The Viravasantharaya Mandapa is a large hall with huge corridors.The golden images of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are carried into the 16th century oonjal mandapam (swing corridor) and placed on the swing every Friday at 5:30 p.m. The shrine has a 3-storied gopuram guarded by two stern dwarapalakas (guardians) and supported by golden, rectangular columns that bear lotus markings. Along the perimeter of the chamber, granite panels of the divine couple are present.
The Mudali Pillai Mandapam or Iruttu Mandapam (Dark hall) is a 25 feet wide and 60 feet long hall built by Muthu Pillai during 1613. On the pillars of the halls, there are fine sculptures depicting the story of Shiva taking the form of Bikshadanar to teach the sages a lesson.
The Mangayarkarasi mandapam is a newly built hall that bears the name of saindy queen, Mangayarkarasi who contributed to Saivism and Tamil language.To the south of Mangayarkarasi mandapamlies the Servaikarar Mandapam, a hall built by Marudu brothers in 1975.The Nagara mandapam (Hall of beating drums) lies opposite to Sundareswarar shrine was built by Achaya Rayar, the minister of Rani Mangammal in 1635.The Kolu Mandapam is a hall for displaying dolls during the Navarathri festival celebrated during September-October.
Hall of Thousand Pillars
The "Aayiram Kaal Mandapam" or Thousand Pillar Hall contains 985(instead of 1000) carved pillars.The hall was built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar in 1569 and it is a structure where the engineering skill and artistic vision are blended. Ariyanatha Mudaliar was the prime minister and general of Viswanatha Nayak, the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559–1600). He was also the founder of Poligar System, the quasi-feudal organization of the country, which was divided into multiple palayams or small provinces and each palayam was ruled by a palayakkarar or a petty chief.At the entrance of the hall the statue of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a horse-back is present, which flanks one side of the entrance to the temple. The statue is periodically garlanded by worshippers.Each pillar in the hall is a carved monument of the Dravidian sculpture. The more prominent among the carved figures are those of Rati(wife of Cupid), Karthikeya, Ganesha, Shiva as a wandering mendicant and endless number of yalis(mythical figures of lions).There is a Temple Art Museum in the hall where icons, photographs, drawings, and other exhibits of the 1200 years old history of the temple is displayed.Just outside this hall, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note.
"Pancha Sabhai" refers to the five royal courts of Nataraja(dancing form of Shiva) where he performed cosmic dance. The Tamil word velli means silver andambalam means stage or altar. This massive Nataraja sculpture is enclosed in a huge silver altar and hence called "Velli Ambalam" (silver abode). This is a special figure of Natarja which usually differs from Chola bronzes; in the Chola images, Nataraja is shown dancing with his left leg raised, but this sculpture has the right leg raised. According to the Tiruvilayaadal Puranam (Shiva's sacred games), this is on the request of Rajasekara Pandya, who was a sincere devotee of Shiva. He requested the deity to change his position, as he felt that keeping the same foot raised would put enormous strain and got a graceful acquiescence from the divine master.The five dance courts of Shiva in Tamil Nadu:
|Rathinachabai||Vada aaranyeswarar Temple||Thiruvalangadu, Chennai||Emerald|
|Vellichabai||Meenakshi Amman Temple||Madurai||Silver|
There are close to 50 priests in the temple who perform the pooja(rituals) during festivals and on a daily basis. The temple has a six time pooja calendar everyday, each comprising four rituals namely abhisheka (sacred bath), alangaram(decoration), neivethanam (food offering) and deepa aradanai(waving of lamps) for both Meenakshi and Sundareswarar.Thepuja(worship) ceremonies are held amidst music with nagaswaram (pipe instrument) and tavil (percussion instrument), religious instructions in the Vedas by priests and prostration by worshippers in front of the temple mast. The common practise is to worship Meenakshi before Sundareswarar. Margazhi (December–January) ritual is prominent one for winning a perfect, god-like husband - it is Meenakshi's ennai kappu festival.Aligned with the cardinal points, the street plans forms a giant mandala (group) whose sacred properties are believed to be activated during the mass clockwise cicumambulations of the central temple.
The most important festival associated with the temple is the "Meenakshi Thirukalyanam" (The divine marriage of Meenakshi) that is celebrated in April every year. The marriage of the divine couple is regarded as a classic instance of south Indian female-dominated marriage, an arrangement referred as "Madurai marriage". The male dominated marriage is called "Chidambaram marriage", referring to Shiva's uncontested dominance, ritual and mythic, at the famous Shiva temple of Chidhambaram. The marriage brings together rural and urban people, deities and mortals, Saivas (those who worship Shiva) and Vaishnavas (those who worship Vishnu) in order to celebrate Meenakshi as the royal monarch.. During the one month period, there are a number of events including the "Ther Thiruvizhah" (chariot festival) and "Theppa Thiruvizhah" (float festival). Major Hindu festivals like Navrathri and Shivrathri are celebrated in the temple. Like most Shakti temples in Tamil Nadu, the Fridays during the Tamil months of Aadi (July–August) and Thai (January - February) are celebrated in the temple by thousands of devotees. "Avani Moola Utsavam" is a 10-day festival mainly devoted to Sundareswarar describes his various Thiruvilayadal(Tamil: திருவிளையாடல் meaning Shiva's sacred games).
Down the centuries, the temple has been centre of academy of learning of Tamil culture, literature, art, music and dance.All three assemblies of Tamil language, the Tamil Sangam (about the 3rd century BCE to the 3rd century CE), were held at Madurai.Great Tamil poets of different epochs participated in these assemblies and their composition is called Sangam literature.During the third Tamil sangam, the comparative merits of the poets was decided by letting the works float in the lotus tank of the temple. It was believed that a divine force would cause the work of superior merit to float on the surface while the inferior literary work would sink. Tevaram, the 7th-8th century Tamil compositions on Shiva are works by the three prominent Nayanars (Saivites) namely Appar, Sundarar and Thirugnanasambandar. The temple has been glorified by the hymns of Tevaram by all the three poets. Different hymns of Sambandar on the temple mention the queen of Pandya Nadu, his desire to defeat Jains in debate, the miracle of him curing the king's fever, the Jains' provocation of Sambandar by burning his house and challenging him to debate, and Sambandar's eventual victory over them.
There are few poets in Tamil history who sang about goddess Parvati, the notable among them is Kumaraguruparar, a 17th century Tamil poet who composed Meenakshi Pillaitamil on Meenakshi of this temple.In pillaitamil (a genre of Tamil literature) history, the king Tirumalai Nayak's most crucial act of patronage was his link with Kumaraguruparar. Kumaraguruparar visited lot of temples and when he visited this temple, he composed pillaitamil on Meenakshi. Legend has it that goddess appeared in the dreams of Nayakka directing him to arrange the recital of Kumaraguruparar before learned assembly. The king made elobrate arrangements for the event. Goddess was enjoying the recital and she impersonated in the form of a small girl. As Kumaraguruparar was explaining the 61st verse, the goddess appreciated by garlanding the poet with a string of pearls and disappeared.