|Location:||Madurai, Tamil Nadu|
|Dedicated to:||Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Meenakshi (Goddess Parvati)|
|Also known as:||Meenakshi Amman Temple|
|Significance:||One of the sacred abodes of Goddess Parvati|
|How to reach:||One can easily reach Meenakshi Temple by taking local buses, Rickshaws or by hiring taxis from Madurai|
Meenakshi Sundareswar Temple is dedicated to Sundareswar (form of Lord Shiva) and Meenakshi (form of Goddess Parvati). The term "Sundareswar" suggests "the beautiful lord" and "Meenakshi" means "the fish-eyed goddess". As per the Hindu folklore, Madurai is the same city where Lord Sundareswar (Shiva) appeared to marry Goddess Meenakshi (Parvati). Meenakshi Temple is regarded as one of the most sacred places of Parvati, other being Kamakshi at Kanchipuram, Akilandeswari at Thiruvanaikaval and Vishalakshi at Varanasi.
At the center of the sanctum sanctorum, the shrine of Shiva embraces the site. It is a famous image of Nataraja (Dancing form of Lord Shiva) on a massive silver altar. The shrine is also known as Velli Ambalam (Silver abode). In the proximity, there is a shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha. Known as Mukuruny Vinayakar, the temple adores the idol that was found during the excavation made in Temple Lake. On the left side of Shiva, the shrine of Goddess Meenakshi appears enchanting with quite less ornamentation.
Sprawled in an area of 45 acres, the temple complex comprises not less than twelve superlative gopurams (towers), which are richly sculptured and decorated. The tallest tower rises to the extent of 170 feet. The main sanctum sanctorum is believed to be more than 3500 years old. The fortifications and other outer construction are estimated to be 1500-2000 years old. The colossal structure of the temple has got the dimensions of 254 by 237 meters.
Having history of thousands of years, the present structure of the temple got erected in the early 17th century. Aayiram Kaal Mandapam is a thousand pillared hall, which is prominent due to its class sculptures. The hall is truly a marvel of architecture and definitely worth-visiting. 'Kalyana Mandapa' is the hall, where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is observed every year in the Hindu month of 'Chaitra' (April).
In the temple, Potramarai Kulam is a consecrated pond where devotees go around before entering the main shrine. The term "Potramarai Kulam" suggests "the pond with a golden lily". It is said that Lord Shiva blessed this pond and acclaimed that no marine life would grow in it. In the Tamil folklore, the pond is believed to be an evaluator for reviewing the worth of a new literature.
Meenakshi Thirukalyanam (The divine marriage of Meenakshi) is the most important festival that is observed with full fervor at the temple. Every year, the festival falls in the month of April. Besides this festival, occasions like Navratri and Shivratri are also celebrated with full enthusiasm. In the vein of other Shakti temples in Tamil Nadu, the Fridays of the Tamil months of Aadi (July 15 - Aug 17) and Thai (Jan 15 to Feb 15) are also commemorated here.
According to a mythological legend, Lord Sundareswar (Shiva) appeared on the earth in order to marry Goddess Meenakshi, who is believed to be an incarnation of Parvati. In advance, Parvati appeared in the form of an infant after the great penance of Malayadwaja Pandya (the ruler of Madurai). When the girl grew up, Lord descended on the earth to propose her. The grand marriage was observed and it was assumed to be the biggest event on the earth. Lord Vishnu had to attend the marriage of her sister Meenakshi, but on the way he was tricked by Lord Indra and got late.
The marriage took place at Madurai and angered Lord Vishnu swore never to visit the city. He settled on the nearby hill of Alagar Koil. Ultimately, he was conciliated by the other Gods and he came to bless the celestial couple. Upkeeping the traditions, the marriage and Vishnu's pacification are celebrated as the major festivals in Madurai till date. The celestial couple is regarded to have ruled Madurai for a long time. After they left the world, it is not apparent that what actually happened. As per another legend, Shivalingam was discovered by Lord Indra, who built the initial temple.
The origin of the temple is not clearly identified, though Tamil literature boasts about the temple for the last duo of millenniums. Meenakshi Temple is said to have been ransacked by Malik Kafur, who damaged all the ancient elements (a Muslim invader) in 1310. In the 17th century, the temple was rebuilt by Arya Natha Mudaliyar, who was the Prime Minister of the first Nayak of Madurai. Afterwards, Thirumalai Nayak made additional contributions to the structure.