Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Madurai - The Sangam temple city


South tower of Meenakshi temple
Madurai Meenakshi Sundareshwar Temple is one of the most famous temples in India. Located well inside Tamilnadu, Madurai is well connected with other prominent cities in the area.
Himalayan Mistake

I planned to reach the city by taking a train from Hosur on a Friday night. I booked the train as well - confirmed ticket. Unfortunately, I booked the ticket for Friday 00.07 hrs, which is the night between Thursday and Friday instead of Friday and Saturday. I realised the mistake by Friday night 11.45 only. By this time the last train for the day was about to leave from the station!!!

Madurai
 Next train was only in the morning that too towards Ernakulum (Kerala). I sat in the chair as if 440V passed through my body. It was a three day trip covering Madurai, Kanyakumari, Nagercoil and Tiruvananthapuram. If I can't go in that night, I have to stuck at least one place out from my plans. Other option is to go back to Bangalore - the easy one. First I thought of sleeping in the station and going back to Bangalore in the next morning.

Clock struck 12 and her needles continue her motion. Finally, I decided to go by bus. After checking with station master, I thought of going to Hosur bus stand. Autos were there in front of railway station, but I was not able to recognise auto drivers from the multitudes of people sleeping in front of the station!!! Next option left was walking towards the main road; I went there and waited there for some time. Other than night shuttles from Tata Motors, I can't even hear the voice of any other engine. Finally one auto came; within a quarter of an hour I reached Hosur bus stand. Unfortunately, there was no direct bus sevices to Madurai from there, at that point of time.

Inside Tirumalai Nayakar Mahal
 They advised me to go to Salem first and then take a bus to Madurai. Following their advise I reached Salem. Can't say the journey was comfortable, but I was able to reach Salem before morning. If I went to Madurai, it will upset my rest of the plans - I will be late by atleast 5-6 hours. On the other side, I did't want to miss Meenakshi Sundareshwar Temple also. Anyway I started enquiries for Kanyakumari. Well, the answers were in negative; there was no direct bus to Kanyakumari from there at the point. I have to go to Madurai and take a bus from there. For a moment I thought of going to Kerala. Palakkad is only some five hours from here.

In the end, I decided to go to Madurai. After passing through Namakkal, Dindigul, Karur etc finally I reached Madurai after 10 in the morning. In between I slept multiple times for short intervals of time. After getting down at Madurai and taking bath I thought of going to Koodal Azhagar temple. One auto driver informed me that it’s near to Periyar bus stand and showed me the bus also. Even after moving back and forth and checking with many people, I was not able to find the temple. Finally, I decided to visit Madurai temple first. By the time I reached the western gate of the temple, it was closed after morning poojas!!!

History of Madurai

Madurai, located on the banks of river Vaigai, is one of the oldest cities in India. This city is also associated closely with Tamil language and Sangam literature. According to some sources in the Sangam time the city was ruled by Early Pandyan dynasty. Later it came under the rule of Kalabhras. They were removed from power by Pandyans who were in turn ousted by Cholas. However Pandya rule was re-established again in the thirteenth century. However in 1311 AD Malik Kafur (under Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji of Khilji dynasty) conquered Madurai and sacked the Madurai Meenakshi temple.

Gandhi Museum
However, during the decline of Delhi Sultanate around 1335 AD Jalaluddin Ahsan Khan declared independence and created a Sultanate in Madurai. Vijayanagar under Harihara II annexed Madurai in 1378AD. Madurai came under the rule of Nayakas, first under Vijayanagar and then as independent kingdom after the fall of Vijayanagar Empire. Their rule lasted almost for next two centuries.

Later in 1736 Madurai came under the rule of Chanda Sahib. In the 1740s Marathas came and captured the city of Madurai and took Chanda Sahib as captive. Maratha governor ruled the city for next two years and retired from the scene. Later in 1743, Nizam of Hyderabad established his authority over the area and Nawabs of Arcot were in charge. Nawab of Arcot ceded Madurai city to British East India Company in 1751; after many wars by the end of 18th century British comfortably settled there till 1947.

Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal

Nayakkar Mahal is located close to the temple. This palace was constructed in 1636 AD by King Thirumalai Nayak of Madurai's Nayaka dynasty. The current structure is a portion of the original palace. Unfortunately by the time I reach there it was closed for lunch!!! Had to wait here also...


Front gate of Koodal Azagar Temple
 After buying ticket (separate ticket for camera) I went inside. First thing that caught my eye was the big pillars. After walking through the place for some time I reached the throne. I am not sure whether it was the same throne used by kings. Compared to the structure it was small and odd. On the right side there is a museum of old sculptors, epiligraphy etc. The decorations in the pillars as well as in the ceiling were beautiful.

Vaigai River

From the palace I took a bus to Gandhi Museum. For catching this bus also I had to wait for a considerable period of time. When the bus approached Vaigai River I eagerly turned my head to see the river. Vaigai River was the most unfortunate thing I saw in the city. There was not any following water in the river, some small ponds were formed here and there but most of the parts were very much dry. I crossed the river some 2-3 times in that day.

Gandhi Museum

Cloths weared by Gandhi at the time of his assassination
 This museum is located in a palace called Rani Mangammal mahal. Inaugurated by first premier of India J.Nehru, this museum has the blood stained clothes Gandhi weared in the day of his assassination. This cloth is preserved in a vacuum sealed glass box. I stood in front of the blood stained cloth for some time, thinking about freedom struggle and independence. This museum also has many other objects used by Gandhi (including his sandals, glasses etc) and copies many rare photographs from the days of freedom struggle. No entrance fees inthe museum, however you have to pay for camera.

Madurai Meenakshi Sundareshwar Temple (aka Meenakshi Amman Temple) 

I slowly walked out of the museum and after walking for some time reached main road. A auto dropped me close to the temple. After placing my luggage in the clock room I joined the long queue. You are allowed to take camera inside the temple walls; but not any big bags, sandals or any other electronic equipments including mobile, charger, extra batteries or anything of similar sort. After passing through the metal detector and body checking I reached in front of Aayiram Kal Mandapam

Tirumalai Nayakar Mahal


Aayiram Kal Mandapam

Built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar - the able chief minister of famous Nayak king of Madurai, Viswanatha Nayak - in 1569 AD this mandapam has 985 carved pillars (not 1000 as the name indicates). In one end of the mandapam, there is a Nataraja (Shiva performing tandava) statue with Devi standing on one side.

Shiva Temple

From here I walked towards the main temples. After going through many small temples finally I reached Shiva temple. The queue was long. Please note that here as well as in Meenakshi temple special queues with different charges are available. If you are paying 25 rupees you will reach somewhere in the front of the queue. With a ticket of 50 INR you can reach very close to the deity through a special door. If I am not wrong, other than through this queue you will not be able to reach very close to the deity. Rate is same in Meenakshi temple as well. If you are taking a 100 INR coupon, you can join the special queue in both sanctums.

Please note that taking photo inside Shiva (and Meenakshi temple) is strictly forbidden. One person standing just opposite to me took one photo. Guards saw that and took him outside.

Kalyana Mandapa


Ganesh statue inside Aayiram Kaal Mandapam
 Kalyana Mandapa is located close to Shiva temple. After walking through here and there, finally I reached the mandapa. Deity is Vishnu handing over his sister Meenakshi to Shiva in marriage. After taking prasad from the priest I was about to go back, but some couples - in the mid ages - were waiting there. Out of curiosity I stood there for some time. In fact, there was a marriage ceremony going on. I think all the couples were already married; in front of Kalyana Sunarehwara they were exchanging garlands once more. Needless to say it was indeed a nice view.

Meenakshi temple

After walking through so many places inside the complex I finally reached Meenakshi temple. The temple pond is located in front of Meenakshi devi  - an Avatar of Parvati (consort of Shiva).

Koodal Azhagar temple

From Meenakshi Amman temple, I walked towards Koodal Azhagar Temple. Unlike in the morning this time I didn't lose the tracks and reached the temple. Built in Dravidian architecture this is one of the main temples of Vishnu.

After having a masala dosa from a nearby hotel, I walked towards the bus stand. Kanyakumari buses starts from Mattuthavani Mofussil bus stand - located in the outskirts of the city. I reach there by eight in the night. After walking through the bus stand for some time, finally I got one to Kanyakumari by 8.30.

Sajeev.

References:

1. Wikipedia
2. Archaeological Survey of India

Nataraja and Devi inside Aayiram Kaal Mandapam
How to reach?

By Road: As many as four national highways (NH 7, NH 45B, NH 208 and NH 49) and three state highways (SH-32, SH-33 and SH-72) are passing through the city.
By Rail: Connected well with other places like Chennai, Kanyakumari, Nagercoil, Tuticorin, Coimbatore, Trichy, Tirunelveli, Rameswaram, Thanjavur etc
By Air: Madurai has an airport too


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