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The main sites of Madurai

main sights of Madurai

Madurai is located on the Vaigai River and is probably the oldest city in Tamil Nadu. Today, the ancient history of the second largest city of the sate, is mainly associated with the Pandya kings.

After the Sangam Age (6th century BC to 3rd century AD when the famous academies of poets and scholars concentrated in Madurai), Madurai falls under the yoke of kings Kalabhra who are ousted by the Pandyas around 590 CE. From the early 9th century to the early 13th century, Madurai was ruled by the Cholas until it became the capital of the second Pandya Empire. After the death of Kulasekara Pandyan (1268–1308 CE), one of the last Pandya kings, Madurai would fall under the rule of the Sultanate of Delhi and then the Vijayanagar empire from 1378 to 1559. The Nayaks, Muslims, Marathas and the British would follow.

The city has a number of historical monuments, among them the Tirumalai Nayak Palace. The temple of Meenakshi meanwhile remains one of the main sites of Madurai, if not the most important. The goddess Meenakshi is the main deity of the temple, unlike most South Indian temples dedicated to Shiva. The legend, which a festive procession commemorates every year, tells that Vishnu, brother of Meenakshi, gave his sister in marriage to Shiva in this temple. 

The palace Thirumalai Nayak Mahal

A refined blend of architectures

Palais Thirumalai Nayak Mahal
Palais Thirumalai Nayak Madurai
Thirumalai Nayak Palais Madurai

This majestic palace presents itself as a refined blend of Islamic and Dravidian architecture.

Designed in 1636 as the residence of King Thirumalai Nayak by an Italian architect, the palace was originally four times larger than what we see today. The 248 pillars therein give an idea of the magnificence of its size.

Its magnificent stucco decorations, especially on its arches and domes, and its splendid ornamentation inside and out, are a visual treat for the visitor. The celestial pavilion is another curiosity of the place : it was erected using bricks and mortar without the support of a single beam or rafter.

The Meenakshi temple

technical prowess with artistic vision

Monument historique Madurai
temple de meenakshi
Détails temple Madurai
Couleurs temple Madurai
Salle aux 1000 piliers temple madurai

Mentioned in Tamil Sangam literature as early as the 6th century CE, the construction of the temple was consolidated by different kings in different periods between the 12th and 17th centuries. The temple is home to almost 33,000 sculptures and each of its 14 gopurams (monumental towers) is a multi-storey structure, richly decorated with carvings painted in vivid colors. The outer gopurams serve as a landmark for arriving pilgrims, while the inner gopurams are smaller and serve as entrance gates to various shrines.

The towers are covered with stucco images, figures of divinities from the Hindu mythology, saints or scholars. Each group or group of panels on each floor presents an episode of regional or pan-Hindu legend. The four largest gopurams on the outer walls alone represent almost 4,000 mythological stories.

The temple complex also has many mandapas (columned halls) built by kings and wealthy patrons over the centuries, once intended for the rest of pilgrims. The most famous and interesting mandapa of the temple is the Hall of Thousand Pillars, built in the 16th century and which contains 985 carved pillars with two shrines containing the remaining 15 pillars. Built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar, Prime Minister and General of Viswanatha Nayaka, the first Nayak King of Madurai, the hall combines technical prowess with artistic vision.

At the entrance to the hall is the statue of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on horseback. Each pillar represents a sculpted character among which are, among others, Rati (wife of Kama the god of lust and passion, equivalent of Eros or Western Cupid), Ganesh (the elephant-headed god) or Shiva in the form of a wandering beggar. Also featured in this room are pillars carved with yali images (mythological beast with lion's body and elephant's head). Or more surprisingly musical pillars which, when struck, produce a different musical note.

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