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Hindu Temples of Tamilnadu -II (Main Temples at Madurai)

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Patonised by different ruling dynasties, the temple art touched its zenith in Tamil Nadu. Monuments of great artistic value, these temples speak of the greatness of the bygone era. Most of the ancient temples were built of mortar and brick and were scooped out of rocks. Rameshwaram, Thanjavur, Mahabalipuram, Kanchipuram, Chidambaram, Meenakshi Temple, and Ekambareswarar Temple are some of the famous temples of Tamil Nadu. Here we cover some of the main temples located in the Capital City of Taminadu, Chennai (formerly known as Madras). There are real delights for those visiting Tamilnadu.

Temples of Madurai

Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple
Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple built by Kulacekara Pandiyan is the biggest in Tamilnadu. A superb example of the Dravida School of architecture, this temple is equally famous for its gigantic gateways or gopurams profusely carved and reaching out to massive proportions, the most famous gateway being 49 metres high. The temple has exquisite sculputre, ornate pillars and painted ceilings. The entire credit for making the temple as splendid as it is today goes to the Nayaks. The Nayaks ruled Madurai from the 16th to the 18th century and left a majestic imprint of their rule in the Meenakshi - Sundareswarar Temple.

The following are some brief descriptions of the key components of the Temple.

Temple Towers
There are 12 temple towers(Gopurams). The outer towers are the landmarks of Madurai. They are:
1. East Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 161'3". This Gopura has 1011 sudhai figures.
2. South Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 170'6". This Tower has 1511 sudhai figures.
3. West Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 163'3". This Tower has 1124 sudhai figures.
4. North Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 160'6". This Tower has lesser figures of sudhai than other outer towers.

Ashta Shakthi Mandapam

A visitor who enters the temple through the eastern gateway, first enters this Mandapam(Hall). It was built by Thirumalai Nayakar's wives Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholimamai. In this hall food was once distributed to the devotees who came from far off places. The sculptures on the pillars here relate some of Lord Shiva's Thiruvilayadals (miracles) and also the story of Meenakshi's birth and her life as the princess of Madurai. The story descripted on the stones is as follows:
Malayadwaja Pandya, a king of Madurai , was childless for a long time. He performed a number of yagnas (sacrifices made before a sacred fire) because he wanted an heir to his throne. On one occasion, a three-year-old girl came out of the fire and Malayadwaja adopted her. But the girl had three breasts and this worried Malayadwaja. However, a divine voice assured him that the third breast would disappear as soon as she met her consort. The girl grew into a brave and beautiful princess. she won many battles, but eventually lost her heart to Lord Shiva, when she met him on the battle-field in Kailas. As soon as she saw him, her third breast disappeared and she recognized her divine consort, for the princess was none other than Shiva's wife, Parvathi. After ruling over the Pandya kingdom for a while, they settled in the Madurai temple as Meenakshi and Sundareswarar.

Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam
This big hall 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.

Potramaraikulam (golden lotus tank)
This temple tank is an ancient tank where devotees take bath in the holy water. The area around this tank was the meeting place of the Tamil sangam - the ancient academy of poets. The history of the sangam goes back to the days when gods dallied with men. This academy judged the worth of any work of literature presented before it by throwing it into the tank. Only those that did not sink were considered worthy of attention. The tank is surrounded by a pillared corridor. Steps lead down to the tank, enabling worshippers to take bathe in it.
Oonjal Mandapam

The Oonjal (swing) Mandapam and Killikoontu (parrot cage) Mandapam are on the western side of the tank. Every Friday, the golden idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are seated on the swing in the Oonjal Mandapam 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. But more interesting are the 28 pillars of the mandapam which exhibit some excellent Sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology.

Swami Sundareswarar Shrine

Lord Sundareswarar (Shiva) the consort of Goddess Meenakshi is to the north of Kilikoontu Mandapam. On your way you can worship a gigantic idol of Sri Ganesh called Mukkurini Pillaiyar. When the king Thirumalai Nayakar excavated a temple tank 3 km from Meenakshi temple he unearthed this idol of Vinayaka and erected the same here.
In the outer pragaram (corridor outside the main shrine) there is stump of the kadamba tree, which is said to be a part of the same tree under which Indra worshipped Shiva linga. Also in the outer corridor there are the Kadambathadi Mandapam and an idol of Nataraja (Shiva as the Lord of Dance).

The Thousand Pillar Mandapam

It is the 'wonder of the place', Actually the number of pillars count to 985. 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, etc., exhibiting the 1200 years old history. There are so 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 notes.

Vasantha Mandapam

This mandapam was built by Thirumalai Nayakkar. Vasanthosavam - the Spring festival-is celebrated in this mandapam 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. This is also called Pudhu Mandapam.

Vandiyur Mariamman Theppakulam :

This is a huge temple tank built in 1636. A huge temple tank, measuring 304.8 meters on each side, with a mandapam in the centre. The mandapam in the centre has an idol of Vigneshwara (Vinayaka). It is said to have been found when the earth was being dug out from here to build the Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal.So, the place attained sanctity and was converted into a teppakulam (tank). This enormous temple tank is fed by water brought from the Vagai through an ingenious system of underground Channels.
King Thirumalai Nayak born in 'Poosa' Star. so in commemorating the birth of the king , Teppam Festival (Float festival) is conducted in Tamil Month 'Thai' (Jan/Feb). During the Float festival, the images of Shree Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswara are mounted on floats, and taken to Mariamman Teppakkulam Tank, where for several days they are pulled back and forth across the water in the middle of the tank, on an illuminated raft embellished with flowers, before being taken back to the main temple.

Chithirai festival held during March-April, celebrates the marriage of Shree Meenakshi to Lord Sundereswara. On the occasion, an elaborately decorated chariot bearing the images of the divine couple, is taken around the city. The resounding notes of the nadaswaram and the drums, creates a vibrant ambience.
Avanimoola festival is held in late August-early September, when temple cars are drawn around the streets of Madurai.

Koodalalagar Temple :

Located 21 kms. northwest of Madurai is a Vishnu Temple on a picturesque wooded hill. Here 'Vishnu' presides as Meenakshi's brother 'Azhgar'. it shows Lord Vishnu sitting, standing and dancing one above the other. During the Chitrai festival in April/May, when the celestial marriage of Meenakshi to Sundareswarar is celebrated, Azhagar travels to Madurai. A gold processional icon called the Sundararajar is carried by devotees in procession from Azhagar Kovil to Madurai for wedding ritual.

Murugan Temple at Thirupparankundram

Thirupparankundram, 10 km south of Madurai, is one of the six abodes of Lord Subramaniya. It is a cave temple . Here Lord Muruga was wedded to Devayanai, daughter of Indra, after annihilating Surapadman. In the temple there are separate shrines dedicated to Shiva, Ganapathy, Durgai, Vishnu and other deities. At the entrance to the temple there are 48 pillars with artistic carvings. The Rock-cut Temple of Subramaniya here is thronged with pilgrims on all days of special worship. Its innermost shrine is cut out of a solid rock.

Temple in Palani

Shri Dandayudhapani/Murugan Temple
One of six abodes of Muruga, Palani's hilltop Shri Dandayudhapani temple attracts pilgrims all year round, but the town comes alive most in April, when it hosts a festival in honour of Murugan, Shiva's son (also known as Skanda). Hundreds of devotees, mostly male and clad in black dhotis, trudge up the winding flight of more than 600 steps to worship the image, said to be formed from an aggregate of poisonous minerals, that, if mixed with coconut milk, fruits and flowers, produces medicinal herbs. A smaller festival takes place in Feb/March. The streets around the hill are crammed with stalls selling the usual religious paraphernalia.

Temple in Kanyakumari

Kumari Amman temple
The seashore Kumari Amman temple is dedicated to the virgin goddess Kanya Devi, who may originally have been the local guardian deity of the shoreline, but was later absorbed into the figure of Devi, or Parvati, consort of Shiva. One version of Kanya Devi's story relates how she did penance to win the hand of Shiva. The god was all in favour and set out from Suchindram for the wedding, due to take place at midnight. The celestial devas, however, wanted Kanya Devi to remain a virgin, so that she could retain her full quota of shakti or divine power, and hatched a plot. Narada the sage assumed the form of a cock and crowed; on hearing this, Shiva, thinking that it was dawn and that he had missed the auspicious time for the ceremony, went home. The image of Kanya Devi inside the temple wears a diamond nose stud of such brilliance that it's said to be visible from the sea. Male visitors must be shirtless and wear a dhoti before entering the temple. It is especially auspicious for pilgrims to wash at the bathing ghat here.

Temples in Suchindram(near Kanyakumari)

Stanunathaswami temple
Construction of the Stanunathaswami temple at Auchindram (12km northwest of Kanniyakumari) extended over a period of at least six hundred years. Parts date back as far as the ninth or tenth century, others from the fifteenth century, and a huge seven-storey pyramidal gopura was erected during the sixteenth. Although its main sanctuary houses a shivalingam, the temple is jointly dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Its proudest boasts are "musical" pillars, which emit a chime when struck, and an extraordinarily tall (3m) figure of Hanuman. A special puja takes place at sunset (around 6pm) every Friday, with music and a procession. Male visitors must remove their shirts before entering.

Thanumalayan temple

The Thanumalayan temple, here, is a repository of art treasures, belonging to many kingdoms. The presiding deity in the form of a Linga, denotes Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Inscriptions, said to be of the 9th century AD, can be found in this temple. The temple is also famous for a huge statue of Hanuman and its musical pillars.
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Hindu Temples of Tamilnadu - page I
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