Madurai – Temple City
6 million probably that is the number of temples in India, I thought as we drove from Great Trails, Kodaikanal towards Madurai, a city whose history dates back to 3rd century BCE and finds a mention in the chronicles of the famous Greek explorer Megasthenes. Madurai is a city located in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India and lies about 464 kilometers from Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. Madurai is known for Meenakshi Temple, a Dravidian style temple. It is a major pilgrimage site. Madurai is known as the Athens of the East. Athens in ancient times was dominated by the Pantheon which was situated on an elevated plain, similarly, the Madurai of yore was dominated by the towers of the Meenakshi temple which stretched out into the sky. Even today, the Meenakshi temple is the pivot around which the city revolves. It is known as the soul of Tamil Nadu.
We have been to Madurai and the Meenakshi temple many times but visiting the place again, albeit on a short visit was something we looked forward to. Nostalgic childhood memories of earlier visits, the fragrance of Jasmine flowers being sold around the temple, the fascinating sight of sweets being made in small shops around the periphery of the temple, all combined to fuel our excitement and build it into a crescendo.
We are sure you too would be swept away with a potpourri of emotions and feelings of excitement, divine bliss, wonder, devotion, and incredulity when you visit Madurai, a city which is a living museum of history.
What to see in Madurai
Madurai Meenakshi Temple
Madurai is virtually synonymous with the Meenakshi Temple which undoubtedly is the pièce de résistance of the city. A visit to this place would be incomplete without visiting this magnificent Meenakshi temple, in fact, the temple is the lodestone which draws multitudes to its fold. This temple is also known as Meenakshi Amman Temple.
Built in the 14th century, the temple was plundered and looted by invaders but was resurrected like the proverbial Phoenix by the efforts of the Nayak king, Vishwanatha Nayakar sometime in the 16th century. The temple has 14 towers known as Gopurams, the tallest of the tower zooms to a height of 170 feet. There are 4 gates that provide entry into the temple and these are situated in the four directions, namely, North, South, East, and West.
The temple is ornamented with more than 33,000 sculptures and the roofs are an artist’s delight with brightly colored, intricate motifs and designs of Gods and Goddesses. One of the most fascinating paintings that we saw was that of a Shiv Ling, which changed directions as one moved so that it always faced you. The Meenakshi temple is dedicated to the Hindu God Lord Shiva as well as his consort Parvati in the form of Meenakshi. Meenakshi literally translates in Tamil into, “the one with fishlike eyes”. Both the deities have separate shrines within the larger temple complex. What is remarkable here is that the presiding deity is Parvati in the form of Meenakshi while Lord Shiva is content to play second fiddle! Indeed a divine endorsement of Girl power!
When inside the temple do not miss the 1000 pillar hall which intriguingly consists of 985 pillars carved with the figure of a mythical animal having the body of a lion and the head of an elephant. Outside of the 1000 pillar hall are located the musical pillars where each pillar produces a different musical note when struck.
While walking around the temple, one is sure to lose all sense of time as the magnificent creations of the artists who have long since departed haunt you with their beauty and finesse.
Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal
A palace constructed in the 17th century by the king Thirumalai Nayak today survives as a shadow of its once grand presence. The original palace was more than 4 times the size of its current form. In its heyday, the palace was renowned for its grandeur and elegant architectural style and is a fine blend of the best of Dravidian and Rajput architectural styles. In the evenings a Sound and Light show will transport you to a different time in history.
Madurai has one of the 5 Gandhi museums in the country. Mahatma Gandhi was a renowned freedom fighter and is also known as the ‘Father of the Nation.’ The museum presents a visual biography of the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi through its collection of pictures, letters, replicas and other artifacts. Some of the interesting exhibits include a letter written by Mahatma Gandhi to Adolf Hitler. A portion of the blood stained garment that Mahatma Gandhi wore, when he was assassinated is also on display at the Museum. A visit to the museum provides a walk back in time in the recent history of India before independence.
An ancient temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu who is the God of preservation in the Hindu religion is situated some 22 kilometers from Madurai. The temple is constructed in the Dravidian architectural style and has some rare sculptures. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple has a statue of Lord Vishnu in a reclining position. This temple is one of the 108 Divya Desams or temples dedicated to Vishnu which is scattered across India and Nepal.
Where to Stay in Madurai
We enjoyed the hospitality of the GRT group at the Regency Madurai by GRT Hotels.
A hotel that provides a comfortable and luxurious stay experience with all modern amenities in the historic city.
The hotel has 57 elegant rooms which come in Deluxe and Superior categories. All rooms have complimentary WiFi access.
The hotel also boasts a fine dining restaurant, a lounge bar, fitness center, and also an outdoor swimming pool. A 20-minute drive from the Madurai airport and a walking distance from the Meenakshi Temple, Regency Madurai by GRT Hotels is an ideal place to return to after an exciting, yet tiring exploration of this city.
What to eat in Madurai
The lunch buffet at Ahaaram, which is the multi-cuisine fine dining restaurant of Regency Madurai by GRT Hotels is really sumptuous. The chefs create magic with traditional Tamil cuisine and also fuse together the best of Indian cuisines from across the country.
Italian dishes like Pasta are also on offer. All dishes come with the unique GRT twist.
Traditional and must have Food experiences in Madurai
Madurai is famous for its Chettinad cuisine which has a fiery tinge in all its dishes. The dishes are prepared using freshly ground spices. The vegetarian fare that one must try when in this city are:
Idiyappam which is steamed rice flour pressed into noodles and then steamed.
Paniyaram which is a blend of rice and lentils batter steamed in round shaped mounds to result in crisp, golden balls that can be eaten with spicy curry or sauce.
When in this city, one has to eat its famed idlis which are as soft as its other famous commodity, the Jasmine flowers known as Madurai Malli in the Tamil language.
Do not forget to have the ubiquitous Jigarthanda, a cold beverage made of milk, almond, sugar, ice-cream and other flavoring agents. Jigar Thanda translates as the Cool heart and is indeed a great coolant against the heat of Madurai in the summers.
The Best Time to Visit Madurai
Madurai should be ideally visited during the winter months between September to February as in the summer the mercury rises and the heat will leave you drained.
How to Get to Madurai
- One can fly into Madurai as it is well connected by air and the major airlines fly into and out of it
- There are plenty of trains which connect Madurai to different parts of India
- One can also drive into Madurai from Chennai or Bangalore
- Kodaikanal, a cool and pristine hill station is about 114 kilometers from this city
- Kanya Kumari, the southernmost tip of India is about 246 kilometers from this city
- Rameshwaram, an important pilgrimage center of the Hindus is about 169 kilometers from this city
- Dhanushkodi, a ghost town swept away in tsunami is about 188 kilometers from this city
- Valparai, a secluded and lesser known hill station of Tamil Nadu is located about 235 kilometers from this city
- Thanjavur which is also known as Tanjore is famous for art, architecture, and paintings. It is 190 kilometers from this city
- Tiruchirapalli which is also known as Trichy which is another temple town is 169 kilometers from this city
- Palani, a hill on which is located a famous temple dedicated to Lord Muruga and is visited by 7 million pilgrims every year is located about 100 kilometers from this city
Madurai is a city that provides an intoxicating cocktail of experiences that range from fodder for the soul to food for the baser senses. The intoxicating aromas of coffee, jasmine and the street food of Madurai merge together and are guaranteed to haunt you for a long, long time.
Was this complete travel guide to Madurai – The Athens of the East useful to you? Have you been to Madurai?
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