Madurai- The Athens of the East



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.

Gandhi Museum


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.

Alagar Koyil


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.

Madurai            Madurai

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.


Jigar Thanda


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

Around Madurai

  • 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?


Thanks for visiting our site Voyager – and taking the time to read our post!

[pinit color=”red” size=”large” rectangular=”rectangular”]

Madurai  Madurai

Madurai  Madurai

[pinit color=”red” size=”large” rectangular=”rectangular”]


We’d love if you’d comment and share this post.

If you found this article interesting and enjoyed reading it, join our community and subscribe to Voyager's blog to receive great content delivered right to your inbox.


Add to Flipboard Magazine.


MilesWeb Affiliate

70 thoughts on “Madurai- The Athens of the East

  1. Tomi C Reply

    Your pics are amazing! I bet the musical pillars at the Meenakshi Temple get a lot of visitors. I would love to visit the Ghandi Museum. I never knew there were 5 Ghandi Museums in India.

  2. candy Reply

    I have a couple of sons who are thinking about traveling in the east next year. Your photos are very enticing. Will have to show them your post they might add this to their trip.

  3. Paula Bendfeldt Reply

    The Temple City in Madurai looks absolutely beautiful. Actually, everything including the room and food looks amazing. Personally, I would love to visit the Ghandi Museum.

  4. Amber Myers Reply

    This looks like a lovely place to be. I’ve never been to Madurai, but I would love to check it out. I’d be excited to try the food too!

  5. Lori Vachon Reply

    Thank you for taking us on such an in depth tour. There’s so many places on my travel list, now I’m adding another!

  6. Kim Reply

    That first temple was so incredibly beautiful with so many fine details. It looks like it was a wonderful trip filled with beautiful sights, sounds and tastes.

  7. Jenny Reply

    That temples architecture and art is absolutely breath taking. I hope to one day visit there!

  8. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer Reply

    Madurai sounds like a very wonderful part of India. I have only been in Rajasthan and Delhi but I would love to see more of the country. That Jigar Thanda looks particularly delicious and cool for the hot Indian sun!

  9. Arnav Mathur Reply

    Somehow I never got the opportunity to visit Tamil Nadu at leisure. I have heard so much about the beauty of the temples at Madurai, and your pictures confirmed the thought. The hotel looks like an interesting place to stay during the visit to Athens of India.

  10. Sheri Reply

    What a great place to visit. Sounds very interesting and I love to learn about new places and cultures.

  11. Mimi's Migration Reply

    wow I would love to go to the Gandhi museum, what an experience. But everything about this looks beautiful. As someone who’s never been to india, it is good to know some destinations that are not just major cities Thank you!

  12. Nancy L. Reply

    Hi Sandy & Vyjay! What a beautiful post! Madurai looks so incredibly rich in culture, history and amazing architecture. The Gandhi museum would be at the top of my must-see list. I saw the movie Gandhi and would want to see where it took place. From the ruins to the rich culture, I would love to explore and take it all in! The hotel looks lovely, too!

  13. Miguel Reply

    Meenakshi Temple looks amazing! it’s a shame that I had no time to visit Madurai when I was traveling around India. Tamil Nadu seems to be an off-the-beaten-path destination among backpackers, so I’d like to give it a go.
    Thanks for sharing

  14. Donna Ward Reply

    Wow – I didn’t know there were so many temples in India – and especially these beautiful ones in Madurai – what an interesting article and with so much info – thank you

  15. Patricia Reply

    I have to say that I’m stunned by how beautiful the Meenakshi Temple is. I can’t imagine what it was like before the looting, but I’m so glad that it was relatively quickly restored. I could spend hours just looking at the detail in the carvings and the colors. I also really want to see the Gandhi Museum. Regency Madurai looks like a great home base for exploring the area. Pinned!

  16. Karie Reply

    Wow I can’t believe there are 6 million temples in India . And yet each one has such unique and intricately beautiful architecture. I’m always left spellbound. Those musical pillars sound interesting. I wonder how they were constructed. The architect was surely brilliant. Interesting to read about the other temples and the Gandhi Museum as well. I hope to visit Madurai someday!

  17. Claudia Reply

    Ohh my I was not familiar with Madurai until I read your article and there seems to be soo much to see and do here! Thank you for the advice for visiting in the winter months, I will keep that in mind

  18. Kita Bryant Reply

    All your descriptions of the smells and emotions of being in this place just puts me in a dream. It sounds and looks like the perfect place to visit.

  19. Kimberly @ Berly's Kitchen Reply

    The architecture on the buildings is amazing! Absolutely gorgeous. The colors are so pretty, and the food doesn’t look too bad either. Lol! This looks like a lovely place to visit.

  20. Christine Boulware Reply

    Stunning is one of many words that come to mind. It seems this is in the southern part of India which is not an area we are familiar with. The food looks amazing and diet and palate friendly! The temples…amazing.

  21. Ami Bhat Reply

    It’s funny how I have been encountering Madurai over the last 3 years of which twice last year. It must be a call for me to explore it even more deeper. My favorite (not counting the Meenakshi temple) was the Nayakkar palace, that too during the day when you can see the beautiful high ceilings here. Glad you brought the entire place to fore.

  22. Katchutravels Reply

    Hey! Never knew about a Gandhi musuem being present there. I too have not explored Madurai much except for some of the places you mention here, and that too was a quick trip. Maybe I should schedule Madurai later this year.

  23. chloe lin Reply

    India always has its charm. And I’m glad you are such a savvy travler! I plan to go and visit one day soon…

  24. Anne Reply

    This isn’t a part of India that I have really considered visiting but it looks fabulous. The food in the hotel looks particularly enticing!

  25. Dorene Reply

    Sandy and Vyjay very thorough post! I loved South India and I didn’t get to Madurai but I do want to get back, I’ll bookmark this for future trips. Your pictures are stunning and reminded me of many amazing South Indian meals. thanks for all the tips!

  26. Joanna Reply

    India has 6 million temples, one more beautiful than another. Every time I read about a temple in India I get amazed by the beauty of the sculptures and the decorations and think how much effort has been put into creating them and how long it took to finish the work. I always wonder how many people must have worked to create such a masterpiece. On every single temple! You are so lucky to live in a country with such a huge heritage.

  27. Eloise Reply

    Madurai looks like an amazing place to visit! I would LOVE to see the Temples in person and to fully immerse myself in the culture… great photos! ; )

  28. Travelwith2ofus Reply

    The architectural design and details of the these temples have always amazed me. The artwork of the Meenakshi Temple is breathtaking. The sculpture of the Alagar Koyil stands out as well.

  29. Swati Reply

    We visited Madurai during our whirlwind road trip. We stayed close to the Meenakshi temple area and had one of the best chai there. I still recall it with a lot of fondness, so it must be really good. Next time I visit I need to see the palace and the Vishnu temple too. Thanks for sharing !

  30. Brianna Reply

    The temples of Madurai remind a bit of Tikal in Guatemala but much more colorful. The food here looks delish!

  31. Danik Reply

    I never even heard of this place and it looks so magical and now I want to include it on my list of places to visit when I am in the area. Those temples look so colourful 😀

  32. Carol Colborn Reply

    It’s beautiful but I don’t think it can compare to Athens built a thousand years earlier~

  33. Paige W Reply

    I can see why it’s called the Athens of the East! So much rich history and from all the way back to the 3 century B.C.E?! That’s insanely awesome. I love the bright colors on the ceiling of that particular temple. It’s stunning. That drink sounds absolutely delicious and refreshing.

  34. knycx.journeying Reply

    The Hindu Architecture is so colorful and special for any tourists outside of the country but the Indian food is just too sweet for me 🙂 Thanks for the introduction and detailed information! Nice read 🙂
    @ knycx.journeying

  35. Megan Indoe Reply

    As soon as I read the title I was intrigued to learn why this is the Athens of the East. The architecture here is so interesting, intricate, and beautiful. I also want to try all that food!

  36. Natasha Reply

    These are some seriously nice temples. Such a variety too I really like that. I want to come and visit I would really enjoy it here

  37. Laura Nalin Reply

    I want to eat all of the food. Always. I’m hungry now after looking at these photos! The colors and details of this ancient architecture is truly breathtaking. I hope to see this someday with my own eyes. Thanks for highlighting your experience – it’s convinced me to get there ASAP!

  38. Sridhar @interludejourney Reply

    Your posting and interesting picture shows the popularity of the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. Excellent write up. I too wish to get stationed there for a couple of days so that each and every part of the complex is covered.

  39. Ilana Reply

    So many places to see and foods to try! It looks like an exquisite place to visit and even stay for a little way! Thanks for all the tips!

  40. neha Reply

    Madurai is indeed a must visit ancient town of South India. Particularly the Meenakshi temple is a must see. I didn’t know about this fine dine option though. The spread is really good. I will like to try it out on my own trip to Madurai

  41. Danielle Desir Reply

    I loved the ornate detailing at the Meenakshi temple and learning about its long and vast history. Also there are so many delicious dishes that I’d love to try in this region! I’d start with the Paniyaram!

  42. Patti Reply

    I love your photos! The temples are so beautiful and ornate -I would love to see them in person.

  43. Carol Perehudoff Reply

    What a fascinating place to visit. Even if the temple was sacked so many years ago, it’s still magnificent and I’m glad it was restored by the Nayak king. And good to know where to stay if you go.

  44. Rosemary Reply

    Six million temples…wow!! The first temple is similar to one in Little India, Singapore. The level of detail and the stories behind each piece of tile or sculpture is truly fascinating. This is a fascinating place to visit and your guide does a great job of highlighting the experience. Nicely done!!

  45. Wanderlust Wayfarer Reply

    I have seen so many pictures of Madurai over the years and wondered if it’s really as beautiful as it looks, Thank you for confirming. It’s on my bucket list for sure!

  46. RaW | Ramble and Wander Reply

    I love idlis! Reading about it so early in the morning at 4.40 doesn’t really help though, haha! On a more serious note though, I’d love to visit Ghandi Museum! Didn’t know that there are 5 of them in India! Did he spend some of his time in Madurai?

  47. sarah Reply

    Madurai looks amazing! I’m always so fascinated by places with such a rich history. I’m excited to visit India in the near future and will bookmark Madurai as a potential stop (maybe next trip? who knows!)

  48. Christopher Reply

    The Ghandi Museum seems like it would be a good enough reason to go as I have a lot of respect for that man but The Temple City in Madurai looks beautiful. That architecture is like nothing I have ever seen before!

  49. Trisha Velarmino Reply

    You have taken us with you as always. <3 I really love how you share the stories of a place together with its facts. The richness of India is definitely beyond what we can imagine.

  50. Indrani Reply

    I have been to Madurai twice, yet missed visiting some of these. Biggest regret is not visiting Gandhi Museum. And also not tasting jigarthanda. 🙁

  51. Lee Reply

    Wow!! 6 million temples? Then we have million of reasons to visit India! Plus the hotel you stayed in is very nice looking accommodation. Looks spotless!


    I went to Madurai as a kid – and I remember walking the grand corridor. Now I am married to a South Indian and the architecture of these temples never stops to amaze me!

  53. Tania Mukherjee Reply

    The details of Meenakshi temple looks gorgeous! I would love to photograph the ‘artwork’ in the ceiling. Madurai had been on my radar for quite a few days. I have a friend in Chennai, so we are planning a trip to Madurai soon!

  54. Suma - Tales of travelling sisters Reply

    I have never been to madurai but it is one of the places I have dreamed of visiting since long. I have heard a lot about Meenakshi Temple, the Nayakar Mahal and Alagar Koyil are new to me. The temples, delicious food and the rich history are the perfect reasons to visit this ancient city.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *