Road Trip To Madurai

Come October and the travel syndrome steers you involuntarily but this time the school announced that there would be no Dussera vacation and the extra coaching classes began in full swing, life became distressingly monotonous with the 5.30am alarm teasing and taunting my dabbawali demeanour yet again, friends and relatives with teenaged kids welcomed me warmly into their house-arrested havens and enlightened me that the next few years would be like this with a tinge of sadistic smile but the drive_bug itched in the tummy, the camera craved, the kitbag crooned and the sunglasses gaped wondering if I would flinch and clinch to home sweet home. And suddenly there came an SMS saying the school would shut down for now and resume only a week later that left us in an indescribable travel nirvana.

At 9am we planned for a quick tour towards Shimoga, by 10am we thought of Wayanad but by 10.40am we were driving on NH7 to Madurai!

We took the Bangalore- Hosur- Dharmapuri- Salem- Karur- Dhindigul- Madurai route which is a 7hour drive, Bengaluru to Madurai is 450kms and the entire route through NH7 is a splendid experience.

En route Madurai on NH7

En route Madurai on NH7

Unlike Karnataka’s uneven patchy bumpy toll roads the Tamil Nadu highways are a pleasure to drive.

Lined with picturesque lush green fields and thick coconut grooves on the sides the entire stretch is a smooth drift with not even one patchy surface area anywhere from start to end.

We reached late in the evening by 7 ish when the temple town was blurred amidst heavy downpours, with our 4G network down we scrambled through the knotted boards in Tamil and finally managed to get a room in a hotel called Metropole.

Although Madurai is known as the temple town, sadly finding a vegetarian hotel with decent hygienic vegetarian food is a great challenge here.

The next day morning we tied up with an autorickshaw to visit in and around Madurai as parking is a choking hazard in most of the ancient narrow lanes.

North gate view, Meenakshi temple

North gate view, Meenakshi temple

First we headed to the Meenakshi temple which was around 8kms from our hotel and entered from the North gate, technically you are supposed to enter from the eastern gate as it is customary here.

Madurai, is famous for Meenakshi temple, its smooth soft idlis and cotton sarees.

Madurai, the ancient temple town located on the banks of Vaigai river which was the epicentre of culture and art is believed to be more than 3600years old, legend has it that once Indra in order to rid himself of the Bramhahathi dosha came to Kadamba forest in the Pandya kingdom and worshipped the Adi Swayambuhu linga, the powers of which relieved him of his curse of becoming a wanderer. Indra built the Astagaja mantapa by raising an elevated vimaana like structure around the linga to commemorate and show his gratitude, after which the Devas began to worship here.

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Once a trader named Dhananjaya came here to take rest en route his trading expedition, while he was asleep he heard the sounds of clanking bells and saw the Devas worshipping the Adi Swayambuhu Linga. He narrated this to his King Kulashekara Pandya who then built the temple and a town around this lotus shaped mantapa hence the city came to be known as the temple town of Madurai. The current day architecture of 12gopurams was built over by 64 generations in 800years.

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Kulashekara’s son Malayadwaja Pandya, was childless for a long time and besought a heir by performing many yagnas but in vain, then Indra advised him to perform Putrakameshti yaga here in order to be seek a son but during the yagna a little girl with a splendid radiance of virtuousness with 3breasts whose eyes were fish shaped emerged from the yagna kunda, when the king was anxious at the turn of events there was a divine interception from the skies saying that the little girl was an embodiment of Shakthi with the power of 10men and was here to rule. And the man before whom she surrendered in coy and bent her head, seeing whom her 3rd breast would disappear would be her divine consort Shiva himself.

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Meenakshi, the goddess with fish shaped eyes douses all your problems and blesses with her eyes, as she was born from fire she was named ‘Thadaa Dagai Prateur’ she grew up to be a powerful princess who proved to be a valiant ruler and an able administrator of the Pandyan Kingdom,IMG_20151020_113136028  she conquered the three worlds in all eight directions and after conquering Sathyaloka, Vaikunta, Amaravathi she aspired to conquer Shiva’s abode ‘Kailasa’, during the conquest in Kailasa she was mesmerised on seeing Shiva and her 3rd breast vanished,

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she knew at once that he was her divine consort. After marriage they ruled over the Pandya kingdom and are believed to be living here in the Kadamba vana in the form of Meenakshi and Sundareshwar, hence Meenakshi devi is also called Kadambavana Vaasini.

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As you walk through the 1000 pillared mantapa you can see the story of Meenakshi devi depicted in colourful art form across the walls and ceilings, besieged amidst the pillars with puranic engravings lies the Lotus Pond or the Hondavare Kola, the pond from where Indra plucked golden lotuses for worshipping the Shiva Linga. Scholarly writings were tested here by immersing the scriptures in this pond, the meagre quality ones sank and the good ones floated establishing their scholarships.

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The Meenakshi deity is made of emerald and has a diamond nose ring adorned in a gold crown, Meenakshi devi holds a parrot in her hand, it seems that during earlier times the parrots here recited verses praising Meenakshi devi, the parrot is perhaps symbolic of knowledge transfer.

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In the stretch between the Meenakshi and the Sundareshwar sanctum you will find an ancient 3D painting of a Shiva linga on the ceiling, the base spout of the linga will turn towards you from whichever direction you view it.

Golden kalasha of Astagaja matapa

Golden kalasha of Astagaja matapa

The inner sanctum or the garba gudi of Sundareshwar is also called Indra Vimaana as it has 8 elephants, 32 lions and 64 Bhoothaganas and is built as if it is being carried.

The inner sanctum is illuminated only with oil lamps hence viewing the entire figurine is difficult in the mad rush which is ever prevalent here.

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Velliambinataraja: The silver Nataraja is located inside the Sundareshwara sanctum at the entrance of to the main Linga.

The dancing Nataraja here is unique as it stands on the left feet throwing the right foot in the air. King Rajashekaran Pandya who was an expert in 63 out of 64 forms of art was unable to master the art of dance but due to his devotion to the lord he attempted to learn it and realised how painful it was to stand on the right leg hence he requested lord Shiva to shift to his left leg, but the lord didn’t budge, it was when he attempted to offer his head that the lord agreed and shifted on to his left leg.

Mukkurini Ganesha/Pillaiyar/Vinayakar

This 8feet tall Ganapathi idol was found while Thirumalai Nayaka was getting a temple tank dug, ‘Mu-Kkuruni’ means 3 measures, during Ganesh chaturthi the elephant lord is offered a single large Modaka(sweet dish) made with 3 measures of rice(rice sacks).

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Panchamuki Gayathri Devi

Panchamuki Gayathri Devi

There are various mantapas in the temple, In the Kambatthadi mantapa you can see various sculptures depicting stories of Shiva, the monolithic Nandi,

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the dwajastamba, the sculpture depicting Lord Vishnu giving the hand of Meenakshi in marriage to Sundareshwar(Shiva) is marvellous as it depicts different expressions and moods.

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On one side you can also see idols of Agni Veerabhadra and Agora Veerabhadra the two demon commanders of Shiva who fought Daksha while on the other side of the entrance you can see Shiva doing his Tandava.

IMG_20151020_123006140 Even Gods and Goddesses had fights:

Shiva in Oordhva Tandava poseParvathi in Chandekeshwari formOnce Shiva and Parvathi had a dance challenge, while dancing Shiva’s earrings fell on the ground but he didn’t stop dancing instead he lifted the earring with his toes and put it on performing the Oordhva tandava step swinging his leg in 180 degrees posture which is normally not possible for women to perform hence Parvathi was annoyed and took up her Chandikeshwari form, in order to soothe her burning anger the devotees burn lamps in front of her and seek her blessings.

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The temple is spread across 15 acres with 12 gopurams, the colourful outer towers with 9 storeys each form the land marks of Madurai amongst them the southern tower is the tallest at 170feet with 1511 stucco dolls each tower has many magnificent idols depicting different tales. There are totally some 6825 pillars in this temple.

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It is terribly hot in the morning so if you looking for some good shots of the external architecture it is best to visit the temple in the evening. You will need to spend a minimum of 2hours here.

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We had hired a guide for the temple tour for Rs.300 but most of the information he gave was incorrect and half-baked but it still helps as the temple is vast and you will not know where and what to see but if you have ample time then you could read through the story and leisurely count the number of pillars and ascertain the numbersJ.

Thiruvalai Nayakaar's Palace

Thiruvalai Nayakaar’s Palace

After lunch we visited the Nayakar’s Palace which is built in an Indo-Italian style but it was a big disappointment to see the plain sober architecture buried in pigeon poop and unkempt ambience after a splendid architectural extravaganza at the Meenakshi shrine.

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An artist at the Nayakar palace

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Artist’s work at Nayakar palace

By 3 o clock in the afternoon we reached the Tirupurukundrum Muruga temple, pronouncing which was like pronuncing ‘Albuquerque ‘.

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The temple opened only by 4pm, the whole vicinity was crowded with locals and many Aiyappa devotees thronging the place and sleeping all over the outer temple premises hence we chose to while away time in the auto itself.

It is a huge temple with Muruga as the main deity, Muruga or Karthikeya who married Indra’s daughter Deivamaaye, gave darshan to his devotees in his bridegroom’s avatar here.

Thirukundrum Muruga temple Madurai

Thirukundrum Muruga temple Madurai

The government employed priests here are an embarrassment to spirituality.

By now the kids were growing restless with our overdose of religiousity hence we skipped the Alaigar Kovil temple and Maariyamman teppukoolam.

Gandhi Museum, Madurai

Gandhi Museum, Madurai

Lastly we visited the Gandhi museum which houses many rare pictures of Gandhi and some of his belongings and letters. The complete revolting scenario that existed during the pre-independence era is exhumed in detail with various pictures.

Writings at the museum

Writings at the museum

The museum also displays the blood stained loin cloth of Gandhiji because it was in Madurai that Gandhiji adopted the loin cloth after seeing the peasants.

By now we were exhausted and also it was closing time for the museum, the auto guy dropped us at the hotel and by default demanded extra as the time was a little extended because of the wait at the temple.  This was end of day2.

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