Meenakshi Amman Temple or Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple is a historic Hindu temple located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River in the ancient city of Madurai in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi, an avatar (form) of goddess Parvati, and her consort, Sundareshwar, an avatar of Lord Shiva.
Since Meenakshi is the supreme diety of the temple, it depicts the significance of woman in Tamil Hindu family. The temple also portrays the jovial relationship between Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism and the Sundareshwarar shrine is known as one of the ‘Panch Sabhai’ (five courts) where Lord Shiva is thought to have staged the cosmic dance. The temple is also the main temple in Madurai for wedding rituals and celebrating several south Indian festivals as well.Madurai also has many other temples, and is for this reason, known as the temple city. But the Meenakshi Amman city is the most popular of all of them and is also called as Madurai Meenakshi Temple.
The majestic Meenakshi Amman Temple dates to the 1st century with historians claiming it to be as ancient as the city itself. Built by the ruler of the Pandyan dynasty, Kulashekarar Pandyan, the temple is the central structure around which the city of Madurai is built and inhabited. According to the 6th century texts, the temple was used as a common place by scholars to discuss important topics. Although, the temple which stands today in all its glory have been attacked, destroyed, and rebuild throughout the previous centuries.
During the 14th century, Malik Kafur, a commander of Delhi Sultanate, along with his army, attacked many parts of South India and looted several valuables from temples including the Meenakshi Amman temple. Valuables such as gold, silver, precious sculptures were taken to Delhi and the temples were left in destruction. After the Vijayanagar Empire defeated the Muslim Sultanate and took over Madurai, the Meenakshi Amman temple was rebuilt and it was further expanded and in the 16th century by Vishwanatha Nayakar, the king of the Nayaka dynasty. The temple got renovated and expanded by Thirumalai Nayak who ruled over Madurai from 1623 to 1655 and was added with many ‘Mandapams’ (pillared halls). Before the advent of the British East India Company, the Meenakshi Amman temple was expanded and taken care of by many Nayak rulers, and the temple was completely restored then in 1995 with the restoration work of Tamil Hindus by collecting donations.
The Meenakshi temple complex is a beautiful grand temple at the centre of Madurai city and consists of a group of monuments inside some concentric enclosures of high masonry walls built in response to the invasion. The outer walls have four gateways through which devotees and pilgrims can enter the complex from all four directions.King Kulasekhara Pandya had built the main portions of the three-storeyed gopuram (the grand pointy top part of the temple) at the entrance of the Shrine of Sundareshwar and the central portion of the Goddess Meenakshi Shrine, which are some of the earliest surviving parts of the temple that exists today. The temple is sprawled in a huge area over 14 acres of land and looks like a Mandala (a structure built according to the laws of symmetry) if viewed from above.
Apart from the main shrines of Sundareshwarar and Meenakshi, the temple has several other shrines of Gods and Goddesses such as Murugan, Ganesha, Lakshmi, Rukmini, and Saraswati. The temple also has a consecrated pond known as ‘Porthamarai Kulam’ which translates to a ‘pond with a golden lotus’ and is believed to be an evaluator for reviewing the worth of any new literature according to the Tamil Folklore. The temple has 14 gopurams and apart from the 4 main gopurams, there are other gopurams as well which act as a gateway to different shrines. Some of the major gopurams in the temple are.
The temple has several Mandapams built by various kings which served as the resting places for pilgrims and devotees. Some of the most significant Mandapams are:
Meenakshi Amman Temple is a popular landmark in the city of Madurai, and so, reaching it is not difficult once you reach Madurai. Madurai city can be reached by bus, train or air.
Madurai’s airport - Madurai International Airport is well connected to major cities in India and other parts of the world. Madurai’s major train terminal – Madurai Junction Railway Station is also well-connected and can be easily reached from most major cities within India.
The Meenakshi Amman temple is open to devotees and pilgrims between 5 AM to 12.30 PM and 4 PM to 10 PM on all days of the week. There is no entry fee to visit the temple.
Standing tall in the heart of the Madurai with its magnificent glory, Meenakshi Amman Temple is a significant piece in the ancient Tamil fables and folklores that depict its religious importance and the ethereal beauty that devotees from across the globe come to witness.