The centre of Madurai is dominated by the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Also known as Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple and Tiru-aalavai, it was founded by the Pandyas but has been completely rebuilt in later times.
Almost all of the Madurai Nayakas, their wives and ministers made donations to the monument, the result being a temple with an amalgam of different structures, the majority of which date to the 17th and 18th centuries.
The highlight of the temple calendar is a 12 day festival held in April/May. This commemorates the coronation of Minakshi and her marriage to Shiva. The climax of the event is the great Chariot festival, which takes place in the broad streets that run parallel to the outer walls of the temple complex.
The temple is contained by high walls that create an almost square enclosure. Roughly in the middle of each side are entrance Gopuras that soar above the houses of the city. The temple certainly dominates the cityscape quite unlike any other temple I have visited in an urban setting.
These gates are exceptional for their towers with elongated proportions and curved profiles, which create a dramatic sweep upwards. The tallest of these is to the south, reaching a height of over 50m.
The lower granite portions of the Gopuras have minimal carvings, confined to miniature animals and figures at the base of the walls and pilasters. The brick towers have openings in the middle of the long sides to allow light into the hollow chambers at each level. The upper storeys however are a complete contrast…
Here the Gopuras are utterly crowded with plaster figures of divinities, celestial beings, guardians and animals. Fierce monster masks with protruding eyes and horns mark the arched ends of the vaulted roofs.
As you can see, all of this is painted in extremely vibrant colours. At first it’s quite difficult to take it all in, there’s just so much going on – with little room to be able to step back owing to the ring of shops that face the temple perimeter. I don’t know how often the temple Gopuras are repainted, but that must be a mammoth task when undertaken.
Sadly, no cameras are permitted into the temple at all, so all my photography was restricted to this area outside the temple complex. It’s a great shame as there is much to see inside, which I will leave to the likes of Wikipedia to describe for you.
Less than 1km south-east from Meenakshi Amman Temple is Thirumalai Nayak Palace which is well worth exploring as well.
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