Meenakshi Amman Temple is an historic Hindu temple located in the holy city of Madurai in India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva – who is known here as Sundareswarar or Beautiful Lord– and his consort, Parvati who is known as Meenakshi. The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old city of Madurai. The complex houses 14 magnificent Gopurams or towers including two golden Gopurams for the main deities, that are elaborately sculptured and painted showing the architectural and sculpting skills of the ancient indian sthapathis. The temple is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, and has been mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature, though the present structure is believed to have been built in 1600. The tallest temple tower is 51.9 metres (170 ft) high.
Swami Sundareswarar Shrine
The Shrine of Lord Sundareswarar (Shiva) the consort of Goddess Meenakshi is to the north of Kilikoontu Mandapam . There’s a gigantic idol of Sri Ganesh called Mukkurini Pillaiyar on the way. There’s a stump of a Kadamba tree, in the outer pragaram (corridor outside the main shrine), which is said to be a part of the same tree under which Indra worshiped Shiva linga. There’s also Kadambathadi Mandapam in the outer corridor and big hall called ‘Velli Ambalam’. There’s also an idol of Nataraja (Shiva as the Lord of Dance), covered with silver leaves. Thus this hall is named as Velli Ambalam (Silver Hall).
Ashta Sakthi Mandapa
It is a convention in this temple, different from that followed in others, that the devotee offers worship first to Goddess Meenakshi. Therefore, while there are four other entrances into the temple, under huge Gopuras in the four cardinal directions, it is customary to enter not through any of them but through a Mandapa, with no tower above it. This entrance leads directly to the shrine of the Goddess. This Mandapa is an impressive structure, with a hemispherical ceiling. It is 14m long and 5.5m wide. There are bas-reliefs all over the place. Over the entrance one of them depicts the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi with Lord Somasundara. The Mandapa derives its name, the “Ashta Sakthi”, from the fact it contains sculptures of the eight Sakthis (also spelt as Shakti). Those of the four principal Nyanmars were added during renovation of the temple in 1960-63.
The Golden Lily Tank
The lovely and historic Golden Lily tank then comes into view. It is from its banks that most popular photographic views of the temple are taken, showing the gigantic south outer Gopura. The northern corridor leads directly to the shrine of the Goddess. On its pillars are the images of some of the Sangam poets, of Kulasekhara Pandya, the first builder of the temple, and of Dhananjaya, who figures in the traditional story of its origin. There is no fish in the tank. The corridors around the tank are rightly called the “Chitra Mandapa”, for the walls carry paintings of the divine sports of the Lord, as narrated in the “Tiruvilayadal Puranam”. They have been renewed from time to time. A short while ago there were paintings on wooden panels affixed over an older series. They have since been removed to the Temple Museum in the thousand-pillared Mandapa.