Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple situated in the holy city of Madurai, India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva – who is here known as Sundareswarar or Beautiful God and his consort, Parvati- 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 also including two golden Gopurams for the main deities, that are elaborately sculpted and painted showing the architectural and sculpting skills of the ancient Indian sthapathis. The temple is an important symbol for Tamil people and has been mentioned in Tamil literature since ancient times, although the present structure is believed to have been built in 1600. The tallest temple tower is 51.9 meters (170 feet) 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 due to which the hall is named as Velli Ambalam (Silver Hall).
Ashta Sakthi Mandapa
In this temple, it is a custom that the devotee firstly offers worship to Goddess Meenakshi. So, while the temple has four other entrances, under the giant Gopura in the four cardinal directions, it is the practice to enter not through any of them but through a mandapa, above which there are no towers. This entrance leads directly towards the temple of Goddess. This pavilion is an impressive structure, with a hemispherical roof. It is 14m long and 5.5m wide. There are bas-relief all over the place. Over the entrance one of them depicts the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi with Lord Somasundara. The name of Mandapa is “Ashta Shakti,”, by the fact that it has sculptures of the eight Sakthi’s (also spelled as Shakti). During the restoration of the temple in 1960-63, four major Nayanmaras were added.
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 “Thiruvilayadal 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 Mandapam.