Located in the heart of the city of Madurai, the Meenakshi Temple is dedicated to goddess Meenakshi, the spouse of Lord Shiva. The temple has always been the main attraction in the city for both Indian and international tourists. It is also one of the most important places of Hindu pilgrimage. For the people of Madurai, Meenakshi Temple is the very center of their religious and cultural life. It is often said that the people of the city wake up, not by alarms but by the chant of hymns at the temple.

Architecture of Meenakshi Temple

Meenakshi Temple is spread over a huge area of about 14 acres. The temple has huge walls which were built in response to the invasions. The entire structure represents a mandala when viewed from above. A mandala is a structure built according to the laws of loci and symmetry. The sculpted pillars of the temple are decorated with the magnificent murals that celebrate the elegant beauty of Princess Meenakshi and the scenes of her wedding with Lord Shiva. At the Sundareswarar temple, Lord Shiva is represented as a lingam across the courtyard. The pillars show scenes from the wedding of Lord Shiva and Meenakshi. There are 985 richly carved pillars present in the temple and each one surpasses the other in beauty. The temple also has a consecrated pond named ‘Porthamarai Kulam’ which means a pond with a golden lotus. The golden lotus is placed at the center of the pond and It is believed that Lord Shiva blessed this pond and declared that no marine life would grow in it. The temple has four main ‘gopurams’ or towering gateways that look identical to each other.

Legend-

Legend says that Meenakshi emerged out of a ‘Yajna’ (sacred fire) as a three-year-old girl. The ‘Yajna’ was performed by king Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai. The royal couple had no child, therefore, they offered prayers to Lord Shiva, requesting him to grant them a son. But to their shock, a triple-breasted girl emerged out from the ‘yajna.’ When King Malayadwaja and his wife expressed their concern about their daughter’s abnormal appearance, a divine voice ordered them not to get worried about the girl’s physical appearance. They were also informed that as soon as the girl meets her future husband her third breast will disappear. The relieved King named her daughter Meenakshi and in due course crowned her as his successor.

Meenakshi ruled over the ancient city of Madurai and also went on to capture the neighboring kingdoms. According to the legend, she even captured the abode of Lord Indra i.e. the ‘Indralok’, and was on her way to capture the abode of Lord Shiva, ie. the ‘Kailash’ as well. When Shiva appeared in front of Meenakshi, her third breast disappeared and she knew that she had met her better half. Lord Shiva and Meenakshi returned to Madurai where their wedding was then arranged. It is believed that the wedding was attended by all the gods and goddesses. Since Maa Parvati herself had taken the form of Meenakshi, Lord Vishnu, Parvati’s brother, handed her over to Lord Shiva. Even today, the wedding ceremony is celebrated every year as ‘Chithirai Thiruvizha’ which is also known as ‘Tirukalyanam’ (the grand wedding).

Festivals of Meenakshi Temple

The main festival celebrated in the temple is the wedding ceremony of the deities called the ‘Chithirai Thiruvizha’. Apart from that, a number of other festivals are celebrated in the temple. Some of them are ‘Vasantham festival,’ ‘Mulai-Kottu festival’, ‘Unjal festival,’ ‘Thai utsavam,’‘Arudhra Dharsan festival,’ ‘Kolattam festival,’ etc. Each of these festivals has its own significance and is celebrated during various months throughout the year. The temple also celebrates the ‘Navaratri festival.’ During ‘Navaratri’ the temple displays colorful dolls which are collectively called ‘gollu.’ ‘Gollu’ often conveys stories from various mythological scenes.

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Also read, Some astonishing facts about Dwarkadish Temple

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