Madurai is considered to be the oldest existing city in the Indian peninsula and amongst the oldest persistently inhabited cities of the world. This southern most city of India has a rare charm that can be experienced through its rich cultural heritage. Established around a vast temple constructed by Pandian King Kulasekhara (around 2, 500 years ago), it was earlier referred to as ‘Madhurapuri’. However, this city came into limelight during the Sangam period through the third and last gathering of Tamil scholars, which existed for more than 100 years. The city served as the glorious capital of Pandya kings and had been explored by various travelers like, Megasthenes (302 BC), Ptolemy (140 AD), Pliny (77 AD), Ibu Batuta (1333 AD) and Marco Polo (1203 AD) etc. But, presently, this city is synonymous with the remarkable Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple. If you are planning a trip to Madurai and wondering about places to visit to discover its charming heritage, below is the information for you.
Sri Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple
Synonymous to Madurai, the Meenakshi- Sundareswarar is a twin temple that has made the city evolved. You can see a fabulous example of Dravidian architecture and sculpture in the temple. The temple has two sanctora, one dedicated to Meenakshi and other to her consort Shiva as ‘Sundareswarar’. It is amongst the largest temple complexes in India. It grew with a large contribution of each dynasty and conquering monarchs into an enormous complex that extends over an area of 65,000 sq m. This temple was largely expanded during the reign of ‘Tirumalai Nayak’ (1623-55 AD). Out of the five Gopurams (gateways) surrounding the temple, the southern Gopuram is the tallest (48.8 m) one and painted in vibrant colors, are sculpted stories from Indian mythology. One of the most stunning sculptures is that of representing the divine marriage of goddess Meenakshi with Sundareswarar. Another highlight of this temple is the ‘Hall of Thousand Pillars’ that has 985 pillars with a number of bold and ornate sculptures. Last but not the least, you can’t miss the nonpareil musical pillars that are carved out of stones; when tapped produce different musical notes.
Tirumalai Nayak Palace
Located just about a kilometer southeast of Meenakshi Temple, Tirumalai Nayak Palace is the second most important attraction of this city. Constructed in the year 1636 by King Thirumalai Nayak, this palace dons Indo-Sarcenic style of architecture with the input of an Italian architect. This palace was the residential place of the King. Today, just a quarter of the original structure of it is intact, consisting of entrance hall, dance hall, courtyard and audience hall. In the evening, you can enjoy a special sound and light show daily.
Gandhi Memorial Museum
Located across the dry Vaigai River, Gandhi Memorial Museum is housed in the 300-years-old Tamukkum Summer Palace of Nayak queen Rani Mangammal. It is one of the seven museums in India devoted to Mahatma Gandhi. This museum features a number of items used by Gandhiji includes a shawl, yarn, spectacles and the bloodstained dhoti (loincloth) that he was wearing when he was assassinated in Delhi in the year 1948. It is believed that Mahatma Gandhi took up wearing the dhoti only in the Madurai in 1921 making it as a sign of national pride. Entry to this museum is free for all. In addition, the Madurai Government Museum is also situated in the same grounds.
Located in Gandhi Museum Complex, Government Museum was founded during the 5th World Tamil Conference held in 1981. It represents the rich cultural, historical and religious heritage of the region with its exclusive exhibits. The museum witnesses training sessions and summer training camps on arts, music and crafts. It is home to great range of bronze sculptures, musical instruments and amazing paintings.
Koodal Azhagar Temple
Koodal Azhagar Temple is another popular monument of Madurai to discover its heritage and religious charm. This temple lies to the west of the city. It is an ancient Vaishnavite temple having attractive sculptures. In this temple, Hindu Lord Vishnu is depicted in three poses including sitting (asana), reclining (sayana) and standing (sthanaka).
Thirupparamkunram Murugan Temple
Thirupparamkunram Murugan Temple is a Hindu temple located in Thirupparamkunram town of Madurai district. It is said to be one of the six abodes of Lord Murugan. Apart from Murugan, idols of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Lord Vinayaka and Goddess Durga are also housed in the main shrine. The temple features a rock-cut architecture and considered to have been constructed by the Pandyas during the 6th century. The temple is located 8 km away from Madurai city and follows Shaivite practice of worship.
Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakkulam
It is a large temple tank spanning over 304.8 m on each side with a sacred mandapam in the centre. This tank is fed by water from the Vaigai River through a resourceful system of underground channels. The tank has a ‘mandapam’ at the centre enshrining Lord Ganesha. During the Float Festival (in Jan- Feb) celebrating the birth of King Tirumalai Nayak, pilgrims gather here in huge number. In the festival, the temple deities are taken out in designed floats in the tank.
Built in Dravidian style of architecture, Kallazhagar Temple is glorified in the Divya Prabandha, the early medieval Tamil law of the Azhwar saints between 6th and 9th centuries AD. It is one among the 108 Divyadesams of.The temple reflects the heritage charm of the region and follows Thenkalai tradition of worship. Daily 6 rituals and several yearly festivals are performed at the temple. Kallazhagar Temple is taken care by the Hindu Religious and Endowment Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
So, make sure that you try to visit as many as tourist attractions of the list mentioned above.