Madurai is known as the ‘City of Nectar’ -legend has it that drops of nectar fell from coils of Shiva’s hair onto the city. The literary and cultural centre of Tamil Nadu in the 4th century AD, Greeks traded here in the 6th century BC and it was the capital of the Pandyan Kingdom until the Cholas occupied the area 500 years later.
The Pandyas regained power in the 13th century, only to lose the kingdom to the Sultan of Delhi. Muslim rule was ended by the Vijayanager Empire, and then the Nayaks ruled until the 18th century. Most of the city’s places of interest date from the 17th century. These are:
Tirumalai Nayaka Palace – which was built in 1636, in Indo-Saracen style. Its 15 domes are adorned with stucco work, but much of the building is in ruins, with just the entrance hall, main hall and dance hall remaining. The original ‘marble’ effect was produced by blending eggs, lime juice and sugar together. No wood or iron was used in the original structure.
Sri Meenakshi Temple – though dating back to the 1st century AD, much of the temple seen today is an outstanding example of 16th and 17th century architecture. The temple is dedicated to the consort of Shiva, Meenakshi (another name for Parvati – Dad’s statue). There are about 33 million sculptures (we didn’t count them) around the pillared halls and gopurams (towers), with brightly coloured stucco images of gods, goddesses and animals. Inside the temple are several mandapams (pillared pavilions) including the 1,000 Pillar Hall (which actually only has 985 pillars).
We were lucky to see 2 ceremonies – one where Shiva was carried around the inner sanctum on a Nandi – the procession was led by a bull & elephant.
And another celebration where Shiva was taken for a ride in a huge golden carriage – this procession was led by a camel, bull & elephant with lots of music playing.
These special ceremonies (that only happen during special Hindu festivals) however meant that the ‘Going to Bed’ Ceremony ran late – past our bed time – but it takes place every evening & Brahmin priests take Shiva from his sanctum and parade the image around the temple in a palanquin. After symbolically washing his feet, he’s carried into his wife, Meenakshi’s sanctum. And so to bed.