enormous temple complex is dedicated to Shiva, known here as Sundareshvara and
his consort Parvati or Meenakshi. The original temple was built by Kulasekara
Pandya, but the entire credit for making the temple as splendid as it is today
goes to the Nayaks. The Nayaks ruled Madurai from the 16th to the 18th century
and left a majestic imprint of their rule in the Meenakshi - Sundareswarar
The temple complex is within a high-walled enclosure, at the core of which are
the two sanctums for meenakshi and Sundareshwara, surrounded by a number of
smaller shrines and grand pillared halls. Especially impressive are the 12
gopuras. Their soaring towers rise from solid granite bases, and are covered
with stucco figures of dieties, mythical animals and monsters painted in vivid
There are 12 temple towers(Gopurams). The outer towers are the landmarks of
Madurai. They are:
East Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 161'3". This Gopura has 1011 sudhai figures.
South Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 170'6". This Tower has 1511 sudhai figures.
West Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 163'3". This Tower has 1124 sudhai figures.
North Tower (Nine Storeys). Height 160'6". This Tower has lesser figures of
sudhai than other outer towers.
Pyramidal gates(gopuras) rise to a height of more than 50m. These towering
gateways indicate the entrance to the temple complex at the four cardinal
points, while lesser gopuras lead to the sanctums of the main dieties.
The figures of dieties on the tower are repaired, repainted and ritually
reconsecrated every 12 years.
Ashta Shakthi Mandapam
A visitor who enters the temple through the eastern gateway, first enters this
Mandapam(Hall). It was built by Thirumalai Nayakar's wives Rudrapathi Ammal and
Tholimamai. In this hall food was once distributed to the devotees who came from
far off places. Next to this hall is the Meenakshi Nayaka Mandapa, a spacious
columned hall used for shops and stores. This hall has a votive lamp-holder with
1,008 lamps, which are lit on festive occasions and present a spectacular sight.
The sculptures on the pillars here relate some of Lord Shiva's Thiruvilayadals
(miracles) and also the story of Meenakshi's birth and her life as the princess
The story descripted on the stones is as follows:
Malayadwaja Pandya, a king of Madurai , was childless for a long time. He
performed a number of yagnas (sacrifices made before a sacred fire) because he
wanted an heir to his throne. On one occasion, a three-year-old girl came out of
the fire and Malayadwaja adopted her. But the girl had three breasts and this
worried Malayadwaja. However, a divine voice assured him that the third breast
would disappear as soon as she met her consort. The girl grew into a brave and
beautiful princess. she won many battles, but eventually lost her heart to Lord
Shiva, when she met him on the battle-field in Kailas. As soon as she saw him,
her third breast disappeared and she recognized her divine consort, for the
princess was none other than Shiva's wife, Parvathi. After ruling over the
Pandya kingdom for a while, they settled in the Madurai temple as Meenakshi and
Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam
This big hall is adjacent to Ashta Shakthi Mandapam, consisting of 110 pillars
carrying the figures of a peculiar animal with a lion's body , and an elephant's
head called Yalli.
Potramaraikulam (golden lotus tank)
This temple tank is an ancient tank where devotees take bath in the holy water.
The area around this tank was the meeting place of the TamilSangam - the ancient
academy of poets. The history of the sangam goes back to the days when gods
dallied with men. This academy judged the worth of any work of literature
presented before it by throwing it into the tank. Only those that did not sink
were considered worthy of attention. The tank is surrounded by a pillared
corridor. Steps lead down to the tank, enabling worshippers to take bathe in it.
The Oonjal (swing) Mandapam and Killikoontu (parrot cage) Mandapam are on the
western side of the tank. Every Friday, the golden idols of Meenakshi and
Sundareswarar are seated on the swing in the Oonjal Mandapam and hymns are sung
as the deities gaily swing to and fro. The parrots in the Kilikoontu Mandapam
have been trained to repeat Meenakshi's name. But more interesting are the 28
pillars of the mandapam which exhibit some excellent Sculptures of figures from
Swami Sundareswarar Shrine
Lord Sundareswarar (Shiva) the consort of Goddess Meenakshi is to the north of
Kilikoontu Mandapam . On your way you can worship a gigantic idol of Sri Ganesh
called Mukkurini Pillaiyar. When the king Thirumalai Nayakar excavated a temple
tank 3 km from Meenakshi temple he unearthed this idol of Vinayaka and erected
the same here.
In the outer pragaram (corridor outside the main shrine) there is stump of the
kadamba tree, which is said to be a part of the same tree under which Indra
worshipped Shiva linga. Also in the outer corridor there are the Kadambathadi
Mandapam and big hall called 'Velli Ambalam'. Here, an idol of Nataraja (Shiva
as the Lord of Dance) is seen. This idol of Nataraja is covered with silver
leaves. Hence this hall is named as Velli Ambalam (Silver Hall)..
The Thousand Pillar Mandapam
It is the 'wonder of the palace'. Actually the number of pillars count to 985
beautifully decorated columns. Each pillar is sculptured and is a monument of
the Dravidan sculpture. There is a Temple Art Museum in this 1000 pillars hall
where you can see icons, photographs, drawings, etc., exhibiting the 1200 years
old history. There are so many other smaller and bigger mandapams in the temple.
Just outside this mandapam ,towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each
pillar when stuck, produces a different musical note. The kalyana mandapa, to
the south of the pillared hall, is where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is
celebrated every year during the Chitirai Festival in mid- April.
This mandapam was built by Thirumalai Nayakkar. Vasanthosavam - the Spring
festival-is celebrated in this mandapam in Vaikasi (April/May). Its pillars
contain elaborate sculptures of Shiva, Meenakshi, scenes from their wedding as
well as the figures of ten of the Nayak Kings and their consorts. This is also
called Pudhu Mandapam.