There are a few places I have visited in India where spirituality, religion, and culture are displayed at their most spectacular. In Madurai, a city in the south-central Tamil Nadu State it is actually visceral – a vibe of positivity, serenity and peace, set in a fragrance of devotional floral necklaces and bouquets. Some of the most iconic temples for Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu can be found there as is teased in the above photo. It is said that Lord Shiva himself performed 64 wonders there called “Thiruvilaiyadals.” No I can’t pronounce it. The temples are only one sign of deep-seated spirituality.
The ancient history of the region is associated with the Pandya kings and Madurai was the site of the Pandya capital (4th–11th century CE). Later it was conquered by Chola, Vijayanagar, Muslim, Maratha and British rulers. In the 1940s it became known as the centre of the civil disobedience movement against the British Raj. But it is its deep spirituality that touched me deeply.
The temples of Madurai are awe inspiring and a feast for the eyes. They are the embodiment of spiritualism and their incredible architectural designs takes one’s breath away. The most well known of the temples, dedicated to the 9 planets and the sun is home to around 33,000 finely carved sculptures is the Meenakshi Amman temple. Without more text, let me introduce you to the wonder of Meenakshi:
Here are a few facts about the Meenakshi Temple:
- The temple features one of a kind architecture that is designed with sculptures and ancient texts. It is built in the Dravidian-style of architecture which is common in the southern states of India.
- Dravidian architecture is characterized by tall entry gates (gopuram) on two or more sides just like the ones found in the temple, pillared halls and covered porches. At the center of the temple, there are two specific sanctuaries, one for Meenakshi and one for her husband Sunderashwar.
- The Meenakshi Temple is dedicated to a fish-eyed and triple breasted goddess. The phrase ‘fish eyed’ is used in Tamil poetry to mean perfect pair of eyes. The temple is unique in that other temples in India are dedicated to male deities while this one is dedicated to a female deity, Meenakshi (a manifestation of Parvati). The idol of Meenakshi has three breasts as it is believed that she was born with three breasts due to a curse that would disappear when she finds the right man for her. Legend says that the third breast vanished after meeting Sunderashwar (manifestation of Lord Shiva).
- The temple has 14 gopurams (gateway towers) and 33,000 sculptures
I told our guide Vishal that it was my goal to photograph all 33,000 statues and figures. I have a long way to go. But there was one particular deity I did photograph; one that I know personally:
More on him next week: