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The Engrossing Culture and Art of Madurai

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Madurai, located on the banks of river Vaigai is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu, and also an important centre for culture, heritage and arts. Among the oldest cities in the world that have been continuously inhabited, Madurai has see many flourishing reigns such as the Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagar rule and the British. Madurai has many painstakingly built monuments and temples that stand testimony to its grand past and devout attention to arts.

Many legends have risen from the dusty streets of Madurai. One interesting story is that Mahatma Gandhi started to wear the loin cloth, only after seeing the poor labourers in Madurai wearing the simple clothing. With its many temples, monuments and museums, Madurai has an important role to play in religion, art and culture of India. Here are some of the places to visit in Madurai.

Meenakshi Amman Temple

Meenakshi Amman Temple

The Meenakshi Amman Temple is the most prominent symbol of Madurai city. Devotees and travellers flock from all parts of the world to see this astounding example of temple architecture. The temple is dedicated to Hindu god Shiva's wife Parvati, referred to as Meenakshi here. Listed among the largest temple complexes in the country, this vast temple has much to offer. The complex boasts of over 33,000 sculptures, ten gopurams of which the southern gopuram towers at a height of 170 ft. The gopurams are attractive with their many storeys, and intricately sculpted figurines that sport vivid hues! A visit to Madurai is not complete without paying homage at the Meenakshi Amman Temple.

Photo Courtesy: Natesh Ramasamy

Koodal Azhagar Temple

Koodal Azhagar Temple

This famous temple in Madurai is among the key tourist attractions and is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu god Vishnu. This ancient temple located close to the Meenakshi Amman temple is said to be among the 108 holy sites of Lord Vishnu. The temple is vast and local guides are available to explain the unique features of the temple. Enjoy the intricate carvings in stone as well as the vivid paintings in the temple that will cost you Rs. 10 to view but is definitely worth it.

Photo Courtesy: Arun Bharhath

Aayiram Kaal Mandapam

Aayiram Kaal Mandapam

The Hall of Thousand Pillars or the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam is a major tourist attraction in Madurai. The hall has only 985 carved pillars, unlike the name suggests. Built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar, the hall with its pillars of Yali and elephant sculptures along with other motifs and figurines is a great example of artistic engineering. The hall also houses the Temple Museum which displays items that are as old as 1,200 years! Outside the Mandapam at a close distance is where you will find the intriguing musical pillars. These stone pillars struck in the right places can produce astounding musical notes!

Photo Courtesy: Jomesh

Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal

Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal

Built by Nayak king Thirumalai Nayak in the 17th century, the palace is an outstanding example of fusion architecture, showcasing styles ranging from Dravidian to Persian. Situated at a short distance from the Meenakshi Amman Temple, this palace is only one part of the original structure, which is said to have been four times bigger! The different parts of the palace, such as the throne room, courtyards and dancing halls, show travellers a stunning glimpse of royal grandeur. The stunning domes are also great to observe, and you will have to stretch your neck to see them at magnificent heights of 70 ft! The palace also seesconducts light and music shows. It is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and entry fees is Rs.10.

Photo Courtesy: Ashwin Kumar

Gandhi Memorial Museum

Gandhi Memorial Museum

An important place to visit in the city of Madurai is the symbol of non-violence and peace, the Gandhi Memorial Museum. Built many years after his assassination, it is one of the five Gandhi Sanghralayas in the country. Among the items displayed at the museum are the letters written by Mahatma Gandhi to various people including the rather interesting letter to Adolf Hitler.

Photo Courtesy: Karthikeyan Balasundaram

Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam

Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam

A trip to the temple city of Madurai is incomplete without visiting the Temple Tank or Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam. A temple pond or tank usually holds great religious significance and is a popular feature in many temples of the south. The waters are considered sacred and devotees come here to take a dip during religious festivals and other important dates. The tank is linked to the river Vaigai and has granite stairs leading down to it on all four sides. The months between January-February see a lot of festivals at the Teppakulam.

Photo Courtesy: எஸ்ஸார்

Alagar Kovil

Alagar Kovil

The temple Algar Kovil is located 20 km from the city and is among the must-visit places of Madurai. The temple has interesting architecture, with the sculptures in the Gopurams depicting scenes of love and human passion. It is considered an important symbol of art and culture. The interesting feature to note is that the main tower of this temple always remains closed and is only opened once in a year. The entrance and door is worshipped by the devotees.

Photo Courtesy: Vinoth Chandar

Food in Madurai

Food in Madurai

Like most South Indian destinations, Madurai will also offer you the traditional vegetarian meals of Sambhar, Vatha Kulambu, Kootu, Poriyals, Rasam and curd with the accompaniments of appalam, pickle and sweet. For the non-vegetarians, head over to the Amma Mess on Alagar Kovil street for a gastronomical treat!

Photo Courtesy: Jennifer

Shopping at Madurai

Shopping at Madurai

The city of Madurai is known for the textile industry and you can buy cotton, Batik and Sungundi sarees at good rates. For arts and handicrafts, it is best you head over to the Government Handicraft Emporium, you can also check the Poopuhar Handicraft outlets in the city.

Photo Courtesy: J'ram DJ

How To Reach Madurai

How To Reach Madurai

By Road: Private and state transport buses are available to Madurai from most major cities in South India. Chennai is located 464 km away from Madurai. Coimbatore is the closest major city in Tamil Nadu at a distance of 221 km.

By Rail: The Madurai railway station is well connected by trains to most major cities in the country. Direct trains to Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore are available.

By Air: Madurai Airport is situated 10 km from the city and flights are available to most major cities in India. The nearest international airport is in Chennai.

Time to visit: The ideal time to visit Madurai is any time of the year except summers.

Photo Courtesy: Nsiddhu

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