Madurai is named as the Koil maanagar - the temple city. Isn't it befitting ?
It is named so for a reason !!
As the name suggests, Madurai is enriched with temples that fill us with the spiritual serenity!!
The name Madurai itself has a mythological story around it. Lord Shiva is said to have shown up here and drops of nectar from his hair fell on this town. In this way, the spot was named Madurai – mathuram signifying "sweetness" in Tamil.
I really hope that I could spell the magnificence that I witnessed in words. I will tell you all about my visit to ‘Thoonga Nagaram’ where I went hopping temples for two days !! And I went on Vaikunda Ekadasi day, just to witness the beauty of Azhagar.
The beauty of Madurai Temples is how it balances between the Shaivism and Vaishnavism. Take even the Chithirai Thiruvizha, the festival brings both the sects of people together. I am unfolding all these stories as you read.
This south Indian city has an uncommon appeal that can be capable through its rich social legacy. Set up around an immense sanctuary built by Pandian King Kulasekhara (around 2500 years prior), it was prior alluded to as 'Madhurapuri'.
Nonetheless, this city came into spotlight during the Sangam time frame through the third and last assembling of Tamil researchers, which existed for over 100 years. The city filled in as the brilliant capital of Pandya lords and had been investigated by different voyagers like Megasthenes, Ptolemy, Pliny, Ibn Batuta and Marco Polo and so forth.
Madurai temples are an embodiment of love symbolised by Shiva and Parvati, grandeur and royalty with a rich past and heritage. Today, I will take you to a personified physical visit ( well, I did physically visit that ! ) to the top temples in Madurai.
So, I started the journey with Meenakshi Amman temple that was shining across Madurai.
Meenakshi Amman Temple
As soon as I entered this marvel, the aura of optimism and peace struck me. The name has the mystery of this magnificent place !!
Meenakshi Amman Temple, also called Minakshi-Sundareshwara Temple, is one of the most seasoned and most significant temples in India. Situated in the city of Madurai, the temple was built by king Kulashekarar Pandyan, has an extraordinary legendary and verifiable importance. Any visit to Madurai is incomplete without visiting this temple.
I hope you have already read my blog on the architecture and virtual tour of Madurai Temple, if not here is the quick link - Madurai Meenakshi Amman History and Virtual Tour
During the 'Thirukalyanam Festival,' which happens over a period of 10 days, the temple pulls in excess of 1,000,000 devotees and Madurai lovers. In spite of the crowd, it was named the 'Best Swachh Iconic Place' (cleanest famous spot) in India. Unfortunately, I could not witness that; but the local folks established its importance just right.
Not just that, it has plenty of stories too.
Let's dive into it !!
Meenakshi, a three-breasted girl emerged from a Yajna in which king Malayadwaja Pandya prayed for a son. It was suggested by a divine voice, of the third breast disappearing when Meenakshi would spot her husband, and it did as she saw Lord Shiva. They were wedded at Madurai, wherein Meenakshi was Parvati herself.
Well, this temple will be praised across generations as it established the importance of women in Hindu Mythology, and of architectural marvels, embedded with gateways and mandapas. None, including me, could ever capture its beauty.
The sanctuary additionally depicts the cheerful connection between Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism. The Sundareswarar altar is known as one fifth of 'Pancha Sabhai' (five courts) where Lord Shiva is accepted to have played out the astronomical dance. Worship chiefly includes
customs and parades.
But, just like a river, I had to move on however the flow wanted me to stop her for the whole stay.
So, my next stop was Sri Koodal Azhagar temple.
Koodal Azhagar Temple
‘The Handsome one’ !! Thats the downright translation of Azhagar, the name itself mesmerised me !! There are two Azhagars in Madurai and let us first visit the Koodal Azhagar Temple.
This antiquated temple of Madurai is found very near the Meenakshi Amman Temple. A crucial part of Madurai visit as it is one of the 108 Lord Vishnu's sacred dwelling places (Divya Desams).
This marvel was built during Pandya rule, while the columns and sanctum were grown later during Vijayanagar line and the standard of Madurai Nayak lords. I was quite taken aback by its history.
The mythology attached with it goes like this;
VishnuChitta, visits the court of the Pandya king Vallabhadeva, to explain the concepts from Veda and as to how to attain salvation. The king pleased by his explanation, gifts him with gold and sends him home. The crowd and the king were so pleased that he is taken in a procession to Srivilliputhur, his birth town. And during the procession he get the vision of Azhagar aka Perumal that he starts reciting verses on Lord Vishnu. And thus he gets to be the foremost of twelve the Alwars, and named as Periazhwar.
The name Koodal Azhagar is born out of another story. When the world is in the verge of destruction, everyone sought protection under the Azhagar. As in he brought them all together - Koodal (unison).
I was here on Vaikunta Ekadasi when the heavenly doors are kept open. I got to say I was truly blessed to be there on such an auspicious occasion. Everything was very well organised. You can also visit the rooftop of the temple and get a good view of all the gopurams. The sanctum is kind of three storeys. So even the upper part of Gopurams have the Vishnu shrine.
Keeping the beauty in my heart, I moved onto the next stop. Madurai certainly has a lot to offer..
Madana Gopala Swamy Temple
Madana Gopala Swamy Temple, a Lord Krishna temple in Madurai city. I unraveled that the Temple isn't very notable among travellers and is visited more by local people. Considering it is at a walkable distance from the ones above, I was surprised to see people not visiting here.
It is said that after wedding with Goddess Meenakshi, Lord Shiva went into deep meditation before taking the throne of Madurai as King. But he got so immersed in meditation that heat was emanating from His body, burning down the earth. While the Devas feared the universe might get destroyed, Vishnu comes to the rescue. He starts to play flute melodiously that Shiva gets awakened out of His meditation. And hence Vishnu in the form of Lord Krishna also finds a spot in Madurai as Madana Gopala Swamy.
It is also said that Goddess Andal paid her visit here on her way to SriRangam before her wedding.
The overall conviction is that, one who tries to sparkle as artists, result in these present circumstances sanctuary look for endowments. This temple too you can walk to the upper floors of the gopuram and take Lord's blessings.
Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated with incredible excitement being a Krishna temple and Vaikuntha Ekadashi is celebrated as well.
Immayilum Nanmai Tharuvar Sivan Temple
Next, I stopped at the ‘Kailash on earth’ which is considered as one of the Pancha Bootha Sthalams of Madurai locale. The name is what drew me to this temple. It literally translates to blessing you or give you happiness in the present life.
The story continues same as above. So this is where Shiva did meditation by praying to a Lingam. And it makes sense cos the temples are right next to each other.
This temple has Shivalinga facing the west. This is because usually people perform pooja to Lingam by facing west side and here Shiva is performing pooja to the Lingam facing west. People come here to absolve their sins. That is what pretty much the name reads too. Not a surprise, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It almost felt as if I was a patron of Lord Shiva having visited so many abodes of him.
Once you are done with these two temples you can just walk down the street and gobble up some Idlis at the nearby Murugan Idli shop. I became a fan of the delicious delight here and I would want you to try it too !!
After a wholesome lunch, I moved on with my adventure. Next took a cab to the Thiruparankundram temple.
Thiruparankundram Temple was a marvel of the eighth century during the Pandyan rule. The main deity being Lord Murugan, this temple also has separate sanctuaries for Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga, Lord Vinayaka, standing adjacent to each other. It is a rock cut temple.
This temple is among the six principle altars known as "Aaru padai veedu" of Lord Murugan who is also known with the name of Subramanya.
Just like the others, its legend is also worth knowing !!
So if you have observed Lord Murugar, he has two vehicles or pets for a more modern term. One is a rooster and another is a peacock. Murugan is born to destroy Surapadman and the festival is celebrated as Surasamharam. It is a grand occasion in Thiruchendur where the final war was held. Surapadman had imprisoned the lord of devas, Indra as well. Once Surapadman was killed by Lord Murugan, he requests to take a different form and serve Karthikeyan. And so Murugar / Karthikeya turns him into rooster and peacock.
Pleased that the demon has now been killed, Lord Indra gives his daughter Deivayanai in marriage to Lord Murugar. And that happens in Thiruparankundram. This is the motivation behind why this sanctuary is considered to perhaps be the most favorable spot for relationships and marriages.
My visit was close to the Thai Poosam festival. So the devotees who fast through for the festival were thronging it. I took a special darshan ticket which was still heck crowded. There is a bit of a small steep climb. The cave temple with so many people chanting “Om Muruga” was reverberating through out the place. The statues are actually carvings on the Thriuparankundram rock. The beauty of the carvings are out of the world.
Well, so much of history in one day. This prompted me to put a stop to further excursions and rest after the dinner.
The next day rose with different surprises. I decided to start the historical tour with Thirumohur. The next few temples are away from Madurai and so suggest to hire a cab and cover it in a day.
A noticeable strict holy place, Thirumohoor Kalamegaperumal Temple is one of the 108 divya desams. Committed to Lord Vishnu, in this sanctuary Lord Vishnu is adored as Neelamega Perumal with his heavenly partner Goddess Lakshmi as Thirukannapuram Nayagi.
Found just 12 km from Madurai city, this blessed place of worship is visited by a large portion of the lovers who come for Madurai visit.
The huge temple tank filled with water lily is the first pleasant sight to welcome you. The main attraction of the town is the temple. And there are a couple of streets around the temple making it the quaint place that it is.
Spread over a territory of 2.5 sections of land, this temple presents a great illustration of creative engineering. Thirumohoor Kalamegaperumal Temple has been built in the Dravidian Style of engineering. This temple was initially worked during the rule of Pandyan King Sadaiya Varman Sundara Pandiyan.
There are two mainstream legends in regards to Thirumohoor Kalamegaperumal Temple. I was so interested in both equally.
As indicated by one legend, the evil demon Bhasmasura was honored by master Shiva who was satisfied with his prayers. The boon he got was whatever he touches turns into ash. Lord Vishnu took avatar as Mohini, the pretty damsel and she lured Bhasmasura ( he got the boon that whatever he touches turns into ashes). But that's also the story of Yana caves where the soil feels like soot. Maybe She lured him here and they danced all the way up to Gokarna before he touched his head and turned into ash.
As indicated by another legend, during the samudra manthan / parkadal kadaithal by Asuras and Devas, the Devas were worried that asuras might take amrit (elixir of life) and become immortals. Therefore they seek Lord Vishnu's assistance to have the nectar just for them. Vishnu appears as Mohini, allures the asuras, flicks away the nectar pot and the devas get to live.
So whichever be the story, we can conclude that this is where Mohini avatar took place. Feeling full with divinity and serenity I moved on to my next destination, Yana malai.
Yanai Malai Narasingham Yoga Narasimha Perumal
The place actually denotes ‘elephant hill’ and trust me, it does look like one !! A single huge rock that looks like an elephant lying down. And you can see it from afar as you drive towards it. It is a huge stretch of one big rock.
Narasingam Yoga Narasimha Perumal Temple is arranged at the foot of Yanaimalai. It is a cavern sanctuary where Lord Vishnu's another avatar, Narasimha is the managing divinity. Cavern sanctuary as in rock cut temple or what in tamil it is callead "Kudaivarai Kovil". Meaning you carve through the rock. The legend of this temple is as gigantic as the elephant rock!
As indicated by the legend, a sage named Romasa installed the Narasimha symbol in this cave to perform penance. And Lord Narasimha appears in the "ugra" form meaning His Angry form. So the sage seeks help of Prahlada to quiet the Lord and Narasimha's anger calms down. Lord Narasimha then gives darshan to Sage Romasa and settled here as Yoga Narasimha.
This temple was told to me by many that it is a very powerful temple and a must visit. Not just the folks from Madurai, the folks I met in Chettinad also mentioned it. Quite a famous one.
After a breath of fresh air, I moved onto Pazhamudir Cholai.
Pazhamudir Solai Murugan Temple
Found 25 km away from Madurai, Pazhamudhircholai is one among the 6 unmistakable homes of Lord Muruga, called as "Arupadaiveedu". We have already seen Thiruparankundram to be one among it.
Pazhamudircholai literally means a garden of fruits, and orchards. And it is said that Goddess Valli who is the consort of Lord Murugan grew up here. The place still looks the same. Green forest, thick foliage, plenty of vegetation and fruits that monkeys just rule here.
Since Lord Murugar met Valli here and married her, even today you can see many devotees getting married here. Ruler Muruga is seen in the sanctum with his two heavenly consorts Goddesses Valli and Deivayanai.
The other famous story here is from Thiruvilayadal. Tamilians are familiar with Avvaiyar, in short a renowned poet from Tamil Nadu. And her devotional songs are a popular one. The episode of "sutta pazham vendumaa sudaadha pazham vendumaa" happened here. :) For my non tamil speaking friends, She sits under a tree, tired and sees a young lad atop a fruit bearing tree. She asks to drop some fruits for her and the boy says, "do you want hot ones or the cold ones!" She rebukes as "there is nothing as hot fruit! don't be silly, just give some fruit!" The boy then shakes the branch, fruits fall down, Avvaiyar picks up the fruit and she blows on it to remove dust. And that's when the boy exclaims, "Is it hot that you are blowing on it!" Avvaiyar is stunned and realises the boy is Lord Murugan himself being witty with her.
Pazhamudircholai is atop the hill and you can either climb the hill by foot or take your vehicle up there. There are steps that go through the jungle which seemed good apart from the monkeys.. There are also buses from the starting point of the hill that you can take. If you are walking, note that you might be encircled by a lot of monkeys !! So, please be cautious with your possessions while on the slope.
Here too you can take a special darshan ticket for easy access to the sanctum.
After darhsan, you can further climb up the hill to visit Noopura Gangai. This is a miraculous stream where the water does not dry up irrespective of the season and nobody is able to detect the source of it either. I skipped because of the crowd and covid times.
The next stop is to visit the famous Azhagar Kovil just at the foot of the same hill.
Kallazhagar Temple - Alagar Kovil
The temple I have been waiting to visit. Because I still remember fond memories from my childhood visiting here and gasping at the grandeur of the temple. And being a Vaishnavite my heart always beats a little extra for Vishnu. No prize for guessing, this is Lord Vishnu's adobe at the foothills of Alagar hills. And it is one of the 108 Divyadesams as well. I kept this temple as the last in my day's visit to spend maximum time possible.
There are two stories behind the name Kallazhagar. Azhagar means the handsome one. Kallar means thief. Once the area of Alagar hills was filled with thieves and their tribes and they worshipped Azhagar. And hence he gets the name. The other context is that he steals the heart of his devotees with his handsomeness. And I vouch for the second one.
But the story of thieves on Alagar hills is also associated with why Azhagar was not able to reach his sister's wedding on time, the Meenakshi Sundareshwarar's wedding. Goddess Meenakshi is considered His sister and he comes on a golden pony loaded with gifts, jewels and other stuff for the wedding to give away her hand. But then the Kallars (thieves) stop Him. This delays him in reaching the wedding and when he reaches Vaigai river to cross into Madurai, he realises the wedding is over.
Azhagar decides to return to Alagar hills angrily. Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar come to the Vaigai river to receive Him and seek His blessings. Till date this event is depicted as part of the Chithirai Thiruvizha. It is called as "Azhagar aatril yerangum vaibogam", literally translates to Alagar entering the river festival. Another tradition that is associated with it is to see what color silk Lord Vishnu wears for the occasion. It is picked out of a random lot and each color signifies one thing.
Alagar Kovil is huge. There are a lot of people thronging it too. Just before entering the temple you see a dilapidated entrance which shows how vast the temple could have been. The architecture is lovely on this gate too.
Walking further in shows a Karuppana Swami temple before the main gopuram entrance. The karupanna swami temple (local guardian) is a closed temple and apparently only once a year it is opened. And apparently the lord is represented as a sickle! Just opposite the temple is a temple tank. Apparently this was a recent discovery and it still looks mismanaged.
This temple being a busy temple we can see most of the sculptures white washed. The Azhagar is indeed steeling our hearts and is seen with His consorts. At some parts of the temple, you can still see the frescoes on the ceiling intact. There is a mandapam filled with human sized sculptures.
Kallazhagar and Alagar Kovil is such a beauty. I wish to visit it on a day when there is no crowd. The backdrop of Alagar hills and the serene temple still remains fresh in my mind.
Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam
Finally after so many temples, I visited some place that was different !!
Mariamman Teppakulam is a wonderful square tank spread over an immense territory of right around 16 sections of land, situated around 4 Kms East of Meenakshi Temple in Madurai City.
The tank is the location of the beautiful buoy celebration held in January/February to commend the birth commemoration of King Thirumalai Nayak, who assembled this tank. The divinities of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are put in a buoy, called "Teppam", adorned with blossoms and enlightened with hundred of lights. This buoy is taken around the tank to the sound of conventional music.
This is also a famous happening place at night. Families gather around the Teppakulam. Chatwala, corns, golgappas, even idli stalls come out. Some mini games are put up for show. And people have a good time.
Madurai was more of a delight than I thought !!
Samanar Hills aka Jain Temples around Madurai
Madurai is peppered around with Jain temples. There is even a story of Jain settlements in the yanai malai. I though had my eye on Samanar hills. It looked so offbeat and quite secluded. My cab driver who lives in Madurai also had no idea of Samanar hills. But the ASI guide I took in Madurai Meenakshi temple advised me not to go solo. Of course this was my solo trip and thought I would go. But he advised against it. I did not want to risk it or go against what the local residents say. So ya I didn't go.
But if you have your gang do go. And here is why - Read about Samanar hills @Lakshmi Sharath's blog.
Map of Madurai Temples
I have jotted down the paths to these temples, please find map of temples of Madurai below. Hope this helps you to plan your trip.