Our second trip. Our friend’s wedding was what we were in Madurai for. Madurai is a small yet busy town about 400 kms south of the capital city Chennai. We took a night-train from Chennai and reached Madurai the next morning. Madurai is known as the Town That Never Sleeps and it stays true to its word! It just never ceases to buzz.We rented a room in a lodge near the famed Meenakshi temple. It’s been quite some time since my last visit to Madurai and got to experience it in its full glory.
The Meenakshi Temple– the medieval architectural splendor that never fails to stump me every time I set foot here. By the way though I have been here quite a few times i just noticed , the temple is humongous! We made our entrance through the North Tower or Vadakku Gopuram. The main deity here is Goddess Meenakshi (Goddess Parvathi) and her consort being Lord Shiva named here as Lord Sundareshwarar. Though it is a Shiva temple, the temple is dedicated to Meenakshi , one of the few temples to be so which makes it special.
We got through to the inner sanctum of Lord Shiva ( Word of caution: Visit the Goddesses’ sanctum first!)easily because we were quite early.But the real deal was visiting the goddess because the queue was quite intimidating ,yet we weren’t left waiting for too long and were let in after about half an hour of waiting. Both the lord and goddess looked absolutely ethereal in the light of the oil lamps decked only in flowers and raw silk . As we exited the sanctum sanctorum of The Goddess, there were beautiful murals depicting Meenakshi’s human life (She is an avatar of Goddess Parvathi)) through her childhood to her adulthood and how she re-united with Lord Shiva eventually.These murals had been newly added and created quite a stir among the devotees.
We wandered aimlessly through the portico surrounding the temple tank , the courtyard, and then entered the temple museum set in the HALL OF THE THOUSAND PILLARS (Yes, it is a hall supported by a thousand acoustically and artistically carved pillars). The sculptures on the pillars are exquisite.One interesting thing we found was a huge ornately carved wooden door, which could be the oldest things to adorn the temple. Deteriorating ,yet its grandiose and magnificence unparalleled.
The most sculpture in the hall of the Yali, a mythical creature consisting of body of a lion with an elephant’s head [ring any bell? *cough *Egypt *Egypt*!]. Had our prasadam [ rice mixed with yogurt], clicked a few more pictures and returned to our room.
We then started from our room again to the resplendent “Thirumalai Naicker Mahal”. I had heard so much about this palace, hence was so excited to visit it. We paid the minimal entry fee to visit it. My husband who is usually sane, goes into a picture clicking frenzy when the sight is one to behold and oh was it!. The moment you set foot in the palace you can truly feel the opulence and not help but marvel at the sheer size of the thing and how extravagant a life the Naicker kings who ruled from here must have had. King Thirumalai Naicker built this beast with help from an Italian architect and the European influence is clearly evident in the sculptures that seem to be holding the pillars together.
Once you see each and every ornately sculpted detail the goosebumps are imminent. Only 1/3rd of the original palace stand now since the rest was destroyed by the descendants of the king Thirumalai Naicker. The one and the most disappointing thing was ,the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)dra who are currently in charge of the maintenance of the palace aren’t doing a stellar job [ not blaming then, since the reason might be lack of funds or interests in safe-keeping this rare jewel] ,the visitors add to the woes too all these gigantic pillars have been written on for years and years, filled with hundreds and thousands of the names of the tourists, why they were there,pictures of hearts and arrows through them and What not! [ this totally disgusted me!].
There is also a museum adjacent to the main hall, housed in the Dance hall. It has many paintings ,historic sculptures, remnants of earthenware of the pre-historic and historic times, stone tools, stone inscriptions written in Old Tamil(which I could not understand 😦 ). The entire palace presents to us an amalgamation of the rich Pre-historic periods in the Dravidian heritage and culture. The only thought that plagued my mind when the people mindlessly scribbled on the walls was that they are oblivious of the idea that this palace was once adored, feared, respected and entertained our ancestors in a way we would never know. If only we could peek back in time to experience the extraordinary lives of our ancestors devoid of the anarchy that now fills and surrounds this beautiful city of Madurai!