Madurai is known as the Athens of the East. One of Tamil Nadu’s major cities, it is a famous tourism spot and also a centre for religion. Madurai has a rich history dating from the Mauryan times. One of the Greek ambassadors to Chandragupta Maurya was so awestruck by the city that he gave it the title of the Athens of the East. Madurai was ruled by several dynasties and rulers, switching hands from one ruler to the next. For a while it was an autonomous state, with its own Sultan. With such a cultural and historical significance, it became a centre of religious worship. Here are five of the most famous temples in Madurai.
1. Meenakshi Amman Temple
The city of Madurai is built around this massive temple complex. Arriving at the city the first thing that should catch your eye are the 14 gateway towers to this sprawling temple. The gateway towers are beautifully designed and are very colourful. The original temple was supposedly built during the 6th century BC, while the present buildings were built between the 16th and 17th centuries. Meenakshi Amman temple contains around 33,000 sculptures. The central shrine has two beautiful golden shrines to Meenakshi. The temple attracts thousands of people every day so be prepared to go through a crowd. Be sure to take your camera as there are numerous photo opportunities here as well.
2. Tirupparankunram Murugan Temple
One of the six abodes of lord Muruga on Earth, this beautifully designed temple is sure to strike you with awe. lord Muruga, also known as Kartikeya, is the Hindu God of War and the son of lord Shiva. Just 8 kilometres away from Madurai, this temple is carved in rock and is huge. The main shrine is dedicated to lord Muruga with shrines for lord Shiva, Vishnu, Vinayaka and Goddess Durga. This is one of the only temples where lord Shiva and lord Vishnu face each other. Tirupparankunram Murugan temple is supposedly ancient and the original building has stood in the place since the 7th century.
3. Alagar Kovil Temple
Alagar Kovil temple is an ancient temple just a few kilometres from Madurai. There are historical scriptures that have put this area under religious context for centuries. Scriptures provide information about a refuge for monks following Jainism and about a holy cow collapsing right where the temple now stands. The temple itself is made in the Dravidian style and has beautiful carvings on its facade. There is a holy spring near the temple. The golden canopy on the dome of the temple was made during the 13th century by king Sundara Pandian. With such immense history and lore behind it, this temple is a must visit.
4. Koodal Azhagar Temple
An enclosed and ancient temple said to be built during the 5th or 6th century CE, Koodal Azhagar temple is dedicated to lord Vishnu. With a five-tiered gateway tower, this temple is easy to spot. The main idol is meticulously carved out of granite. There is also a panchloha (five metals) idol of Vyuga, the temple’s festival deity. It is said that the shadow of the main shrine does not fall on the ground. With beautiful paintings this temple has a glorious and ancient charm. There are shrines to lord Krishna, Rama, Lakshmi Narayana, and Lakshmi Narasimha located in the temple compound as well. The Koodal Azhagar temple is one of the most important temples to people who worship lord Vishnu as their main deity. Be prepared for a crowd as many people come here to worship daily.
5. Pazhamudircholai Murugan Temple
Legend has it that the great poet and saint Avvaiyar was subjected to test from lord Muruga here. Avvaiyar found a boy sitting under a tree in this location, who asked her if she wanted ripe or unripe fruits. Too tired to argue with boy she asked for unripe fruits. While the boy went up the tree to fetch the fruits several fruits fell with sand on them. After blowing away the sand the boy proclaimed that Avvaiyar was blowing the ripe fruits as they were too hot. The boy was none other than lord Muruga. Pazhamudircholai Murugan temple is around 25 kilometres away from Madurai and is one of the adobes of lord Muruga. The temple itself is small but its history and culture is vast. It is a great place to visit for those who want to learn more about lore and culture.
Madurai is filled with temples, big and small. Each has their own little history and story behind it making Madurai a new experience every step you take. With such a rich cultural and religious background, one must take some time to visit this ancient city which ancient scholars proclaimed as the Athens in the East.