The Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple (twin temples) is one of the biggest temples in India. The original temple built by Kulasekara Pandyan was in ruins. The plan for the current temple structure was laid by Viswanath Naik and was completed by Tirumalai Nayakar. The Aadi, Chittirai and the Maasi, and Veli streets surround the temple. Both temples are adorned with exquisite carvings & sculptures and gold plated vimanams.
There are 12 massive gopurams in the temple, the four tallest gopurams at the outer walls (The tallest is the southern gopuram, measuring 49 metres). There are four entrances. The main entrance is to the Meenakshi Amman shrine.
Ashta Shakthi Mandapam is reached from the eastern gateway. It was built by Thirumalai Nayakar's wives Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholimamai. The scenes from the Thiruvilayadals of the Lord and from Meenakshi Amman's life as a princess are depicted on the pillars of this mandapam. The golden lotus pond (Potraamarai Kulam) is located to the left of the Meenakshi shrine. The Tamil Sangam used to value the literary works by placing them in the waters of this tank. Only those works which rose back to the surface were accepted as great masterpieces. Tiruvalluvar's Tirukkural was accepted at this pond. On the western side of this tank are the Oonjal Mandapam with the deities and the Kilikootu Mandapam (hall of parrots), with parrots chanting the name of Meenakshi. Every Friday the gold idols of the Lord & Meenakshi are placed on the Oonjal (swing ) & worshipped with hymns & offerings. Sundareswarar gives darshan in the form of a linga, supported by 64 bhootaganas, 32 lions and 8 elephants. He is also known by other names such as Chokkanathar, Karpurachokkar. The stump of the Kadamba tree under which Indra worshipped the Lord can be seen in the outer corridor. The Kampathadi Mandapam and Velli Ambalam are situated in the outer corridor. The scenes from the wedding cermeony of Sundareswarar & Meenakshi are depicted in the pillars of this hall. This place is one of the 5 (Pancha Sabhais) sabhas of Nataraja where Siva dances. (The other dance halls are Chidambaram, Tiruvaalankadu, Tirunelveli and Kutralam). There is a unique idol of Nataraja dancing with his right leg raised to the shoulder instead of the left. The Lord is considered to have danced thus, at the request of King Rajasekara Pandyan. Since the idol of Nataraja is covered with silver leaves, it is called Velli (silver) Ambalam. Legends from the Tiruvilayaadal Puraanam are depicted on the walls of the temple. The idols of Saraswathi, Durgai, Siddhar, Lakshmi, Kasi Viswanathar, Lingodhbava murti, Nayanmars can be worshipped in the outer prakara. The holy Kadamba tree is also preserved & worshipped. The thousand pillared hall is an architectural & engineering marvel, built in the 16th century. The pillars have the Yazhi figure sculpted on them. There are musical granite pillars just outside this mandapam, which when struck yield different musical notes. On the east is the Vasantha Mandapam or the Pudhu Mandapam. Scenes of the wedding & life-size figures of the Nayak rulers can be seen here. There is a huge idol of Lord Ganesha as you move from the kilikoontu mandapam to Lord Sundareswarar's sannadhi. This Ganesha known as Mukkuruni Vinayakar was unearthed by Tirumalai nayakar while he was digging a temple tank 3 kms from the Meenakshi Amman temple. Madurai is also known as the festival city. All the usual festivals are celebrated, yet the Chithirai festival that is held in April/May (for 3 days), is very important when the celestial marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar is celebrated, drawing a huge crowd of people from all over the state.
Goddess Parvathi was reborn as Meenakshi (eyes like a fish). Malayadhwaja Pandyan & his wife Kanchanamala performed the Puthrakameshthiyaga, praying for a child. Meenakshi was born with three breasts from the sacrificial fire. The king was upset, but was pacified by a divine voice that the third breast would vanish, when Meenakshi met the man she was to marry. They named her Thadaathakai and she grew up to be a daring queen, gaining victory in all her conquests. During her conquests, she met Lord Siva in Kailasam, and instantly her third breast vanished. Lord Siva bade her to return to Madurai, with the promise that he would marry her in 8 days. Lord Siva appeared as Sundareswarar to wed Meenakshi who was given away in marraige by her brother Lord Vishnu. This scene is seen depicted in the temple. Meenakshi & Sundareswarar ruled Madurai before returning to Kailasam. A lotus shaped city is said to have been built by the Pandyan king Kulasekhara around the siva linga worshipped by Indra in the forest of Kadamba trees. When Lord Siva came to bless them, nectar dripped from his matted locks & hence the city was named Madhurapuri (madhu - honey), & is now known as Madurai.
Photo of MADURAI MEENAKSHI AMMAN DECORATED WITH ONE LAKH GLASS BANGLES featured in Sakthi Vikatan magazine