Meenakshi Temple At Madurai

Indra, the King of Heaven, was once challenged by a demon hero, Britta. On the banks of the Manasarovara in the Himalayas, a fierce battle was fought between the two and it continued for 100 years. Indra of course, finally killed the demon, but he did that more through a trick than through his strength.

Though Britta was a demon, he had performed years of penance through which he had gained the virtues of a Brahmin. To kill a Brahmin was a great sin. Awful consequences were bound to follow.

Indra wandered on earth repenting and praying for purification. One day, as he was passing through a dense forest near the ancient kingdom of Kalyanpur, he suddenly felt a certain peace in his heart.

"This forest seems to be a blessed place!" Indra told himself and surveyed it carefully. Soon he came across a piece of stone which appeared to be the symbol of Lore Shiva. Indra camped there and spent a long time worshipping the symbol. By Shiva's grace, his period of agony was over and he returned to heaven.

The King of Kalyanpur was a pious man. He realised that the forest was blessed with Shiva's presence He built his capital there. But he could not decide what the name of the new city should be.

One night, the king dreamt that Shiva was sprinkling sweet nectar over the city. The king took the hint and named his new capital Madhurapura, the Sweet City. In course of time Madhurapura came to be called Madurai.

Madurai is perhaps the oldest city in South India; It is famous all over the world for its grand temple of Goddess Meenakshi, which stands in the centre of the city. About three thousand years ago, the king of Vijayanagar performed a sacrifice in the hope of gaining son. But his wife gave birth to a daughter. She was named Meenakshi - 'Meena" meaning fish, and 'Akshi' meaning eye. In ancient India the fish was an ideal simile for well shaped eyes.

Meenakshi succeeded her father to the throne. She was beautiful, brave and noble. As her fame spread far and wide, the rulers of nearby kingdoms became jealous of her. On some silly excuse they marched into her realm together, sure of defeating her and sharing her kingdom among themselves.

Meenakshi stormed into the invading armies. As she rode through them, her sword sizzled and flashed like lightning, striking them down by the dozen. Soon all of them fell at her feet, either dead or in submission.

Meenakshi galloped forth to see if there were more enemies hiding inside the forest. Suddenly a stranger emerged before her. She raised her sword, taking the stranger to be an enemy-king. But on looking at him, she blushed. He was none other than Shiva. Meenakshi was really Parvati.

So they met on the earth and were married. The marriage was a great occasion of joy for both men and gods.

A slightly embarrassing situation arose when one of the chief attendants of Shiva, Gondodara, chose to express his joy in a novel way. He went on eating. Time and again his plates were filled, but were soon empty. Day and night he sat eating, till the food minister of the bride's palace was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He at last reported the matter to Meenakshi. The smiling Meenakshi, came out with a dish of sweets and gave them to Gondodara. He finished them greatfully and got up, thoroughly satisfied.

Gondodara then wanted to drink water. If the quantity of food he had devoured was any indication of the quantity of water he might wish to drink, then there was no use trying to satisfy him with the water that could be drawn from the well in the palace. Meenakshi said to him, "Bhaigai!" which meant, 'Put your hand down!" Gondodara obeyed her. At once there sprang up a river under his hand. He drank to his heart's content. The river known as Vaigai, flows on to this day.

The temple complex of Meenakshi, which includes the shrine of Shiva, known as Sun-dareswara, strikes one as magnificent. Monuments belonging to the outer parts of the old temple were destroyed by Malik Kafur who invaded Madurai in the early 14th century. Luckily, he did not get a chance to destroy the shrines of Meenakshi and Sundareswara because a serious quarrel broke out among his soldiers and he had to retreat in haste.

Viswanath Naik, who ruled Madurai in the 16th century, began rebuilding the temple. Generations of rulers contributed to make the complex as grand and vast as we see it today.

There are ten majestic gopurams (gateways) around the temple. One is immediately struck by the grandeur of the four outer gopurams. They look alike, but the motifs of the charming carvings on them are all different. The southern pillar is 46 metres high - the highest of all. Near this are the five musical pillars. Each pillar has 22 bars carved out of a single block of granite. When tapped they produce melodious musical sounds.

The other interesting feature of the temple is a hall with 1000 pillars full of lovely sculptures. This was built in the 16th century.

There is the Golden Lotus Tank, said to be the pool in which Indra bathed. For a long time, a literary academy used to hold its sessions near the tank. It was believed that if a new manuscript, when thrown into the tank, floated instead of sinking, it had true value.

The goddess Meenakshi has a brother nearby. He is Sri Sundarajaswami, the deity of Alagar temple. About 18 kilometres to the north-east of Madurai, the temple is situated at the bottom of a nine-kilometre-high hill with a cool spring at its top. The deity of Alagar comes once in a year to the city of his sister. There are several mandapams on the route where the deity rests on his way to and from Madurai.

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