Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

Meenakshi Temple

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]For ages, India has been known as the land of a rich heritage of art, culture, and faith in the almighty. Since ancient times, people have expressed their faith and gratitude to the gods they believe in. And that’s a testimony to many grand temples that we see today. Meenakshi Temple in Madurai is a beautiful example of that.


Meenakshi Temple:

Location Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Presiding Deities Goddess Meenakshi (Parvati) and Lord Shiva
Architecture Dravidian style
Also known Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple



Also called Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple’, the temple is dedicated to ‘Thirukamakottam Udaya Aaludaiya Nachiyar’, popularly known as Goddess Meenakshi or ‘Meenakshi Amman’ in the local language. The temple is dedicated to Meenakshi, a form of Parvati, and her consort Sunadareshwar, who is no one other than Lord Shiva himself. Hence another name of this temple is ‘Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple’. The word ‘Arulmigu’ is from the Tamil language, which means ‘very kind’. So, in simple words, it means ‘the temple of the very kind Parvati and Shiva’.

            This great Hindu temple is located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River in the holy city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. In the Tamil Sangam literature, Madurai has been referred to as the ancient temple city, and Meenakshi temple is at the center of the city.

Meenakshi is believed to be one of the 3 most powerful forms of Shakti – the other two being Kamakshi and Visalakshi. That is why, in earlier literature, Goddess Meenakshi has been mentioned as a fierce, unmarried goddess. Her other popular names in Tamil are Aṅgayaṟkaṇṇi or Aṅgayaṟkaṇṇammai (meaning ‘the mother with the beautiful fish eyes’).

As per some ancient literature, Meenakshi was the princess and later the queen of Pandya kingdom, who married Lord Shiva and attained the status of godhood.



Meenakshi Temple Outside View
Meenakshi Temple Outside View, Madurai

Origin of the word ‘Meenakshi’:

The word Meenakshi has been derived from two Sanskrit words ‘Meen + Akshi’, which means ‘fish-eyed’. She was earlier known by a Tamil name, ‘Taḍādakai’, which also means ‘the one with eyes like fish’.

Another interpretation of her name is due to the common qualities between a fish and Goddess. Just like fishes always keep their eyes open, the goddess always watches over her devotees.

Significance of the temple:

Meenakshi Temple is one of the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalam. The speciality of these temples is that the names of these temples are mentioned in the diving songs sung by three of the most revered Nayanars (Saivite saints), Appar, Sundarar and Tirugnana Sambandar. All these songs hail Lord Shiva.

For people belonging to Shaivism, this is an important pilgrimage destination. But apart from that, the temple also depicts Lord Vishnu in several narratives, sculptures and rituals. As per the belief, Lord Vishnu is Meenakshi’s brother. Due to this connection, sometimes Madurai and the temple are referred to as the “southern Mathura”.

The history of the temple:

Madurai is a very ancient city, more than 2,500 years old. The golden period of this city was during the rule of the Nayak dynasty. During this period, Madurai saw a huge growth in art, literature and learning. Several buildings and temples were built during their rule, one of them being the Meenakshi Temple. The temple has historic roots that date back to this period.

            With time, the temple lost its original glory, but the good times came again in the 6th century BC, when Kulashekarara, a king belonging to the Pandya dynasty gave orders to renovate the temple, as per the instructions given by Lord Shiva, who appeared in his dreams. He got the renovation done of the main parts of the three-storeyed gopuram at the entrance of Lord Shiva Shrine and the central portion of the Goddess Meenakshi Shrine, which had suffered huge damage.

            Maravarman Sundara Pandyan I built a gateway in the year and gave it the name ‘Avanivendaraman’. Then another gateway, called ‘Chitra gopuram’ was built by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan II. The name of this gateway has been derived from the various frescoes and reliefs that decorate it. The images depict secular and religious themes of Hindu culture. In addition, he also added a pillared corridor to the Sundareswara shrine and the Sundara Pandyan Mandapam.

In the early 14th century, a Muslim ruler from Delhi Sultanate attacked the temple and looted the valuables and destroyed the temple. After conquering the city, the Delhi Sultan appointed a Muslim governor and started the ‘Madurai Sultanate’.

According to one poetic legend, Ganga Devi, the wife of Kumara Kampana, a ruler from the Vijaynagar dynasty gets the credit for liberating Madurai. She gave her husband a sword and made him promise to liberate Madurai, correct the all wrong things and renovate the Meenakshi temple. The king succeeded in his attempt and restored, repaired, expanded the temple and opened it for the public. In the 16th century, Vishwanath Nayakar, a Nayak ruler expanded and fortified the temple.

The legend associated with the temple:

In ancient times, there was a royal couple, King Malayadhwaja Pandya and his queen Kanchanamalai, who did not have a child. They performed a ‘yajna’ to seek a son as their successor. But, they were blessed by a daughter, who emerged out of the holy fire. The daughter was already 3 years of age and had 3 breasts. The parents were disappointed. At this stage, Lord Shiva appeared and instructed them to take care of her like a son. And she would lose her third breast when she meets her husband. The royal couple followed the advice.

The girl was named Meenakshi, and she grew up into a very beautiful young woman, a woman with great valour. She challenged many mighty kings and defeated them. Then the king crowned her as his successor.

The legend has it, that she even captured Indralok and moved towards capturing Kailash

Parvat, the abode of Lord Shiva. When Lord Shiva appeared before Meenakshi, she lost her third breast. It was revealed that Meenakshi was actually an incarnation of Parvati who came to earth to honour a promise given to Kanchanamala in her previous birth. She realized that Lord Shiva is her better half. Meenakshi was married to Lord Shiva as ‘Sundareshwarar’ (one who is very handsome).

Since Meenakshi was a form of Parvati, her brother, Lord Vishnu handed her over to Lord

Shiva. Even today, the wedding ceremony is celebrated every year as ‘Chithirai Thiruvizha’ which is also known as ‘Tirukalyanam’ (the grand wedding). The couple ruled over the kingdom for several years before they left for their heavenly abode. The temple now stands at the same spot, where they left.

The architecture of the temple:

The Meenakshi temple is spread over a huge area of 14 acres. There are high walls, to protect the temple from attacks. If one takes an aerial view, the temple structure represents a mandala – a structure built as per the laws of symmetry and loci. There are several shrines built within the temple complex.

The temple has 2 main shrines – dedicated to Sundareswarar and Meenakshi. In addition, the temple has other shrines dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Krishna (playing the flute), Rukmini, Saraswati, Lord Ganesha, Lord Murugan (Kartikeya) and other Puranic deities.

The temple complex has a consecrated pond, which is called ‘Porthamarai Kulam’, which literally means ‘pond with a golden lotus.’  The pond has a golden lotus is placed at its centre. It is said that Lord Shiva blessed this pond and declared that no marine life would grow in it.

The temple has a total of 14 towering gateways (gopurams), which are a hallmark of this temple. All these gopurams look identical to each other. Out of these, four gopurams are very high. The tallest of these gopurams is on the south side, which has a height of 170 feet (52 meters). The eastern gopuram is the oldest one.



Aerial View Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
Aerial View Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

Main mandapams inside the temple:

Meenakshi Temple has several sculpted pillared halls (mandapams), which display thousands of sculptures and mythological stories from Hindu texts. The major mandapams are listed below:

         Nayaka Mandapam: This 100-pillared mandapam houses the famous Nataraj statue. The unique thing about this statute is that it has unlike typical Nataraj bronzes, which have their left leg in dance mudra; this one has his “right” leg up.

•           Unjal Mandapam: This mandapam is used currently for a Friday ritual. The idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are placed on a ‘jhoola’ (swing), every Friday evening and given as swing. It also has a model of an entire temple complex created in 1985.

•           Kambathadi Mandapam (H): The hall houses the 8 different forms of Lord Shiva, namely ‘Ardha-narishwara’ (half man, half woman), Rudra (an angry form of Shiva), Bhikshadanamurti (Shiva as a monk), Dakshinamurti (Shiva as yoga guru), Lingobhava (Shiva emerging out of a linga), Ekapathamurti, Rishaba, Somaskanda (Shiva, Parvati and Skanda), Chandrasekara, Nataraja (dancing Shiva), and Somasundara.

•           Ashta Shakthi Mandapam: Literally meaning, “the hall of 8 goddesses, the hall as 8 forms of goddess Shakti – Koumari, Roudri, Vaishnavi, Mahalakshmi, Yagnarupini, Shyamala, Maheswari and Manonmani carved on its pillars. These 8 forms depict Shaktism tradition

•           Kilikoondu Mandapam (Sangili Mandapam):  In Tamil, the word ‘Kilikondu’ means “parrot cage”, and signifies the old ritual, where trained parrots were kept here who chanted “Meenakshi”. The cages have been removed now, and instead, girls perform the kolattam dance, an acrobatic dance style that involves forming chains with long ropes hanging from the ceiling, which is why it is called sangili.

•           Kambatadi Mandapam: The hall has an idol of Nandi (the bull) in a seated pose. It has many idols including the famous “Marriage of Meenakshi” sculpture.

•           Kalyana Mandapam: It is in this mandap that the marriage ritual of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year during the Chithirai festival, and hence the name Kalyana meaning marriage.

•           Golu Mandapam: Built by a common man, Thittiyappa Chetti, this mandapam is used during the Navratri festival.

•           The Thousand-Pillared Hall: The hall actually has 985 pillars (and not 1000) and is a perfect blend of engineering and art



Meenakshi temple: Golden Lotus Pond
Golden Lotus Pond

Major Festivals:

Although all major festivals are celebrated here, two of the most popular festivals celebrated in Meenakshi Temple are the Chitrai festival and the Tirukalyanam festival. This festival attracts a lot of people from across the state.

            The 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival is another festival celebrated with great enthusiasm. A rath-yatra (chariot procession) is carried out during the Tamil month of Chittirai, which overlaps with the ‘Chaitra’ month of the Hindu calendar, and falls in April or May, as per the Georgian calendar.

            In addition to these two festivals, the temple also celebrates ‘Navratri’. During the 9 days of Navratri, goddess Meenakshi is decorated like a ‘golu’ doll, in 9 different forms on each day, which signifies the 9 forms of the goddess.


Goddess Parvati


Best time to visit Meenakshi Temple:

Meenakshi Temple opens up its doors at 4.00 am, and that’s the best time to visit it. With fewer people (though even at this hour, there are about 400 people waiting), you can have a good darshan and also attend the Mangala aarti at 5:00 am. .Evening is also a good time, as you can witness the night ceremony.

            In terms of months, October to March is the best time to visit Madurai, as the weather is perfect for sightseeing.

How to reach?

By Air: The nearest airport is Madurai, at a distance of 12 km from the temple. There are regular flights from many major Indian cities. There are international flights from Colombo and Dubai. Once you land at the airport, you can take a cab easily.

By Train: The nearest railway station is Madurai, which is connected to the rest of India by an extensive rail network. There are several direct trains connecting Madurai with major cities of the country.

By Road:  Tamil Nadu has a good road network that connects Madurai with other cities. Madurai is connected by state and national highways. The nearby cities are: Tiruchirappalli (115 km), Tirunelveli (141 km), Thanjavur (149 km), Coimbatore 170 km), and Chennai (460 km).

Final words:

The main deity at Meenakshi Temple is Goddess Meenakshi. So, the temple signifies the importance of women in a Tamil Hindu family. It also signifies the convergence of three major Hindu beliefs – Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism. About this temple, common people say that the people of Madurai wake up, not by the call of nature but by the chant of hymns at the temple. The temple attracts thousands of visitors every day.




Q. 1: Who is Goddess Meenakshi?

Ans: Goddess Meenakshi is believed to be one of the three most powerful forms of Shakti.

Q. 2: Who are the three most powerful forms of Shakti?

Ans: Meenakshi, Kamakshi, and Visalakshi

Q. 3: What is the literal meaning of Kamakshi?

Ans: There are several interpretations to this. Most people believe that Meenakshi comes from Sanskrit words ‘Meen + Akshi’, which means ‘fish-eyed’. She was earlier known by a Tamil name, ‘Taḍādakai’, which also means ‘the one with eyes like fish’.

Another interpretation of her name is due to the common qualities between a fish and Goddess. Just like fishes always keep their eyes open, the goddess always watches over her devotees.

Q. 4: What is Arulmigu Meenakshi Sundareshwarar Temple more commonly known as?

Ans: Meenakshi Temple at Madurai

Q. 5: What in ‘golu’ doll?

Ans: In Meenakshi Temple, during the ‘Navratri’ festival, goddess Meenakshi is decorated like a ‘golu’ doll, in 9 different forms on each day, which signifies the 9 forms of the goddess.


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