History of Meenakshi Temple
It is believed that the temple is founded by Lord Indra while he was on a pilgrimage to atone for his misdeeds. According to legends, Indra felt his burden lifting as he proceeded towards the swayambu lingam of Madurai. He credited this miracle to the lingam and out of respect he built the temple to enshrine it.
Thirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Saiva philosophy also mentioned about this temple and described the god as Aalavai Iraivan. Legends are also of the opinion that the temple was sacked by the infamous Muslim invader Malik Kafur in the year 1310. Then under the supervision of Ariyanatha Mudaliar (the prime minister of the Nayak Dynasty) an initiative to reconstruct the temple was taken by first Nayak king of Madurai. It is said that the original design of the temple by Vishwanatha Nayak was substantially extended to the current structure during the reign of Thirumalai Nayak.
Architecture of Meenakshi Temple
The Meenakshi temple is one of the largest complexes in Tamil Nadu. It boasts an excellent work of Dravidian architecture and the complex is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular enclosures contained by high masonry walls. The fact that the temple is designed with four entrances facing four directions makes it unique among others. The temple is known for the beautiful Gopuram, Mandapam, shrine and Porthamarai Kulam.
Gopuram means gateway tower. The temple is surrounded by ten gopuram. The tallest among them which was built in the year 1559 rises to over 170 ft. These gateway towers are covered from top to bottom in an abundance of multi-coloured images of gods, goddesses, animals and mythical figures.
Total three enclosures surround the central shrine of Meenakshi Amman temple and her consort Sundareswarar. Each of the enclosures is protected by four minor towers at the four points of the compass. The Meenakshi shrine features the emerald-hued image of Meenakshi and the Sundareswarar shrine is positioned at the centre of the complex. The temple also has a tall sculpture of Ganesh which is carved of single stone. It is located outside the Sundareswarar shrine in the path from Meenashi shrine.
Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam also called 'Hall of 100 pillars' is another attraction of this temple. The hall was constructed by Ariyanatha Mudaliar in the year 1569. It is designed with two rows of pillars carved with images of mythological figures. Each pillar is a carved monument of the Dravidian sculpture. The hall also houses a Temple Art Museum which depicts icons, photographs, drawings etc of the 1200 years old history of the temple.
Porthamarai Kulam or the temple tank is quite artistically designed. Legends are of the opinion that Lord Shiva promised a stork that marine life would grow here and thus no marine animals are found in the lake.
Festivals of Meenakshi Temple
It is said that the people of the city wake up, not by the call of nature but by the chant of hymns at the temple. All the major festivals of Tamil Nadu are celebrated here with gaiety, most important being the Cittirai festival that is held in April/May, when the celestial marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar is celebrated, drawing a huge crowd of people from all over the state. The sculpted pillars are adorned with the exquisite murals that celebrate the ethereal beauty of princess Meenakshi and the scenes of her wedding with Lord Shiva. At the Sundareswarar temple across the courtyard, Lord Shiva is represented as a lingam. The pillars depict scenes from the wedding of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar.