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Madurai

Madurai is a major city and cultural headquarters in the state of Tamil Naduin India. It is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and the 31st largest urban agglomeration in India. Madurai is the third largest city by area and third largest city by population in Tamil Nadu. Located on the banks of River Vaigai, Madurai has been a major settlement for two millennia and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

Architecture

Madurai is built around the Meenakshi Amman Temple, which acted as the geographic and ritual centre of the ancient city of Madurai. The city is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular streets around the temple. Vishwanatha Nayak (1529–64 CE), the first Madurai Nayak king, redesigned the city in accordance with the principles laid out by Shilpa Shastras (Sanskrit: śilpa śāstra, also anglicised as silpa sastra meaning rules of architecture) related to urban planning. These squares retain their traditional names of Aadi, Chittirai, Avani-moola and Masi streets, corresponding to the Tamil month names and also to the festivals associated. The temple prakarams (outer precincts of a temple) and streets accommodate an elobrate festival calendar in which dramatic processions circumambulate the shrines at varying distances from the centre. The temple chariots used in processions are progressively larger in size based on the size of the concentric streets. Ancient Tamil classics record the temple as the centre of the city and the surrounding streets appearing liken a lotus and its petals. The city’s axes were aligned with the four quarters of the compass, and the four gateways of the temple provided access to it. The wealthy and higher echelons of the society were placed in streets close to the temple, while the poorest were placed in the fringe streets. With the advent of British rule during the 19th century, Madurai became the headquarters of a large colonial political complex and an industrial town; with urbanisation, the social hierarchical classes became unified.

Religious sites

Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located on the south side of the Vaigai River in Madurai and is one of the most prominent landmarks of the city. It is dedicated to Meenakshi and her consort, Sundareswarar. The complex houses 14 gopurams (gateway towers) ranging from 45–50 metres (148–164 ft) in height, the tallest being the southern tower, 51.9 metres (170 ft) high. There are also two golden sculptured vimana (shrines) over the sanctum of the main deities. The temple is a significant symbol for Tamils and has been mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature, though the present structure was built between 1623 and 1655 CE. The temple attracts on average 15,000 visitors a day, which grows to around 25,000 on Fridays. There are an estimated 33,000 sculptures in the temple, and it was in the list of top 30 nominees for the “New7Wonders of the World”.

Koodal Azhagar Temple is a Vishnu temple located in the city. It has idols of the Navagraha (nine planet deities), which are otherwise found only in Shiva temples. Alagar Koyil is a celebrated Vishnu temple 21 kilometres (13 mi) northeast of Madurai situated on the foothills of Solaimalai. The deity, Azhagar, is believed to be the brother of Meenakshi, the presiding deity at the Meenakshi temple. The festival calendars of these two temples overlap during the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam festival.Pazhamudircholai, one of the other six abodes of the Hindu god Murugan, is located atop the Solaimalai hill. Tirupparankunram is a hill 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) away from Madurai where the Hindu god Murugan is said to have married Deivanai. The temple is the first among the Six Abodes of Murugan and is one of the most visited tourist spots in Madurai, next only to the Meenakshi Amman Temple. The temple has a wide range of Hindu gods carved on the walls

Kazimar Big Mosque is the oldest Islamic place of worship in the city. It was constructed under the supervision of Kazi Syed Tajuddin, who is a descendant of Islamic Prophet Muhammad and the Madurai Maqbara is located inside the mosque. Kazi Syed Tajuddin came from Oman and received the piece of land as a gift from the Pandyan ruler Kulasekara Pandyan I, during the 13th century for the construction of the mosque. Goripalayam Mosque is located in Gorippalayam, the name of which is derived from the Persian word gor (“grave”) and the graves of Sulthan Alauddin, Sulthan Shamsuddeen and Sulthan Habibuddin who are part of the Delhi Sultanate who ruled Madurai for a shorter reign are found here. Tirupparankunram Dargah is located at the top of the Thiruparankundram hill where the cemetery of Sultan Sikandhar Badushah the then ruler of Jeddah and Madurai who travelled to India along with Sulthan Syed Ibrahim Shaheed of Ervadi during 12th century is located. St. Mary’s Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madurai. CSI church at South gate falling under the Madurai-Ramnad CSI Diocese is the headquarters for CSI Christians in the city.

Culture, Tourism and Entertainment

Madurai is popularly called Thoonga Nagaram meaning the city that never sleeps, on account of the active night life. The city attracts a large number of tourists from within the country and abroad. About 9,100,000 tourists visited Madurai in 2010, including 524,000 foreigners. Madurai is now attracting medical tourism also. The palace complex of Thirumalai Nayak Palace was constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style by Thirumalai Nayakar in 1636 CE. It is a national monument maintained by the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department. The daily sound and light show organised by the department explains the virtues of King Thirumalai and the features of the palace. The palace of Rani Mangamma has been renovated to house one of the five Gandhi Sanghralayas (Gandhi Memorial Museum, Madurai) in the country. It includes apart of the blood-stained garment worn by Mahatma Gandhi when he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. A visit by Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. to the museum inspired him to lead peaceful protests against discrimination. The Eco park, situated in Tallakulam, features fountains and lighting in trees using optical fibres. Rajaji children’s park, maintained by the Madurai Municipal Corporation, is situated between the Gandhi museum and the Tamukkam grounds. It has a visitor average of 5000 per day during holidays and 2000–3000 on working days. Madurai also has Theme Park, Athisayam which is situated in Paravai, Madurai – Dindugal main road. MGR Race Course Stadium is an athletic stadium which has a synthetic track and a swimming pool. Several national meets are held here. It also hosts several international and national level kabbadi championships.

The people of Madurai celebrate numerous festivals, including Meenakshi Tirukkalyanam, the Chittirai Festival and the Car Festival. The annual 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, also called Chittirai festival, is celebrated during April–May every year and attracts one million visitors. Legend has it that the Hindu god Vishnu, as Alagar, rode on a golden horse to Madurai to attend the celestial wedding of Meenakshi (Parvati) and Sundareswarar (Shiva). During the Cradle festival, the festive idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are taken in procession to a mirror chamber and set on a rocking swing for nine days. Avanimoolam festival is celebrated during September when the 64 sacred games of Shiva, thiruvilayadal, are recited. The Thepporchavam festival, or float festival, is celebrated on the full moon day of the Tamil month Thai, which falls around January – February, to celebrate the birth anniversary of King Thirumalai Nayak. The decorated icons of Meenakshi and her consort are taken out in a procession from the Meenakshi Temple to the Mariamman Teppakulam. The icons are floated in the tank on a raft decked with flowers and flickering lamps. Jallikattu is one of the most popular historical sport in Tamil Nadu, and is a part of the Pongal festival (harvest festival) celebrated during January. The bull taming event is held in the villages surrounding Madurai, and people from the neighbouring villages throng to the open grounds to watch man and bull pitting their strength against each other. The event was banned in the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 following an order by Supreme court of India. Santhanakoodu festivals in Madurai are celebrated on various days during the Islamic calendar year to commemorate Islamic saints.Madurai is consider as important hub for Indian film industry for film shootings.

Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Parvati, known as Meenakshi, and her consort, Shiva, here named Sundareswarar. The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2,500-year-old city of Madurai and is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature. Though most of the present structure was built between 1623 and 1655 CE. It is said that the temple was originally built in the 6th century BC by survivors of the Kumari Kandam. In the 14th century, the Sultanate Muslim Commander Malik Kafur plundered the temple and looted it of its valuables. It was rebuilt by the Nayak ruler Vishwanatha Nayakar around the 16th century. It was Vishwanatha Nayak who rebuilt the temple in accordance to shilpa shastra. It houses 14 gopurams (gateway towers), ranging from 45–50m in height. The tallest is the southern tower, 51.9 metres (170 ft) high, and two golden sculptured vimanas, the shrines over the garbhagrihas (sanctums) of the main deities. The temple attracts 15,000 visitors a day, around 25,000 on Fridays, and receives an annual revenue of 60 million. There are an estimated 33,000 sculptures in the temple. It was on the list of top 30 nominees for the “New Seven Wonders of the World”. The temple is the most prominent landmark and most visited tourist attraction in the city. The annual 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, celebrated during April and May, attracts 1 million visitors.

According to legend, the sacred Suyambulingam discovered by the king of Gods indira at Kadambavanam, was later enshrined by him in Madurai. The fact that the Lord is seen on the vehicle of Indira in this temple is said to be proof for this.Many historical evidences of the temple have been found dating back from early A.D. The temple was almost completely destroyed in the year 1310 following the invasion of the Islamic conqueror Malikkapur.As kings who were followers of Islam were noted for their intolerance towards other religions, the invaders destroyed most of the ancient sculptures of the temple.
Thirugnanasambandar the Hindu Saint has mentioned the temple in his songs which go back to early 7th century. The Lord has been described as Alavai Iraivan in his songs.The temple was restored to its pristine glory in the late 14th century when the Hindu Kings came back to power in Madurai.This can also be termed as a new beginning of a new era in the history of the temple, when it was almost rebuilt. The King Thirumalai Naicker played an important role in the construction of the new form of the temple according to records.The Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple is now under the administration of the HR and CE department of Tamil Nadu.

Thirumalai Nayak Palace is a 17th-century palace erected in 1636 AD by King Thirumalai Nayak, a king of Madurai’s Nayaka dynasty who ruled Madurai from 1623–59, in the city of Madurai, India. This Palace is a classic fusion of Dravidian and Rajput styles. The building, which can be seen today, was the main Palace, in which the king lived. The original Palace Complex was four times bigger than the present structure. In its heyday, Tirumalai Nayak Palace at Madurai was considered to be one of the wonders of the South. This palace is situated 2 km south east of the Meenakshi Amman Temple.

History

The Nayaks of Madurai ruled this former Kingdom from 1545 till 1740’s and Thirumalai Nayak (1623-1659) was one of their greatest kings that line notable for various buildings in and around Madurai. During the 17th centuries the Madurai Kingdom had Portuguese, Dutch and other Europeans as traders, missionaries and visiting travellers. Tirumala Nayak is believed to have recruited the services of an Italian architect, for the construction of his Palace. Over a span of 400 years many parts of the buildings were suffered much by time, and not inconsiderably… by the destructive effects of war; a few, however, are sufficiently in repair to be converted into use by the garrison, as granaries, store-houses, powder magazines during time of East India Company. King Thirumalai Nayak’s grandson had demolished much of the fine structure and removed most of the jewels and woodcarvings in order to build his own palace in Tiruchirapalli. However Lord Napier, the Governor of Madras, had partially restored the palace in 1866-72, and the subsequent restoration works carried out several years ago, today, we get to see the Entrance Gate, The Main Hall and the Dance Hall.

Design and construction

Built in 1636, as a focal point of his capital at Madurai, Thirumalai Nayak intended the palace to be one of the grandest in South India. The design and architecture is a blend of Dravidian and Islamic styles. The Interior of the palace surpasses many of its Indian contemporaries in scale. The interior is richly decorated whilst the exterior is treated in a more austere style.
During the 18th century many structures that were part of this palace were pulled down or incorporated into buildings in the adjacent streets. What remains is the enclosed court known as the Svarga Vilasam and a few adjoining buildings. The audience chamber of the Svarga Vilasam is a vast hall with arcades about 12 m high. The architecture is a blend of indigenous and Islamic forms. Thirumalai nayakar mahal is famous for its giant pillars. Pillar’s height is 82 feet and width is 19 feet.

Light & Sound shows

The palace is well equipped to perform Light & Sound shows depicting the story of Silappathikaram both in Tamil and English languages. It is held in the evenings·

Getting There

The Palace is located in the eastern side of the city, around 1.2 km South East of the Meenakshi Amman Temple in the city of Madurai. Madurai being a popular tourist center is well connected by railways and has daily flights to Colombo (Sri Lanka), Mumbai Banglore and Chennai.

Visit Timings

9.00 AM to 5.00 PM for general visit. Lunch Break: 01.00 PM to 01.30 PM
Sound & Light Show Time: 6.45 PM to 7.35 PM in English
8.00 PM to 8.50 PM in Tamil

Samanar Hills or Samanar Malai is a hill rock complex located in Keelakuyilkudi village, 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. The hill has been declared as a protected monument by the Archaeological Survey of India.Samanar means Jain in Tamil and malai means hill. This hill has caves where Tamil Jain (Samanar) monks lived. The hill was also known as Thiruvuruvagam.

Samanar Malai has several Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, a number of stone beds and many sculptures, which shows authority for Jainism in the ancient Tamil country. The hill contains two famous sculptures, Settipodavu and Pechipallam, that show images of Jain Tirthankaras made by Jain monks in the 9th century BCE. The Settipodavu contains the image of Mahavira, the last tirthankara of Jainism. The Pechipallam contains eight sculptures, including Bahubali and Mahavira.Archaeologists have also found 2000-year-old Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions and Vatteluttu writings. The inscriptions reveal that hundreds of Jain monks took sallekena (fast unto death) there. There are flat rocks, called stone beds, used by the monks to take rest.

The findings through the Tamil and Kannada inscriptions show that there was a Jain monastery at the top of the hill known as Maadevi Perumpalli. The Maadevi Perumpalli was an educational academy in which both Jain monks and nuns studied. The kings from the Pandyan Dynasty, who ruled Madurai, visited the academy. The Kannada students and senior monks from Shravanabelagola also stayed there.In the foothills, there is a Karuppanasamy temple and lotus pond. Some idols made by Jain monks are in Karuppanasamy temple. The caves in the hill have been damaged by illegal quarrying in the region.