A showcase of culture
Continuing our journey through `Namma Madurai', this week we take a look at its heart the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. Life in this ancient city revolves around this historic place, which attracts pilgrims and tourists from all over the globe. Adored for its architecture, this temple is a living monument that showcases the evolution of civilization over the centuries.
THE LOCAL legends of very late origin say Madurai was once a forest of Kadamba trees, called Kadamba Vanam.
Once Indra, the celestial ruler, who visited this forest, discovered a Linga in it and built a shrine to house it.
However, there is no reference to this legend in the Sangam classics, which belong to the first three centuries of the Christian era. Yet the Sangam classics speak of a Siva temple in Madurai.
During the 7th Century, two of Thevaram hymnists visited a Siva Temple at Madurai. In the 9th century Sundarar, the third of the Thevaram trio, also seems to have visited the Madurai Temple.
During all these periods this temple must have been a simple structure.
There is another local belief recorded in Tiruvilaiyadalpuranam of Nambi (13th Century) that this temple was built by one Kulasekhara Pandiyan.
This literary evidence is corraborated by inscriptional evidence.
The earliest inscription in the Meenakshi temple complex belongs to Kulasekhara Pandya (1190 - 1216 A.D.) Scholars believe that the sanctum of the Sundareswara temple, called Indra Vimana, was built by him.
It is probable that Kulasekhera constructed this sanctum in stone removing an earlier temple of brick and mortar built around 8th - 9th centuries A.D.
Following Kulasekhara, many Pandyan Kings like Maravarman Sundara Pandya (1216 - 35) Jatavarman Kulasekhara (1237 - 1239), Vikrama Pandya (1253 - 74). Virapandya (1296 - 1342) etc. contributed much to the development of this temple.
During the 14th century, the temple was subjected to the invasions of Malik Kafur (1311 A.D.), Khusrav Khan (1314) and Ulugh Khan (1323), who later became the Delhi Sultan under the name of Muhammad bin Tughlak.
Madurai was under the control of the Sultans (called the Madurai Sultanate) from 1323 to 1378 until it was conquered by Kumara Kampanna Udaiyar, the Vijayanagar General. Soon Madurai was placed under the rule of the Nayaks. Viswanatha Nayak (1533 - 1564) the founder of the Nayak dynasty took great interest in expanding this temple. During the reign of Krishnappa Nayak (1564 - 72), his Dalavoy (Minister - General), Ariyanatha Mudaliyar, and his son, Kalattiyappa Mudaliyar, added many new structures to this temple.
Tirumalai Nayak (1623 - 1659), besides renovating the temple thoroughly, gold plated the `balipeeta' and the flag staff.
He also constructed the Pudumantapam and dug-up the Vandiyoor Teppakkulam (a tank in the south east of Madurai) and celebrated a float festival in it every year, synchronising with his natal star, Thai Poosam.
Rani Mangammal (1690 - 1703) donated considerable jewels, palanquins etc. to the temple.
As a result of frequent renovations and additions over seven centuries, today this temple complex is encircled by a huge compound wall extending 847 feet East - West and 793 feet North-South with entrance through the four massive nine-tiered gopurams on the cardinal directions.
The whole complex encloses an area of 15.37 acres.
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