Madurai, the land of the glorious Tamil Pandya Kingdom, is the second largest city in Tamilnadu. This almost 3500-year old city is one of the state’s major destinations, and has remained since the cradle of Tamil civilization and culture, and the seat of learning. Often dubbed as the “Athens of the East”, Madurai resembles the ancient city in architectural style such as its many alleyways. When the famous Nayaks ruled the city, several outstanding buildings and temples were constructed that still attract tourists and pilgrims in large numbers. In a two-part series, we will bring you some of the must-see places in this ancient Tamil city.
1. Meenakshi Temple:
There is no point in touring the city if you miss out on visiting the Meenakshi Temple, the cynosure of the city. The temple, apparently, was built around the Shiva Linga that you can find inside its sanctum. The sacred temple is built in an area of 15 acres and comprises 4500 pillars and 12 majestic towers standing tall. One of the most frequented temples in South India; you will have no problems even spending days inside the sanctum. You can also find Hindu couples gathered in large numbers, during auspicious days, to get married in the temple’s corridor. No wonder, it’s worth visiting the temple once in the morning and again for the night rituals in the evening.
2. Puthu Mandapam:
Feel free to venture inside the capacious Puthu Mandapam, pillared entrance hill that stands opposite the Meenakshi Temple. Built in the 17th century, this hall today is the lifeline of several tailors and small stalls selling scarves, fabric, designer jewellery, fashion accessories, art work and handicrafts. You can get the aforementioned stuffs and more at good discount prices and offers. You can also check good quality clothes, including near replicas.
3. Tirumalai Nayak Palace:
Located about a kilometre south-east of Meenakshi Temple is the renowned Tirumalai Nayak Palace constructed in 1636 by the famous Nayak ruler King Thirumalai Nayak. Considered as the city’s second major attraction, the palace is based on the Indo-Sarcenic style with an Italian architect helping in its design and construction. It was the King’s residential palace before leaving it open for public view. It seems like only a part of the original structure comprising the courtyard, entrance hall, audience hall and dance hall remains intact today. The structure saw some major renovation works with the Government recently spending substantial money on it.
4. Saint Mary’s Cathedral:
The Saint Mary’s Cathedral is one of the oldest Roman Catholic (RC) churches that was constructed in the year 1840. Situated on East Veli Street, the structure took its present form in 1916 with its architecture including two tall bell towers, and is a fusion of several Continental and European building styles.
If you think you still have some time left for strolling along Madurai, then you shouldn’t miss out Thiruparankundram, about 20 minutes south-west of the city. Thiruparankundram houses another ancient temple that is dedicated to one of Hindu religion’s supreme deities Lord Murugan (son of Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology), venerated as a Tamil God. On the hill top of Thiruparankundram, you can find a 14th century-old Islamic shrine (or Dargah) of the sufi saint Hazrat Sultan Sikandhar Badhusha. We will be covering more about this shrine and few other attractions of the city in the concluding part-series of the article. Until then, it’s happy travel time from us!