Meenakshi Temple

- Located at the heart of the city, the Meenakshi- Sundareswarar temple has long been the focus of both Indian and international tourist attraction as well as one of the most important places of Hindu pilgrimage. For the people of Madurai, the temple is the very centre of their cultural and religious life. While the major festivals of Tamil Nadu are celebrated here with gaiety that equals the rest of the state, the most important moment in Madurai is the Chittirai 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.This pre-Christian era temple was actually built by Kulasekara Pandya but it was in ruins before it was rebuilt by Tirumalai Nayak who brought back the glory to this magnificent structure. Of its 12 gopurams, four of the tallest stand at the outer walls of the temple. The 48.4m high southern gopuram is the most spectacular and has over 1500 sculptures. From its top, it is possible to obtain a panoramic view of the city. The Rajagopuram on the eastern side is an unfinished structure, which has a 174-sq.ft base, and had this tower been completed, it would surely have been the largest of its kind in the country. The eight smaller gopurams are within the compounds of the twin temples.
In the Ashta Shakti Mandapam inside the Meenakshi temple, the sculpted pillars tell the story of the beautiful princess of Madurai and her marriage to Lord Siva. Meenakshi was the daughter of King Malayadwaja Pandya and Queen Kanchanamala, who begot her after performing several yagnas (sacrificial rites). The three-year old girl who emerged out of the fire during the final yagna was found to have three breasts but a divine voice informed the surprised royal couple that the third breast would disappear when the girl met her consort. The princess who was named Meenakshi, grew to be a beautiful young woman of great valour who conquered several lands and challenged the mightiest kings including Indra, the King of the Devas. Indra appealed to Lord Siva for protection and Meenakshi, chasing the fleeing king, confronted Siva whereby her third breast disappeared. It was revealed that the princess was actually an incarnation of Parvati who came to earth to honour a promise given to Kanchanamala in her previous life. Thus Siva came to Madurai as Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi and the two ruled over the kingdom for many years before they left for their heavenly abode from the spot where the temple now stands.