The Christmas weekend of 2009 yielded a long weekend. So we decided to put it to good use. However, we hadn’t planned in advance, and had originally planned to stay at home and relax. But, at the last minute, we decided to check if any tour packages were available. Since we’d gone to Ooty through a tour operator, and the deal he’d given us was decent, we decided to explore the same option.
We were pleasently surprised when we were told that tickets for this tour were available, and all booking will be done. Given that we decided on Tuesday to leave on Thursday, the ticket availability part was a welcome surprise.
We got a ticket in KSTRC’s Rajahamsa service that left Bangalore at around 9pm. The trip took around 9 hrs, and we reached Madurai at 6am.
The first thing that jarred us here was how money-centric everything was. Even the auto-wallahs knew which agent to take us to. In fact, there was confusion over the address we gave, but that cleared when we gave the name of the agent we were to meet. In our previous travel through the agent, we were given all details prior to leaving Bangalore. In this case, we had to connect with the agent in Madurai for every detail.
The bus station is located outside the city, and the auto-wallah charged us Rs. 100/- to get to where we wanted to go. And no bargain. Its no use if we want to refuse one guy n bargain with another. You’re met with a blanket refusal. It doesnt matter who you talk to, they expect you to pay the same amount.
The agent was based in a small hotel within walking distance of the Meenakshi temple. In fact while entering into the city you can see the massive gopuram of the temple. A beautiful sight indeed.
The agent directed us to a nearby hotel called Hotel Palace. It was ok, nothing too fancy. The sheets and room were clean, and they delivered a nice coffee. What else did we need? 😉 The agent set us up for a city tour starting by about 9am. So we went back to the main road, where a mini-bus was waiting for us. Actually we were expecting the Meenakshi temple to be a part of the city tour. However, everything else was covered, except the temple.
A lot of time was spent in picking up all the other members of the bus tour. Finally at around 10am we reached the Thirumalai Nayakkar Palace. The palace is located about 1.2 kms from the Meenakshi Temple, and was meant to be a the most grand of palaces in South India. The architecture styles incorporated are Dravidian, Islamic and European. It was a nice walk-though that we had here. The decorations on the high ceilings as well as the exquisite work in the main courtyard were beautiful, and we spent quite some time admiring them. the rest of the palace though did not seem to have as much attention. It seemed as the the focus was the main courtyard, and nothing else. The lighting was average, and the placement of the artifacts was not attractive to viewers.
Right opposite the palace is a series of small tiffin shops. We decided to have our breakfast here. The food was hot, and very tasty. The food was served in a plate over-laid with a plantain leaf. Once we finish eating, we have to put our own plate in the wash bucket, and dispose the plantain leaf ourselves. Service was efficient. Did I say the food was hot and tasty?
Next stop was the Alagar Koil (Koyil/Kovil) temple located about 21 km from the city. This is a Vishnu temple, dedicated to Lord Kallazhagar who appeared for Sage Suthapas. The temple was constructed by Thirumalai Nayakar, a Vaishnavait and dedicated devotee of Goddess Meenakshi, built the temple aimed at fostering amiable relations between Saivaites and Vaishnavaite. The location is also very scenic, with beautiful hills surrounding the temple.
The temple is a beautiful structure. The main entrance is however kept closed. One has to enter from the side entrance. Even the Utsava Murti (festive idol) of Lord Vishnu doesn’t pass through the main door. Once a year the Sudarshan Chakra, the wheel of Vishnu, alone passes through this door.
The darshan was a bit rushed, as the temple shuts at about 1pm, and we’d reached at around 12pm. On the way back we stopped at a small temple that had a huge image of Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi Devi on top of it. It workmanship was beautiful. We spent a few minutes taking photos at this temple, and then made our way back to Madurai.
Along the whole route, the tour guide pointed out various landmarks in Madurai, namely the Gandhi Museum, and some other ‘landmarks” like the Police Headquarters etc.
The tour ended at around 1.30pm at the gates of the Meenakshi Temple. The tour guide showed us a hotel where they serve thalis and asked us to have lunch there. While all the others in the bus went straight in to have lunch, we opted to walk around n look for another place. Our walk took us around the temple to the main gate, and to the road in front of it. This was a truly bustling road where most shopping could be done, interspersed with eateries. We had lunch at a place called Meenakshi Bhavan. The food was good and hot. Ther service too was quite quick. The only delay was getting a seat, since the whole place was jam-packed. 🙂
Finally we made our way back to the hotel where we rested till about 4.30. The biggest advantage of this hotel was that it was walking distance from the temple. So we slowly made our way through the evening traffic to the temple.
The Meenakshi Sundareshwar Temple of Meenakshi Amman Temple is dedicated to Lord Sundareshwar (Shiva) and his consort Meenakshi (Parvati).It is a huge temple complex spead over 45 acres. It has 14 gopurams, the largest being the South Gate at a height of 52mts. It is one of the few temples that have gates on all 4 directions.
The shrine of Shiva lies in the center of the complex. One would first visit Meenakshi Amma near the Eastern Gate, and from there proceed to see Lord Sundareshwar. On the way, just outside the shrine of Shiva, is a large idol of Lord Ganesh carved from a single stone.
There is also a Silver Hall within the temple complex with a huge sculpture of Shiva in the Nataraja pose. However, this idol is different as Shiva has his right foot raised, unlike the normal left foot. Legend says that this was done on the request of Rajasekara Pandya, a devotee of Lord Shiva. He requested the Lord to change his position as keeping the same foot raised would put enormous stress on it.
We entered through the North Gate, and wound our way to the South Gate, from where we enter the main temple complex. The queue was huge and took us till almost 7.30 by the time we finished with the darshan and stepped out. As you step out of the main temple, you reach the 1000-pillar mandapam.
This mandapam has only 985 pillars (not 1000), and is famous for the musical pillars located near the entrance. Nowadays, this section is cordoned off. We were lucky as an old man decided to some of us tourists how the pillars sound but playing a short tune on them. But we were not allowed to touch them. Lesser known is that the stone idols leading up the main pathway, have their own musical abilities. If you put your ear to the shoulder of the idol, and strike the hand, you can hear a distinctly musical sound. But it is not audible out like the musical pillars.
There is also a small “museum” section in this hall. Nothing much to it, and nothing there really holds the interest.
We wound down finally, and stepped out of the massive temple complex. We had a light dinner at a nearby restaurant, and made our way back to the hotel, looking forward to the next day…