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MEENAKSHI TEMPLE

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Location: Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Built By: Kulashekarar Pandyan

Architectural Style: Dravidian


INTRODUCTION

  • Meenakshi Amma temple is located on the southern bank of the Vaigai river in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.

  • Its an Dravidian style Hindu temple.

  • It is dedicated to Parvathi, known as Meenakshi, and her consort, Shiva, here named Sundareswara.

  • Surrounding an area of the temples about 45 acres.

  • The temple was 1st constructed some where around the time by kulashekara pandyan.

  • A large part of the temple was destroyed during the Muslim invasion during the 14th century and then was restored to its former glory in the early 17th century.

  • The temple was rebuilt by vishwanatha nayak accordance to shilpashastra.


  • MADURAI , popularly known as the Temple city, also called as ATHENS OF THE EAST, City of Junction, City of Jasmine, CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS and City of four junctions.

  • Madurai is third major economic, industrial, commercial, political centre and a major transportation hub for the southern Tamilnadu.

  • The city is renowned for tourism, festivals and vibrant cultural life in general and is considered to be the states cultural capital.

  • The rich and vibrant natural and cultural landscape with different linguistic and cultural groups coexisting together in its UNIQUE CUSTOMS, TRADITIONS, AND ART FORMS make it a classical example of an urban environment wherein diversity becomes the source of strength rather than conflicts.

  • An ancient set of religious and artistic traditions in southern India.

  • The Meenakshi Temple’s almost 700,000 square feet of space, including the two principal sanctuaries and dozens of shrines of varying sizes. Bordered by high walls and gateways, it is a bewildering collection of indoor and outdoor spaces: small, cramped shrines, vast halls, low and high ceilings, darkness, light, hustle and bustle, quiet spaces, and chaos. All told, it contains around 30,000 sculptures.

  • The Meenakshi Temple is a prime example of Dravidian architecture—a style of Hindu architecture common in the southern states of India. Characteristics of Dravidian architecture often include covered porches on temples, tall entry gate towers on two or more sides, many-pillared halls, and a water tank or reservoir for ritual bathing.

TRADITIONAL PLANNING STRATEGIES

  • The old city of Madurai is considered to be designed according to the Rajdhani plan, described in Manasara, one of the Shilpasastra, and has the fivefold concentric rectangular formation with Meenakshi- Sundareshwara Temple at a very centre point.

  • The city was a well planned one with bazaars and many broad streets with high and luxurious mansions on both sides.

  • The city was built around the temple complex as the focal point with a combination of a concentric street pattern.

SETTLEMENT PATTERN

  • The settlement pattern of Madurai is planned according to the ancient system of town planning which is based on caste and occupational hierarchies.

  • The map shows the present settlement pattern and its relevance with the ancient town planning system.



  • Ancient south Indian temple towns are designed by placing the temple complex at the centre with concentric rectangle pattern of streets around.

  • This can be seen in another southern temple town Srirangam also. Map showing Settlement Pattern of Madurai city with ancient town planning system.

TEMPLE COMPLEX PLAN

The earliest temple at Madurai was likely constructed in the 7th century C.E., but the temple complex we experience today is largely the work of the Nayak dynasty in the 16th and 17th centuries. They enlarged the complex and redesigned the surrounding streets in accordance with the sacred tradition of the Vastu Shastra (Hindu texts prescribing the form, proportions, measurements, groundplan, and layout of architecture).




MADURA STYLE

  • The temple is high walled & enclosure on the boundaries around the temples, intervening courtyards called prakarams which contain pillared halls, store rooms, other smaller shrines and square water tanks for ritual baths.

  • The temple is square shaped.

  • The tank is surrounded by a pillared cloister and has steps leading down to the water.

VIMANA

  • They are two golden sculptured Vimanas, over the Garbhagriha for the main deities.

SHRINE

  • These temples are separately surrounded by four smaller Gopurams.

  • MEENAKSHI Main shrine is located to the southwest of Sundareswaran's shrine and Sundareswaran's shrine is located in the north east.

TEMPLE STRUCTURE

  • Meenakshi shrine and the sundareswara shrine are huge temples with their own sets of 2 prakarams maha mandapams and gold plated vimanas.

  • The shrine has a 3-storied gopuram guarded by two stern dwarapalakas and supported by golden, rectangular columns that bear lotus markings.

  • The area coveredby the shrine of Sundareswaran is exactly one fourth of the area of the temple and that of Meenakshi is one fourth that of sundareswara.

  • Within the sundareswara temple complex is a shrine to Nataraja – the rajata sabha or the velliambalam.



At the south end of the complex is the Golden Lily Tank, which is used by believers for ritual bathing before they enter the sanctuaries of Meenakshi and Sundareshwara. The northeast corner of the complex is occupied by the Thousand Pillar Hall, a vast, ornate mandapa. Although there are actually only 985 pillars, the effect is impressive, with most of the stone pillars carved in high or low relief depicting gods, demons, and divine animals. Originally this space was likely used for religious dancing and musical performances as well as a place to gain an audience with the king. Today the Thousand Pillar Hall functions primarily as a museum, with exhibitions of bronze sculptures, paintings, and objects from the temple’s history.

The temple’s shrines, pillars, sculptures, and paintings are populated with a dazzling quantity of divine beings who engage in various activities, can manifest in multiple guises and places simultaneously, and are subject to dissolution and rebirth. On the famous gopuras, figures of gods and goddesses are repeated as though reincarnated many times over as they rise towards the heavens, symbolically preventing the defilements of the everyday world from polluting the sacred spaces within.

The Meenakshi Temple is the physical center of the city of Madurai as well as its economic, mythical, and spiritual heart. Its importance radiates outward from the central shines through Madurai to the entire Tamil- speaking region in south India, and beyond.


THE GOPURAS

We now return to the most noticeable feature of the complex—the massive towers, or gopuras, which are actually entry gates, marked on the plan above as black rectangles. Some visitors to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai mistake the gopuras for the sacred temples and shrines themselves. The word gopura may be derived from the Tamil words ko meaning “king,” and puram meaning “exterior or gateway”; or from the Sanskrit go meaning “cow” and puram meaning “town.” Here, there are fourteen gopuras roughly oriented to the cardinal directions and flanking either the temple of Meenakshi or Sundareshwara, or the entire walled compound. They generally increase in height as one moves further away from the center of the complex, as the outermost sections were continually added to by a succession of rulers, who commissioned ever grander towers as a sign of their power and devotion. The gopuras act as symbolic markers for the sacred space into which they lead and most are covered with a profusion of brightly painted stucco figures representing gods and demons.


MAIN FEATURES OF MEENAKSHI TEMPLE

The temple complex has 4 nine-storey gopurams (outer, raja), 1 seven-storey gopuram (Chittirai), 5 five-storey gopurams, 2 three-storey, and 2 one-storey gold-gilded sanctum towers. Of these five are gateways to the Sundareshwara shrine, three to the Meenakshi shrine.


MATERIALS

The temple complex is the center of the old city of Madurai. It consists of monuments inside a number of concentric enclosures, each layer fortified with high masonry walls. The outer walls have four towering gateways, allowing devotees and pilgrims to enter the complex from all four directions.


Pic Courtesy Internet.

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