To the world, Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple is a centre of pilgrimage. But to someone who grew up in the quaint little south Indian town, the temple is more than just that–it is a palace of incredible stories.
I remember walking around the magnificent premises on quiet mornings, listening to the many tales my parents told me about the temple and its deities. Our voices and footsteps echoed in the long, near-empty corridors, as the smell of incense and flowers filled the air. However, a lot has changed at the temple in the recent times. The quiet place of worship has transformed into a noisy, bustling tourist spot with security guards stationed at every corner.
The popularity is well-deserved, one might say. The grand abode of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar stands on the banks of River Vaigai, in the heart of the 2,500-year-old city of Madurai. It has a total of 14 gopurams (towers), two of which are made of gold. These gold gopurams roof the garbagrihas (sanctum sanctorum) of the main deities.
The main deity Meenakshi is the fish-eyed incarnation of Goddess Parvati who, according to Hindu mythology, once ruled Madurai. By her side is her consort Sundareswarar, an incarnation of Lord Shiva who descended to the earth to marry the queen. In fact, one of the important legends behind the iconic temple is of how this holy matrimony came to be.
A voice from the heavens declared that the child was an incarnation of Goddess Parvati and that her third breast would disappear the day she meets the man she is meant to marry.
The sanctity of the temple is amplified by all that it has managed to survive over the centuries. It is indeed astonishing how much history and mythology the magnificent temple holds in its brilliantly carved pillars and art-filled interiors.