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The Minakshi-Sundareshvara (Meenakshi Amman) Temple in Madurai

Minakshi-Sundareshvara (Meenakshi Amman) Temple in Madurai

Overview and Context:
  • In Tamil Nadu, India, Madura was from ancient times associated with the Pandya ruling dynasty, functioning as their capital. Nearby remains date the habitation of the region to at least the 2nd century BC while ancient literature from south India mentions the city. These literary references repeatedly mention how Shiva was the primary god worshipped at Madurai, especially in the 7th century ‘Garland of God’ hymns. The ‘serpent-mouth’ of Shiva protects the city and later adopts the name Chokkanatha, which in turn even later becomes Sundareshvara. As the local form of Shiva the protector, Sundareshvara marries the goddess Minakshi, named after her fish-like eyes, which are a status marker for beauty in Sanskrit poetic tropes. According to local legend, Minakshi (sometimes spelled Meenakshi) was born in a sacrificial ritual fire to a Pandya king and queen who were unable to conceive. As such, Minakshi is especially important to the local regional history and is intimately connected to the tradition of the city. Before she married Shiva in the form of Sundareshvara (whose name is the combination of two Sanskrit words – Sundara and Ishvara, thus forming ‘He who is beautiful and powerful’), Minakshi earned the reputation as being a fierce goddess since she literally fought off all suitors during the Navaratna festival. Donning red garb, she defeats the Buffalo Demon and essentially inherits the legacy and divinity of the fierce Bengali goddess Durga. Since Durga, too, is a bride of Shiva in some mythologies, Minakshi is actually a regional, local embodiment of Durga and thus also of Parvati.

Bright Colored Sculpture on the Outside of the Minakshi-Sundareshvara (Meenakshi Amman) Temple

History of the Temples:

  • Although the region, particularly the city, have been inhabited for at least two millennium, the earliest temple structures have not survived, either having been replaced repeatedly by newer structures or destroyed by invaders. During the 14th century, the Vijayanagara empire placed some effort on Madurai and built the foundations for the temple that exists today, probably in the 14th or 15th century, although with some additions in the 17th century. The large 9 storied tower was built during the earlier centuries but over the years many rulers built smaller shrines, called Mandapas. Many of these are now prominence features by themselves and are actively worshipped alongside the primary temple designed for Minakshi herself.

The Thousand Pillar Hall At Meenakshi Temple

  • The Meenakshi Sundareshvara temple complex is located at the heart of the city within its own enclosure. The shrine to Shiva, called Sundareshvara locally, sits opposite the Minakshi temple within its own private enclosure and sub-shrines. Both temples face east. The importance and history of the temple complex as a whole can be seen when viewed in  context of the city’s whole. Nearby is the palace of Tirumalai Nayaka, a ruler during the middle of the 17th  century. He renovated the temple complex and built the Teppakkulam tank to the south-east. As with many temple complex throughout the world during the ancient period, their connection with the politics of the era may be seen in their proximity, near or far, to the ruling house’s residence. Madurai was no exception to this rule during the 17th  century as Tirumalai Nayaka wanted the Minakshi temple complex to be close.

Meenakshi Hindu temple Madurai India