Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
   The Meenakshi Sundareshvarar Temple at Madu-rai, dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi (MINAKSHI) and to SHIVA as the beautiful lord (Sundaresh-varar), is one of the largest in India. The original temple was built by Kulasekara Pandyan, a king, sometime in the first millennium C.E., but it fell into ruins. The current structure was laid out by Viswanath Nayakar, a later monarch of Madurai, in the 16th century and was completed by Tirum-alai Nayakar in the 17th century.
   The original site was dedicated exclusively to the goddess Minakshi, whose presence in the area is very ancient. The current temple also contains, in addition to the inner sanctum with Minakshi’s image, a LINGAM (phallus) for Shiva worship, as well as a striking, huge NATARAJA (Shiva as Lord of Dance) in one of its larger halls. Most notable are the 120-foot towers at each of the four entrance-ways. These are all elaborately decorated with myriad stucco-covered stone carvings of scenes Wedding of Shiva and Minakshi, goddess of Madurai, Madurai Temple, Tamil Nadu (Constance A. Jones) from mythology, beautifully painted in bright colors.
   Points of interest include the arched area of the eight SHAKTIS; the golden lotus pond near the Minakshi shrine, where people descend to bathe; the hall of the parrots, where parrots sing praises of the two divinities, Shiva and Minakshi; the 1,000-pillared hall; and the wall paintings that depict scenes from the Purana telling the story of the holy acts of Shiva. Each year during the CHITTIRAI FESTIVAL in April–May the wedding of Shiva and Minakshi is celebrated. Because VISHNU is said to be the brother of Minakshi and takes part in the wedding, the temple also houses depictions and sculptures representing Vishnu.
   Further reading: Chris Fuller, A Priesthood Renewed: Modernity and Traditionalism in a South Indian Temple (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003); ———, Servants of the Goddess: The Priests of a South Indian Temple (New York: Cambridge University Press); William P. Harman, The Sacred Marriage of a Hindu God-dess (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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