Minakshi is the GODDESS of the city of Madurai. Her shrine is the site of one of India’s most spectacular temples, the Meenakshi Sundareshvarar Temple. Her name (mina, fish; aksha, eye) is understood to mean “she whose eyes are the shape of lovely fishes,” the translation of her original Tamil name, Ankayalkanni.
   There is little question that Minakshi was the overseer of Madurai from very ancient times. However, as the Brahminical influence entered Tamil Nadu she was assimilated into the larger Brahminical culture as the wife of SHIVA.
   The story goes that Minakshi’s father and mother performed a special ritual to get a son. Instead of a son, a girl child emerged from the fire with three breasts. The parents were told to treat her as a prince would be treated and have her assume rulership. She was a powerful warrior and defeated all beings in all the directions. One day, however, she contended with SHIVA himself; upon seeing him, she fell in love. As this happened, she suddenly became bashful and timid (no doubt a patriarchal addition to the story!) and lost her third breast. She and Shiva were ceremoniously married, and he then became the king of Madurai and she the queen; the temple is now dedicated to both deities.
   The kings of Madurai have retained their connection with Shiva, seeing themselves as rul-ing in his line. However, in the temple precincts Minakshi retains pride of place in the inner sanc-tum, which contains a small image of her.
   Each year the CHITTIRAI FESTIVAL (in the lunar month of Chittirai) commemorates the marriage of Minakshi and Shiva. It is is marked by 10 days of pageantry and celebration; a huge temple chariot bearing the festival images of Minakshi and Shiva is paraded around. Because of her status in Madurai, a great many businesses there, from tire companies to restaurants, are named after the goddess.
   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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