An overnight bus journey took us to Madurai at 6.00.a.m.
We found a decent lodge to stay for the day-freshened up there and left for the main part of the trip- The Meenakshi temple- An abode of the Pandyan architecture. The entire temple complex is fortified by walls with 4 entrance towers at 4 directions. The sculptures on each of these towers are out of the world. Once inside the complex- you start to wonder which world of wonder you have stepped into.. It took us about 3-4 hrs to finish our rounds admiring this place of beauty and also get blessed with the darshan of Meenakshi Amman and Lord Sundareshwaran. There are a lot of stalls inside the complex selling various handcrafted articles.
The temple art museum within the same premises is a must visit. There are 1000 pillars- all decorated with rare pieces of sculpture. The dim light used for each pillar adds up to the beauty of the place.
A small walk through the narrow lanes took us to the Thirumalai Nayyakar Mahal built in the 16th century. Fine architecture with elegant paintings on the roofs and vaults is neatly presented in a simple combination of off-white and velvet red colour combination. There is sound and lights show every evening conducted here. However, we could not make it.
We took a local bus to Vandiyur. This is where the annual event of the famed Teppotsavam / Float festival takes place to celebrate the birthday of King Thirumalai Nayak in January. This tank is supposedly the biggest of its kind in the state. With the float festival just 2 months away and monsoon season just passing by- this tank still remains dry. When enquired how the event is going to take place in a dry tank, we were told that the water will be fed in January from the Vaigai river through artificially laid underground channels. This is truly amazing how such a concept was laid way back in 16 century. But, for a new-commer, the dried lake is an eye sore as it is used as a watering hole by many vandals.
Another bus from there to Periyar and a small walk from there through the stinking / dirty by-lanes, we reached the Koodal Alagar temple. A quick pooja and a walk around the temple was a nice boost up. The architecture here too is similar to that of Meenakshi temple.
We had to rush to The Gandhi museum as it would close by 6.00.p.m. However, we could not make it on time. This was once called the Tamakkum palace of Rani Mangammal. Today, the museum supposedly houses 14 artifacts used by Gandhiji including his sacred ashes and blood stained dhotis. Gandhiji is said to have visited the city 5 times.
So next we headed back towards our lodge just infront of the temple;s west gate. But, on the way- we checked into Pudumandapam. This is a 1000yrs old shopping mall- supported by huge sculpture rich stone pillars. The stalls are occupied with tailors, handicrafts vendors, wholesale dealers of pooja related and general Ladies’ accessories. A good place for shopping traditional aritifacts at Madurai.
We took a local bus from Periyar bus stand to travel 21kms to reach Alagar Kovil- the temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu- Meenakshi’s brother. The village is surrounded by an old fort wall, gives a good view of the green hills around the temple. The architecture is similar to Koodal Alagar temple in the city.
A trek of 3kms uphill though green forests and monkey infested walkways leads you to the Murugan temple. It is one among the six abodes of Lord Murugan and hence important among the pilgrims. A walk of half a kilometer further uphill leads us to Pazhamudhir Solai temple. A temple dedicated to Goddess Rakkaya exists close to a natural spring called Nuburagangai here where the devotees take a holy bath. But strange & probably the only temple I have ever been to where there is an entry fee into the temple itself. This is where the famed Chittrai festival is observed during the month of April.
From there, we took the next bus back to Periyar from where we had to take a bus further to Tiruppanakundram. This is a cave temple at the foothills of a rock hill. It is believed that Lord Murugan was wedded to Devyani, daughter of Indra at this place. Hence, this is also counted one among the 6 abodes of Lord Murugan. Up the hills is the Dargah of Hazrat Sultan Sikandhar Badushah shaheed Radiyallah Ta’al anhu. Owing to time constraint and exhaustion, we thought of skipping the climb.
Other lesser known places we skipped due to time constraints were the Kazimar mosque and Goripalyam Dargah.
At the centre of the city is the Kattabomman junction- This is where a part of the old Madurai fort exists. Today this is not more than a public library.
I don’t do this usually, but would make a special mention about the streets of Madurai. Every street in the city has a history behind it: This link to an article from “The Hindu” explains it all- ‘Where moats made way for motorways’
This was all about getting around the place for sight seeing with bits of history. But, there is much to say and do..
To be continued……. Part 2 🙂