Meenakshi Amman Temple or Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple is dedicated to lord Parvati who is known as Meenakshi and Shiva who is known as Sundareswara. The temple is located in the southern bank of river Vaigai and is situated in the heart of the city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu in South India, covering an area of 17 acres, the entire city being built around it.
The temple complex has 14 gateway towers called gopurams, ranging from 45-50m in height, the tallest tower being the southern tower, 51.9 metres (162 feet) high along with two golden sculptured vimana gopuram.
All fourteen towers have been segregated based on the stages they are:
- 4 Rajagopurams – Nine tier gopurams ranging from 152 feet to 162 feet with carving of mythological stories
- 1 Seven tier – Chittirai gopuram is about 177 feet in height and contains 730 aesthetic sculptures of exquisite refinement
- 5 Five tier gopurams above Swami Sannidhi
- 2 Three tier gopurams above amma sannidhi
- 2 Golden gopurams
The main shrine of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are surrounded by three enclosures and each of these are surrounded by four minor towers the outer tower is larger and higher as compared to the corresponding inner one. Both the Meenakshi and Sundareswarar shrines have gold plated Vimanam (tower over sanctum). The area covered by the shrine of Sundareswarar is exactly one fourth of the area of the temple and that of Meenakshi is one fourth of that of Sundareswara.
Meenakashi is an avatar of goddess Parvati – the consort of Shiva. The name “Mīnakshi” means fish eyed and is derived from the words “mīna” meaning fish and “akṣi” meaning eyes. The lady goddess Meenakshi is the principal deity of the temple and not Sundareswarar (Shiva). As per legend Madurai is the actual place where the wedding of Shiva and Meenakshi took place. The Meenakshi temple complex is one of the largest and certainly one of the most ancient in the world.
The sacred temple tank Porthamarai Kulam (“Pond with the golden lotus”) also know as Adhi Theertham, is (50m) by (37m) in size. According to legend, Shiva promised a stork that no fish or other marine life would grow here and thus no marine animals are found in the tank. The huge Golden Lotus in the pond is said to have bloomed for Indra as a wish from Shiva.
Temple is also famous for many halls, some of the very famous ones are:
- Kilikoondu Mandapam (“bird cage corridor”) is the hall surrounding the sanctum of the Meenakshi amma
- Kambatadi Mandapam (“Hall of temple tree”) is the hall with seated Nandi
- Puthu Mandapam (“new hall”) is constructed by Tirumala Nayak which contains a large number of sculptures
- Ashta Shakthi Mandapam (“Hall of eight goddess”) is the first hall in the entrance of Meenakshi shrine tower near to East Tower
- Viravasantharaya Mandapam is a large hall with a huge corridors to the south of the pillared hall
- The Mangayarkarasi mandapam is a newly built hall situated opposite to the marriage halls and bears the name of saindy queen
- Mudali Pillai Mandapam or Iruttu Mandapam (Dark hall) is a wide and long hall built by Muthu Pillai during 1613
- The Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam (“Hall of 100 pillars”) has two rows of pillars carved with images of yali (mythological beast with body of lion and head of an elephant), commonly used as the symbol of Nayak power. It is situated to the north of Sundareswarar flag staff hall.
- Thousand Pillar Hall was built in 1569 with a excellence of the engineering and artistic skill. The pillars in the hall are carved in the Dravidian style, there are 985 halls instead of 1000 pillars.
The most important festival associated with the temple is the “Meenakshi Thirukalyanam” (The divine marriage of Meenakshi) that is celebrated in April every year.