Monday, March 2, 2015

Madurai – the Athens of the East

Boasting of a glorious past, tremendous energy and embellished with colourful gopurams, these three things first come to the mind of travelers who travel to far southern India to witness the chaos of devotees and flamboyancy of religion. Madurai is a tinsel town situated in the state of Tamil Nadu. Earlier it was an eminent ancient city of many Chola and Pandya rulers. Tamil Nadu boasts of some of the most majestic Hindu temples of Dravidian architecture, which are beautifully distinctive in their architectural style, renowned for their sky-wards Gopurams. The Airavateswara temple in Darasuram, the Shore Temple and the Brihadishwara Temple built by Cholas, along with the group of other monuments in Mahabalipuram known as Mamallaburam, have been declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Madurai city of Tamil Nadu is home to one of the most wonderful Hindu temples in the world-the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple.

5 Must Visit Places in Madurai

1. Sree Menakshi Amman Temple

The signature attraction of Madurai, this huge temple goes beyond the culture of Tamil Nadu and mythology. This massive splendid architectural beauty extends beyond 6 hectares of land dedicated to Lord Shiva and named after her wife Parvati. Any architectural afficiando can’t help but to fall in love with this temple. Every pillar has something to say, every corner reflects the imagination of artists and every sculpture speaks volume about the rich past of Southern dynasties. The temple bore the brunt of many invaders, but gracefully restored by kings. The present temple owes to Nayak dyanasty who ruled the city between 16th and 18th centuries. They restored the whole temple, constructed pillar hall, artists created some amazing work.

2. Thirupparankundram Murugan Temple

God Murugan chose the abode in six places and the present day land where this glorious Thirupparankundram Murugan Temple is located, was the place where the Lord married Devasena. It is also said that this is the place where sun and moon abide. The cave temple is dedicated to the elements of earth among the five elements and diverse Dravidian classical texts boasted this hill as southern Himalayas. The place is also a wonderful example of secular India where you find an Islamic Shrine dedicated to Sikander, which is an architectural beauty.

3. Thirumalai Nayak Palace: sound and light show

The palace was built in 17th century by Nayak Dynasty. Like many other medieval structures in Tamil Nadu, this one also is expansive with large gopurams and pillars. The inner dome is gilded with gold and fine sculptures of dancers and deities prance across the inner arches. Like many temple, this palace also reflects brilliant hues of red and green.

The surprising part of the light and sound show is, it doesn’t involve any laser or fountain but purely on lighting in a well-coordinated sequence. The narrative tells about the history of the place how bravery of Nayagar’s commanders forced king of Mysuru to back down from the city. The whole narrative is interesting, sometimes too dramatic but it’s fair.

Thirumalai Nayakar Palace, Madurai: Entry timings and fees:
Day time opening hours: 9 AM to 5 PM
Entry fee: Rs 10 for adults, Rs 5 for children, Rs 50 for foreign nationals, Rs 30 for still camera and Rs 100 for video camera.

Sound and light show timing and fees:
English show from 6.45 PM to 7.35 PM
Tamil show from 8 PM to 8.50 PM
Adult: Rs 50, children/students: Rs 25, same fee for international tourists as well and there's no separate fee for cameras.

4. Koodal Azhagar Temple

Koodal Azhagar Temple is one of the oldest temples in South India. Although it is not as grand as Meenakshi Temple, from the historical perspective, the temple is quite significant. The temple is dedicated to God Vishnu and boasts of ancient architecture. The temple is located just 2 km away from the city’s west and a better tour if you want to avoid massive crowd of Meenakshi Temple.

5. Samanar Hills

The hills are situated 10 km away from famed Meenakshi Amman Temple. These hills are famous for Jain caves where you can witness some amazing Jain carvings and sculptures. From the hill top, you can view a splendid view of the city Madurai. Pechchi Pallam, a natural fountain is still working since ancient times. This place is for solitude lovers who can spend lots of time on the hills enjoying the beauty of Southern Hills.

How to explore the streets of Madurai

Supermarket with a difference

Streets of Madurai are cacophony at its best. You can witness virtually all types of transports, rickshaws, cyclists, cars, motorcycles and even menagerie of animals. Before entering the famed Meenakshi Amman Temple, you will come across Pudhu Mandapam shopping centre. The shopping centre is not like modern shopping malls or supermarket. It is a large hall punctuated by massive carved pillars where almost 300 shopkeepers sell their products ranging from glittering sequins, jewelled embellishments, hair accessories and many others. 

Velacherry’s Sculptors

You will be amazed to see various stone statues in different stages of completion place at Vellalar Street in Velacherry, just 8km southwest of Meenakshi Amman Temple. Most of the statues are of Gods, Goddess, Yaksha and some animals. These statues are bleached white by the vehement sun. Apart from plaster of Paris idols, you can also find terracotta sculptures. 

Ambrosia in slush

Fortune Pandiyan swimming pool area

The drink taste a bit rose flavoured extravaganza, but the slush is nothing less than ambrosia after a long hectic tour of Madurai city. The recipe is best kept secret, and no vendor will disclose it to you. Only thing you can experience is a mixture of ice cold milk, cream, rose syrup, vanilla ice cream, China grass, crushed almonds and small fruit jelly.  It is not just a beverage; it is food and filled you up.

Where to stay in Madurai

There are plenty of places to stay in Madurai. Madurai is one of the busiest tourist cities in Southern India, so there are no dearth of lodges, star hotels, budget hotels etc.

Most of the budget hotels you can find near Meenakshi Temple and Madurai Junction Railway Station. 

Among hotels in Madurai, Fortune Pandiyan is a modern and expansive hotel spreads in 3 acres of landscaped gardens. The hotel has a contemporary ambience within a sublime traditional flavour. It is near to airport and railway station.

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