Madurai: Situated on the banks of River Vaigai with historical links with the Kings of Pandyas and Cholas and with illlustrious architecture and monuments, Madurai is the famed Abode of Devi Meenakshi and Sundareshwara the alternate forms of Shiva and Parvati. This City which is also known ‘Naandamada Kudam’or the Assembly of Scholars, and the Centre of Four Towers viz. the Temple, is well connected by Road, Railway and Air. Meenakshi Temple is ancient in modern setting with Four Entry Gates, 14 Gopurams (Towers) of 175-180 ft. of height plus besides 27 smaller Gopurams and an estimated 35000 Sculptures, nominated for the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, possessing two principal Sanctums or Garbha sthalas with two golden vimanas or Shrines. Although there are four Dwaaras, normally the Eastern side though popular, is stated by Puranas as somewhat inauspicious since there is a concern of Brahma Hatya Paataka, as that mighty sin was committed by Indra who killed Vritrasura, a Brahmana and Deva Raja had to hide himself in a lotus stem at Mansarovar Lake and finally emerged from a non-Southern side of the stem latter with the redemption from Brahma to qualify for scrapping the sin; this is why an alternate gate was since made for entry-exit! At the entry point itself there is a Ashta Shakti Mandapa called Nagaar Mandapa which is supported by eight pillars on which are painted on the ceilings the sketches of Ashta Lakshmis. To the right side of the Mandapa, there are the Murtis of Ganesha and Subrahmanya where shops are placed and behind it are the idols of Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu’s Mohini Swarupa and Anasuya. Further to a Dark Mandapa not open to visitors is the Swarna Pushkarini Sarovara around which are the Pancha Pandava Murtis, beyond which is the Purusha Mriga Mandapa or half man and half animal images. Just opposite that is the Meenakshi Mandir, before which is a small Subrhmanya Mandir with his two Devis. While performing Parikrama of Meenakshi Devi’s celestial Idol which is well ornamented and beautifully dressed are the Murtis of Jnaana Shakti, Kriya Shakti and Bala Shakti as also Subramanya Mandir and Tirumala Balaji with his two consorts on either side. Sundareswara Temple with dwara palakas before, and on entering it one encounters with silveren Nataraja with his right foot up (as compared to Nataraja at Chidambaram kshetra’s Vigraha of Nataraja whose left foot was raised). Opposite to Sundareshwara Swami Mandir is a Swarna Shikhara and there beyond is Swayambhu Sundareshwara Maha Linga with golden ‘Tripundra’ decorated on the countenance. Outside the Mandir are wonderfully looking Eight Pillars with ‘Shankara Leelas’ depicted along with the figures of Veerabhadra and other Shiva Ganas. In the Mandapa, Shiva Bhakta ‘Kaaraikalamma’ is also depicted. In the Navagraha Mandapa, the Navagraha Murtis are presented.. While performing Parikrama around the Sundareshwara Mandir, one would find the darshan of Hanuman, Ganapati, Dandapani, Saraswati, Dakshina Murti, Subrahmanya and so on. There is a small Mandir of Devi Durga seperately around an old root of Kadamba vriksha still preserved and it is stated that it was under this tree that Meenakshi and Sundaresha were wedded! To the south-west of the Main Temples, are kept the Utsava Vigrahas or the Temple Parikrama Idols, besides Ganga-Parvati Idols made of Gold and on the western side there is a Chandanamaya Maha Linga. Right before the Main Temple of Sundaresha is installed Nandi Deva from where the Sahasra Stambha Mandapa is situated, before which are the Murtis of Deva- Devis and Shiva Bhaktas among whom there is a highly attractive and artistic Murti of Veenadhari Saraswati too. At this Mandapa itself, there is a peaceful looking Shyamala Sundara Nataraja installed; here again Shiva Bhakta Kannappa’s Idol is arranged. Right opposite the Meekakshni Mandir is built a Shata Stambha Mandapa with 120 pillar on which are portrayed the Raja-Rani Vigrahas of those in Authority then. At the eastern side of the main Temples is a Meenakshi- Sundaresa Kalyana Mandapa called the New Mandapa named Vasanta Mandapa where every Chaitra Month, the Kalyana Mahotsavas are celebrated and the Vigrahas of the Deities at the ‘Panigrahana’ Function are displayed. These Kalyana Celebrations are observed for Ten days as these are known as Utsava Nagari Festivals. During Vaishakha Shukla Panchmi, celebrations for eight days are observed too. Ashadha-Shravana Months are full of festivals since special pujas are organised for Devi Meenakshi while Shravana Month is dedicated to ‘Shankara Leela Smaranotsavas’ of 64 types are depicted with corresponding picturisations. Besides Bhadrapada-Ashviyuja Nava Ratra Mahotsavas are popular too. Amavashyas and Punima days are special. Nataraja Abhishekas are done in Margaseersha ‘Ardra Nakshatra’ while Kala Bhairava Ratha Yatra on that Ashtami is organised too. Pousha Purnima is noted for Meenakshi Rathotsavas and Maagha Smaranotsava by Shiva Bhaktas and Phalguna Madana Dahanotsava are too executed. The legendary aspect of the two famed Temples of Sundaresha and Meekakshi at Madurai is as known as follows. At the Temple site now there was a ‘Kadambavana’ at the times of Pandya King Malayadhwaja and his wife was Kanchanamala. The King noticed that there was Swayambhu Shiva Linga which as believed by the Public had proofs of Devas worshipping unvisioned to any. Once Bhagavan Shankara appeared repeatedly in the dreams of the King and instructed him to build a Temple; one evening a serpent made the King follow to a specific place and stopped with hissings of its hood several times and disappeared. The King then decided to build a model Temple naming Bhagavan Shankara as Sundaresha and appointed Pandits for regular worship and Abhishekas as per Scriptures and gradually Bhaktas poured in. The King who turned himself a fulfeldged Shiva bhakta took to long meditation and a hazy profile of Shankara appeared. Then King got confused and made a request to that Figure to bless him with a noble child as he had none. Kanchanamala became pregnant and a girl child named Meenakshi was born. But soon enough the King died and the Queen took over the role of a Queen Mother on behalf of the daughter. Meenakshi grew up as a Parama Bhakta of Sundaresha and spent all the time in the Temple itself. The Queen decided to wed Meenakshi with the Celestial Figure of Sundareshsa and within days Meenakshi really merged into the Lord and eventually a seperate Mandir was contructed by the Pandyan line of Kings as Meenakshi!
Sundar Raja Perumal: In Madurai itself is the Sundar Raja Perumal Mandir where Lord Vishnu’s Sundara Bahu or of Pretty Hands Swarupa is installed with four hands seated on a throne along with Sri Devi and Bhu devi, while on top of the Mandir connected by steos are Surya Narayana and Nrisimha Murtib are installed; there is a seperate Lakshmi Mandir also in the same premises and this beautiful Idol of Devi Laksmi is named as ‘Madhuvalli’ or the Deposit of Honey / ‘Amrit’. On the way from Meenakshi Mandir to this Sundar Raja Prerumal one could sight a Sri Krishna Mandir in which a large Idol of Sri Krishnachandra is attractive. From Madurai to about 3 km is Tiruppuramkkundam and nearby there is a small mountain and up there is a cave inside which a Sarovar and a fairly big Mandir with a high rise gopura dedicated to Lord Subramanya , besides Murtis of Shiva-Parvati-Ganesha Idols; the belief is that Kumara’s wedding was celebrated here and a row of Peacocks with Shiva- Parvati-Ganesha Murtis present as the audience! This is one of the six Subramanya sthalas of Dakshina Bharat. Passing by near the southern side of Vaigai river, one encounters a large Sarovara where the Ratha Yatra of Meenakshi-Sundareshwara Parikrama terminates at the Maryamman Koil. Palamoodicholai hardly 2km from Alagar Koyil up the Mountain and this too is one another six Abodes of Lord Kumara as a Tiruppuruk kundam. This too is one of the six Subramanya sthalas of Dakshina Bharata.
Vrishabhadri or Tirumaliruncholai is some 8km from Madurai is the famous Alagar Koil. References to this Mandir are made in a number of Puranas including Varaha Purana, Vamana Purana, Brahmada Purana and Agni Purana! Yama Dharma Raja performed Tapasya to Maha Vishnu by assuming the form of a Vrishabha or a bull and secured his Darshan and thus this Mountain is known as Vrishabhaadri. When in his ecstasy as Maha Vishnu appeared before Yama, the latter danced and from the ‘nripura maala’ or a string of trinket bells tied around his feet fell out a bell that materialised a water spring called Nripu Ganga, stated to be a wash out of sins by taking bath in it. One needs to purify by the body bath and enter the Temple of Bhagavan Alagar and the original installation of Sundara Raja Narayana / Kalagar along with Sridevi and Bhudevis on either side was performed by Yama Dharma Raja himself. None knows as to when the construction of the Temple was made but the belief is that Shri Poigai Alwar, Bhutattalwar and Payalvar are traced back to have venerated the Idols even during Dwapara Yuga times as given in Vaishnava Scriptures. Even Pandavas along with Draupadi Devi visited the Temple and stayed in the cave of the Mountain worshipping Alagar Bhagavan and till date there is a Pandava Shayya or the bed rocks in the cave during their ‘Agjnata Vaasa’ or Living In-cognito following their agreement with Kauravas as they lost the bet in a dice game. The daily abhisheka of the Main Deity continues to be performed by the Nripura Sarovara water only since any other type tends to disolour the Deity. Karuppu Swami is venerated with daily pujas as he is the guardian of the entire establishment at the Temple. A grand festival is celebrated now for five days on Chaitra Shukla Chaturdashi as Bhagavan Sunderraja on the Purnima day commences his Yatra from Madurai reaching Nanduiyur after crossingVegavati River, rest overnights there, reach Tenur , Ramaraya Mandapa, Mysore Raja Mandapa and return toVrishabhadri on the fifth day. Another such festival for five days is also organised from Ashadha Shukla Purnima.
p style=”text-align: justify;”>Shivakashi : This ‘Tirtha Sthala’ distant from Madurai by 16 km where there is a Sri Krishna Mandir with four arms carrying shankha, chakra, gadaa, padma is stated to be the Capital of Banaasura whose daughter Usha was wedded to Anirudda, the grandson of Lord Krishna. The story of the wedding is interesting: The gradson of Bali Chakravarti of Patala Loka of Vamanavatara fame, Banasura had a daughter Usha who fell in love with Aniruddha the son of Pradyumna, whose father was Lord Krishna and Devi Rukmini. On her insistence to invite Aniruddha to her Palace, Banasura finally agreed but Aniruddha was imprisoned by Banasura. This led to a big battle with Krishna, Balarama and Yadavas against Asuras. Krishna severed Banasura’s head by Sudarshana Chakra but Banasura got saved as he was a great devotee of Shiva, besides Usha was an exceptional devotee of Devi Parvati too; the dispute was amicably resolved by Banasura’s consenting to the wedding of Usha and ‘Aniruddha!