The Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple lies in the very heart of the Temple City known as Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. In fact this temple of more than 2,000 years pre-dates the city that has been built around it.
Created with four tall, highly decorated towers this historic and very famous Hindu temple covers more than 6 hectares of land. The present structure was built in the 1600s yet the overall history goes back thousands of years.
The temple is built out in layers of squares. Roads then developed outside the temple also in square shapes. This is in the heart of Madurai and is how the city grew. Now the outside is bustling with retail stalls and, so I was told, one of the two most significant areas to shop for gold in the whole of India.
I was visiting the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple in the early evening, around 6-6:30pm. I was advised this was a good time since it would be less warm then the heat of midday.
My India companion led us at first to a building just outside the entrance to the South Tower. We had to give up our shoes since you are only allowed to walk around inside the Meenakshi Temple Madurai in barefoot.
Inconsistent security rules at the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple
We then went through the security check which seemed to frustrate my India companion more than I. Not the security check itself but rather the fact that the security guard said that I was not able to bring my camera inside the temple.
I suspected this was a religious respect thing or something of that nature. My Indian friend however was unhappy. He’d taken numerous people around the Sree Meenakshi Amman Temple in the past with cameras. He was even there 3 weeks earlier and said he saw people using cameras inside. (Even once inside there were fees to use cameras in certain areas. Clearly we couldn’t quite understand the misleading signs.)
I wasn’t one to argue.
My Indian colleague advised that we could use our mobile phone for pictures whilst inside. Whilst this means my pictures are a lot inferior to my camera at least I could create something to bring back memories.
Once inside the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple we were able to admire the South Tower from where we entered. This is the tallest of the main towers at 170 feet high (nearly 52 metres).
The design and colours on the decorations were very intricate, all hand carved and carefully placed over many years.
Shortly after entering I could see to our right a large pool of water. My guide advised the water was recycled around the temple. Whilst it was a water feature, there was no specific purpose for the pool other than it looked good.
I then enquired about a display some people were involved in. There appeared to be a small white statue where people were picking up a chalk like powder and dropping it over the white statue. My guide then advised me that this was not chalk, it was in fact dried out cow dung. Thank goodness I didn’t have a go!
As we walked on there was an area marked off to the left which was clearly signed as for Hindus only. This was the holiest part of the temple with the most notable statue of the god to which it is dedicated.
I stayed to the areas I was allowed and was able to admire the vast array of bright colours on the walls and ceilings as we walked down corridors passing by many hundreds of people. It is estimated that the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple receives around 15,000 visitors a day and 25,000 on Fridays.
The Temple in the “Temple City” (Madurai is host to numerous significant Hindu temples) is host to an annual 10 day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival which is celebrated between April and May. As part of this festival a large gold chariot with a statue of the god parades from the temple through the streets. This chariot is shown in model form in numerous areas throughout the holy site.
As we passed further down the Sree Meenakshi Amman Temple we could see numerous sculptures of lion like creatures, bulls, and other symbols of gods worshipped in the Hindu religion. There are estimated to be over 33,000 sculptures in the temple. It is little wonder than the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple made the short list for the modern day Seven Wonders of the World.
Gold is a prominent theme in Indian culture and religion. As a result it was little surprise to see a gold statue of a bull and a pure gold flag pole, stretching many metres.
In fact the chariot used for the Tirukalyanam festival is made of gold.
I noticed numerous areas for worship, a bit like altars set in the side of the wall. Hear little models of bullocks stood and allowed for private prayer.
I then noticed in the middle of a walkway a fair sized statue of a bull. People would lean over to the statue and whisper into the ear of the bull. My guide confirmed that these people were either making wishes, saying a prayer or giving thanks to their god through this action.
A little further on from here was the thousand pillar hall. This is clearly one of the places to visit in Madurai as it is a fascinating chamber with so many pillars in one place.
There was a small entrance fee to visit this part of Meenakshi Temple Madurai. However inside was a museum of Hindu art and photography was freely allowed, with mobile phones of course because nobody had been allowed to bring in compact cameras.
Some of the wall paintings had been explained to me as being made with extracts of colour from fruit and plants. Little wonder these are being stored inside for their longevity.
Various statues and ornaments existed which exemplify the designs of Hindu religion.
We then came across a display of ivory carvings. At this point I mentioned that such items would be banned in the UK. My guide agreed and said it was the same in India. These exhibits though were maybe 50+ years old and so relate to before the ban.
The topic of ivory came about again as we left the inside to walk along the stone pathing just inside of the surrounding walls. We came across a full grown elephant with a keeper.
I enquired if the elephant was well treated and not harmed in anyway, to which my guide assured me it was. (I cannot confirm this to be a fact or not. I later noticed that the feet of the elephant were chained up so I have my doubts.)
Assuming the elephant was well treated it did make for a magical memory.
The elephant was decorated in traditional Hindu paintings and was of great attraction. My guide handed me a bank note and asked me to stand in front of the facing elephant.
I stood, holding the bank note in front of me. Then the elephant reached out with her trunk and took the bank note from me. She gave the bank note to her keeper then placed her trunk gently on the top of my head.
I’d just been blessed by an elephant!
This was certainly a novel experience. I was so wrapped in excitement I then recorded a video of the elephant blessing other people.
At this point an Indian couple approached me and asked for me to take a picture of them stood in front of the elephant. (I must look like a trusting character.)
Pretty soon afterwards it was time for us to leave this temple dedicated to the god Shiva and Parvati (Meenakshi).
There is little doubt this is one of the top places to visit in Madurai. Until now I’d never really had time on prior visits to make this trip. However I’m delighted to say that I’ve been to the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. I’ve also been blessed by an elephant! Have you?