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Sightseeing in Madurai

The sightseeing is, you guessed..around the various temples.

The grand gopurams of the Meenakshi Sundareshwar Temple tower over the city at the heart of which they stand. The temple complex covers 6 hectares right in the middle of the city and is flush with visitors from all over, each and everyday. The towers that loom overhead are famous for detailed carvings of the gods and goddesses, mythological figures and running depictions of legendary tales. The huge southern gopuram has over 1500 sculptures! The temple is dedicated to Shiva and Meenakshi, an earthly incarnation of his wife Parvati, who was born to the childless ruler after many prayers.

The Pandyas originally built the Meenakshi Temple but little had survived when Tirumalai Nayak restored it to its old glory. Entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the Shiva temple is restricted to Hindus, and in the Meenakshi temple to Hindu women.

The thousand pillar hall, Ayirankkal Mandapam with its exquisitely carved 985 pillars is definitely the highlight of the Meenakshi Temple. It is believed the Nayaka kings set up a factory to produce the pillars, but these are certainly off no production line. Each pillar is a work of art depicting images of gods and goddesses as well as humbler men and women. Elaborate and intricate in design, the pillars also serve a more useful purpose. They support the roof over a 5548sq mt hallway. The mandapam houses the Temple Art Museum with a fine collection of images, drawings and photographs showing the 1200 year old history of temple architecture in South India.

The Maraimman Thepukullam Temple Tank built in 1636, the 1000X 950ft tank with its temple is barely 5km from the Meenakshi Temple. Fed by underground channels connected to the Vaigai River, the tank is the venue of the annual Float Festival (Jan-Feb.). The temple is dedicated to Lord Vigneshwera (Ganesha), whose statue was unearthed when construction began at the site of the Tirumalai Nayakkar Palace.

Tirumalai Nayakkar Palace (1636) is ten minutes walk from the Meenakshi Temple. Built in the classic Indo- Saracenic style, its highlights include a open air courtyard and dance hall with 58ft tall pillars, a free standing dome and stuccowork on the arches and on the impressive dome. A good Sound & Light Show at the palace provides an interesting break from temples and does offer an insight into the history of the city and its rulers.

The Gandhi Museum is a great place for anybody who wants to discover the Mahatma. Several little known facts are displayed, as is his bloodstained dhoti from his assassination.

The ancient temple of Koodal Azhagar has idols of Vishnu sitting, standing and in repose one above the other.

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