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Tourist Places To Visit In Madurai
Madurai is one of the most ancient cities of India, with archaeological excavations at Manalur near Madurai recording human settlements and trade ties with the Roman Empire dating back to 300 BC. Madurai finds mention in the accounts of Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to the Mauryan Empire, who probably visited Madurai in the 3rd century BCE. Ruled by different Dynasties like the Pandyas, Cholas, the Vijayanagara Rulers, Madurai Sultanate, the Madurai Nayaks and the British, the city bears heritage structures symbolic of all dynasties and kingdoms.
According to ancient Tamil classical works, the city of Madurai sprang up like a lotus around the Meenakshi Temple, which is the iconic hallmark of Madurai. Madurai is one among the favourite of tourists who visit South India for the city of temples truly, has so many places to see. We have a list of some of the significant tourist places in Madurai that you would love to visit.
The Meenakshi Temple, one of the oldest and most significant temples in India is the most important tourist place of Madurai.
According to legends, Meenakshi was the daughter and princess of King Malayadwaja Pandya and Queen Kanchanamala. The princess ruled over Madurai and went on to conquer the neighbouring kingdoms and even desired to conquer the Kingdom of the Devas and Kailash, the abode of Shiva. It was here that she met Shiva and desired to marry him. The Meenakshi Temple stands at the very place where the Divine Couple got married.
The temple was built in the 1st century CE by King Kulashekara Pandya, though the temple we see today was rebuilt in the 16th century by the Vijayanagar and later by the Nayaka Dynasty, after the original was destroyed during Mughal invasion. The Meenakshi- Sundareshwara Temple is situated on the south of Vaigai River. The temple has an amazing number of gopuras or gateway towers, 14 of them as high as 148-164ft, with the Southern gopura the tallest of them all at 170ft.
The temple has a number of mandaps that were built long ago, as resting places for the devotees. Check out the Kilikoondu mandap, oringinally built to house parrots, the 100 pillared Nayaka Mandap, the Asta Shakthi Mandap and the Ayirankaal mandap or mandap with a thousand pillars and the Potramarai Kulam, the pond with the golden lotus. You’d be amazed by the intricate architectural beauty of each pillar and wall in the temple.
The temple is open from 5.00am-12.30pm and from 4.00pm-9.30pm. There are long queues for darshan during festival times.
Koodal Azhagar Temple
Built in the Dravidian style, the Koodal Azhagar Temple dedicated to Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi, is one of the 108 Divyadeshas of MahaVishnu, mentioned in the works of the Alvars or poet saints of the Vaishnavite traditions. The temple is said to have been built by the Pandya kings in the 9th century CE with later additions by the Kings of the Vijayanagara Empire and the Nayakas in the 16th century.
Vishnu is said to have incarnated as Koodal Azhagar to kill the asura Somuka who had made off with the four Vedas. What is unique about the temple is the three tiered sanctum, with Koodal Azhagar seated along with his consorts SriDevi and Bhudevi in the first one, in a standing posture in the second and in a reclined posture in the third.
The fourteen day Brahmotsavam celebrated in the months of May-June is the grandest festival of the temple, with the deities brought out through the streets around the temple in a procession. Koodal Azhagar temple is a little distance away from the Meenakshi Temple. Temple timings are from 5.30am-12.00pm and from 4.30pm-9.00pm.
Azhagar Kovil or Kal Azhagar Temple is located on the outskirts of Madurai, at the foothills of the Azhagar Malai or Azhagar Hill. According to legends Vishnu or Kal Azagar came all the way to Thenur Mandap near Vaigai River to redeem Sage Suthapas, who had become a mandooga or frog, due to a curse cast on him by the Sage Durvasa. During the annual Chithirai festival that celebrates the marriage of Meenakshi with Sundareshwara, Kal Azhagar is taken in a ritualistic procession across the Vaigai River so he can attend the wedding. Both these events are celebrated with great pomp and splendour in Madurai in the month of April.
The temple is situated in a beautiful locale, with the Azhagar hills in the back drop and a dilapidated fortress around it. The Temple also known as Thirumaaliruncholai is about 18 km from Madurai.
Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal
The iconic Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal was built by Thirumalai Nayakar, one of the most significant rulers of the Madurai Nayak Dynasty. Meant to be one of the greatest architectural wonders of South India, the Mahal that was built in 1636 in Islamic and Dravidian styles had parts of it pulled down as time passed, for construction elsewhere. During the Governorship of Lord Napier, the Palace was partially renovated to what we see now.
But what remains is still awe inspiring! The Palace was divided into the Swarga Vilas and the Ranga Vilas and they had the royal residences, the harems, prayers halls, ponds and gardens. The main building that you would see today was the Swarga Vilas palace in which the King lived. But what Thirumalai Nayakar built as his own Palace was four times bigger than what we see today.
The Mahal is open for visitors from 9.00am-5.00pm.
The Mahal is located quite close to the Meenakshi Temple.
St.Mary’s Cathedral also known as Church of Our Lady of Dolours was built in 1916, over a small cathedral that was built in 1841 by Fr. Louis Garnier. The Cathedral was constructed in an architecturally splendid combination of European, Roman and Continental styles along with impressive bell towers.
The quaint old place which has a lot of history and architectural beauty attached to it, imparts a quiet serene ambience, and attracts a lot of tourists. The Cathedral is about 2 km from the Railway Station.
Just a few kilometres from the Kal Azhagar Temple is the Pazhamudircholai Temple for Subrahmanya. The temple is one among the six important temples for Muruga, called the Arupadai Veedu.
According to legends, poetess saint Avvaiyaar was put to the test by Muruga who came to her in the guise of a young shepherd boy. The tree under which they stood is still revered today. The temple is situated on top of a hill called Solai Malai; and a beautiful natural spring called Noopura Gangai said to have sprung from the anklets of Vishnu is a favourite place for people to take a holy dip in.
Pazhamudircholai Temple is about 4 km uphill from the Kal Azhagar Temple.
Gandhi Memorial Museum
The Gandhi Memorial Museum functions in a historical building that was once known as the Tamukkam Palace. Built in 1670 AD, the Palace was home to Rani Mangammal of the Nayak Dynasty. The Museum was opened in 1959 by Jawaharlal Nehru, as one of the five Gandhi Sanghralayas established over the country.
Visit the library and the open air theatre, the section on the Khadi and village industries revived by Mahatma Gandhi, a museum with slides on various events of the Indian freedom movement, paintings and manuscripts of Mahatma Gandhi, letters written by Mahatma Gandhi and a replica of the blood stained cloth worn by him on the day he was assassinated.
The Museum is open from 10.00am-1.00pm and from 2.00pm to 5.45pm. It is closed on public holidays.
Vettankudi Bird Sanctuary
Over an area of about 40 hectares, the Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary is a natural haven for birds migrating in for winter. You would find Darters, Spoonbills, Asian Open Bill Storks, Egrets, Pin Tail, Common Teals and a variety of ducks. Thousands of birdsfly in for roosting and breeding near the three water bodies called Periya Kollukudi Patti, Chinna Kollukudi Patti and Vettankudi Patti and you’ll be able to find at least 220 different species of birds. The local people from the villages around the sanctuary have not burst crackers or used loud speakers for the last 30 years, so as not to alarm the migrating birds.
The place is quite parched in summer and the best time to visit is in winter when there are plenty of birds and the season would be comfortable for travel. The Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary is at Sivagangai, near Tirupattur. It’s about 51 km from Madurai and you can easily drive to the place via Madurai-Melur-Tirupattur stretch.
Vandiyur Mariamman Tank
The Vandiyur Theppakulam is said to be one of the largest tanks of South India. When the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal was built, the place where the tank is situated was dug up to collect material for construction. The emptied out area was modified to have underground channels to bring water from the Vaigai River and a set of 12 steps were built on the four sides on the orders of Thirumalai Nayakar.
There is a Maiya Mandap or Central Hall with a Ganesha temple that is surrounded by a small garden, in the middle of the tank. A broad footpath runs around the tank and you can spend an evening sitting by the tank contemplating. Visit the 2000 year old Vandiyur Maariamman Temple that is situated close to the tank. People throng to the temple in the faith that the Goddess will rid them off diseases. The temple is open from 6.00am-9.00pm.
The Malai Kottai or Rock Fort was built in 1605 by the Madurai Nayaka King Muthu Krishnappa Nayak. In the 18th century the Fort went into the control of the Wodeyars Kingdom of Mysore, later to Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan and finally to the British East India Company. At present the fort is under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India.
The rock fort is a marvel of ancient military tactics and planning. The 900 ft tall fort has double walls with spy holes, godowns that were once used to stock arms and amunitions, cannons set up at strategic points, a thin wall in the godown for soldiers to escape, a number of cells to hold prisoners of war and slaves, a big kitchen and a horse stable. You could still see a few cannons with the balls inside! Check out the abandoned temple at the top.
The place doesn’t afford a lot of shade in summer. You have got quite a number of steps to climb up to the fort. Choose a winter day and carry water bottles. The Rock Fort is at Dindugal, at about 63 km from Madurai.