Meenakshi Amman Temple

sights / Religious

Meenakshi Amman Temple information

Prices
camera/video ₹50/250
Opening hours
4am-12.30pm & 4-9.30pm
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Lonely Planet review

The abode of the triple-breasted goddess Meenakshi (‘fish-eyed’ – an epithet for perfect eyes in classical Tamil poetry) is considered by many to be the height of South Indian temple architecture, as vital to the aesthetic heritage of this region as the Taj Mahal is to North India. It’s not so much a temple as a 6-hectare complex with 12 tall gopurams, all encrusted with a staggering array of gods, goddesses, demons and heroes (1511 of them on the south gopuram alone).

According to legend, the beautiful Meenakshi (a version of Parvati) was born with three breasts and this prophecy: her superfluous breast would melt away when she met her husband. The event came to pass when she met Shiva and took her place as his consort. The existing temple was built during the 17th-century reign of Tirumalai Nayak, but its origins go back 2000 years to when Madurai was a Pandyan capital.

The four streets surrounding the temple are pedestrian-only. The main entrance is by the eastern gopuram . First, have a look round the Pudhu Mandapa , the 100m-long, 16th-century pillared hall facing the gopuram . It's filled with colourful textile and craft stalls and tailors at sewing machines, partly hiding some of the lovely pillar sculptures, but it's easy to find the triple-breasted Meenakshi near the southeast corner, and her marriage to Shiva, accompanied by Vishnu, just inside the western entrance. A particularly handsome light-blue Nandi bull (Shiva's vehicle) sits outside the mandapa's eastern entrance.

Dress codes are fairly strict for the temple itself: no women's shoulders, or legs of either gender, may be exposed. Despite this the temple has a happier, more joyful atmosphere than some of Tamil Nadu's more solemn shrines, and is adorned with particularly colourful ceiling and wall paintings. There’s often classical dance somewhere in the complex at the weekends.

Once inside the eastern gopuram , you'll find the Nayak-period Thousand Pillar Hall on your right. This is now an Art Museum where you can admire at your leisure a Shiva shrine with a large bronze Nataraja at the end of a corridor of superbly carved pillars, plus many other fine bronzes and colourful painted panels. Some of the best carvings, including Krishna with his flute, Ganesh dancing with a woman on his knee, and a female deity cradling a baby, are immediately inside the museum entrance. Moving on into the temple, you'll reach a Nandi shrine surrounded by more beautifully carved columns. Ahead is the main Shiva shrine, and further ahead to the left is the main Meenakshi shrine, both of which only Hindus can enter. Anyone can however wander round the temple tank, and leave the temple from there via a hall of flower sellers and the arch-ceilinged Ashta Shakti Mandapa, which is actually used as the temple entrance by most worshippers and is lined with relief carvings of the goddess's eight attributes and has perhaps the loveliest of all the temple's brightly painted ceilings.