Madurai

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The Meenakshi Temple, a must-see south Indian temple, is the focal point of Madurai. Apparently, the city was built around the Shiva lingam that’s inside its sanctum. The temple complex covers 15 acres, and has 4,500 pillars and 12 towers. You could easily spend days in there, as it’s a “living temple” with a lot going on inside, including a constant stream of couples waiting to be married in its corridors. It’s a least worth visiting the temple once in the morning and again in the evening for the night ceremony.
Venture inside the cavernous Puthu Mandapam, a 17th century pillared entrance hall opposite the Meenakshi Temple’s east tower, to find rows of tailors and stalls selling fabric, scarves, jewellery, fashion accessories, handicrafts, and art work. You can get good quality clothes made there, including decent replicas. Balbina Boutique, at shop 119, is popular with foreign customers. The charming lady who runs it speaks excellent English. I bought a couple of stunning Madhubani paintings from her. 

 

Situated around a kilometer southeast of Meenakshi Temple, Tirumalai Nayak Palace is Madurai’s second biggest attraction. Built in 1636 by king Thirumalai Nayak, in Indo-Sarcenic style with the input of an Italian architect, it was his residential palace. Only a quarter of the original structure is intact, consisting of entrance hall, courtyard, dance hall, and audience hall. Substantial money was recently spent on major renovation works. The entry fee is 50 rupees for foreigners, plus a 30 rupee camera fee. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except between 1-2 p.m. when it closes for lunch. There’s a sound and light show every evening. 

 

 

One of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in India, Saint Mary’s was first constructed in 1840 although the present structure was built in 1916. Its architecture, featuring two tall bell towers, blends various European and Continental styles. The cathedral is located on East Veli Street in Madurai. 

 

 

Across the dry Vaigai River, housed in the Tamukkum Summer Palace of Nayak queen Rani Mangammal, is one of the seven museums in India dedicated to Gandhi. It contains a number of items used by him including a shawl, spectacles, yarn, and the bloodstained dhoti (loincloth) that he was wearing when he was assassinated in Delhi in 1948. Gandhi took up wearing the dhoti in Madurai in 1921, as a sign of national pride. Admission to the Gandhi Memorial Museum is free, and it’s open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. The Madurai Government Museum is also located in the same grounds.
If you have time, head out to Thiruparankundram, around 10 kilometers southwest of Madurai. There you’ll find one of the city’s other impressive ancient temples, dedicated to Hindu god Murugan (handsome son of Lord Shiva), who’s revered as a favorite god of Tamils. At the top of Thiruparankundram hill, there’s also a 14th century grave shrine of the Islamic saint Hazrat Sultan Sikandhar Badhusha. Time seems to have stood still there, and a single family has taken care of the shrine generation after generation.