Madurai is one of the oldest cities in India, a metropolis that traded with ancient Rome and outlasted her destruction.
Chennai may be the heart of Tamil Nadu, but Madurai claims her soul. Madurai is Tamil borne and Tamil rooted, one of the oldest cities in India, a metropolis that traded with ancient Rome and outlasted her destruction.
The word ‘Madurai’ is derived from ‘Madhura’ (sweetness) arising out of the divine nectar showered on the city by the Hindu god Shiva from his matted hair.
One of South India’s great temple towns, Madurai is synonymous with the celebrated Meenakshi Temple. This ancient city on the banks of the Vaigai river has, over the centuries, been a rich repository of Tamil culture. Tamil and Greek documents record the existence of Madurai from the 4th century BC. Some 2,000 years ago, it hosted the famous Sangams (gatherings of writers and poets), which were to provide Tamil literature with some its most enduring works. From the 7th to 13th centuries, as the capital of the Pandyas, it saw art and trade, especially in spices, with Rome and China flourish. It later became part of the Vijayanagar Empire, and was the Nayaka capital in the 16th-17th centuries. Madurai then passed into the hands of the British East India Company. In 1840 the company razed the fort, which had previously surrounded the city, and filled in the moat. Four broad streets – the Veli streets – were constructed on top of this fill and to this day define the limits of the old city. Today, religion and culture remain a vibrant part of the city’s daily life.
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