There might be a few places to visit in Madurai but most tourists come here to visit the glorious Meenakshi Temple.
Arguably the best temple in India and definitely the most beautiful in South India, the Meenakshi Temple is a towering edifice crested by elaborate gaudy stucco-work gopurams. Everything in Madurai is geared around the red-and-white striped sanctuary of the ‘fish-eyed goddess’. The city is surrounded by tinny religious songs, peopled by 10,000 devoted pilgrims prostrating themselves at shrines, lighting candles and presenting flower garlands to idols, seeking blessings from the temple elephant or palmistry on the shores of the Golden Lotus tank. Even the city’s town planning reflects the sanctity of the spot: surrounding streets radiate like bicycle spokes from the temple in the mandala architectural style, a sacred form of geometry. There is the usual combination of messy crumbling buildings harking back to times of greater architectural aspirations, modern glass-and-chrome palaces, internet cafés, flower sellers, tailors and tinkers and Kashmiri antique and shawl dealers. The centre seems all dust and cycle-rickshaws, but Madurai, as the second biggest city in Tamil Nadu, is also a modern industrial place that never sleeps.
If you’re looking for other things to do in Madurai, head down to Thirumalai Nayak Palace to view the ruins of the once grand palace built by Thirumalai Nayaka in 1636.
If you can plan your trip to Madurai during the Teppam (Float) Festival held sometime between January and February, you can watch as the Meenakshi Temple deities are taken on a tour of the town and floated on the huge Mariamman Teppakkulam Tank. The evening culminates in Shiva’s seduction of his wife, whereupon the icons are brought back to the temple to make love and, in doing so, regenerate the universe. Equally interesting is the 14-day Chithrai Festival held in April/May where the deities are wheeled around the temple in massive chariots to celebrate the marriage of Meenakshi to Sundareswarar (Shiva).
All the major Madurai tourist places are located centrally making it easy and quick to travel to these attractions by foot. If necessary, there are cycle rickshaws around the temple area that can take you to other parts of Madurai city.
Below is a list of popular places to visit in Madurai.
1. Meenakshi Temple Madurai
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The Sri Meenakshi Temple, abode of the triple-breasted, fish-eyed goddess Meenakshi Amman, is considered by many to be the height of South Indian Vijayanagar temple architecture, as vital to the aesthetic heritage of this region as the Taj Mahal is to North India. The temple complex has 12 majestic gopuras (gateway towers) covered with colourful stucco figures of gods, goddesses, mythical animals and monsters.
2. Thirumalai Nayak Palace Madurai
What the Meenakshi Temple is to Nayak religious architecture, the Thirumalai Nayak Palace is to the secular. In its heyday, this palace was considered to be one of the wonders of the South. The power and wealth of the Nayakas is evident from the remains of this once grand palace, built by Thirumalai Nayaka in 1636.
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