Madurai is one of the oldest cities, maybe even older than Jerusalem or Rome. From the banks of the Tambarabarani River and the hills around Adichanallur a civilization grew, having Madurai, in South India as its capital city. It is associated with the trinity of the Hindu Gods, Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma and their consorts. It has a host of unbelievable, Hindu faith legends,that were written, sung and believed in Tamil literature, elucidating celestial Gods interacting with humans. It is home to many temples dedicated to the numerous gods of the Hindu faith.
Madurai is readily accessible by road, rail and air. It is a Tamil speaking, culturally oriented city which still clings to its traditional modest dress code of dhoti and saree. It is famous for an elephant shaped hill, the Vaigai river,many temples,steamed rice cakes, the different types of “chutney” or sauce and curry called sambhar. Traditional cock fights, the taming of the bull with bare hands or Jallikattu are some famed sports .It is also the head quarters of the World Tamil Sangam. This wonderful city was also once capital of a kingdom, of a large population of Tamils, having their own distinct, language, culture and Gods.
The Tamil language is one of the world’s longest surviving classical languages with a continuous script. It is rich with literature containing epics, legends, moral code and ethics. This language was said to be spoken by the Hindu Gods who manifested in this city as humans, to develop its literature. These manifestations as ordinary men or women are believed to have shared their everyday life alongside the people of Madurai. The literature is a sacred set of documents, written on palm leaves, engraved on stone, painted on the temple walls and etched in the mind and heart of the Tamils. For them, it is their Bible, Torah or Koran.
The Tamil community is of Dravidian Origin which ruled almost the entire Southeast Asia and traded with Europe, Africa, China and the rest of Asia. Sadly this civilization which once astonished the world, does not have a country for its own, but languishes in the state of Tamilnadu which is one among the many states in India. Its diaspore live as a recognized minority. It has now found refuge in almost all democracies around the globe and is searching for its identity.
Madurai celebrates many festivals relating to the manifestations of their gods and goddesses. One festival celebrated every year is the festival of the celestial wedding between Shiva and Parvathi which was believed to have brought down all the Gods from heaven. It is celebrated as a local holiday and attracts more than five hundred thousand devotees from all over the world.
Thousands believe in the Tamil texts which narrates how the goddess Parvathi, to satisfy the wishes of a childless Pandya King, incarnated as a princess into that family. She was born with three breasts and the distraught King prayed to the gods and was assured that the third breast would disappear on her meeting her husband. The incarnated Goddess was called Meenakshi or Angayarkanni meaning the mother with fish shaped eyes. The princess thereafter grew to be brave, learned, just and conquered the rest of the kingdoms around the sub continent. It is said that on seeing her husband to be, her third breast vanished..However to rid herself from her human form she had to marry Shiva once again. It was therefore that Shiva manifested as a human and so did all the heavenly gods. They all gathered in Madurai at the abode of Meenakshi to celebrate the wedding and bless the couple. Once married, the princess and Shiva transformed themselves once again into the gods. She and her husband got the blessings of the Pandya king and all the gods blessed the people. As per Tamil custom she then left her parents to her heavenly abode to reside with Shiva for ever more.
The king designed the Pandyan Flag with two fishes resembling the eyes of his daughter Meenakshi and built a temple with Meenakshi as the main deity, This temple which dates back many centuries and was built before the birth of Christ. It survived wars, fire, famine sieges through the many centuries and grew stage by stage into a beautiful complex of tall towers or Gopurams with several thousand sculptures decorating the twelve towers and corridors. Wall paintings and many thousand pillars hold roof to the ancient temple which is one of the most worshipped house of the Hindu Gods. It is an architectural achievement and an intricate work of art. It is bigger than the Sphinx or the pyramids. Although It is yet to be recognized as a world wonder, a visit to this temple will certainly prove that this magnificent exposition of Dravidian civilisation stands on a higher pedestal called “Amazement”.
The ancient city of Madurai too could very well be named “the abode of the gods” if one believes the sixty four instances recorded in ancient texts about the incarnations of God to live along side the people of Madurai. Some of his manifestations as a woodcutter, tamil poet and a labourer who helped build the temple were made into films which were box office hits world wide.
Believe it or not my visit into this temple town was one of the most meaningful among my many travels because it had a bit of everything in life that my mind could think about.To be honest none would believe that unbelievable feeling I experienced on my visit into the abode of Gods which in other words in ancient times could have been deemed to be Paradise.