The Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple was also known as the Meenakshi Sundereswarar Temple. The temple and its legends, fables and history are not found in the Vedic texts of Aryan Hinduism even though Shiva, Vishnu and the other gods are common to each other. Its architecture was exclusively Dravidian. However, to my surprise, I noticed a large number of North Indians who professed the Aryan form of Hinduism , who had come to worship Shiva in this temple. Albeit the differences the connection was Shiva, Ramayana and the 16th century temple hall, as well as the corridor.
This temple was adorned with gorgeous paintings all over the walls. I walked through these expressions of art, exhibited in the temple corridor. The corridor was called the “nadai”. It had monolith pillars, sculpted out of granite, supporting a well decorated graffiti roof. Rows of stalls between the pillars on each side of the corridor, were selling pooja articles, offerings, hand made traditional wooden toys, dresses for children, bangles of glass, fancy ornaments for women and temple souvenirs.
The passage led to another area secured by granite walls and a door which was of polished brass. It was small and it opened into the inner sanctum.This was called the “mandapam” or hall. There were four halls around the cordoned, inner sanctum which were adorned with huge sculptures of gods, goddesses, incarnations, kings, sages and heroes, who were described in the Tamil epics or literature.
Many worshipers stood in line to enter the inner, sanctum, sanatorium to visit the Deity.Being a Christian and unaccustomed to Hindu rituals I did not venture inside, lest I slip doing innocent wrong to the traditional rituals or customs, which could unwittingly hurt Hindu sentiments or be the cause for embarrassment. I tried to look beyond the crowd to try and get a glimpse of the deity that was placed within the shining golden sanctum which was decorated by brass pillars. As my effort was of no avail, I studied the sculptures. They made me desperate to photograph them, which was prohibited. However I did take a few shots, on the sly using my smart phone.
To my surprise,I found a counter in the hall, where I could get a license for Rupees twenty or thirty five cents for using phones. My exuberance with my phone attracted the attention of a security personal who cautioned me not to take pictures of the inner sanctum. Thus, I avoided picturing the inner sanctum.
There were four halls and strangely each hall was made up of many hundred pillars. Each of them,in the hall, differed with that in the other. Whilst one had a lion playing a lute, others had images of danseuses, musicians, gods and so on. Each hall was said to be meant for different situations such as celebration, dance, meditation, meetings, marriages and for worship to smaller deities. There was an exclusive hall made up of thousand pillars, which pillars, when patted was said to produce different musical tones. It was closed that day.
I was told that the Meenakshi Amman,the main deity,was consecrated in a distinct sanctum which had many other interesting details. I shifted my attention to walk towards the South Tower entrance. The sanctum of Meenakshi was however the exclusive domain of Hindus. Foreigners and people of other faith were prohibited by custom from entering. I chose to look around at the walls of that sanctum which contained sculptures and details of the celestial wedding between Shiva and Parvathi in human form. Another part of the wall exhibited the great victories of the Pandyan kings. It also had many sculptures of the manifestations.
The sanctum faced the temple tank which measured about forty meters by fifty meters. It was originally a pond which had a golden lotus and believed to be where Indra, the Hindu god of war, to rid himself of a curse bathed before worshiping Shiva the in the small temple. It was this temple that had become the present Sundereswarar and Meenakshi temple. This tank was also where the Tamil sangam or association of Tamil literates, poets, scholars, and sages headed by the Pandya king gathered to deliberate over the acceptance of any Tamil literary work to submitted it. These works were thereafter presented to God for his acknowledgement.
As the manuscripts submitted were written on Palm leaves, they were tested of worthiness by being thrown into the tank.It was believed that if the work reached the golden lotus it meant that it was accepted by God and therefore could be circulated among the people. This practise or custom, was, I presume, a kind of censorship and a judgement delivered by god on any Tamil literary work. It is said that Thirukural a now world famous, set of couplets, dating back to the second century BC was thus tested and accepted.