Most tourists who visit Madurai are pilgrims come to visit the Meenakshi Temple. And we felt like our foreignness was being taken advantage of at first. Our rickshaw driver tried to increase the price once we arrived at our hotel. And the price of laundry kept on increasing every time we mentioned it at the hotel or other places. But we slowly started to see the magic that Madurai has to offer.
The Meenakshi- Sundareshwarar temple is quite spectacular. It was built over hundreds of years from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. It takes up a large city block, complete with five entrances (gopuras), a lotus tank, meditation area, sculptures, a room with a thousand pillars, and shrines dedicated to Meenakshi and Shiva. The place was more elaborate than other temples we’ve visited with a combination of natural stone carvings and painted symbols. We were a little disappointed that the main shrines are for Hindus only, but considering the thousand-person lines, we probably wouldn’t have gone anyway. We got a guide who helped explain the history, architecture, and spiritual meaning of the many carvings and shrines, including an interesting statue that pregnant mothers pour oil on to ensure childbirth is smooth.
Just outside the temple was an old building, very similar in style to the temple, that was being used as a market mostly by tailors. We were surprised to see such amazing architecture used for a regular, everyday purpose. And this kept on happening, we’d turn a corner and see some really interesting building, sometimes restored as a tourist or religious site, sometimes used for government purposes, and other times holding who knows what. There were also lots of narrow alleys that were nice for walking – mostly kids playing or neighbours chatting.
One evening we went to the Thirumalai Nayak Palace to see the sound and light show. They illuminated different areas around this large, open-air hall and told the story of a Tamil king, Shilipaddikaram, and reign of the Nayaks. It was an interesting way to learn more history and see part of the Palace. The format is quite popular here, but leaves a little something to be desired as far as evening entertainment goes.
We also visited one of India’s many Gandhi museums. It told the history of India’s independence movement (with a anti-British bent) and Gandhi’s life story. It was strange how they purposefully left out how he died even though the museum holds the blood-soaked garment he was wearing. It was one of the more interesting museums we’ve visited so far but very information dense.