Monday, March 21, 2011

Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple History

Meenakshi Temple

The Most Celebrated Temple in Madurai

The Meenakshi temple complex at Madurai is a city temple. It has eminent and exquisitely carved towers enveloping the temple, dedicated to Goddess Meenakashi in Madurai. Considered as the south gateway, the Meenakshi temple consists of the twin temples of God Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi, each one as high as about nine storeys.

The exact time of temple's origin is not confirmed but the structures that are standing today date mostly from the 12th to the 18th century. The present temple standing today was built in the 17th century A.D. by th Nayak rulers. The temple is superb example of sculpture and magnificent architecture.

Menakshi TempleThe Meenakshi temple has majestic stonewalls and towers rising out of the swarming streets of the city center. The image of Goddess Meenakshi is said to be carved out of a single emerald. This exotic temple was renovated by various kings, adding coiled corridors and larger-than-life sculptures. According to the legend of this temple the marriage of the goddess Meenakshi to Shiva actually took place in Madurai and is still celebrated every summer with great enthusiasm and gaiety.

Special Features of the Temple

The Temple Towers or The Gopurams
The temple has 12 temple towers also known as the Gopurams. The outer towers of the temple work as landmarks of Madurai.


The Gopuras or the Pyramidal gates have an enormous height of more than 50m. The entrance to the temple complex is indicated by towering gateways at the four cardinal points, while lesser gopuras lead to the sanctums of the main deities.

Stucco Work

After every 12 years, the figures of deities on the tower are reconditioned, repainted and ritually reconsecrated.

Ashta Shakthi Mandapam

To enter the temple through the eastern gateway, one has to first enter the Asta Shakti Mandapam (Hall). Built by Thirumalai Nayakar's wives Rudrapathi Ammal and Tholimamai. Next to this hall is the Meenakshi Nayaka Mandapa, a spacious columned hall used for shops and stores. This hall has a dedicated lamp-holder with 1,008 lamps, which are lit and decorated on festive occasions. The sculptures on the pillars tell us about some of the miracles of Lord Shiva and also the story of Meenakshi's birth and her life as the princess of Madurai.

Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam

Adjacent to the Ashta Shakthi Mandapam, this big hall consists of 110 pillars carrying the figures of a queer animal with a lion's body and an elephant's head called Yalli.

Potramaraikulam (Golden Lotus Tank)

The Potramaraikulam temple tank is an ancient tank where devotees take bath in the holy water. It is believed that the area around this tank was the meeting place of the TamilSangam - the ancient academy of poets. The tank is encircled by a pillared corridor. There are steps that lead down to the tank, enabling worshippers to take bathe in it.

Oonjal Mandapam

Menakshi TempleThe Oonjal (swing) Mandapam and Killikoontu (parrot cage) Mandapam are situated on the western side of the tank. The golden idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are seated on the swing in the Oonjal Madapam every Friday and hymns are sung as the deities swing to and fro. There many parrots in the Kilikoontu Mandapam who have been trained to repeat Goddess Meenakshi's name. The 28 pillars of the Mandapam are the most interesting parts, exhibiting some excellent Sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology.

Swami Sundareswarar Shrine

The Shrine of Lord Sundareswarar (Shiva) the consort of Goddess Meenakshi is to the north of Kilikoontu Mandapam . There's a gigantic idol of Sri Ganesh called Mukkurini Pillaiyar on the way. There's a stump of a Kadamba tree, in the outer pragaram (corridor outside the main shrine), which is said to be a part of the same tree under which Indra worshiped Shiva linga. There's also Kadambathadi Mandapam in the outer corridor and big hall called 'Velli Ambalam'. There's also an idol of Nataraja (Shiva as the Lord of Dance), covered with silver leaves. Thus this hall is named as Velli Ambalam (Silver Hall).

The Thousand Pillar Mandapam

The thousand pillar mandapam is regared as the 'wonder of the palace'. There are around 985 beautifully decorated columns. Each pillar is beautifully sculptured and presents the glory of the Dravidan sculpture. This hall also houses a Temple Art Museum, where you can see icons, photographs, drawings, etc., exhibiting the 1200 years old history. Other than this mandapam there many smaller and bigger mandapams in the temple.

Vasantha Mandapam

Built by Thirumalai Nayakkar, the mandapam is the venue of the Vasanthosavam - the Spring festival, celebrated in Vaikasi (April/May). The pillars present at the mandapam has elaborate sculptures of Lord Shiva, Goddess Meenakshi. There are scenes from their wedding as well as the figures of ten of the Nayak Kings and their consorts. The Vasantha Mandapam is also called Pudhu Mandapam.

Thiruvannamalai History

Thiruvannamalai is an ancient temple town in TamilNadu with a unique historical back ground. It is one of the holy town that finds a place in the poems written by reputed Tamil saivaite poets.(padal petra sthalam). Several important facts are found in the stone inscriptions in the walls of temple prakarams. Also many details were available through inscriptions found on the copper plates.

The four great Tamil saivaite poets Sambandar, Sundarar, Appar and Manickavasagar have written about the history of Thiruvannamalai in their literary work that stands unparalleled. They are Thevaram and Thiruvasagam. Arunagirinathat has also written beautifully about the history of Thriuvannamalai and this Lord Arunachalaeswarar temple. The ancient kings starting from the Chola Dynasty period read from the Tamil works and started reposing more faith on Lord Arunachalaeswar. They started contributing their share by constructing many Gopuram, mandapams, and shrines. Making steady additions to the temple structure over the last one thousand years. During the reign of King Krishnadevarayar of Vijayanagaram, Lord Arunachalaeswar temple saw many buildings and structures in the form of gopurams and mandapams came to be built. Since King Krishnadevarayar was a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. Most important among them is the Rajagopuram that is 217 feet high. This is believed to be the second highest Gopuram in the India. According to the history of Thiruvannamalai, this temple is the largest temple in India built exclusively for Shiva and Parvathi. Kings like Ballala who was another Shiva devotee contributed many structures to this temple. History says that Shiva himself pleased with this king’s kindness and generosity came forward to perform the kings final rites since this king was childless. Another history about Thiruvannamalai on how Lord Shiva took the form of fire is explained as, when once Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu had a quarrel, Shiva in order to sort out this problem took the form of fire and challenged them to find his crown and feet. Both of them failed and Brahma in the process of finding out tells a lie and Shiva gets annoyed with Brahma and curses that he should not have place of worship. Hence it is believed that there is no temple for Brahma any where in India. Thus at Thiruvannamalai Lord Shiva came to be worshipped by devotees in the form of fire. And it is one of the pancha bootha sthalas in Tamilnadu.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Brief History of Hindu Temples

A Brief History of Hindu Temples

How and when the first temple took its birth is anybody’s guess. Temples do not seem to have existed during the Vedic age. The practice of preparing images of the deities mentioned in the Vedic mantras might have come into vogue by the end of the Vedic period. The view that the yagasala of the Vedic period gradually got metamorphosed into temples by the epic period owing to the influence of the cults of devotion is widely accepted.

The earliest temples were built with perishable materials like timber and clay. Cave-temples, temples carved out of the stone or built with bricks came later. Heavy stone structures with ornate architecture and sculpture belong to a still later period.

Considering the vast size of this country, is is remarkable that the building of temple has progressed more or less on a set pattern. This is because there is a basic philosophy behind the temple, its meaning and significance, which will be explained later.

In spite of the basic pattern being the same, varieties did appear, gradually leading to the evolution of different styles in temple architecture. Broadly speaking, these can be bifurcated into the northern and the southern styles. The northern style, technically called nagara, is distinguished by the curvilinear towers. The southern style, known as the dravida, has its towers in the form of truncated pyramids. A third style, vesara by name, is sometimes added, which combines in itself both these styles.

Vesara types

The earliest temples in north and central India which have withstood the vagaries of time belong to the Gupta period, 320-650 A. D. Mention may be meda of the temples at Sanchi, Tigawa (near Jabbalpur in Madhya Pradesh), Bhumara (in Madhya Pradesh), Nachna (Rajasthan) and Deogarh (near Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh).
Among the earliest surviving temples in South India are found in Tamil Nadu and northern Karnataka. The cradle of Dravidan school of architecture was the Tamil country which evolved from the earliest Buddhist shrines which were both rock-cut and structural. The later rock-cut temples which belong roughly to the period 500-800 A.D. were mostly Brahmanical or Jain, patronised by three great ruling dynasties of the south, namely the Pallavas of Kanchi in the east, the Calukyas of Badami in the 8th century A.D, the Rastrakutas of Malkhed came to power and they made great contributions to the development of south Indian temple architecture. The Kailasanatha temple at Ellora belongs to this period.

In the west (northern Karnataka) the Aihole and Pattadakal group of temples (5th to 7th centuries) show early attempts to evolve an acceptable regional style based on tradition. Among the better known early structural temples at Aihole are the Huchimalligudi and Durga temples as also the Ladkhan temple, all assigned to the period 450-650 A.D. Equally important are the temples of Kasinatha, Papanatha, Sangamesvara, Virupaksa and others in Pattadakal near Aihole as also the Svargabrahma temple at Alampur (Andhra Pradesh). It is in some of these temples, built by the later Calukyas, that we come across the vesara style, a combination of the northern and the southern modes.

There are many ancient texts laying down the formal architectural styles prevalent in the various regions so that the comprehensive text called the Vastu Sastra has its sources in the Sutras, Puranas and Agamas besides Tantric literature and the Brhat Samhita. But all of them are agreed that basically styles can be divided into nagara, dravida and vesara. They employ respectively the square, octagon and the apse or circle in their plan. In its later evolution when the vesara style adopted the square for the sanctum. The circular or stellar plan was retained for the vimana. These three styles do not pertain strictly to three different regions but as indicating only the temple groups. The vesara, for instance, which came to pravail mostly in western Deccan and south Karnataka was a derivation from the apsidal chapels of the early Buddhist period which the Brahmanical faith adopted and vastly improved. In its origin, the vesara is as much north Indian as it is west Deccanese. 

Similarly among the 6th – 7th century shrines of Aihole and Pattadakal we find evidance of nagara style in the prasadas or vimanas. The dravida or Tamilian style cecame very popular throughout south India only from the Vijayanagar times onward. While the prasada or vimana of the nagara style rises vertically from its base in a curvilinear form, that of the dravida rises like a stepped pyramid, tier upon tier. The northern style came to prevail in Rajasthan Upper India, Orissa, the Vindhyan uplands and Gujarat.

During the next thousand years (from600 to 1600 A.D.) there was a phenomenal growth in temple architecture both in quantity and quality. The first in the series of southern or dravidian architecture was initiated by the Pallavas (600-900A.D.) The rock-cut temples at Mahabalipuram (of the ‘ratha’ type) and the structural temples like the shore temple at Mahabalipuram and the Kailasanatha and Vaikuntha Perumal temples in Kancheepuram (700-800 A.D.) are the best representatives of the Pallava style. The Pallavas laid the foundations of the dravidian school which blossomed to its full extent during the Colas, the Pandyas, the Vijayanagar kings and the Nayaks. The temples, now built of stone, became bigger, more complex and ornate with sculptures. Dravidian architecture reached its glory during the Cola period (900-1200 A.D.) by becoming more imposing in size and endowed with happy proportions. Among the most beautiful of the Cola temples is the Brhadisvara temple at Tanjore with its 66 metre high vimana, the tallest of its kind. The later Pandyans who succeeded the Colas improved on the Colas by introducing elaborate ornamentation and big sculptural images, many-pillared halls, new annexes to the shrine and towers (gopurams) on the gateways. The mighty temple complexes of Madurai and Srirangam in Tamil Nadu set a pattern for the Vijayanagar builders (1350-1565 A.D.) who followed the dravidian tradition. The Pampapati and Vitthala temples in Hampi are standing examples of this period. The Nayaks of Madurai who succeeded the Vijayanagar kings (1600-1750 A.D.) made the dravidian temple complex even more elaborate by making the gopurams very tall and ornate and adding pillared corridors within the temple long compound.

Contemporaneous with the Colas (1100-1300A.D.), the Hoysalas who ruled the Kannada country improved on the Calukyan style by building extremely ornate temples in many parts of Karnataka noted for the sculptures in the walls, depressed ceilings, lathe-turned pillars and fully sculptured vimanas. Among the most famous of these temples are the ones at Belur, Halebid and Somanathapura in south Karnataka, which are classified under the vesara style.

In the north, the chief developments in Hindu temple architecture took place in Orissa (750-1250 A.D.) and Central India (950-1050 A.D.) as also Rajasthan (10th and 11th Century A.D.) and Gujarat (11th-13th Century A.D.). The temples of Lingaraja (Bhubaneshwar), Jagannatha (Puri) and Surya (Konarak) represent the Orissan style. The temple at Khajuraho built by the Chandellas, the Surya temple at Modhera (Gujarat0 and other temple at Mt. Abu built by the Solankis have their own distinct features in Central indian architecture. Bengal with its temples built in bricks and terracotta tiles and Kerala with its temples having peculiar roof structure suited to the heavy rainfall of the region, developed their own localised special styles.
Mention may also be made here of the various Hindu temples outside India, especially in the South East Asian countries. The earliest of such Hindu temples are found in Java; for instance, the Siva temples at Dieng and (idong Songo built by the kings of Sailendra dynasty (8th-9th century A.D.). The group of temples of Lara Jonggrang at Pranbanan (9th or 10th century A.D.), is a magnificent example of Hindu temple architecture. Other temples worth mentioning are: the temple complex at Panataran (java) built by the kings of Majapahit dynasty (14th century A.D.), the rock-cut temple facades at Tampaksiring of Bali (11th century A.D.), the 'mother' temple at Besakh of Bali (14th century A.D.), the Chen La temples at Sambor Prei Kuk in Cambodia (7th-8th century A.D.)., the temple of Banteay Srei at Angkor (10th century A.D.) and the celebrated Angkor vat complex (12th century A.D.) built by Surya varman II.