Most ancient cities of South India hold stories and history of Hinduism. The temple town of Madurai is certainly one of them. The city itself dates back to as far as the 300 BC and is known for some of the most iconic Hindu temples, each famous for their exceptional artistry. Ruled by various rulers across different eras, the architecture of Madurai’s temples reflect artwork from different periods in history and across myriad cultures. Each site is more of a piece of art than a religious shrine and is remarkable sights to savor.
The most prominent and popular temple of Madurai, the Meenakshi Amman Temple, or simply, Meenakshi Temple is a landmark structure and synonymous with the city’s tourism. Sitting on the banks of the Vaigai River, the holy site also serves as an important pilgrimage destination. It was built somewhere in the mid-15th century, under the patronage of the Sangam rulers, followed by the Vijayanagara Kings, and Nayaks. The temple is dedicated to Parvati, or as locally addressed as Meenakshi. Artistically speaking, the temple reflects the classic Dravidian style of carvings and layout, with the iconic gopuram (tower) with intricate carvings of deities and scenes from Hindu mythology, and is an architectural delight.
Koodal Azhagar Koli Temple
This temple is the second-most significant site of Madurai and makes for an incredible sight. The temple enshrines idols of Vishnu in three distinctive postures, sitting, standing, and reclining. The name Koodal Azhagar is translated as ‘the beautiful one’, or as Vishnu is often addressed as. Being right in the center of the city, the temple attracts both pilgrims and tourists alike. If you want to experience the ultimate divine energy of this place, visit during the major festivals like Chaitra Purnima, when the deities are taken to the nearby Vaigai River, accompanied by a procession, for a holy dip. You can also witness the Masi Magam festival when a 10-day boat-festival is held on the river along with religious rituals.
Tirupparam Kunram Murugan
The huge temple is one of the most ancient religious sites of Madurai. It dates back as far as the 6th century and finds its mention among ancient relics excavated from the region. The temple is dedicated to Murugan, one of the various forms of Shiva and remains of the six sacred sites dedicated to the Hindu god. Apart from enshrining a prominent idol of Shiva, the Tirupparam Kunram Murugan temple also house deities of Vishnu, Ganesha, and Durga. Visit during important local festivals like Brahmotsavam, which is celebrated with great fervor and divinity. You can also visit during other events like Skanda Shasti, Kartikai festival, Vaikasi Vikasam, and Vaikuntha Ekadashi.
Also, call Thirumaliruncholai Temple, this religious site sits outside Madurai, in the quiet village of Azhagar Kovil, about 21 KM from the main city. You can avail a good taxi service in Madurai and do a day trip to this temple site. The temple is the most significant element of this village, in the sense that it defines and shapes the lives and history of the local people. The temple is dedicated to Vishnu and boasts prominent gopuram and pillared mandapam, which is typical of traditional Dravidian architecture. Apart from its artistic and divine beauty, the Kallazhagar Temple is also known for its scenic location. It sits at the edge of a forest, making it a beautiful sight.
Also known as Shri Solaimalai Murugan Temple, this is about 16 KM outside the town, situated on a hilltop. You can avail a licensed Madurai car rental with driver and reach the bottom of the hills. From there you have to walk up the slopes to reach the main shrine. The path that leads to the temple is flanked by dense forests and makes for a good trek. Dedicated to Murugan, one of the various forms of Shiva, this temple is one of the six most sacred sites enshrining different avatars of Shiva.
Narasingam Yoga Narasimha Perumal Temple
About 8 KM from Madurai town, in the village of Narasingam, amidst the scenic locale of Yanaimalai Hills, you will find this ancient temple. The specialty of this temple lies in its construction. It is a part of a naturally-formed cave and is dedicated to Yoga Narasimha Perumal and also houses a deity of Narasingavalli. Even the idol is carved out of the cave itself. The cave is said to be as old as 5000 years, and the temple was built later in the 770 AD. While it has its religious significance, the Narasimha Perumal Temple is more of an exclusive architectural specimen reflecting classic Pandian artwork and rock-cut style.
Whether you are an architecture enthusiast, an art connoisseur, or simply a traveler with an eye for aesthetics, each of these temples of Madurai is sure to visually delight you in every frame.