India – what a colorful and complex country , such a deep and old culture , a deep and complex religion like the Hinduism – so many layers of impressions that it is not so easy to understand and to express or describe but I will try to do it.
We are in Tamil Nadu region in the City of Madurai and on todays programme we have the visit to the famous Hindu Meenakshi Amman Temple . It is one of our first days in India and we are just trying to get used to the people , the climate and the surrounding as everything is very different.
We meet at the East Tower at 08.00 o clock in the morning – the ancient shops on the other side are still closed but the human traffic of the worshippers and visitors in the temple started already.
We need to take off our shoes and socks , we need to be clothed properly which means long pants and skirts, no naked shoulders, no decollete as it is similar in other religious sites for other religions as well.
It is quite hot.There is a kind of station where you can leave your shoes and belongings to a kind of a cloakroom.
We leave our shoes and some belongings over there , pass the control – it is forbidden to have any cables , chargers , lighters , batteries etc. anything with you.
So we carry just the most essential belongings and leave the rest .
The Meenakshi ( Goddess Parvati ) Amman temple , also called Meenakshi Sundareshwara ( Lord Shiva ) Temple is one of the most famous temples in South India. It is located in Madurai in the temple city , a complex of several temple buildings at the southern banks of the Vaigai River in an area of about 14 acres of land .
The temple dates back to the 4th century BC , then it was rebuilt in the 16th century and in the 17th century the temple was expanded and lot of halls with pillars were added by King Thirumulai Nayakar.
Apart from the two main shrines, which are dedicated to Sundareswarar and Meenakshi, the temple has shrines dedicated to various other deities like Ganesha and Murugan. The temple also houses goddesses Lakshmi, Rukmini, and Saraswati.
In the middle of the temple city there is also a pond named ‘Porthamarai Kulam, which means “the pond with the golden lotus”.
The temple has four main towering gateways (gopurams) that are identical to each other. Apart from the four ‘gopurams,’ the temple also houses many other ‘gopurams’ that serve as gateways to a number of shrines. The temple has a total of 14 towering gateways which display thousands of mythological stories and sculptures.
The temple also has numerous pillared halls called ‘Mandapams.’ These halls were built by various kings and emperors and they serve as resting places for pilgrims.
When we enter the building we cant believe our eyes – my godness -what an architecture, what beautiful ceilings,what beautiful and colorful paintings on the floors, at the walls and everywhere you have sculptures of the Indian mythology and Hinduism. The temple is built in a Dravidian style by Kulashekarar Pandyan , centuries BC.
There are so many people around coming for the morning prayer and being part of the ceremonies.
The temple is dedicated to Meenakshi, a form of Parvati, and her consort, Sundareswar, a form of Shiva.
The belief is that the location of the temple is the place where Lord Shiva assumed the form of Sundareswarar (the handsome one) and married Parvati (Meenakshi) .
Due to the legend , Meenakshi was born out of a sacred fire as a response to King Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai prayers.
The royal couple was childless and the King was praying to Lord Shiva and asking him for a son.
Instead a girl was born with 3 breasts. The parents were worrying about the abnormal appearance of their daughter but were told not to be concerned.
A divine voice insured them that the girls 3rd breast will disappear once she will meet her future husband.
The girl was named Meenakshi and crowned as the successor of the King.
Meenakshi ruled over Madurai and was capturing the kingdoms in the neighborhood when one day she met Lord Shiva.
Her 3rd breast disappeared and Meenakshi understood that she has met her future husband.
Shiva and Meenakshi went back to Madurai together and held their wedding over there.
All gods and goddesses arrived in Madurai to witness the wedding celebrations and this wedding ceremony since then is celebrated every year here as the ceremony of Tirukalyanam – the Grand Wedding – .
The Night Ceremony
The Meenakshi temple opens its doors early in the morning with a belief to wake up the God and the Goddess from their divine sleep by traditional music with an opening prayer for a beautiful day.
We heard that there will be also a ceremony in the night and so we decided to see the temple also at nighttime .
The night ceremony also named as bed chamber ceremony starts at around 10.00 pm.
At night the final night prayer takes place and God Shiva, husband of Meenakshi is carried in a palanquin from his shrine and escorted to his residing place, where Goddess Meenakshi is waiting for him in her shrine .This divine procession fis ollowed by a piece of music along with a gathering of devotees. Once the God Shiva reaches his home, they rest in their bed chamber which is made of pure silver and the curtains are going to be closed.
Every day this ceremony is taking place in the morning as well as in the night in the same way since hundreds of years. Here is a video of the full ceremony.
This is why all these scenes are so impressive as you have the feeling that you are set back in time for 2000 years – the scenery , the people and their clothes and their behaviour is like in ancient times and might continue like this also for the future centuries.