Meenakshi Amman Temple
The Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located in the holy city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva (in the form of Sundareswarar or Beautiful Lord) and his consort, Goddess Parvati (in the form of Meenakshi or Fish-eyed Goddess). The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old city of Madurai, home of the Tamil language.
According to Hindu legends, Lord Shiva, in the form of Sundareswarar, with his divine group of followers, appeared here in Madurai, to marry Pandya King Malayadwaja Pandya's daughter, Meenakshi, believed to be an incarnation of Hindu Goddess Parvati. This temple is one of the most sacred abodes of Parvati, others being Kamakshi of Kanchipuram, Akilandeswari of Thiruvanaikaval and Vishalakshi of Varanasi.
The temple has a stunning architecture and it was a frontrunner in the election for the modern seven wonders of the world for its architectural importance. The complex houses 12 magnificent gopurams or towers that are elaborately sculptured and painted. The temple is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, and has been mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature, though the present structure is believed to have been built only recently in the early 17th century.
According to Hindu legend, Lord Shiva came down to earth in the form of Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi, an incarnation of Parvati, Shiva's divine consort. Parvati had earlier descended to earth in the form of a small child in response to the great penance of Malayadwaja Pandya, the ruler of Madurai. After growing up to adulthood, she began ruling the city. The Lord appeared on earth and proposed to her. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Lord Vishnu, the divine brother of Meenakshi, was traveling to preside over the marriage from his holy abode at Vaikuntam. Due to a divine play, he was tricked by god Indra and delayed on the way. Meanwhile, the marriage was presided over by a local god Koodal Azhaghar. This angered Lord Vishnu, and he swore never to enter the city, settling on the outskirts at a beautiful hill called Alagar Koil. He was later appeased by other gods, and he proceeded to bless the divine couple - Shiva and Parvati.
Both the marriage and the Vishnu's pacification are still celebrated as the biggest festival in Madurai, called Chithirai Thiruvizha also called as Azhakar Thiruvizha (the festival for the Beautiful Lord). A detailed article on the divine marriage can be found here. The divine couple are believed to have ruled the region for a long time. It is not clear what happened to the place after they left. Another legend says that Shiva's idol, in the form of the lingam, was discovered by the God of heaven, Indra, who built the original temple. This tradition is still followed in the temple - the deity is accompanied by a model of Indra's vehicle, during festive processions.
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