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Madurai

Madurai

The Origin and History of Madurai, the City of Divine Nectar

Madurai is one of the oldest, richest continuously inhabited cities in the world, second to none in representing the undiluted vedic tradition of India. The real origin of this erstwhile cultural pilgrimage hub goes back to even the pre-historic ages, and its recorded history dates back to the “Sangam period”, the golden period of Tamil Literature, which produced genius masterpieces, before 1st century.

Its fertile grounds have witnessed the prosperous breath of astounding wealth, abundant natural resources, economic strength; along with the spiritual depth of practiced living sciences of enlightenment, through temple-based lifestyle, devotion, spiritual literature, and ingenious architectural marvels.

 

Madurai, the Play-field of the Divine

Resting on the banks of the holy river, Vaigai, the temple town of Madurai is one of the most ancient heritage sites of India truly reflective of the cultural ethos of India.

Its unrevealed glory can only be understood and experienced by knowing its divine roots. The roots that behold the divine acts of the super-consciousness, the cosmos itself that manifested in body to enact its plays and showered its causeless blessings. No other city has a past that is so imbued with such wonderful happenings of the divine descending so casually to elevate its people. That divine appeared, and continues to appear, again and again as the Cosmic Mother and Father, Lord Shiva and Devi at this hallowed auspicious city. A promise the cosmic parents continue to keep even today, until eternity. The very air of Madurai mingled with the rich fragrance of jasmine flowers fills you with divine embrace. Being here is living with God.

Ages ago, Lord Shiva himself took the human body and with his causeless mercy playfully performed millions of leelas (the divine plays) for his unalloyed devotees, from which 64 leelas or miracles are recorded called “Thiruvilaiyadals” in Madurai. Thus, the holy city finds reference in the great Indian epics – Ramayana, Kautilyas and Arthasastra.

 

The Legend of Madurai

The Puranas (scriptures narrating ancient history) tell us a very interesting story about its origin. In a Kadamba tree forest, there was a Swayambhu lingam (self-manifested lingam, pillar of light) of Lord Shiva under a Kadamba tree. This lingam is believed to have been later enshrined by Lord Indra (the lord of gods and heaven), who came to earth to wash-off his sins. Indra built a sanctum sanatorium and Vimanam (small tower shrine) over this lingam. The fact that the Lord is seen on the vehicle of Indra in this temple is said to be proof for this.

Dhananjayan, a merchant living in Manavoor, the city of Kulasehkara Pandiyan, one day happened to see this divine temple in the midst of the sacred forest and worshipped Lord Chokkalingam in Kadambavanam (Madurai). As he was worshipping, he had a vision of devtas (heavenly gods) too worshipping there. The merchant at once informed the King Kulasekara Pandyan. He spoke of his vision to the king, who was brooding over it. That very night Lord Somasundarar (Shiva) appeared in the king’s dream as a Siddha (a perfected being) and advised him to convert the forest into a city.

Gathering experts to construct a marvelous temple for the Lord, Kulasekara cleared the forest and built with a splendid temple around the sacred swayambhu lingam, the very manifestion of Lord Shiva. It is believed that Shiva himself incarnated as the architect (sthapati) and supervised the construction of this temple.

He also built a town around the temple, which was later turned into a beautiful lotus-shaped city with concentric rectangular streets surrounding the temple, symbolizing the structure of the cosmos. This town was the nucleus to the big city, Madurai that came into being in later years. Even today the temple remains as the nucleus, the heart and lifeline of this city.

Another legend has it that evil demons sent destructive forces to Madurai, to raze the city down. These evil forces took the form of an elephant, a cow and a snake and attacked the city. Shiva is said to have changed these charging animals into stones; hence the hillocks Yaanaimalai, Pasumalai and Naagamalai surrounding Madurai.

 

Lord Shiva Names the Sweet City of Divine Nectar

While the Pandiyan king was performing the Shanti (peace) ceremony for the city, Lord Sundarar appeared on the naming ceremony of the city and blessed it. He allowed the manna (nectar) from the crescent moon to mingle with the Ganga water (Ganges, the most sacred river) in his crest to flow from his matted locks and sprinkle on the whole city. Because it was sweet (madhuram) and filled with dvine nectar of immortality, the place acquired the name “Madhurapuri” or “Madurai”.

It is also called as the city of junction (Koodal nagaram), the city of jasmine (Malligai maanagar), temple city (Koil maanagar), the city that never sleeps (Thoonga nagaram) and the city of four junctions (Naanmada koodal).

 

The Holy River Vaigai, Teertham of Madurai

Vaigai means ‘put your hand out’ in Tamil. Being the holy water body (teertham) of the temple, it is as sacred as the most revered Ganges, for it directly appeared from the matted locks of Lord Sundareshwara.

During the wedding ceremony of the Lord Shiva and Mother Meenakshi at Madurai, Sundareswara (Siva), being an ascetic, came to the wedding without any family or relatives accompanying him. Disappointed at this, the Pandiyan king angrily showed Shiva the huge amount of food prepared for the bridegroom’s relatives. Siva pointed to a friend he had brought with him saying ‘He will consume all the food that you’ve made. This friend was a Rakshasa (demon) named Kundodhara. After Kundodhara finished all the food that was prepared, He became very thirsty and started asking for water. All the wells and canals in Madurai were not sufficient to quench his thirst. Then, Siva asked Kundodhara to put his hand out and opened a small part of his hair lock and Ganga began to flow into his hand. After quenching his thirst, the rest of the waters began flowing in Madurai as the Vaigai river.

 

The Pandiyan Kingdom, the Richest Empire

Madurai also served as the capital of the Pandayan Kings. The city became prosperous during the reign of the Pandiya Kings.

Meenakshi, Cosmic Mother and Somasundarar, Lord Shiva are regarded as the eternal rulers of the Pandiya Kingdom. It was a flourishing city by the 1st millennium BC and served as the capital of the Pandiyan kingdom, historically proven as the richest empire in existence.

 

The City of Cosmic Celebrations

The presiding deities of Madurai are Shiva and Devi in their incarnations as Sundareshwara and Meenakshi, enshrined in the world-famous Madurai Meenakshi-Sundareshwara temple.

Over 20,000 pilgrims and visitors visit the temple each day. This temple is a vibrant cultural center brimming with tradition, festivals, art, architectural and sculptural splendor and can be described as the best possible representation of the millennia old cultural ethos of the Indian subcontinent – in terms of the plurality of faiths that surround the temple, the richness of traditions and festivals.

Also in Madurai are the Aappudaiyaar Koyil Tevara Stalam and the Koodalazhagar Divya Desam. In the vicinity of Madurai is Tirupparamkunram, one of the 6 padai veedu shrines of Murugan (glorified in Madurai Sangam Nakeerar’s Tirumurugaatruppadai). Also in the vicinity of Madurai is Alagar Koyil, one of the prominent Divya Desam shrines of the Sri Vaishnavite faith.

Four of the 6 major streams of the indigenous system of beliefs as codified by Sankaracharya (i.e. Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and the worship of Skanda) meet in this historic city during festive occasions when the entire region is transformed into a vast space of celebration.