This post is on the most impromptu long distance trip that I have ever done. There are times when surprises crop up and this was one and a pleasant one at that. I am not very religious, but it was as if Meenakshi Amman wanted an audience with us. I am talking about our trip to the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Madurai had always been on my wish list. We were in Madurai for exactly one day. Chitra who is a very good friend was driving down to Rajapalayam which is 2 hours away from Madurai to shoot a wedding on a saturday in December last and we decided to join in till Madurai.
We started from Bangalore at 6.30 AM on a foggy morning. We managed to cross Hosur and stop for breakfast at Shree Krishna restaurant a little after Hosur around 8 AM. We ended up spending around 45 minutes as our food was served late. Traffic was pretty reasonable and we did not manage to go fast till we crossed Salem. After this the drive was a breeze. There were hardly any vehicles and we zipped through the awesome highway. After crossing Karur and Dindigul, the hills which were bathed in sunlight loomed into our view.
We reached Madurai around 1 in the afternoon. Nagesh had booked a room at Hotel Madurai Residency the previous day. So we headed towards the hotel which was located close to the Meenakshi temple. The hotel had a rooftop restaurant on the seventh floor from which there was a good view of the city as well as the gopurams of Meenkashi temple.
Thirumalai Nayakkar Palace
As this was a last-minute trip, I had not managed to spend time finding out about the places to visit. One of our friends Lakshmi who is an avid travel blogger helped us in this regard. She told us not to miss the Thirumalai Nayakkar palace. The palace was built during the 17th century and the construction took 15 years of time. In its hey days the magnificent palace was considered to be one of the wonders of the south. Today only a quarter of the original palace is intact. The remaining three-quarters of palace were destroyed and today the place has been eaten up by houses and shops. The King Thirumalai Nayak hired an Italian architect to build this palace. He wanted the palace to be the grandest in South India.
The entrance to the palace is via the courtyard which is flanked by huge pillars built using the mud from the Mariamman Tank in Madurai. The ornate walls and ceiling of the palace adds to the grandeur. The frescoes that adorn the top of the pillars are majestic. The two main sections of this portion of the palace were the Swarga Vilas and the Ranga Vilas. Swarga Vilas faces the courtyard and was the place where the King would be seated with his family and the general audience would be in the courtyard. Ranga Vilas was the dance hall. Today it serves as a museum of artifacts. We had hired a guide and he explained about the palace to us. He informed us that the song ‘Kehna hi Kya‘ from Maniratnam’s movie ‘Bombay‘ was shot here.
The palace is open from 9 AM to 5 PM. There is a light and sound show at 6.45 PM in English and the next show is sometime around 8 PM in Tamil. As we were pretty impressed by the palace we decided to watch the show. The content of the entire show proved to be boring. However we sat through till the end just to watch the lit palace. We felt that there was no story as such to entertain for such a long time. But I would still recommend it just to watch the lighting. Another point to note is that this place seemed to be infested with mosquitoes at least when we were there. We repented that we had left behind the mosquito repellant in the hotel room.
The 16th century Meenakshi Amman Temple was one of the contenders in the top 30 nominations for the new seven wonders of the world. People from all over come to Madurai to visit the temple. We decided to visit the temple early in the morning around 6.30 to beat the crowd. The temple has 5 main towers. There is one large tower on each of North, West and South directions while the East has two towers. Apart from these there are four smaller towers. We entered the temple via the North tower. The towers are very colourful and adorned with idols of gods, animals, demons and dragon like creatures. We hired a guide to go around. Normally at temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati you need to visit the Shiva shrine first. But here Goddess Meenakshi (literally translates to the one whose eyes are in the shape of a fish) has to be prayed to before Lord Shiva. The sacred temple tank also called as the lotus pond is serene. The architecture in the passage (especially the pillars in the shape of horses) had a striking resemblance to Vijayanagara architecture.
We headed inside to pay our obeisance to Goddess Meenakshi. The darshan would be at 7.30 AM. We purchased the entrance tickets and stood in the queue for a little over half an hour as we were early. People were let inside in batches and fortune had it that we were right at the front of the line (in our batch of people). The idol of the Goddess is of black stone and has a charm of its own. We next went into the shrine of Lord Shiva, called as God Sundareswar in this temple. Here again we managed to get a glimpse of the idol from close quarters.
We then proceeded to the huge monolithic Ganesha idol. The idol is believed to have been found buried in the ground below Mariamman Tank. While digging this place to get the mud for construction of the Nayakkar palace, the idol was found and reinstated in the temple. There is a sculpture depicting the marriage of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Shiva with Lord Vishnu handing over the Goddess (legend has it that Meenakshi is the sister of Vishnu). Another statue worth mention is that of the King Thirumalai welcoming people to the temple along with his two wives. There is an idol of Nandi too with a golden flagstaff nearby. Both the main Shrines have gold gopurams which can be partly seen from a certain point in the courtyard near the North tower as well as from near the lotus pond.
We then went to buy some prasadam. As we were buying only Laddoos, the guy at the counter asked us to try some vada too. We bought vadas to eat there itself. And the Vada turned out to be extremely lip smacking. It was hot, crispy and just melted in our mouths :) We decided to skip going for breakfast to Meenkashi Bhavan restaurant which had been recommended by a friend and settled for more vadas and sweet pongal which was also very delicious.
What else to do in Madurai
We had the “Jigar Thanda” which is a popular drink in Madurai. It was super delicious. We felt that it was molten Kulfi with a dollop of solid Kulfi and some Kishmish sprinkled in it. Unfortunately we forgot to take a picture in the excitement of having it and the shop was closed when we went back the next day :(
We bought Madurai Cotton Sarees from one of the shops near the North tower of the Meenkashi temple.
The older area at the city centre is congested with very narrow streets and the traffic is too unruly and chaotic. We did not attempt to walk here though both the temple and the palace were pretty close to our hotel.
Some of the other places that we saw were the St.Mary’s Cathedral and the Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam (Mariamman Tank) which had dried up completely. The Mariamman Tank is the biggest in Tamil Nadu. We decided to skip the Gandhi museum as we did not want to exert ourselves too much.