Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswara temple [16th Century]

The Golden Lily Tank, the sacred tank of the Meenakshi Sundareswara temple surrounded by the gallery walls on the four sides had a number of legendry and Puranic lore (Tiruvilayadal purana scenes of Lord Siva / the plays of Lord Siva). But unfortunately these historically valuable murals were vanished fully and it has steps on the four sides to enter into it. Originally built by the Pandyas, it has been completely renovated and rebuilt to attain the present position during the 16th-17th centuries by the Nayak rulers. The Thiruvilaiyadal Purana of this temple speaks about a number of sportive of Siva which believed to have occurred in this sacred tank. To commemorate this there were paintings of the Thiruvilaiyadal puranas drawn in the 17th century, in the North, East and South walls of the tank. Unfortunately they were eroded in recent times due to obvious reasons. There are Paintings of the Celestial Marriage of Meenakshi Sundareswara, heroic activities of Meenakshi and the receiving of the sceptre by Rani Mangammal (C.E. 1689-1706) from the Goddess available in the Unjal Mandapa located on the west of the tank adjacent to the steps.

Madurai, one of the oldest cities in South India, is regarded as the cultural as well as sacred centre of Tamil Nadu. It was the capital of the Pandya rulers, who had a long history of ancient traditions. It has at its centre the world renowned Meenakshi Sundareswara temple. This temple is dedicated to Lord Sundareswara and his consort Meenakshi. Thousands of devotees visit this temple every day. It has a hoary past with a long history of one thousand five hundred years. Earlier, this temple was known as Thiruvalavayudayar temple. It was sung by the seventh century Saiva saints/ Nayanmars Thirugnanasambandhar and Thirunavukkarasar. There are many literary works and Puranic episodes which speak about the glory of the temple. This temple city is busy with its continuous festivals through the year. Among the festivals, the most famous is the Celestial wedding and rathothsavam celebrated during the month of April-May (Tamil Chithirai). This festival attracts lakhs of devotees from various places. Actually this festival has both social and religious significance.

Constructed as a small edifice during the seventh century, this temple was converted into a stone structure during the Early Pandya (C.E. 550-985) period. Subsequently it was expanded by the Chola and Later Pandya period. The Vijayanagar and Nayak kings, who ruled this region during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries C.E. renovated and rebuilt this temple into a massive structure converting it into a best example of a temple city. There are four massive outer gopuras on the four cardinal directions. There are also about nine smaller and larger inner gopuras noted for their variety, beauty and grace. They have been erected during the course of about four centuries since the 13th century. The temple accommodates three large corridors.

This edifice has separate shrines for Meenakshi and Sundareswara. The Meenakshi shrine was totally renovated during the reign of Tirumalai Nayak in the 17th century. The Sundareswara shrine seems to have completely renovated and rebuilt during the rule of Visvanatha Nayak in the 16th century. In addition to the main shrines, there are also subsidiary shrines dedicated to the subordinate divinities in the prakaras 9 corridors of the temple. Massive mandapas with life size sculptures have been erected in the temple during the 16th and 17th centuries to facilitate the celebration of festivals. Of them, mention may be made of the Thousand Pillared Hall, Vasantha Mandapa (Puthumandapa), Hundred Pillared Hall, Virappa Nayak Mandapa and Nagara Mandapa. The Kampattadi Mandapa and the Kalyana Mandapa seems to have been added later. There are a good number of beautiful sculptures of the divinities in the temple belonging to the Early Pandya, Later Pandya, Vijayanagar and Nayak periods starting from ninth century onwards. The bronze images of the Vijayanagar and Nayak period are well preserved in the temple.

The temple walls adorn about sixty and more inscriptions engraved between 13th and 19th centuries. They belong to the reign of the Later Pandya, Vijayanagar, Nayak and British rulers. These epigraphs mostly speak about the construction of buildings and grants and donations made for the temple administration, celebration of festivals and performance of pujas.