Monday, March 15, 2010

Madurai - The Temple City of South India

According to an OLD TAMIL SAYING “to attain mukti be born in Tiruvarur, think of Tiruvanamalai, have darshan at Chidambaram, die in Kashi and live in Madurai.

Madurai, the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu is a gentle blend of tradition and modernity. It is known as the temple city of South India. Temples, monuments and ancient cultural wonders abound in Madurai. Madurai is situated on the banks of the dry river called Vaigai.

In fact, Madurai is no somnolent small town, but a bustling city with a population of at least 11 lakhs. It is the major pilgrimage centre of Tamil Nadu. It is even called ‘The Athens of the East’. It is also South India’s key trading and transport center. Shops remain open until at least 10 pm.

Indeed, this ancient temple town has a lot to please----and surprise----today’s visitors. For instance:

Meenakshi Sundareswar Temple, one of India’s most stupendous and most popular temple is in Madurai. Around 30, 000 devotees visit this temple everyday. It costs Rs. 2 lakhs a month to illuminate the temple’s interiors with tube lights.

The world’s most productive eye hospital is based here. Run by an idealistic local family of ophthalmologists, the Arvind eye facility performs 70% of its 290, 000 annual surgeries for free.

Thirumalai Nayak Palace,built under the supervision of an Italic architect, is a classic and rare example of Nayak Architecture. There is a half hour show about the life and victories of King Thirumalai which help us to know how past age kings used to live in royalty.

Mariamman Teppakulam, a magnificent tank built by King Thirumalai, is 5 km east of Meenakshi Temple. Towards the northern side of the tank, there is a temple dedicated to Mariamman who is a famous village divinity.

The School of Biological Sciences at Madurai Kamaraj University has an international reputation. A few years ago, its scientists, after testing the DNA of some communities here, confirmed that the first humans to migrate from Africa some 60, 000 years ago walked through western India on their way to Australia.

The still-expanding Paramount Airways, one of India’s new carriers, was started by a young Madurai businessman. Crisscrossing the country during the day, M. Thiagarajan tries to fly back home every evening.

Sourashtrians, a people who migrated from Gujarat centuries ago, constitute one of the largest communities in the city. Known for their silk-weaving, many continue this profession and still speak an old form of Gujarati.

St. Mary’s Cathedral, one of the oldest Roman Catholic Churches in India, is in Madurai. This elegant church, built around 150 years back, attracts lot of visitors. St. George Church, First Baptist Church, Our Lady Lurdu Church are the other important worshipping places for Christians.

It was in Madurai in 1921 that Gandhiji discarded his daglo (long coat), dhoti and turban for a simple loin cloth to identify with India’s poor. The house in which he made this momentous decision is now a government khadi shop, not far from the Meenakshi temple. Gandhiji’s influences remains alive here, and 55 kilometers away, Gandhigram, the rural institution that he set up to serve the poor, is still going strong.

This city is the birth place of many famous personalities. M. S. Subbulakshmi, the late queen of Carnatic Classical Melody and the first singer to win Bharat Ratna, was born in Madurai.

One of the heartening features of Madurai is the generally friendly relationship between its major religious communities. All religions are keys on the same harmonium. Several Madurai Christians visit the Meenakshi Temple regularly.