I had been to Madurai couple of decades back when I was in Bangalore in connection with an audit assignment during my article ship days. Upon the completion of our assignment, three of us planned a trip down south of 5 days and one of the destinations was Meenakshi Temple at Madurai. Madurai is one of the major cities in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

As we were a group of three: Chandra, Dipee and myself, it was a very enjoyable trip. More so, because it was the last audit assignment for Dipee, as he would complete his 3 years mandatory articleship immediately after this assignment and move into his career. We wanted to make sure that the trip is not only enjoyable, but memorable, as well, which it, indeed, was. I still carry a lot of memories from that trip though the pictures captured at that time of things which are no longer there. That was the age when we had the old-time cameras and it was not a digital age, nor were there any ways of storing the pictures in the digital format.

After we returned from our assignment, Dipee moved on into his career after completing articles, whereas we moved onto other audit assignments.

To relive those memories and to go back to my audit days, I went to Madurai again last year and took a family trip on the same route recently.

Quick Temple History

Meenakshi Amman Temple is one of the old historic temples located on the banks of River Vaigai in the city of Madurai. It is dedicated to Parvati, known as Meenakshi, and her husband Shiva, named Sundareswarar here. The temple forms the heart and the lifeline of the city of Madurai as well as drives the economy of the town for ages. The temple has found mention in lots of Tamil literature extensively going back to 7th century. The present structure was built between 1623 and 1655 CE. It is presumed that the temple was originally constructed by Lord Indra and was destroyed couple of times over a period of thousands of years. The temple is believed to have been destroyed in 13th century by one of the invaders thereafter it was rebuilt by the then rulers.

It has 14 gopurams (gateway towers), ranging from 45–50m in height. The tallest is the southern tower, 51.9 meters (170 ft) high, and two golden sculptured vimanas, the shrines over the sanctorium of the main deities. There are an estimated 33,000 sculptures in the temple. The temple generally attracts 15,000 visitors a day and receives an annual revenue of sixty million rupees. It was on the list of top 30 nominees for the "New Seven Wonders of the World" The annual 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, celebrated during April and May, attracts 1 million visitors.

I must say that the temple is an architectural marvel and you have to go there to see and feel the grandeur as well as the impressiveness of the temple.

Travel Options

Madurai has an international airport which is connected with direct flights from Chennai, Hyderabad and Colombo. It is serviced by couple of airlines like Air India, Jet Airways, SpiceJet, Srilankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka with daily flights. Madurai is also connected with direct trains from many cities. This apart there are plenty of buses from Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad connecting Madurai though overnight journey.

Buses from Bangalore and Chennai take about 8-9 hours in an overnight journey whereas it takes about 14 hours from Hyderabad. If you happen to be an adventurous sort or a back-packer, the trip can be done from Friday evening to Sunday morning. Personally, I prefer travelling in buses with sleepers if the journey is short enough to be covered in eight or nine hours as it gives lots of flexibility in planning as well as multiple options.

In fact if you are planning to take a trip to the southern part of the country, Madurai could be the gateway. Once at Madurai, you can hire a cab and cover historical and religious cities like Rameshwaram, Tuticorin, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari and many others. I did the same in one of my recent trips with along with the family and would cover them in my next article.

Last year, me and one of my friend back-packed and started from Bangalore on a Friday night in a sleeper bus. We reached early in the morning. We had done some research before starting and had shortlisted couple of hotels. One of those was Hotel Kathir Palace which was located about 100 meters walk away from the main temple. We headed straight to the hotel. It was decently good hotel. Though the hotel as well as the rooms therein were small, the overall ambiance was good with cleanliness around. They charged Rs. 900/- for 24 hours at that time. Considering the distance from the temple as well as overall ambiance, we found it to be reasonable. After checking in and resting for a while, we headed to the temple.

Things to Remember:

• Don't go in shorts, half pants or knickers. You will not be allowed inside the temple complex in those. If you still arrive there in half pants, you can buy a veshti / sarong, a cloth that can be tied around your waist. There are plenty of shops around that sell veshti / sarong which you can get in the range of Rs.100 - 120. To begin with, shopkeepers will show you the stuff in the range of 200-300. Once you specifically ask for the range of 100, only then they will show it to you.
• If you arrive very early in the morning, the shops would not be open. At that time, you can also find the veshti / sarong with the vendor selling flowers next to the shoe-deposit counters near each entrance.
• Video cameras are not allowed inside the campus, but cameras can be used after buying a camera ticket.
• Once you go inside, remember the entrance you are getting in so that you can come out of the same entrance. Otherwise, you might end up walking in big circles trying to locate your gate as well as the shoe-deposit counter and lockers to pick up your stuff.
• Once inside the temple, take the special ticket that costs Rs.100. The ticket is valid for both temples inside. This will save substantial time for you in your visit to the sanctum sanctorium, which can then be spent around in temple complex absorbing the architecture as well as in the museum.

Once inside the temple, you need at least 3-4 hours if you really want to enjoy and absorb the rich architecture of the temple. As I mentioned above, the temple has more than 30,000 sculptures, it really takes time to cover the entire temple complex. We spent around 4 hours in the morning and came back to the hotel around 1.00 pm. We took some rest for a couple of hours and then around 4.00 pm went out for a walk around the town. As our bus was at 11.00 pm, we had sufficient time and we spent the whole evening moving around the temple. There is a very spacious corridor around the temple. I appreciate the temple authorities for the way temple surroundings and the corridor has been maintained, as well as the way crowd is managed inside the temple complex.

Finally, we left from Madurai and reached back home early Sunday morning, this time with lots of pictures and memories that I captured with my digital camera.

Food Recommendation in Madurai

Do not forget to eat from the roadside stalls serving Idly and Dosa, the typical south Indian dishes. There are plenty of those stalls around the temple complex. These stalls are on four-wheeled manually pulled trolleys. These eating joints are typically run by the women who operate them in front of their houses. You may call them a predominant cottage industry driving the local economy to the certain extent. We went to one such trolley in the evening just to taste something but later ended up having our dinner over there as well. The Idly were steaming hot and dosas were awesome. These were served with three types of home cooked chutneys which made our dinner extremely delicious. Not to be missed experience, especially if you happen to be a foodie.