India Trip 2019: Visiting Meenakshi Temple in Madurai

February 15, 2019
  • Angela Wall, Cedar Lane member

After having already visited the great Shiva temple in Thanjavur, and after a 4 pm lunch in Madurai, our group took off, hoping to see another famous temple. The narrow streets, made it impossible to get close to the site so we walked, which allowed a chance to get a feel for the neighborhood this temple was in. Very ancient, but dusty and crowded, full of motorcycles honking and sellers of everything.

Getting closer we had to leave most of our belongings, such as anything electronics,  lotions and  more behind in a craft shop known to Ms. Muller, our tour guide. Next stop shoes were removed and left in a big rice bag. 

The temple grounds had 4 very high Gopurams, (towers or gates), covered with colorful figures telling stories of the vast Hindu tradition. We entered through the North gopuram. Subsequently we passed wide cobblestone pathways, then narrow ones with columns. Statues of nandi, the bull, Ganesh, the elephant and hundreds more followed. More Gopurams, shops with religious items and flowers followed. It was dark by now, and the halls sometimes were brightly lit, other times dim.  While we waited for a special parade we took in the bazaar like atmosphere with a labyrinth of passage ways, women in saris, children, old men in dhotis, bare chests decorated with necklaces lines, lines of white sacred ash on their forheads. Chanting filled the air. 

Finally the parade we were waiting for made its way to us, led by a fully decorated elephant. Behind came chariots carrying Hindu figures and maybe a statue of a king. Men with torches surrounded this, so was created more sacred ash. Smells of fire, ash, incense, flowers and animals filled the air. 

Then on to the innermost part. A  large sign declared no access to non Hindus. We were guided on, waited, heard drumming and bell ringing, then passed by Meenakshi, the fish eyed goddess this temple is devoted to. We got a mere glimpse of her.

It was late then, but still people made their offerings, bowed, even lay on the ground in respect to the many black granite statues, decorated in silk, ash and vermilion. A man sat in meditation. 

Now we retraced our steps out the North gopuram, picked up shoes, picked up belongings. Thankfully nothing was lost.  

Abhi arranged the ride home in 8 yellow open tricycle taxis. This was truly a joy ride home. Our vehicle was always within an inch of motorcycles,  bikes, buses, carts. Also dust, lots of it. Only one time the driver stopped and it was for a cow crossing in the midst of the traffic and honking of the Madurai center.