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Again it started in an impulse.... While I was going through an old album when I went to Madurai once in 2003, there was the photo of paintings being renovated. Then I thought why shouldn't I visit Madurai again so that there must have been more finished paintings. I booked the ticket via www.irctc.com, along with my friend Ram Prasad. This happened about 3 months before the actual travel date. Even though I had been to Madurai when I was in 4th standard and once when I was in ABT, I had no "feel" of that city. So I decided that I must stay for a couple of days to get a feel of it. On Thursday Hindu paper I read that the temples in Madurai are being renovated in a full swing. I knew I am going to miss many things, but postponing / cancelling the trip... Nah!The journey started on a fun note with Ram and me from Chennai Egmore on 19th Sep '08.. Needless to say, I enjoyed the warmth of the city, thanks to Ramprasad and his friends... Also I got to see enough of the sculpture marvels of Pandiyas and also the nature at its best in the Pazhamudhircholai.

Madurai Temple

Reaching there by 6:30 a.m, I was put up in a Heritage Hotel called "New College House" very closer to the Railway Station and the Meenakshi temple. It was a reasonable budget hotel with no extra frills. After a small nap, I refreshed myself and went to the Meenakshi temple. The temple is being renovated, so I couldn't get the sight of the Gopurams' grandeur (நான்மாட கூடல்) as they were covered with thatch. I was in a excited mood, so chose to wear white dhoti (வேஷ்டி) carrying my DSLR kit and was often mistaken for professional photographer. After sometime I was even tempted to take up it as extra income (ha! ha! ha!).... They charged Rs. 50/- towards Camera charges but were very liberal in allowing to take photographs in any part of the temple except the main shrine (கர்ப்பகிருகம்). Because of the influx of foreign tourists, they might have taken this liberal stand. I also noticed so much of malayalees in the floating population.

{mosimage}The story of the temple goes like this:- According to legend, the sacred Suyambulingam discovered by the king of Gods `Indiran' at Kadambavanam, was later enshrined by him in Madurai. The fact that the Lord is seen on the vehicle of `Indira' in this temple is said to be proof for this.

Many historical evidences of the temple have been found dating back from early A.D Thirugnanasambandar the Hindu Saint has mentioned the temple in his songs which go back to early 7th century. The lord has been described as `Aalavai Iraivan' in his songs.

{mosimage}The temple was almost completely destroyed in the year 1310 following the invasion of the Islamic conqueror Malikkapur. As kings who were followers of Islam were noted for their intolerance towards other religions, the invaders destroyed most of the ancient sculputures of the temple. The temple was restored to its pristine glory in the late 14th century when the Hindu Kings came back to power in Madurai. This can also be termed as a new beginning of a new era in the history of the temple, when it was almost rebuilt. The King Thirumalai Naicker played an important role in the construction of the new form of the temple.

I, having a keen eye for architecture and sculptures, am at short of words to mention anything about this temple's grandeur as well as finest artistic recall values. The sculptures here depict the rich and glorious lives of then Tamil culture as well as the finer aesthetics. Better you see the things for yourself is all I could say at this moment.

{mosimage}Hah!!!.. I came here basically for the paintings. I was quite disappointed that there was very minimal progress since I came here last time. But the new 2 segments had the mind blowing "Meenakshi Kalyanam" fresco that I couldn't take my eyes off. The style is not Tanjore one, but very similiar to what we see in the walls of Padmanabhaswami temple, in Kerala. I got terribly inspired to replicate the same in Tanjore Painting format. I enquired a guide about the artiste and he confirmed that the painters were from Kerala and had discontinued after a while. I felt bit depressed that when it will actually be completed and love to see them in action. I took lot of photos of each small paintings so that I can try them in my future endeavours.

Click here to see the complete set of Meenakshi Temple & Fresco Painting Photos

Thirumalai Naicker Mahal

My next stop was the famous "Thirumalainaicker Mahal". I had been there when I was in my 4th standard. All I could remember about it was the smooth, milky white and voluminous pillars. But whenever I see the songs from "Bombay" and "Guru" this mahal used to haunt me. Also I had this urge to see it well lit with flood lights. So I chose to reach the Naicker Mahal by 4:45 pm. I had an intresting time in finding out the bus that goes there. All the buses that passes Therkuvasal (தெற்கு வாசல்) makes its way through the Mahal. I reached there but disappointed to know that the "Sight & Sound" shows were off since Jan '07 and current visiting hours are between 9 a.m to 5 p.m. So I just made a quick trip inside without taking photographs, deciding to come back the next day.

{mosimage}I did come back in the next afternoon (Sunday). They charge Rs. 10/- as entrance fee and Rs. 30/- for still camera. Here also the renovation was going on, so the place was replete with sand, cement and scaffoldings. Still you get to see a considerable part without any disturbances. My observation about the Naicker Mahal is that it is a conglomerate of Islamic architecture style with Indian. The arches, windows and "jaali" works were typically Islamic whereas the minute border patterns and images were from Indian style. This "Yaali" (யாளி), an India's answer to dragons is predominant in all the temples in Madurai as well as in Mahal. I kept clicking and while coming out only I realised that the count here alone was about 180+. Again no wonder that this place is a favourite for movie makers.

There is a well maintained museum located in the dance court of the Mahal. Even though the collection is very less than that of what we see in Thanjavur or Chennai, it is a worthy one. Among the now available part of the palace, this hall is the most grand but poorly lit that one hardly notices the intricacies.

Again they say that the beauty lies in the eyes of the viewer. I overheard somebody saying that only pillars are there... Another aspect that irritates us is the "lovers" problem... They sit intimately in all the windows and behind the pillars that the tourists feel intimidated to go around freely. Also they scribble their names all over the pillar.... Don't know when we are going to appreciate and preserve the ancient monuments.

{mosimage}Since I went to room earlier on Saturday, I was waiting for Ramprasad to take me around Madurai. Meanwhile I took a casual walk in the market streets. There is a very similar feeling between the cities Madurai and Thirunelveli, as I had been to both the cities. Ram confirmed the same. I noticed that Madurai has a sweet tooth. The kind of food (especially Non-Veg) and the quantity served is simply more. Both the dinners I had there were sumptuous. A full 200 ml coffee for Rs. 2.50/-, a big cup of vegetable soup for Rs. 6/-, vada for Rs. 1.50/-, idli for Rs. 2/-, Madurai doesn't empty your packet to fill the stomach. Ram took me to "special" hotels.. say "Lala shop" to start with hot Halwa, Hotel Janakiram to have Parotta and Kari Dosai (கறி தோசை) which is not available anywhere else... Chicken pieces in dosa. Then we travelled few kms to reach "Jam Jam" to have tea. Still I missed "Jigirdhanda". I was saying to Ram that I came at a not so opportune moment as the renovation is going on. He said "So what... put an another trip here"... something I eagerly look forward. I, Ramprasad, Ramkumar and Anand were loitering in the streets of Subramaniyapuram to disturb his friend around 10:30 night. I really enjoyed those few hours spent together.

Click here to see the complete set of Thirumalai Naicker Mahal Photos

Azhagar Kovil

Next morning I started to Azhagar kovil around 8 a.m. The bus no. 44 goes there and charges Rs. 6/- (Rs. 12/- for Air bus), takes 1 hour to drop there from Periyar Bus Stand. Azhagar Temple is a Lord Vishnu temple and located near strong fort walls. Here also the renovation was going on.. There was a dilipiated mandapam near the bus stop. It was instructed not to get inside as it might fall down anytime. There were a pair of amazing sculpture of Thirumalai naicker and his brother with their respective spouses. I captured it in my camera and moved on. The Azhagar Kovil is in the foot of a hill called "Solai Malai", on which the famous "Pazhamudhircholai" Murugan temple is there.

Azhagar koil also falls in the very similiar style of Pandiya's architecture in the layout. Like Meenakshi temple, Nellaiyappar Temple in Thirunelveli, here also you can find a secluded but grand main shrine, which itself is like a seperate temple of its own. Also you can find abstract shaped pillars like wedge shaped ones, spiral & octagonal pieces carved in same stone (see the photo you'll understand what I mean) which gives out various musical notes depending on the geometry. There are many life like sculptures of various forms of lord Vishnu (Varaha, Narasimha, Krishna) and Rathi Devi, but many are damaged. The history goes that the Madurai temples were damaged heavily by Muslim invaders and Azhagar temple is no exception. The pragaram / outerway is quite dark thus normal people couldn't notice the beauty in pillars.

{mosimage}Azhagar koil is a small temple and while coming around it I noticed a big door in the fortress wall. I was expecting a pond there and entered in that door. As expected there was a pond amidst a stunning greenery. I was mesmerised and started walking with barefoot. The path was going and going and after 10-15 minutes only I realised that it was the walking path to Pazhamudhircholai. I would say it was one of the MOST BEAUTIFUL wild paths I had ever walked... not even Thirumurthy Hills or Papanasam. The sunlight was screened and let in through the dense trees thus creating a shimmering effect. Since I was barefooted & alone I walked very slowly observing the nature and also the people flocking in groups. Also there was a monkey mafia - those notorious creatures looting fruits and eatables from the people passing by.

{mosimage}After a 45 min walk the wild path joins the main road and further continues for 15-20 more minutes. The climate was mild and shady thus vindicating my choice of travelling between Aug - Dec. On the way there is a Blackberry tree (நாவல் பழம்) where Lord Muruga is supposed to have pranked on Poetess Auvaiyar. This is near the Pazhamuthircholai Temple itself. Atlast I reached the Temple and prayed for a while. The journey doesn't end there.. There is a spring in a km above the Murugar temple called "Rakkayi Amman Temple". There they charge Re. 1/- for entrance fee and you can take a bath there. I didn't as I didn't carry extra dress.

Since I had to catch up Thirumalai Naicker Mahal also that afternoon, I decided to take bus for returning from Pazhamuthircholai. The Kallazhagar Temple Board runs the bus service charging Rs. 10/-. The return journey hardly took 10 minutes. At the place where this bus stops in the foothill, there is a dilipated Gopuram with excellent structures. Unfortunately that place is littered with urine and garbage.

{mosimage}The return to Madurai started again with Town Bus no. 44. Ram suggested to visit the new Hanuman Temple in Surya Nagar while returning, but I kept it aside for next trip. But that temple was very much visible from the bus itself with two HUUUUGE.. statues of Lord Vishnu on "sayanam" pose as well as Goddess Durga (???). Reached back to Periyar Bus Stand by 1.00 pm. Didn't feel like eating so had a tender coconut. GOD... Such a big one for just Rs. 15/-, I had my stomach full and refreshing with a couple of tender coconuts.

Slept a while and started to Thirumalai Naicker Mahal again...

{mosimage}Ramprasad and Ramkumar dropped again by 7:00 p.m, by this time I had checked out the room. We went to one Kumar Mess for having our dinner. Then reached the Railway station, the Pandiyan Express started by 8:30 again.... Back to machine routine.

While talking about the trip, I told Anis that the weekend was enjoyable. Anis gave a curt reply " உங்களுக்கு சென்னையை தவிர எங்கே போனாலும் பிடிக்கும்..." True sort of... I enjoy travelling so much than anything. I have decided to take off regularly even after the marriage.

Click here to see the complete set of Azhagar Kovil and Pazhamudircholai Photos

{oshits} readers for this Madurai Travelogue

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About myself
Author: MaheshwaranWebsite: https://www.maheshwaran.com
I am a SAP Consultant in my late 30s, residing in the happeing IT City - Bangalore. My interests vary from reading to travelling to handicrafts to photography. My latest interest is on Body building. May be this vivid interest keeps me going in my life without getting bored.

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