Madurai is one of the oldest cities of
India. Pre Christian Sangam literature originated in Madurai. The Sangam
period poet Nakkeerar is associated with some of the Tiruvilayaadal episodes of Sundareswarar
- that are enacted as a part of temple festival traditions even today.
Nakkeerars Tirumurugaatruppadai sings
of the glory of Tirupparamkunram nearby.
The hymns of the Nayanmaars
(Saivite Saint Poets) of the 7th century CE and beyond are full of
praises of Aalavai (Madurai). The well known Tevaram
verse Mantiramaavadu Neeru is dedicated to Sundareswarar
shrine is believed to be more ancient than the shrine to Meenakshi.
The original temple was razed to the ground by the invading
armies of Malik Kafur, the general of Allauddin Khilji
of the Khilji dynasty of Delhi, in early 14th century. All of the temple, along
with the surrounding streets were completely brought down, with the exception of the twin
shrines of Meenakshi and Sundareswara. It is believed that the shrines were spared, thanks
to infighting between the invaders.
With amazing resilience the temple came back to shape. Viswanatha
Nayak of the Nayak dynasty successors to the Vijayanagar
Empire, commenced the task of reconstruction in 1510 CE, sticking meticulously to
the original plan of the temple. It is believed to have taken over a hundred years to
complete the temple. The temple itself is a celebration of art; it is believed that over
30 million pieces of sculpture and stucco images adorn the 14 acre temple complex.
The 1000 feet by 950 feet Vandiyur Maariyamman
Teppakkulam was built in mid 17th century by Tirumalai
Nayakar, for the purpose of celebrating Meenakshi Teppotsavam.
(This festival is celebrated today in the Tamil month of Thai).
It is believed that in recent times (of the later Nayak
royalty of Madurai), the annual festival of the temple was moved from the tamil month of Maasi
to the month of Chittirai. (The festival streets surrounding the temple
are named after the month Maasi and not Chittirai when
the festival happens).
This change in tradition apparently was carried out with
socio-political motives; i.e. to time the festival to synchronize with the annual festival
at the Kallazhagar Temple revered by the Kallar
tribe living outside of Madurai. Even today, Kallazhagar
is brought in procession to the outskirts of Madurai, a day or two after the Royal/Divine Wedding.
The popular belief associated with this trip is that Kallazhagar
(Maha Vishnu) the brother of Meenakshi proceeds to Madurai
to give his sister in marriage to Sundareswarar and returns
disappointed that he is late and that he has missed the ceremony. During the annual
festival season in Madurai, the entire region spanning the city and the outskirts
transforms into a sea of celebration of life.
Scholars from abroad have spoken thus, of Madurai, It
is in Madurai that one discovers the heart and soul of the Indian faith, thought systems
and culture dating back over several centuries. The mysticism that surrounds India
takes on a real meaning in Madurai.