When you visit Madurai, the popular pilgrimage center of Tamilnadu, India and wonder with awe, on seeing the structural beauty of Meenakshi Amman Temple, invariably your mind slips into the past. You tend to think : It is not possible for ordinary human beings like us, to even attempt a stone-structure of that height; that velocity; that broad to accommodate thousand people at a time; that artistic splendor to carve innumerable statues, animals, flowers and designs in hard stone.
Only a vast number of dedicated artisans should have worked for years. Only a Ruler or King could have financed such a mammoth plan and executed the same with a splendid perfection. The motivation behind all these efforts could have been - nothing but “Bakthi” - an unassailable devotion towards God – the creator. That tempts you to look back into the history of Madurai.
Starting back in ancient times as 3rd Century B.C., the history of Madurai has gone on record. Megasthenes, the foreigner to visit India in those days, has left notes in his travelogue about Madurai. So also the subsequent foreign travelers, Marco Polo and Ibin Bathutha, who have praised this ancient city under the rule of Pandiya Kings, whose period was the golden era of Madurai till 10th Century. Kulasekara Pandiyan is said to be the King behind the construction of Meenakshi Temple.
During the Pandiya rule, Tamilnadu flourished in overseas trade with far off countries like Rome and Greece, whose merchants came to Madurai to buy Pearls, originated from nearby Tuticorin seashore. Pandiya Kings also showed immense involvement in the growth of Tamil Literature and Madurai was known as a Sangam (or Academy) of Tamil Poets.
Madurai has seen many ups and downs as the capital of ruling dynasties. Cholas, who ruled the nearby Thanjavur and Trichy area, captured Madurai from the Pandiyas in 920 AD and ruled the kingdom till 13th Century. Pandiyas again regained the kingdom, only to forfeit the same to the Muslim Sultans at Delhi.
Malik Kafur, the general of Allaudin Khilji at Delhi, invaded Madurai and robbed the wealth of Madurai including that of the Meenakshi Temple. The legendry Krishna Devaraya of Vijayanagar captured Madurai in 1371 and after his death, Nayaks, who were appointed Governors, started to rule Madurai independently. Thirumalai Nayakar is one famous ruler in this Dynasty, to have constructed great monuments like Rajagopuram (entrance) of Meenakshi Temple, Pudu Mandapam, and Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal – which are still popular tourist attractions.
According to Hindu mythology, Madurai was a forest full of Kadamba trees once, where the King of heavenly Devas, Indiran was worshipping a Lingam. The matter was reported to King Kulasekara Pandiyan, who found out the Swayambu Lingam (appeared on its own). He constructed a beautiful temple for Meenakshi-Sundareswarar (which was blessed by none other than Lord Siva himself on its consecration).
The King formed Madurai city, designed as a Lotus Flower, with the temple in the middle and the surrounding corridors on all the four sides, layer by layer - as its petals, which we are seeing even today. Since then the glory of Madurai, one of the top-notch pilgrimage centers of Tamilnadu is ever increasing, forming part of history for generations.