The Heritage Temple City of Madurai, Tamilnadu, South India, during its days of glory under the rule of Pandya Kings centuries back, was closely associated with the growth of Tamil Literature. If you dig into the history of Tamil Language, you will find it is one of the ancient languages of the world, according to linguistic experts.
You can find there are evidences, connecting Madurai with Tamil Literature from the Archeological Survey conducted at Cinnamanur, where the 10th century inscriptions of the Pandya rule were excavated. The Tamil Literature has it in the works of popular Tamil Poet Nakeerar, (seventh or eighth century of Christian Era) that there were three Tamil Sangams – Mutharchangam (first academy) Idaichangm (second or in-between academy) and Kadaichangam (the 3rd and last academy).
Of the above three, Kadaichangam was sponsored by 49 kings of Madurai, for thousands of years hereditarily, according to contemporary scholars like Kamil Zvelebil, where as many as 449 poets participated. The oldest Tamil work “Tholkappiyam”, which describes the grammatical rules for poetry is dated back to thousands of years, according to researchers.
You will find, apart from scholarly researches, that there are many folklore and legendry stories among the people of Tamilnadu, relating Madurai with Tamil Literature. Some of them like the Madurai “Sanga Palagai” and “Nakkeerar vs. Lord Siva confrontation” have been popularized by Tamil movies, even among the illiterate masses.
The legendry story about “Sangapalagai” goes thus – in the olden days, the works of any Tamil poet could be accepted only with the approval of Madurai Tamil Sangam. For this, the work written on palm leaves (prior to the invention of paper, poets and writers had to record their writings with a sharp nail- “Ezhuthani”- on the processed and cut-short palm leaves) should be placed on the “Sangapalagai” (a wooden plate) floating on the Portamarai Kulam (Lotus Pond) of Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple.
If the work of literature is not worth, it will sink and disappear into the pond and if it is good, it will float and return to the academy members gathered at the pond. Legend is the great Tamil Poet, Thiruvalluvar was first rejected by the Pandya King and on escort by Avvayar, another Tamil Poet, placed his world-renowned Tamil work “Thirukkural” on the Sangapalagai, to get it accepted. Lord Siva graced the work with flowers and returned it to the Sangam poets.
Similarly in Madurai Lord Siva according to Hindu mythology performed 64 miracles. One of them is helping a poor poet Tharumi. Senbaga Pandiyan, the ruler of Madurai, had a doubt whether the scent emanating from feminine-hair is natural or from inducement by flowers and perfumes. The King announced 1000 gold coins for any poet clarifying his doubt. Lord Siva helped poor Tharumi by handing a poem, which he took to the Royal Court and cleared the King’s doubt.
Nakeerar, the Poet of the Court objects to King’s rewarding Tharumi, saying the poem contains a conceptual mistake. Thereupon, Lord Siva himself appears in the Court to argue the righteousness of his poem. Nakkeerar would not budge (even after knowing who has come), saying only perfumes can make scent emanating and this is the case even for Goddesses. Lord Siva burns Nakeerar with his third eye (on his forehead), but praising Nakeerar’s passion for Tamil language, gives him back alive to the Tamil Sangam.
Madurai is a prominent pilgrimage center, situated 498 Kms (308 miles) south-west of Chennai (formerly Madras), the capital of Tamilnadu State.