Madurai which was earlier known as Madura stands as the third biggest city of Tamil Nadu. It is located on the banks of the River Vaigai. Madurai I an ancient settlement and is recorded as one of the world’s oldest successively inhabited cities. Madurai is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District and also one of the most popular Hindu pilgrimage centres.
Madurai is located at 9.93°N 78.12°E with an average elevation of 101 meters above sea level. It has an area of 52 km2, within an urban area now extending over as much as 130 km2.
The name Madurai has been suggested by many theories, Madurai is the name which traced from the Sanskrit word Madhura (sweetness). Another theory says that Madurai name is derived from the word Marutham which means the two types of trees that grew on the banks of river Vaigai and a landscape in the Sangam age.
The Pandyan King Kulasekarar built a great temple and made a lotus shaped city around the temple. Legend says that the town was named Madhurapuri due to the divine shower of the nectar that flowed from the locks of Lord Shiva as a blessing on the day of naming this ancient town.
Madurai is an exquisite city which is famous for its tremendous, wonderful temples that are good examples of excellent architecture and breathtaking sculptural works. It is located on the banks of Vaigai River, Tamil Nadu. Madurai also known as “Then Madurai”, "Naan Maada Koodal" (or Koodal Nagar), "Thirvalavai" (or Aalavai) and it is also known as ‘The Athens of the East’. Madurai is nicknamed "Thoonga Nagaram", means "city that never sleeps".
From the great Tamil Era, Madurai got its rich cultural heritage which is more than 2500 years old. As early as 550 A.D Madurai was an important commercial and cultural centre. Madurai was the capital city for the great Pandya Kings. It is the second largest city of Tamil Nadu.
Around the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, Madurai was built. The entire Madurai city is laid out in the shape of Lotus. Having Temple in the centre, rectangular streets surround the temple symbolizing the structure of cosmos. These rectangular streets are named after Tamil months. Chittirai, Aadi, Aavani, Moola, Maasi, Maarat and Veli are some of the major rectangular streets which surround Meenakshi Amman Temple.
Madurai represents the Tamil literature and traditions for centuries. This city has been the seat of Tamil literature and the legendary three Tamil Sangams or Tamil Assemblies. The Tamil literature is dated back up to 300 BCE and 200 CE and is referred to as The Sangam literature and the period when it was written as Sangam Age. The Sangam Age literature covered on war, governance, trade and romance. As per the legends the First Sangam age lasted 4440 yrs and lasted 89 Successive Kings. The Second Sangam Age spread across 3700 yrs and 59 Successive Kings and the Third Sangam age lasted for 1800 yrs and saw 49 Successive Kings. The Tamil assemblies believed to have been patronised by the Pandyan kings and were held at different cities that were the respective capitals, the last one being held at Madurai.
Famous festivals of Madurai:
Float Festival is celebrated between January and February, on the full moon night of the Tamil month Thai. This festival attracts huge numbers of devotees for the beautiful way it is conducted. It was first celebrated by Thirumalai Nayak in 17th century on his birthday. An artificial tank was constructed and a small island in the middle was adorned with the Lord Vigneswara shrine. On this day the Utsava (procession) idols of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar are taken upto the tank in golden palanquins in a procession followed by horses, elephants and devotees. These idols are then placed on a float beautifully adorned with flowers, silk ribbons, and lanterns. This float is then taken around the tank pulled by the ropes and reaches the island and the idols are kept here till the end of the day. The island gets illuminated in the evening, followed by fireworks, lighting of oil lamps and the entire area gets a divine and festive look. Even the float is adorned with fluorescent and flood lighting before it is back on water towards the shore of the tank. Finally the idols are put back on a golden horse and brought back to the main temple.
Pongal is a famous Harvest Festival celebrated as thanks giving to the Sun God, the nature and the cattle. It is a three day festival; first day is Bogi when the front yards are decorated with intricate and beautiful designs. The second day Pongal is when sweet rice called Pongal is made and the third day is called Mattu Pongal when the famous salted Pongal of Madurai is cooked and served. It is a colourful and happy festival celebrated on the arrival of new crop home.
The most attractive feature of the festival is the sport called Jallikattu which is a game of strength displayed by taming the wild bulls. This attracts thousands of enthusiasts and is held in any villages of Tamil Nadu; however the one held in huge open grounds at Madurai is very popular.
Chithirai Festival is celebrated in the months of April/May on the Full Moon Day of Chithirai Tamil month. This is celebrated as the wedding anniversary of Goddess Meenakshi to Lord Sundareswarar. Devotees throng to take part in the celebrations that are held for ten long days including all divine rituals.
Festival of the Cradle
The procession idols of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar are placed in a beautiful chamber of mirrors, on a swing for nine days that keeps rocking smoothly without stopping.
Avanimoolam Festival is held at Sundareswarar Temple in the months of August/September. It marks the coronation of Lord Sundareswarar. The 64 miracles performed by the Lord Shiva to save the city of Madurai are narrated through a play called ‘Lila’ by the priests.
It is held by the Tamil Nadu Tourism department to preserve the rich cultural heritage and also pass it across the future generations. It is held for fifteen days during which dance forms of various states are performed by the participants.
Madurai witnessed major changes and progression along with the times in terms of infrastructure and amenities. Madurai textiles are famous for the Sungudi sarees that have an elegant look. Madurai is also popular internationally for the exclusive Jasmine flowers with unique fragrance. These jasmines are exported for use in making perfumes. The other thriving Industries of Madurai are IT, Textiles, Ready-made garments, printing and packaging etc. Madurai is a centre of excellence for Education and learning, Madurai Kamaraj University established in 1966 has the distinction of introducing the Distance Education in India.
The variety of food available in Madurai is endless. It is one of India’s oldest continuously inhabited cities surviving and thriving across 2500 years. Madurai cuisine continuously got value added by various cultures, cuisines and unlimited varieties over centuries. The city is popularly known as ‘Thoonga Nagaram’ a city that never sleeps, as the streets are ever bustling with the eateries offering something or the other to eat. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian varieties of Madurai are extremely delicious and popular. The most popular delicacies of Madurai are idly, dosa, Appam, Kattu Pongal, sweet Pongal and the specialty of the place is the minced parotta with scrambled eggs. One does not need an advice as to what to eat at Madurai, just get out on to the streets and choose as per your palate.
Madurai is famous for the drink called Jil Jil Jigarthanda meaning Cool Heart. It is prepared with milk, badam, rose syrup and Ice cream. It is best enjoyed in summers. The best place to try this drink is the shop on Manjanakkara Street, where it is made and sold by a family who were into the same business for generations. However there are many stalls that offer this drink.
Rameswaram-167, Thiruvathavoor-35 Km, Dindigul-50 Km, Tanjavur-149 Km, Tirunelveli-162 Km, Chennai-472 Km, Bangalore- 446 Km. are nearest Big towns.