Tamil Nadu: History & Temples
(copyright 2013)
written by:  Keith Stanley
pictures by: Keith & Hiong (Jana) Stanley

P1040183 Meenakshi Amman Temple, gopuram, Madurai (good).jpg (151432 bytes) P1040194 Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai, interior.jpg (127488 bytes) P1040276 Brihadishwara Temple, Tanjore.jpg (125046 bytes)
Meenakshi Amman Temple,
Meenakshi Amman Temple,
Brihadishwara Temple, Tanjore

Madurai:  Madurai is an ancient city with a recorded history going back to the third century BCE, one of the oldest cities in India and the “soul” of Tamil Nadu. The Tamil culture and language go back a long way, and people here are proud of that. According to Wikipedia,

Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world. It has been described as "the only language of contemporary India which is recognizably continuous with a classical past" and having "one of the richest literatures in the world".  Tamil literature has existed for over 2000 years.
[FROM WIKIPEDIA, "Tamil Language" (footnotes omitted)]

Tamil is a Dravidian language with about 70 million native speakers, one of a large number of languages spoken in India

The Meenakshi Amman Temple (in Madurai) is widely considered to be among the greatest of India’s temples and is reputed to have a history of over 2000 years, though the present structure was built in the 17th century CE during the Nayak Dynasty (with more ancient incarnations destroyed by invaders – reputedly by General Malik Kafur, leading the army of the Delhi Sultanate in 1310 CE). Though its early history is speculative, the Meenakshi Amman Temple is referenced in literary works of the Sangam Period. The temple has 12 great Gopuram’s (gateway towers), a traditional South Indian architectural element in temple architecture, tapering as it rises and consisting of successive tiers, each ornately & profusely decorated with statues, sculptural forms and relief elements, generally painted in bright colors. The tallest of the temple’s gopurams rises to a height of 170 feet. Let’s just say they are intricate, and a visual feast for those who are detailed-oriented.  I took many pictures of the temple and its gopurams (see below) (though non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the temple’s (two?) inner sanctums). Meenakshi is an avatar of Parvati, consort of Shiva (here going by the name of Sundareswarar). There is a delightful story about the meeting of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar:  

According to Hindu legend, in order to answer the prayers of the second Pandya king Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai, Parvati appeared out of the holy fire of the Putra Kameshti Yagna (sacrifice for childhood) performed by the king.  The girl who came out of the holy fire had three breasts.  A voice from the heavens told the king not to worry about the abnormality and added that the third breast would vanish as soon the girl met her future husband.  The happy king named the girl "Tadaatagai" and being the heir to the throne, Tadaatagai was trained carefully in all the 64 sastras, the fields of science.  As the time came for Tadaatagai's coronation, she had to wage war on the three worlds across eight directions.  After conquering Brahma's Abode, Sathyaloka, Vishnu's Abode, Vaikunta, and Devas' abode Amaravati, she advanced to Shiva's Abode Kailasha.  She very easily defeated the bhoota ganas (IAST: Bhūtagana, meaning Shiva's army) and Nandi, the celestial bull of Shiva, and headed to attack and conquer Shiva. The moment she looked at Shiva, she was unable to fight and bowed her head down due to shyness; the third breast vanished immediately. Tadaatagai realized that Shiva was her destined husband. She also realized that she was the incarnation of Parvati. Both Shiva and Tadaatagai returned to Madurai and the king arranged the coronation ceremony of his daughter, followed by her marriage with Shiva.  

FROM WIKIPEDIA, "Meenakshi Amman Temple" (footnotes omitted).

 Pictures of Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai:

P1080465 meenakshi amman, west tower gopuram, entrance to compound.jpg (146919 bytes) P1080468 meenakshi amman, madurai temple, gopuram.jpg (196065 bytes) P1080467 gopuram entrance, detail, meenakshi amman.jpg (184709 bytes)
Meenakshi Temple gopuram
west tower entrance
Closer view of the gopuram Closer yet
P1080473 meenakshi amman, gopuram detail, west tower.jpg (164111 bytes) P1080478 madurai temple, gopuram.jpg (185599 bytes) P1080481 meenakshi amman, pilgrims.jpg (170147 bytes)
Further detail (same gopuram) North gopuram,
Meenakshi Amman Temple
North gopuram
P1040192 an entrance to the temple.jpg (176475 bytes) P1040194 Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai, interior.jpg (127488 bytes) P1080506 meenakshi amman, mukkuruni vinayagar.jpg (125744 bytes)
Meenakshi Amman Temple
Meenakshi Amman, interior Mikkuruni Vinayagar at
Meenakshi Amman Temple
P1040217 temple floor rangoli, kolam, or mandala.jpg (185378 bytes) P1080520 Meenakshi Amman, interior detail.jpg (173325 bytes) P1080516 meenakshi amman, interior tank pool courtyard.jpg (109213 bytes)
Temple rangoli, kolam Interior detail Temple tank (pool) courtyard
P1040231 temple gallery statues.jpg (97111 bytes) P1040232 Hindu bronze statues.jpg (94947 bytes) P1080549 meenakshi amman temple museum, statue.jpg (96924 bytes)
Temple museum statues Temple museum statues Temple museum statues

 Tiruchirappalli (Trichy):  In Trichy, we visited three temples—

(1) the Sri Jambukeshwarar Temple dedicated to Shiva, Parvati, and the ‘element’ of water (this temple is one of the five elemental temples of Shiva, the ‘elements’ being land, water, air, sky, and fire);

(2) the Rock Fort temple complex (437 stone cut steps), which actually consists of two main temples, the Sri Thayumanaswamy Temple (halfway to the top) and the Vinayaka Temple (at the summit of the rock outcrop); and 

(3) the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple—

The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple . . . is a Hindu temple dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Hindu deity, Vishnu located in Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, India. Constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture, this temple is glorified in the Divya Prabandha, the early medieval Tamil literature canon of the Alvar saints from the 6th–9th centuries AD and is counted as the first and foremost among the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Vishnu.

It is one of the most illustrious Vaishnava temples in South India, rich in legend and history. Its location, on an island rendered it vulnerable to the rampaging of invading armies – Muslim and European – which repeatedly commandeered the site for military encampment. The main entrance, known as the Rajagopuram (the royal temple tower), rises from the base area of around 13 cents (around 5720 sq ft) and goes up to 237 feet, moving up in eleven progressively smaller tiers. . . . the temple is often listed as the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, the still larger Angkor Wat being the largest existing temple. The temple occupies an area of 156 acres (631,000 m²) with a perimeter of 4,116m (10,710 feet) making it the largest temple in India and one of the largest religious complexes in the world.

     FROM WIKIPEDIA, "Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam

Pictures of Sri Jambukeswara Temple in Trichy:

P1040248 Sri Jambukeswarar Temple entrance.jpg (162243 bytes) P1080573 Sri Jambukeswara gopuram, detail, crop (good).jpg (396815 bytes) P1040250 Sri Jambukeswarar Temple interior.jpg (109460 bytes)
Sri Jambukeswarar Temple
A gopuram, detail
Sri Jambukeswarar Temple
P1040253 Sri Jambukeswarar, Nandi, crop.jpg (115528 bytes) P1040260 Shiva lingam.jpg (123458 bytes) P1040262 a Sri Jambukeswararr Temple gopuram, crop2.jpg (309742 bytes)
Sri Jambukeswarar Temple,
Shiva lingam at Sri
Sri Jambukeswarar Temple
gopuram, detail
(high resolution)

 Pictures of the Rockfort temple complex (in Trichy):
P1040315 Trichy Rock Fort Temple Complex.jpg (115669 bytes) P1040317 signage.jpg (143833 bytes) P1080665 Rock Fort temple.jpg (94680 bytes)
Rock Fort Temple complex Signage Rock Fort Temple
P1040323 view over Rock Fort with St Joseph College Church in background.jpg (140972 bytes) P1080667 temple on rock, top of stairs.jpg (85785 bytes) P1040331 an interior.jpg (144062 bytes)
Rock Fort with St. Joseph
College Church in background
Stairway to Vinayaka Temple An interior

Pictures of Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple (in Trichy):
P1040332 Raganathaswamy Temple complex.jpg (133899 bytes) P1080687 Ranganathaswamy Temple detail.jpg (122406 bytes) P1040358 unpainted gopuram or vimana.jpg (111805 bytes)
Inside the first gopuram Raganatha
(a form of Vishnu reclining)
Unpainted gopuram
or vimana
P1040359 etherial.jpg (108116 bytes) P1080704 crowd awaiting entry to inner part of temple.jpg (146437 bytes) P1040350 footware left outside temple.jpg (86064 bytes)
Crowd awaiting entry to
inner precincts
Footware left near
P1040351 devotees seated inside temple entrance.jpg (170166 bytes) P1080719 equestrian detail.jpg (106782 bytes) P1080722 unknown structure.jpg (95314 bytes)
Devotees seated inside Equestrian detail Unknown structure
P1040364 three gopurams in succession.jpg (139003 bytes) P1040367 unknown structure.jpg (184262 bytes)
Rooftop view,
3 gopurams in succession
Unknown structure

Tanjore (Thanjavur):  In Tanjore, we visited the magnificent Brihadishwara Temple toward the close of the day when the sun was sinking low. This Hindu temple is of an appearance and style considerably different from the others we’d visited recently. The structures in the temple compound are made of light reddish-brown sandstone--plain and unpainted, the earthy colors rise into the sky. Construction began in 1010 CE by Chola king Raja Raja (literally, ‘king of kings’). The Cholas are one of three royal lineages of southern India that go back to antiquity, along with the Cheras and the Pandyas. The temple is considered one of the crowning glories of the ancient Chola dynasty. The influence of Chola culture, at its height during this period, extended far into Southeast Asia

. . . South Indian Hindus expanded their cultural umbrella, sometimes literally: the Southeast Asian use of umbrellas as royal regalia traces directly back to South India. So do the statues of apsaras (heavenly nymphs), the richly embellished jewelry of court fashions from Angkor in Cambodia to Ayutthaya in Thailand (the latter name derived from the Ramayana kingdom of Ayodyah), the centrality of temples to daily life, the sense of form and space used in stone and bronze sculptures, and a common usage of Sanskrit in classical literature. Bali remains a Hindu inland thanks to the cross-cultural connections of this period, and every Thai king for the past 200 years has been named Rama in honour of the prince of the Indian epic.

There’s a legend of the founding of Angkor Wat, with its Chola-esque step pyramids and bas reliefs of enormous Khmer faces, which elegantly sums up this link: a Cambodian naga (serpent-dragon) princess would not marry any suitor until she was approached by an Indian warrior, who cast his spear into her fertile paddies (no, really).

FROM Lonely Planet: South India, Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd 2009, p. 435.

Pictures of Brihadishwara Temple (in Tanjore):

P1040263 Tanjore Brihadishwara Temple.jpg (106650 bytes) P1040264 gopuram detail.jpg (154908 bytes) P1040269 two gopuram.jpg (119553 bytes)
Entrance Gopuram, detail Two Gopurams from
interior courtyard
P1040277 Sri Brihadishwara, main vimana & 2 gopurams (ok).jpg (115472 bytes) P1040283 vimana, detail, crowd (good).jpg (133791 bytes) P1040287 vimana, detail.jpg (153596 bytes)
Main Vimana (tower) with 2
Gopurams in the distance
Vimana base, with pilgrims Vimana, detail
P1040291 a small temple, crop.jpg (129677 bytes) P1040292 small temple and main vimana.jpg (141246 bytes) P1040301 worshippers inside main vimana.jpg (104056 bytes)
A smaller temple Small temple with main
Vimana in background
Worshippers inside main Vimana
P1040304 blessing of Mahatmaji.jpg (84040 bytes) P1040310 lighting the candle.jpg (79061 bytes) P1080633 Nandi.jpg (92281 bytes)
Blessing of Mahatmaji Lighting a candle Nandi

Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram):  On the way back to Chennai from Tanjore, we stopped at Mahabalipuram, where we saw a few of the ruins and rock carvings before the sun set and the sites closed for the day.

Mahabalipuram was a 7th century port city of the South Indian dynasty of the Pallavas around 60 km south from the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu.  The name Mamallapuram is believed to have been given after the Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, who took on the epithet Maha-malla (great wrestler), as the favourite sport of the Pallavas was wrestling.  It has various historic monuments built largely between the 7th and the 9th centuries, and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
. . . .

The monuments are mostly rock-cut and monolithic, and constitute the early stages of Dravidian architecture wherein Buddhist elements of design are prominently visible. They are constituted by cave temples, monolithic rathas (chariots), sculpted reliefs and structural temples. The pillars are of the Dravidian order. The sculptures are excellent examples of Pallava art.

FROM Wikipedia, “Mahabalipuram,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabalipuram.

Pictures of ruins at Mahabalipuram (Panch Rathas and Shore Temple):

P1040385 Dharmaraja Ratha with Bhima Ratha in background.jpg (80356 bytes) P1080777 Bhima Ratha.jpg (99128 bytes) P1040389 Nakul Sahdeva Ratha with elephant sculpted from a single rock.jpg (111416 bytes)
Dharmaraja Ratha with Bhima
Ratha in background
Bhima Ratha Nakul Sahdeva Ratha
with stone elephant
P1040391 Arjuna Ratha, Draupadi Ratha, and Nandi rock sculpture.jpg (105282 bytes) P1040396 Draupadi Ratha with sculpted Nandi in foreground.jpg (77992 bytes) P1080774 Rathas carved in solid stone.jpg (87427 bytes)
Arjuna and Draupadi Rathas
with Nandi rock sculpture
Draupadi Ratha with Nandi sculpture Rathas
P1040402 Shore Temple.jpg (61421 bytes) P1040403 Shore Temple with Lingam in foreground.jpg (65113 bytes) P1080796 ruins (ok).jpg (75197 bytes)
Shore Temple Shore Temple with lingam Ruins

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