History of Sree Meenakshi Temple
Origin and growth
The origin of Sree Meenakshi Temple at Madurai in South India goes as far back as 1600 B.C. The puranas (scriptures) tell us an interesting story about the temple’s origin.
In a forest Kadamba trees, there was a Lingam (Semicylindrical stone) of Lord Shiva under a Kadamba tree. This lingam is believed to have been installed by Lord Indra who come to the Earth to wash his sins. Indra built the Sanctum Sanctorum and Vimanam (small tower over this Lingam).
Later, Dhananjayan, a merchant, happened to see this divine temple in the midst of the forest. At once he informed the king Kulasekara Pandyan. The king’s capital was then at Manavur.
Kulasekaran cleared the kadamba forest and built a small town round the tower with the Siva Lingam. This town was the nucleolus for the big city that came into being during later years.
We also come to know that the greater part of Sree Meenakshi temple was built between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many persons contributed to its constructions. Still the temple presents a compact appearance.
It should have been built of wood at first and the replaced by brick and mortar. Round about 700 A.D. stones should have found a place in the temple. At that time, the Pallava rulers began building temples in and around Kanjeevaram with stones.
Poet Thirugnanasambandar, who lived in the seventh century, has referred to the Madurai Temple ‘Koodal Alavai’.
At that time, the temple covered only the area round the inner program (path surrounding the deity) of Lord Siva’s idol.
Kulasekara Pandyan built several mandapams (Pavilions) like Swami (Lord) Koil, Arthamandapam, Mani Mandapam and Maha Mandapam. He also constructed a great part of the city round the fort. The Malaimagal (Daughter of the Mountains) temple too was raised by Kulasekaran.
This king also constructed temples of protective deities on the four sides of the city. These were the Iyyanar Koil in the east, Vinayagar Koil in the south. Kariamar Perumal Koil in the west and Kali Koil in the north.
Of these the Kariamar Perumal temple was destroyed by the Muslim invaders. The Kali Koil is now called Chellathamman Koil.
GODDESS Meenakshi was no human child, she was born in the holy fire during a ‘Yaga’ (Penance before fire). Performed by the pandyan king. Malayadhwajan for being blessed with a child.
The king’s wife Kanchanamala had been an ardent worshipper of Goddess Parvathi, the Consort of Lord Siva. Legend says that Parvathi granted the prayer of kanchanamala during her previous birth. The queen’s name had been Vidyavathi. Vidyavathi had begged the Goddess who appeared in the dream as young girl, that she should be born as her daughter in the same form.
Thus it was that Parvathi rose from the fire as a three year-old girl and sat on the lap of Queen Kanchanamala.
While the queen was happy king Malayadwajan was sad. He had no doubt got a child. But this divine child got after so many yagas was a girl and that too one with three breasts. However he could not express his sorrow outwardly suddenly he heard a divine voice (asarreri). This voice asked the king to name the child Thadadhagai and to bring her up as if she were a son. It also said that the third breast would disappear as soon as she saw her consort.
The king obeyed. God’s command and even made Thadadhagai his successor, after her coronation, the virgin queen launched a series of battles. After her numerous victories on the earth Thadadhagai attacked, Mount Kailas, the abode of Lord Siva. (The Himalaya Mountains in the extreme north of India are believed to posses Mont Kailas), she defeated all the soldiers and generals of the lord. Seeing this, Siva himself came to fight with undaunted queen.
But, no sooner, did Thadahagai see Lord Siva then here third breast disappeared. The Queen threw drown, the weapons and stood abashed. She was glad that her wars had given her husband.
The marriage of the divine couple was performed in Madurai on the eighth day with all pomp and splendor. (We see a physical concept of this marriage displayed at the top of the entrance to the Amman Sannathi in East Chitrai Street).
The Lord ruled the Pandyan Kingdom under the Name of Soundara Pandyan (meaning Pandyan of great beauty) for some years. During this period he performed several divine acts called Thiruvilayadals.
After accomplishing many marvels, Lord Siva made his divine son Murugan, to be born as his mortal son. This boy was christened Ukkirapandian (Pandiyan of Valour). After the coronation of this prince, the Lord in his mortal from and his consort Thadadhagai, entered the temple and changed themselves into Somasundarar and Meenakshi.
MIRACLES OF MEENAKSHI
Not only did lord Siva perform miracles but Sree Meenakshi also exhibited her power.Once a Musilm Fakir tried to buila a mosque on the incomplete Rajagopuram tower. The efforts of citizen to desist him from doing so proved fultile; All on a sudden, a strange and ferocious light began to emanate from the eyes of in the swamy temple. Multitudes of people thronged to see the miracle. They all got an unknown strength. As its result they joined together and drive away the Muslim Fakir.
In 1812, Rous peter was the Collector of Madurai. He treated the people so kindly that he was called peter Pandyan by them. One night, there was heavy rain with lighting and thunder. Suddenly a small girl entered Peter’s bedroom, woke him up and asked him to go out. As soon as he came out lighting destroyed the room, Meenakshi had saved him. He presented a pair of golden stirrups, embedded with precious stones, for use on the idol of Sree Meenakshi when taken in procession.
We thus see how ancient, colorful and glorious is the history of the everlasting temple of Sree Meenakshi Sundareswarar.
WALLS AND TOWERS
Maravarman Sundarapandyan (1216 A.D) built the present outer walls of Sree Meenakshi Temple. They are called Sundaramaran Thirumadhil after him. He also erected the eastern tower opposite the Swami shrine in memory of the many victories in battle. The outer walls of the Amman (Goddess) Temple and the Sannathi Mandapam (Pavilion opposite the idol) were also built by Sundarapandyan. This pavilion is therefore named Sundarapandyan Mandapam. The three storeyed tower in the Amman Sannadhi was built in 1228 A.D. by Ananda Thandava Nambi
The next century saw the construction of the nine storeyed western tower of Parakarama Pandyan, the nine storeyed eastern tower of Swami-Temple by Vasuvappa and the western tower of the Swami-Temple by Vasuvappa and the western tower of the Swami-Temple with five storeys opposite the main western across the Adi Veedhi (Path or street) Vasuvappa’s tower stands east of the Kambathadi pavilion.
In the fifteenth century, Vanadi Rayar renovated the big-pavilion of the Swami Temple and the platform built by Kulasekaran. The big pavilion in the Amman Sannadhi Paili Arai (bedroom of divine couple) and the inner pragaram (pathway) were also his additions.
The Southern tower is tallest of all the towers of Sri Meenakshi temple as a whole. It was built by Siramaly Sevvanthi Chetty in 1559 A.D. The northern tower was built by Sevvanthi Velan Both these towers have five storeys each.
The Seven-storyed eastern tower of Meenakshi Temple was built by Kalathiappa Mudaliar son of Dalavoi Ariyanatha Mudaliar in 1570 A.D. It is the highest of all the towers of the Amman temple. The western tower has constructed by Veera Thumasi in the same year. This is in the Adi Veedhi near the western tower Sundreswar Temple.