I am a marketing professional holding a postgraduate degree in management. I live in Chennai and have traveled extensively in Tamil Nadu.
Madurai is an ancient city in south Tamil Nadu. The city—now an important educational hub with many universities and colleges—is well known for its rich cultural heritage and promotion of the Tamil language. It was the capital city of the Pandiya kings for several centuries until the 1500s, when it came under the rule of the Nayakkars. The British East India Company then occupied Madurai from 1801 until 1947, when India was granted independence.
Many heritage structures, such as palaces and temples, have stood the test of time and can still be seen in the city today, including the spectacular Meenakshi Amman Temple, around which the old town of Madurai was planned. If you are planning a trip to this jewel of a city, here are the sights you simply cannot miss.
8 Best Places in Madurai
- Meenakshi Amman Temple
- Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal
- Pazhamudhircholai Murugan Temple
- Gandhi Museum
- Athisayam Theme Park
- Samanar Malai
- Theppakulam Mariamman Temple
Continue scrolling for more information about each of these exciting locations.
1. Meenakshi Amman Temple
The South Indian state of Tamil Nadu is known for its many ancient temples, the most iconic of which is the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. Though it was founded during the Pandiya rule, the Nayakkar rulers built the temple as it exists today. The tall towers known as gopuras are visible anywhere from the main town.
Tourists from across the country, as well as abroad, throng this temple. There is a hall inside the temple housing 1,000 intricately carved stone pillars, known as Aayiram Kaal Mandapam. Another attraction inside is the lotus pond, known as Potramarai Kulam. Several vendors sell arts-and-craft items outside the temple.
2. Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal
This palace was built in the 17th century by the Nayak rulers. It is the epitome of opulence, grandeur and fine taste. The huge front courtyard will leave anyone spellbound when they visit for the first time. The 13-meter-tall pillars and the arches add a regal charm to the palace.
Built using a mix of indigenous and Islamic architecture, Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal is one of the must-see locations in Madurai. Light and sound shows showcasing Tamil culture are conducted in the evening. This palace is a reminder of the economic inequalities that have long existed in India between the haves and have-nots.
3. Pazhamudhircholai Murugan Temple
Located on a hilltop 25 km from Madurai, visitors can take a bus or their own car to reach the foot of the hill. For those who do not fancy walking up the hill, shuttle buses are available to take the visitors the rest of the way to the temple.
This temple has idols of Lord Murugan, Valli and Deivayani. According to legend, Lord Murugan came in a disguise and offered fruit to the old Tamil poet Avvaiyar, testing her with a riddle. This is one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga, known as Arupadai Veedu. It is a very scenic hill with springs and dense vegetation, where monkeys can be spotted in abundance.
The best months to visit are from September to December during the monsoon season.
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4. The Gandhi Museum (Thamukkam Palace)
This museum was built in 1959 for Mahatma Gandhi (there are five such museums in India) and has several of the departed leader's mortal remains on display. Mahatma Gandhi propagated the principles of non-violence and is known for his personal integrity. Playing a major part in India’s freedom struggle, he won the hearts of Indians and many of the Britishers he fought against.
Before being converted into a museum, this building was the palace of a queen by the name of “Rani Mangammal”. She ruled the Nayak kingdom for a while during the 18th century. It was known as Thamukkam Palace before being converted to Gandhi Museum.
This is another pilgrimage site in the suburban locality of Madurai; millions of devotees throng the Subramanya Swamy Temple every year. The temple has another attraction in the form of a pond called Saravana Poigai. Overlooking the mountain, it offers stunning views to devotees and tourists alike.
Legend says that the poet Nakkeerar sang praises about Lord Siva from this pond. There is also a belief that Lord Muruga got married to Deivayani in this temple. This is another one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga. If you hear someone call Madurai a "temple city", you know why!
6. Athisayam Amusement Park
Athisayam is on the Madurai-Dindigul highway at a distance of 12 km from Madurai. The park covers 70 acres and is known for its water rides and other games. Since this is a big hit with children, the park mainly attracts families.
The water park offers activities such as a Sindhu Bath, a wave pool and a lazy river. A baby train, dashing cars, swing chair and many other rides are offered in the dry part of the park. The visiting time is from 10.00 am to 6.30 pm. This is closer to residents of south Tamil Nadu who previously had to travel all the way to Mettupalayam or Chennai to visit a theme park.
7. Samanar Malai
This hill is in Keelakuyilkudi village at a distance of 15 km from Madurai. Jain monks created many carvings on the stones of this hill in the 1st century. These carvings tell us how Jainism found its way into Tamil Nadu long ago.
The surroundings are calm and peaceful, making it an ideal spot for meditation. Trekking up the hill makes for a memorable experience for the adventurous kind, and one gets a great view of the surroundings from the hilltop.
8. Theppakulam Mariamman Temple
In Tamil, "theppakulam" refers to a temple pond. King Thirumalai Nayak created a man-made island in the middle of this pond, where he built a temple in 1636. The pond is connected to the Vaigai River through underground channels. This river was a perennial river before the construction of dams.
A float festival is celebrated either in January or February (full moon day in the Tamil month of Thai). It is celebrated in memory of Thirumalai Nayak. The temple and its surroundings are well lit during the float festival, giving it a livelier aura. This tradition of paying respect to a king has continued for over four centuries.
Madurai Is a Well-Planned City
The above image shows the map of the old Madurai town. There are four concentric quadrangular streets around the Meenakshi Amman Temple: Chithirai Veedhi, Aavani Moola Veedhi, Maasi Veedhi and Veli Veedhi.
In such a city, you could never be lost. The town planners had such detailed layouts a millennium ago!
Stay and Travel in Madurai
Madurai is well connected by road and rail to other parts of Tamil Nadu. It is at a distance of 460 km from Chennai and it can be reached in 6 hours by car. Daily flights connect Madurai International Airport to major Indian cities.
The major stay options include the Gateway Hotel Pasumalai (part of the Taj group) and the Fortune Pandiyan Hotel (ITC group). The budget hotels worth considering are the Poppys Hotel and Hotel Park Plaza.
© 2019 Mohan Babu