MADURAI Formerly called Madura, Madurai is the second-largest city in Tamil Nadu. It is located on the river Vaigai and is surrounded by the Anai (elephant), Naga (snake), and Pasu (cow) hills. Between the first and fifth centuries a.d. it was the capital of the Pandya dynasty when three dynasties—the Pandyas, the Cheras, and the Cholas—ruled South India. In the medieval period it was the capital of the medieval Pandyas (6th–10th centuries), and in the mid-sixteenth century it was the capital of the Nayaka dynasty, founded by Vishvanatha around 1529, which came to an end in 1736. In 1801 it came under control of the British. Madurai was most renowned for its Tamil academy (sangam, or cankam) from about the second century a.d. Over two thousand sangam poems are extant in nine anthologies written by some five hundred poets. In addition, the Tolkappiyam grammar tells us not only about the grammar of the early Tamil language but also a great deal about their social life, from their castes based on geographical location to their matriarchal succession. The city was occupied and sacked around 1310 by the Muslim Tughluqs from Delhi and for almost fifty years was a province of the Tughluq empire. It was rebuilt by the Nayakas, originally viceroys of Vijayanagar; its walls were demolished by the British in 1837 to allow for expansion. Madurai-Kamaraj University was established in 1966.
The heart of the old city was built by the Nayakas and corresponds to the classical Hindu square mandala oriented to the four cardinal directions. In the center is the great Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple (koyil) complex, dedicated to the god Shiva and comprising two separate sanctuaries and twelve towered gateways ( gopuras). Minakshi ("fish-shaped eyes," a metaphor for feminine beauty) is the goddess Devī or Shakti, a warrior queen, and Sundareshvara (beautiful lord) is her husband, the god Shiva; after their marriage they are depicted as monarchs. The god Vishnu, in Tamil mythology Shiva's brother-in-law, gave the bride away in marriage. The temple is usually known as the Minakshi Temple, after the local popularity and preeminence of the goddess. Coronation and marriage festivals about the two deities dominate the ritual life of the city. The Chittirai festival celebrates their coronation and marriage. A series of plays (lilas) are the main events of the Avani Mula festival, and in the Teppa Festival, the deities are portrayed as monarchs, placed on a raft, and pulled around the golden lily tank.
Roger D. Long
Balaram Iyer, T. G. S. History and Description of Sri Meenakshi Temple. 5th ed. Madurai: Sri Karthik Agency, 1988.
Devakunjari, D. Madurai through the Ages: From the Earliest Times to 1801A.D. Chennai: Society for Archaeological and Epigraphical Research, 1979.
Mitchell, George, ed. Temple Towns of Tamil Nadu. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1993.
Thapar, Romila. Early India: From the Origins toA.D. 1300. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Madurai (mədŏŏrī´), city (1991 pop. 1,085,914), Tamil Nadu state, S India, on the Vaigai River. It is known as the "city of festivals and temples" and is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu. The Meenakshi temple (rebuilt 16th–17th cent.), which has 1,000 carved pillars, is especially famous. Madurai is also an educational and cultural center and a market for tea, coffee, and cardamom. Important industries are the weaving and dyeing of silk and muslin cloth. As Mathurai, the city was the capital of the Pandya kingdom (5th cent. BC–11th cent. AD). In the 14th cent. it was captured by Muslim invaders, who held it until 1378, when it became part of the Hindu Vijayanagar kingdom. From c.1550 until 1736 the city was the capital of the Nayak kingdom. The Carnatic Nawabs then gained control and in 1801 ceded it to the British (see India). The Nayak palace (17th cent.) is a notable building in Madurai.