AsiaIndiaMadurai

Madurai, India's biggest loony bin

Madurai Travel Blog

 › entry 12 of 37 › view all entries
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the gopurams are covered in scaffolding for repainting (Madurai, India)

Tour leader Digna has given us a choice how to spend our day today. We can either go our own way in Madurai, or we can join her and a professional guide who’ll lead us around the famous Menaakshi Amman Temple. Since both Rens and I are interested in what the guide might tell about the difficult Hindu mythology that’s the centre of every Indian temple, we decide to go with them.

As it turns out, most of our travel companions want to hear what the guide can tell us, so nearly our entire group walks towards the Menaakshi Temple.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the gopurams are covered in scaffolding for repainting (Madurai, India)

At the entrance a young woman in a beautiful purple sari awaits us. As soon as we all have gathered around her, she starts to talk about how the temple is the geographic and ritual centre of the ancient city of Madurai. The temple walls, streets and finally the ancient city walls were built around the temple in concentric squares. It is like the temple is the centre of the city and streets are radiating out like the lotus and its petals.

The temple complex has four entrances with huge gopurams, but all of them are covered in scaffolding for repainting. It’s a pity, but no disaster, since we can now completely focus on the temple itself in stead of being mesmerized by those gorgeous entrance towers.

We first head to the Porthamarai Kulam, the sacred pond inside the temple complex, which is a holy site for devotees.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the sacred pond inside the temple complex (Madurai, India)
People are supposed to walk around the small lake before entering the main shrine. Unfortunately there’s no water in the pond at the time we visited it.

The name Porthamarai Kulam means ‘Pond with the Golden Lotus’. According to legend, Lord Shiva promised a stork that there wouldn’t grow any fish in this pond. Therefore, there is no marine life found in the lake. In the Tamil legends, the lake is supposed to be a judge for the worth of new literature. Therefore, authors place their works on the water. Poorly written works are supposed to sink and the scholastic ones are supposed to float.

Another highlight of the Menaakshi Temple is the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam, or Thousand Pillar Hall. This hall, which was built in 1569, contains not a thousand, but 985 pillars.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madurai, India)
Each pillar is carved and is a monument of the Dravidian sculpture. The kalyana madapa, to the south of the pillared hall, is where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati is celebrated every year during the Chithirai Festival in April.

When there’s room for questions, I ask the guide if there is a special meaning behind the flowers that local women wear in their hair when they visit a temple. It turns out they wear them because its pretty, so there’s nothing stopping me anymore for doing the same, since I think it is nice-looking as well.

When we walk towards the exit of the temple together, the guide lets us know there’s a last thing she wants to show us. We all go to the ‘shoe shack’ and retrieve our shoes, but since it quickly gets busy, I take my shoes outside to put them on there. The moment I step outside with my shoes in one hand and a cigarette in the other, I get ambushed by what seems dozens of touts and beggars.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madurai, India)
The touts all want to take me to a different tailor shop or restaurant for lunch or whatever, the beggars want whatever’s inside my wallet. They won’t even give me the room to put on my shoes, and since I decline everything and everyone, most of them start to touch me. My hands are full with my shoes, my bag, a Lonely Planet guide and a cigarette and the more I try to elbow myself some room, the more they close in on me.

They stroke my arms and my hair and I start to panic. I’ve heard that giving money to beggars in a situation like this will only make things worse and it’s obvious that trying to ignore them doesn’t help either. Therefore, I do the only thing that comes to mind. I take a deep breath and start to shout as loud and angry as I can: ‘Everybody get the hell away from me right now!!!’ I throw a furious look around and by some miracle this seems to help. The touts immediately look for another victim and the beggers take their distance, hoping that I might give them something anyway.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madurai, India)
I put on my shoes and walk towards Rens and some travel companions, who are quietly smoking cigarettes together, obviously completely unaware of what just happened to me.

After I get a chance to smoke my cigarette, I’m calm again and I can see some interesting men sitting outside the temple walls (one of them looks like an Indian version of a ZZ Top member!). I take their picture and give them some money, hopefully showing others that it doesn’t pay off to ambush someone and that I’m perfectly capable of deciding by myself how I can spend my money.

Our guide leads us to North Chitrai Street, into a store called the Kashmiri craft shop. From the rooftop there is a stunning view of the temple, but the moment we stepped into this shop, I was aware that we weren’t taken here for the view.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madurai, India)
We are here because we are supposed to buy stuff and the second we’ll leave the rooftop terrace there will be very persistent salesmen waiting for us.

We manage to shake them off and head for the exit as quickly as we can (this is not easy, since there are several floors of mouthwatering objects). It’s the fact that they don’t price their products in rupees but in euros that turns me off.

When the two of us are having a quiet lunch by ourselves a little later, we flip through the Lonely Planet guide and see the following comment: ‘Every tout, driver, temple guide and tailor’s brother will lead you to the Kashmiri craft shop in North Chitrai Street, offering you the temple view from the rooftop. The views are good, and so is the inevitable sales pitch.’ It looks like we have to read Lonely Planet better BEFORE we go somewhere…

Once we’ve finished lunch, we take a rickshaw to the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, another major sight in Madurai.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madurai, India)
It’s a 17th century palace, built by King Thirumalai Nayak, one of the Madurai Nayak rulers in 1636 AD. The building that can be visited today was the main palace where the king lived. The original Palace Complex was four times bigger than the present structure though. In its heyday, this palace in Madurai was considered to be one of the wonders of the South.

The palace is undergoing heavy reconstruction work, but that doesn’t mean its beauty is invisible. There are lovely details and the entire building looks like it belongs in a fairytale from a 1001 nights.

The Nayaks ruled the former kingdom of Madurai from 1545 till 1740. Thirumalai Nayak (1623 ��" 1659) was one of their greatest kings.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madurai, India)
During the 17th century the Madurai Kingdom had Portuguese, Dutch and other Europeans as traders, missionaries and visiting travelers. Since some features of the palace seem European, it is believed that Tirumala Nayak recruited the services of an Italian architect for the construction of his palace. It seems this Italian was one of the many unknown European adventurers who swarmed these regions before the British came.

While we wander around the complex and admire the spectacular ceilings, a man comes up to us. He doesn’t seem to speak any English, but it’s apparent he’d like us to take a picture of himself and a large group of women.

While we’re wondering if this happens to be his harem they all pose for us and look at the screen of our camera to see the result.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madurai, India)
There is no interest in a print of the picture, I guess they just liked to have their picture taken. This has been going on for days now, people who want us to take pictures just for the fun of it and we still have no idea what the fun is all about.

As we check the pictures we took and decide whether we should keep these or not (believe me, if it seems we have taken a lot of pictures of local people, this is nothing compared to the number of pictures we deleted) another man comes up to us. He has an even bigger group of women with him and he’d also like to have his picture taken.

The women start gathering around the man, but the smaller women end up in the back and the taller ones in front. While Rens holds the camera, I start rearranging the group, even though I have no idea why. They’ll just take one glimpse of the result at the screen and that’s it.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madurai, India)
They seem to love it though, they also insist I join them in the picture.

As soon as the outcome has been admired by everyone, we see two other large groups entering the courtyard. In order not to be held up any longer by other people who like to be photographed, we leave the last room and head for the exit. Here Rens sees a rickshaw and while he fastens his pace to let the driver know we’d like to hire his service, I see a woman with the cutest puppy I’ve ever seen. I start cooing, but Rens, who’s seen me spend hours on petting animals, starts dragging me towards the rickshaw.

The woman with the puppy follows me though, and while we get seated in the rickshaw and Rens explains to the driver where we want to go, the woman tries to push the puppy through a hole in the covers of the rickshaw as if she wants to get rid of it. Since I don’t want to take the puppy with me (actually I do, but it’s a bit inconvenient), I start pushing the small dog back.

The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madurai, India)
The woman thinks it is all hilarious and doesn’t give up until the rickshaw starts driving. In a final attempt to offer me the puppy, she tries to throw the animal on board.

Rens and I are being driven away in a state of shock. Madurai: there was the hotel staff that tried to barge into our room at any given moment, the touts who wanted to drag us in random shops, beggars who though ambushing westerners was a good approach, men who wanted us to immortalize them with their harems and a women who tried to throw a puppy at me. This is definitely the craziest place we have ever been.     

 

 

beldin says:
Haha, memorable experience. I was in madurai last year and thankfully had a much easier experience but guess the fact that i am indian kept away the touts. ;-)
Posted on: Aug 18, 2011
jethanad says:
Thank you very much for this detailed blog on Madurai - very helpful when I do get there. I am mortified to read that the touts were too much.
Posted on: May 26, 2010
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the go…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the g…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the go…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the g…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the sa…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the s…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madura…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple (Madur…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the Th…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the T…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the Th…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the T…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the Th…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the T…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the Th…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the T…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the Th…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the T…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the Th…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the T…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the Th…
The Menaakshi Amman Temple, the T…
Man outside the Menaakshi Amman Te…
Man outside the Menaakshi Amman T…
Man outside the Menaakshi Amman Te…
Man outside the Menaakshi Amman T…
Man outside the Menaakshi Amman Te…
Man outside the Menaakshi Amman T…
Man outside the Menaakshi Amman Te…
Man outside the Menaakshi Amman T…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madurai…
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal (Madura…
Madurai Sights & Attractions review
The geographic and ritual centre of Madurai
The Sri Meenakshi Temple is the geographic and ritual centre of the ancient city of Madurai. The temple walls, streets and finally the ancient walls w… read entire review
Madurai Sights & Attractions review
A lovely variety on the many temples southern India has to offer
The Thirumalai Nayak Palace was built in the 17th century by King Thirumalai Nayak. Thirumalai Nayak was one of the Madurai Nayak rulers when Madurai … read entire review
Madurai
photo by: Stevie_Wes