Madurai is one of the ancient cities of South India with a glorious history. It is famous for its world acclaimed Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. The city of Madurai has been constructed in the form of a lotus and is built around the temple. It is situated on the banks of the river Vaigai. Owing to its rich cultural heritage and architectural splendor, the city is often referred to as the 'Athens of the East'. The origin of Madurai dates back to the Sangam period, the golden period of Tamil Literature.
According to mythology Madurai was earlier a forest called
Kadambavanam. Once a merchant passing through the forest saw Indran, the
King of Gods worshipping a Swayambhulingam under a Kadam tree. This was
immediately reported to King Kulsekarer Pandayan. The king cleared the
forest and built a splendid temple, known as the Sri Meenakshi
Sundareswarer Temple, around the holy Lingam and later built a beautiful
lotus-shaped city surrounding the temple.
Lord Siva appeared on the naming ceremony of the city and blessed it.
The divine nectar (madhu) from the tangled locks of Siva fell on the
blessed city and so, the city came to be known as "Madhurapuri".
It is also said that centuries ago Lord Siva himself performed
sixty-four wonders, called "Thiruvilaiyadals", in
Madurai. Thus, the holy city finds reference in the great Indian epics -
Ramayana, Kautilyas and Arthasastra. Madurai also served as the capital
of Pandayan Kings.
In 302 BC, Megasthanes visited Madurai and was followed by Marcopolo
and Ibn Batuta, all of whom mentioned about their visit in their
travelogues. There were many others travelers, from countries like Rome
and Greece, who visited the city and established trade with the Pandya
Kings. Madurai was captured by the Cholas in the 10th century AD and was
ruled till the end of the 13th century. In 1223 AD, Pandyas came to
power again and patronized the Tamil language. The city became
prosperous during the reign of the Pandya Kings.
Many master-pieces or "Silapathikaram" were created during
that time. The great Tamil epic was also written during this time. It is
based on the story of Kannagi, who burnt Madurai in lieu of injustice
caused to her husband Kovalan. In April 1311, Malik Kafur, the general
of Alauddin Khilji, the then ruler of Delhi, raided and robbed Madurai
for precious stones, jewels, and other rare treasures. This was followed
by subsequent raids by other Muslim Sultans. Finally, in 1323, the
Pandya kingdom came under the Delhi Empire ruled by the Tughlaks.
The year 1371 saw the downfall of the Tughlaks and Madurai came under
the reign of the Vijayanagar dynasty of Hampi. Kings of this dynasty
left the captured land to governors called Nayaks, for the efficient
management of their empire. After the death of Krishna Deva Raya (King
of Vijayanagar Empire) in 1530 AD, the Nayaks became independent and
started ruling the territories autonomously. Among Nayaks, Thirumalai
Nayak (1623-1659) was the most popular one.
He is remembered by the people of Madurai even today, for his immense
contribution to the city. He created many magnificent structures in and
around Madurai. The Raja Gopuram of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, the Pudu
Mandapam and the Thirumalai Nayakar's Palace are living examples of his
passion for art. Later, Madurai slipped into the hands of the British's
East India Company. In 1781, British appointed George Procter to look
after the city. He was the first collector of Madurai.
After independence, Madurai became one of the major commercial
districts of Tamil Nadu. It is surrounded by several hills, mainly
Annamalai, Pasumalai and Nagamalai, named after their resemblance to an
Elephant, a Cow and a Snake respectively. The city is a major exporter
of Jasmine flowers. Due to its historical background, the temple city of
Madurai attracts thousands of pilgrims and visitors every year from
India and abroad.