September 2019


Madurai: the City of Jasmine
September 2019




Fragrant Madurai Malligai (Jasmine) garlands.

One of India's oldest inhabited cities, Madurai in Tamil Nadu, with a history recorded as far back a third century BC, has been ruled by the legendary Pandya and Nayak kings. It has been a hub of Tamil language, art, and architecture with magnificent buildings, temples, and palaces. Today this temple town is a great place to get a glimpse into Dravidian grandeur and culture.

Words: Kalpana Sunder.

I started my Madurai odyssey at the magnificent Madurai Meenakshi temple, home to the triple breasted, fish-eyed goddess Meenakshi. This six-hectare complex is the spiritual and geographic centre of the town. The temple has stalls selling brass vessels, coconuts and marigold garlands in front. I walked through the enormous structure, redolent with the smell of incense while enjoying the paintings and murals on its wall and ceilings. Then I visited the majestic Thousand Pillar Hall with rows of carved pillars and was mesmerised by its beauty.

Next on my to-do list was the cavernous Pudhu Mandapam on the eastern side of the temple, which was originally built as a summer abode of the Goddess and the Lord. This building with soaring pillars, carved with scenes from various ancient Hindu texts, was used by the royal women as an enclosure, to witness cultural programmes. Today this is home to numerous tailors, with the continuous drone of sewing machines providing the soundtrack. It also houses a buzzing market selling glitzy fabric, scarves, jewellery, fashion accessories, and religious paraphernalia for poojas.

The Thirumalai Nayak Palace is an architectural masterpiece, designed by an Italian architect in the 1600s. It showcases both Indo-Saracenic styled arches and domes, and stocky Gothic pillar columns, with stucco, and a grand throne chamber. Only a fourth of this magnificent structure survives today and was restored by Lord Napier in the late 1800s. The palace has a sound and light show every evening, narrating the chronicles of the famous king. Close by is Pathu Thoon (ten pillars), which are the only remains of another grand palace built by Thirumalai Nayak. The humongous pillars (now in the centre of a crowded market) were probably used to tether elephants.

I headed next to the Gandhi Museum (one of the five Gandhi Museums around India), which displays memorabilia from his life.

The wholesale banana market sells more than 16 varieties; thus, yellow and green bananas lay everywhere.

I headed next to the Gandhi Museum (one of the five Gandhi Museums around India), which displays memorabilia from his life. This includes shawl, spectacles, yarn spun by him and his favourite books besides a section devoted to the Freedom Struggle with old photographs of Mahatma Gandhi.

If you are interested in traditional music, then Madurai is a great place to catch a classical Carnatic Music concert. You will definitely be spellbound by the melodious music.

I discovered that Madurai is also a food lover's paradise. I feasted on fluffy idlis and sambar, appams and kurma, and satiated my thirst with the popular Jigarthanda (translating into the drink which cools the heart), a delicious concoction of thick milk, khus, nannari or sarsaparilla syrup, resin and almonds whisked together.

Madurai is famous for its textiles, especially cotton Sungari saris with distinctive dots, dyed using natural colours. The city is also known for its fragrant jasmine flowers, Madurai Malligai. I picked up some reams of blossoms wrapped in banana leaf as a souvenir of my time here.

 

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    Discover varieties of fresh bananas in Madurai.

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    Visitors can enjoy the colourful panorama of vibrantly painted buildings and lush greenery.

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    The Gandhi Museum displays memorabilia from the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

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    Pudhu Mandapam – today is a home to "deliver-in-a-day tailors."

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    Thirumalai Nayak Palace combines Indo-Saracenic styled arches and stocky Gothic pillar columns.

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    Fluffy idlis and sambar are an all time favourite.

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