The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.– Samuel Johnson
The quaint inheritance of Madurai beckoned me to one of the ancient cities of India. The presence of classical buildings and national heritage sites has kept the city in the global limelight. The next destination of my journey to Exploring Cape Comorin- The Tamil Nadu enamoured as if the pages of the history textbook are unfolding.
The glorious past of temples and other monuments depicts the rich cultural heritage of the region. Madurai city ensures the best travelling experience for its travellers and tourists to cherish for a lifetime. Food lovers can also enjoy the popular South Indian cuisines on the traditional banana leaves with the naive and delicious taste of recipes.
An abrupt lurch woke me up! The certain bustling with people packing their luggage apprised me the last stoppage of the train is here. A trip of Blend of The French Colony ended with a grand celebration of a Christmas party. I left Pondicherry for Villupuram railway station by government bus which took two hours.
My train was scheduled to arrive by 12 am-midnight and reach Madurai by 5 am. The sky was dark and the pleasant weather of the city embarked outside Madurai railway station. I reserved an auto from the online app for the hostel which was pre-booked. A glance at one of the ancient cities of India took me back to the moment of that era with its meticulously designed architectures.
Short History of Madurai
Madurai has a long and interesting history depicted as the ancient city in old texts and the writings of Kautilya as well as by Megasthenes – the Greek ambassador in the Mauryan court. The city was a flourishing empire during the rules of the Nayakkar dynasty in the 17th century. The magnificent constructions of the era portray the heritage and culture- the national landmarks of global fame. In 1801, Madurai came under the direct administration of the British East India Company and evolved as a political and industrial network through the 20th centuries.
Things To Do in Madurai
The city is relatively small which can be covered easily by local transport. However, there are some destinations on the outskirts, so it is advisable to hire a cab or auto. The oldest cities of India have always aspired me to perceive the cultural and historical aspect of our nation. I got my first chance in 2017 to visit Varanasi and now at Madurai in 2020. The age-old traditions and modernity co-exist peacefully in these cities. The ancient temples of Madurai reflect the Dravidian style of architecture is a hub for religious and cultural tourism. The shopping in Madurai is more exciting as there are some of the best local places for all the shopaholics out there!
Jain Cave- Samanar Malai
A quick power nap rejuvenated me for my long day plan to explore Temple City- Madurai. I moved to a restaurant around 50 years old near my hostel and was fascinated by the way they served on a banana leave. A delicious breakfast in a traditional style is a part of my experience.
Next, I hired an auto for Samanar Malai at Keelakuyilkudi village which is about 12 km away. A breathtaking view of Samanar Hill is tucked away from the bustling city. It offers an exceptional sight of the blend of nature and history. A sensation of adventure dynamized me as there is a climb of around 300 steps involved to reach the top.
Samanar hill is closely associated with Jainism which flourished here during ancient times dating back to the 1st century AD. There are several caves in these hills that are found in 2000-year-old Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions as well as Vatteluttu writings and carvings. There are a lot of flat rocks and stone beds that could have been used by the Jain monks to take rest.
Gandhi Memorial Museum
Following the repository of information about Jainism and trekking to the top of the hill, I moved to my next spot. I asked my auto driver to drop me off at the Gandhi Memorial Museum as my last ride. I was looking to spend more time at the museum which offers a glimpse into the aspects of Mahatma Gandhi.
The holy city of Madurai inspired him to propagate Indian clothes among other significant purposes. There are various sections in the museum each presenting a peek into the life of Mahatma Gandhi. The serene location of the museum also includes Gandhis’ Kutir which is constructed as a replica of the original hut in Sevagram.
The historical building of Gandhi Memorial Museum used to be the palace of Rani Mangammal of the Nayakkarya dynasty. Among the other exhibits of the Museum is the blood-stained garment worn by Gandhiji when he was assassinated by Nathuram Godse.
Timing: The museum opens in the morning from 10 am to 1 pm and in the evening from 2 pm to 5:45 pm. It remains closed on Friday.
Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal
A giant leap from the life of Gandhiji it was time to move forth for my next stop. I booked a bike from the online app for the palace of a well-known king, Thirumalai of the Nayakkar dynasty. The famous Stucco artwork on its domes and impressive arches is a marvel of Indo-Saracenic architectural style. Among other attractive features are the massive white pillars that run along with the courtyard.
There is a small museum in the palace having a collection of ruins featuring Hindu gods and goddesses. The artwork on the stones dating back to the 1st century AD is spectacular to witness the heritage of India. The most amazing part of the palace is the light show which narrates the story of the great King, Thirumalai and the fortunes of the palace.
The palace was built in the 17th century, fabricated by King Tirumalai Nayaka as the grandest palace in South India. Unfortunately with lots of raids and finally stripped by his grandson to one-fourth of the propositions led to the present state. It was further restored in 1866 by Governor of Madras- Lord Napier, creating a masterpiece to survive as one of the best architectures.
Timing: The palace opens its gate for tourists from 9 AM to 5 PM on all days of the week. The light show starts at 6:45 pm in English and 8:00 pm in Tamil.
Meenakshi Amman Temple
A new day in the city of Madurai began with divine energy to visit the oldest temple of India. I intended to spend an entire day to feel its intricacy of sanctity, history, and exquisite craftsmanship. The first thing that caught me was its colourful towers covered in ornate carvings. The colour, the details and the dominating demeanour make it a marvellous temple.
It was amusing to walk around the tiny lanes lined with shops to reach the Meenakshi Temple. There are four main gates to enter the complex, each facing the geometric directions. (You are not allowed to take any electronic gadgets inside the complex). The temple is blended by many shrines, 14 magnificent Gopurams, the Thousand Pillar Hall decorated with intricate carvings and sculptures.
The Dravidian style temple, dating back more than 3500 years old is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi, which affirms mention in the texts. The present structure is said to be built in the 14th century AD by Thirumalai Nayak. Deities and mythical creatures depicting different tales are carved in each Gopuram.
Timing: The temple opens for visitors from 5 am – 12 pm and in the evening from 4 pm – 10 pm.
With the feeling of the blessing of a delightful and divine Goddess, Meenakshi was time to move out and explore the market around. I headed towards Prithu Mandapam Market at the eastern gate of the temple to fill my bag with gifts for family members and friends. Soon I reached the city’s famed market that sells Banana of more than 16 varieties at wholesale! When I reached the market,
I spotted the workers unloading several plantains of banana bunched together inside shops. They displayed them in the same clustered form. I was pleased to taste a few bananas that were different from each other in taste, size and quality. It was a fascinating experience to observe the various activities of the marketplace right from loading to unloading of bananas.
St. Mary’s Cathedral Church
The city is relatively small which can be efficiently reached on foot. I stopped for lunch at the local restaurant to explore the cuisine of Madurai. I travelled towards another charm of the city, St. Mary’s Cathedral Church, which was built in the Roman-Gothic style. The facade of white and blue lining with two boasting 42 feet bell towers make it a fascinating architecture.
The intriguing interior of the church is counted amongst the most awe-striking attraction. The quaint ambience and pristine aura address the tranquillity of the church. The colourful shadows formed by the light of the sun penetrating the beautiful stained glass serves as an impressive artwork.
St. Mary’s Cathedral Church is one of the oldest shrines in Madurai which was built in the year 1840. It was built by Fr. Joseph Bertrand who was one of the four pioneers of the New Madurai Mission in 1841. Later, in 1912, a new church was planned in Gothic Style to make it more spacious.
Timing: The church which requires almost an hour to explore the place opens for the visitor from 7 am to 7 pm. The best time to visit is during the festive season when it is majestically decorated.