A huge number of vivid stone statues cover the exterior of Meenakshi Amman Temple, one of only a handful couple of religious landmarks in India gave to a female god.
Photo BY PORAS CHAUDHARY, THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX
In the focal point of the antiquated city of Madurai lies one of the biggest sanctuary edifices in India. Looking out from the 20-foot divider encompassing the site, the well known sanctuary is a reference point for the 15,000 aficionados who make the journey to the province of Tamil Nadu day by day.
Committed to the goddess Meenakshi—the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Parvati—this sanctuary is one of only a handful couple of religious landmarks in India dedicated to a female divinity. Known as the fish-looked at goddess on account of her impeccably formed eyes, Meenakshi speaks to ripeness and love.
The sanctuary is a festival of the awesome union amongst her and her darling, Sundareshvara (Shiva in Hinduism). In the core of the complex are the hallowed places of the sanctuary’s namesakes. Each night, Sundareshvara is conveyed to Meenakshi’s silver bedchamber in an intricate parade before being come back to his own place at morning petition.
The sanctuary is an image of Dravidian design, known for its colossal size and grand gopurams, or towers, which are encased by enriched columns. Extraordinary to the site are its four primary doors, each confronting one of the cardinal headings. A great many dynamically painted stone statues portraying creatures, divine beings, and evil spirits line the dividers of the sanctuary’s 14 towers, the tallest of which is 170 feet. These are repainted and repaired like clockwork. The Hall of a Thousand Pillars, which serves as the sanctuary’s gallery, likewise includes an unpredictably cut model on every segment.
Tamil Hindus first built the temple in 600 C.E. before it was destroyed by Muslim conquerors in the 1300s. After 250 years, the sacred site was rebuilt during the 16th century into the magnificent structure seen today. According to ancient Tamil literature it was originally built by survivors of the lost continent of Kumari Kandam, a mythical landmass that extended across the Indian Ocean.
Many consider Meenakshi Temple as significant to South India as the Taj Mahal is to North India. Scores of pilgrims visit the complex for solo meditation, to join prayers led by resident Brahmin priests, and to bathe in the pond with golden lotus flowers, believed to bestow success on those who enter.
Information about temple hours, events, and visitor etiquette can be found here.