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Madurai is one of the oldest cities of southern India. It has been a centre of learning and pilgrimage, for centuries. Legend has it, that the divine nectar falling from Lord Shiva's locks, gave the city its name - Madhurapuri, now known as Madurai. Madurai's history dates back to over 2000 years ago, when it was the capital of the Pandyan kings. In the 10th century AD, Madurai was captured by the Chola emperors. It remained in their hands, until the Pandyans regained their independence in the 12th century, only to lose it to the Muslim invaders under Malik Kafur, a general in the service of the Delhi Sultanate. Malik Kafur's dynasty was overthrown by the Hindu Vijaynagar kings of Hampi. After the fall of Vijayanagar, in 1565, the Nayaks ruled Madurai until 1781 AD.

Madhurapuri grew and prospered to become the capital of the Pandyan Kingdom. It is referred to in the Ramayana and Kautily`s Arthashastra. Megasthenes (302 BC), Pliny (77 AD) and Ptolemy (140 AD) wrote of "Madura, the kingdom of the Pandian`. Macro Polo visited Madurai in 1293 AD and Ibn Batuta in 1333 AD. Madurai lies on the banks

Attractions In Madurai

- Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple
Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple is located at the heart of the city; the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple has long been the focus of both Indian and international tourist attraction as well as one of the most important places of Hindu pilgrimage. It is the hub of the religious and cultural life of the city. Kulasekara Pandya built this pre-Christian era temple. However, it was in ruins before Tirumalai Nayak who brought back the glory to this magnificent structure rebuilt it. The Meenakshi temple is an excellent example of Dravidian architecture, with Gopurams (large gateways) and Mandapams (multi-pillared halls) covered from top to bottom in a profusion of multi-coloured images of gods, goddesses, animals and mythical figures. Spread over six hectares, the temple has four entrances to it. The Rajagopuram on the eastern side is an unfinished structure that has a 174 sq. ft base, and had this tower been completed, it would surely have been the largest of its kind in the country. The eight smaller Gopurams are within the compounds of the twin temples. In the Ashta Shakti Mandapam inside the Meenakshi temple, the sculpted pillars tell the story of the beautiful princess of Madurai and her marriage to Lord Shiva. It was believed that the princess was actually an incarnation of Parvati who came to earth to honour a promise. Shiva came to Madurai as Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi and the two ruled over the kingdom for many years before they left for their heavenly abode from the spot where the temple now stands.

- Thirumalai Nayak Mahal
Muslim armies on the rampage brought an end to the royal line of the Vijayanagar Empire paving way for the Nayaks, who assumed royal powers over their principalities, which included Madurai. The city and the dynasty flourished from the 16th to the 18th century. Thirumalai Nayak built this palace 1 km Southeast of the temple. Built in the Indo-Saracenic style, all that remains of this magnificent mansion today are the principal entrance, the dancing hall and the main hall. The main attraction now is the light and sound show in the palace, which depicts events from Thirumalai Nayak's life and also snatches from the ancient Tamil epic Silappathikaram.

- Mariamman Teppakulam
Also built by Thirumalai Nayak in the 17th century, this huge tank in the eastern part of the city is said to have underground channels connecting it with the Vaigai River. There is a Mandapam with an idol of Vinayaka or the Elephant God, right in the middle of the tank, brilliantly illuminated during the Float Festival celebrated on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Thai, falling between 15th January and -15th February.

- Gandhi Museum
This museum as the name suggests is dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, fondly known as the Father of the Nation. It is housed in what used to be the palace of Rani Mangammal. Among the collection of Gandhi memorabilia exhibited here is the bloodstained dhoti that he was wearing on the fateful day of his assassination.

- Palani Murugan Temple
The temple at Palani is one of the six abodes of Lord Subramanya or Murugan. Dedicated to Sri Dandayuthapani, the temple is built atop a 140m high hill and can be reached by either using steps or the electrically operated winch. During the festivals of Panguni Uthiram (March-April) and Adi Krithikai (July-August) Kavadi dancers dance and walk their way from far and near as they flock to the temple in hundreds, often in a state of trance. Situted at 119 km from Madurai.

The famous festivals held at Madurai, include Teppam festival, the annual Float Festival, wherein the images of Shree Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswara are mounted on floats, and taken to Mariamman Teppakkulam Tank, where for several days they are pulled back and forth across the water in the middle of the tank, on an illuminated raft embellished with flowers, before being taken back to the main temple. Chithirai festival held during March-April, celebrates the marriage of Shree Meenakshi to Lord Sundereswara. On the occasion, an elaborately decorated chariot bearing the images of the divine couple, is taken around the city. The resounding notes of the nadaswaram and the drums, creates a vibrant ambience. Avanimoola festival is held in late August-early September, when temple cars are drawn around the streets of Madurai.

How to Get There

- Air
There are daily flights to and from Tiruchirapalli, Madras and Bangalore.
- Rail
There are train connections to Madurai from Madras, which takes eight hours via Trichy and from Rameshwaram, takes six hours. If you approach Madurai from Kerala, some spectacular scenes of the Western Ghats can be viewed.
- Bus
There is very good service from Madurai to most of the major cities in the state. State run or private buses commute at regular intervals.

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