Day #25 of #myindia #indiaissafe #MeenakshiAmman #MaduraiDiaries #beauty #power #prosperity
I am in Madurai now. I had reached here on 11th October 2018 – somewhat in late evening. I have got these faint memories of Madurai from my childhood – faint in the sense of vaguely remembering the gajras and flowers shops. Now, is the time to explore the city myself.
Today I went to the famous Meenakshi Amman Temple. This temple is one of the masterpieces of Dravidian architecture, built over generations of Pandya rulers.
ln this temple, Meenakshi is worshipped together with her husband, Shiva, in his form as Sundareswara. The legend goes that the Pandyan king was not able to have children. The king prayed to various gods to grant him a child, and eventually his prayers were answered by Shiva, though in a rather unexpected manner. From the sacrificial fire, a three year old girl came out. This child had three breasts, and it was foretold that the extra breast would disappear when she met a man worthy to be her husband. In addition, the girlâ€™s eyes were shaped like fish, and hence she was given the name Meenakshi.
Meenakshi is known to be a fine warrior princess, learnt martial arts, particularly archery and sword fighting. When she reached the age of 21, her father decided to invite all the neighboring kings and princes to Madurai, in the hope of getting his daughter married. This was due to the prevailing custom of the Pandyans that women were not allowed to ascend to the throne on their own. Therefore, the king was hoping to find a suitable husband who would rule the kingdom jointly with his daughter after his death. Meenakshi’s suitors brought all kinds of gifts to impress her, but she proclaimed that she would marry only the person who would defeat her in combat. No one could defeat her, so her father had to eventually allow her to ascend the throne, in her own right. Perhaps, this was the first time in the Indian history where a woman ruled a kingdom by herself. She is also known as the first warrior queen in the Indian History.
She kept on fighting battles and winning them – one after the other. For one such battle, she reached Kailasha mountain. There she meets her equal in battle, Sundareswara, who is actually the god Shiva. Meenakshi’s third breast disappears, as prophesized, and the couple return to Madurai to be married.
According to popular belief, the temple was originally built 3600 years ago by survivors of Kumari Kandam, the Indian equivalent of Atlantis. In the historical records, however, the existence of this temple is first mentioned during the 7Th century AD. The temple was ransacked by Muslim invaders during the 14thcentury, and was only rebuilt about two and a half centuries later. This is the structure that visitors are able to see today when they visit Madurai.
According to a Puranic legend, Madurai was originally a forest known as Kadambavanam. One day, a farmer named Dhananjaya who was passing through the forest, saw Lord Indra (The king of the gods), worshipping a swayambhu (self created Lingam ) under kadamba tree. Dhananjaya, the farmer immediately reported this to King Kulasekara Pandya. Kulasekara Pandya cleared the forest and built a temple around the Lingam. A city was soon planned with the temple as its centre. On the day the city was to be named, Lord Shiva is said to have appeared and drops of nectar from his hair fell on the town. Madurai has a rich historical background in the sense that Lord Shiva himself performed sixty-four wonders called “Thiruvilaiyadals“. This is also considered to be one of the Shakti Peeths in Tamil Nadu.
The formation of temple and the Madurai city –This temple is designed based on a human body. There are 5 main entrancesbased on the human senses (see, hear, smell, taste and touch). There are 9 smaller entrances to the inside complex that denote the 9 orifices of the human body (2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 ears, mouth, urethra and anus). In Hindu culture, it is believed that the air travelling through these 9 entrances (orifices) was the soul itself. If the air stopped flowing, your soul would leave the body. The streets of Madurai are constructed as concentric circles, with the temple at the center. This is also thought of as a “Lotus Formation”.
What we need to remember from this legend is that Meenakshi grew up to as a warrior and ascends the throne, going against the usual practise of that time – that she needed to be married to claim her rights. That she led an army of women, bearing arms, arrows, and swords, who were ready to give their life for the kingdom. That they weren’t an army of coy women. The women of Madurai, still remembers and celebrates the strength of Meenakshi during the Chitirai Festival in Maduraiin the month of April. Thousands of women gather outside the Meenakshi temple restrung their own taalis emulating the ritual when taali was being tied around the idol of Meenakshi. During the procession, every night little young plays part of Meenakshi, dressed in the best and carrying fine weapons. This inspires the young girls and makes them believe that they are also capable of the same strength and courage.
In contemporary times, this legend and celebrations around it has got its own beauty. The wider understanding is that following traditions and culture takes us backward. In this city, we can see the other side of unequal gender norms. This story of Meenakshi and the celebrations associated with it in the month of Chitirai festival can help in inspiring women to be the most powerful and courageous version of themselves.
The story of Meenakshi Amman tells us that no matter what people tell you or is ascribed, you can change the world by being yourself. That is what Meenakshi Amman taught us – she took the throne, and ruled the hearts, with prosperity, beauty and strength.
#IndiaIsSafe is an initiative for claiming India to be as safe as any other country for travelling. Every country has got its list of Do’s and Dont’s, so does India. And we can have bad experiences anywhere – even in our home city/town/country. But that isn’t reason enough to keep us away from travelling. We need to claim our spaces in the world outside our own homes and travel. If this resonates with you and you are travelling in India, do use ‘#indiaissafe’. And if it is not, then do mark those places, so that the authorities can take an extra effort for the same.