Madurai, the Athens of India

Posted Date: 27 Jul 2010      Author: Kumaraditya Sarkar Profile photo   Member Level: Gold (Rs 40)

Madurai; tourist attractions of Madurai; Meenakshi Amman Temple; Lord Sundareshwara; Thiruparanakundram Temple; Thirumalai Nayak Palace; history of Madurai; Madurai Airport; Chennai Madurai Trains; origin of the name Madurai; hotels in Madurai; and many more information


One of the oldest cities of South India, Madurai can aptly be called the Athens of India. In fact Madurai is the oldest place of the India with a live settlement. Located on the banks of the Vaigai River in the Madurai district of Tamilnadu, Madurai is known as the temple city of India. Also, there are various other nicknames of Madurai, such as Koodal Maanagar or City of Four Junctions, Kalaachaara Thalainagar or Cultural Capital, Malligai Maanagar or City of Jasmines, Thoonga Nagaram or Sleepless City, and Thiruvizha Nagaram or City of Festivals. Madurai was the second largest city in Tamilnadu until the commencement of this millennium and became the third largest city in Tamilnadu one since 2001. The history of Madurai dates back to 6th century BCE, when this ancient commercial centre of India conducted trade with Greece and Rome.

Origin of the name Madurai

The origin of the name Madurai is associated with an ancient myth. The origin of the name Madurai has supposedly come from the Sanskrit Madhuram, meaning sweet. It is mythically believed that a drop of the sweet nectar from the hair of Lord Siva fell on the ground on this place, thus the origin of the name Madurai took place. The origin of the name Madurai is also associated with another story. Some people believe that the origin of the name Madurai happened from the root word Marutham, which simultaneously refers to a particular tree widely growing on the banks of the Vaigai River as well as to a particular landscape variety in the Sangam Age. Apart from the familiar city of Madurai, there is also a town called Vada Madurai in the neighbouring Dindigul district, and yet another called Manamadurai in the Sivagangai district. The appreciation of the name Madurai culturally establishes the importance and heritage of this place.

History of Madurai

Madurai is a very ancient town and one the oldest continuing habitation in South India. Historians cannot assert when for the first time a settlement took place in Madurai, but there are evidences that by the 6th century BCE, Madurai had an established trade connection with Greece and Rome. The history of Madurai thus dates back to very old days. Megasthenes referred to Methora in his account in 3rd century BCE which is no other place than Madurai. Kautilya also mentioned Madurai in his Arthashastra. The Tamil epic of 2nd century BCE, Silappatikaram, also described this city very explicitly. Madurai also hosted the third cum final Tamil Sangam between the 3rd and the 2nd century BCE. Apart from these, Madurai is also referred to in the works of the Roman historians Pliny the Younger and Ptolemy, of the Greek geographer Strabo, and in the anonymous text, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.

Following the Sangam age, Madurai along with most of the places of the present day Tamilnadu came under the Kalabhras’ reign. The Kalabhras were the rulers of the region until the middle of the 6th century CE. Sometimes near 550 CE, Madurai along with its neighbouring regions fell to the Pandyas and they reigned over the region for the next four hundred years. The Cholas conquered Madurai and reigned there, until in the 13th century, the second Pandyan Empire regained control of the region and established their capital citadel in Madurai. After the passing away of the last Pandyan king Kulasekara, Madurai fell to the Delhi Sultans. Later, Madurai acquired freedom as an independent Sultanate until overpowered by the Vijayanagar rulers. Then, in 1559, the Vijayanagara Empire collapsed and Madurai went under the Nayaka regime till 1736. From 1736 to 1764, Madurai went under the reign of a versatility of rulers like Chanda Sahib, Nawab of Arcot and Muhammad Yusuf Khan. The Nawabs of Arcot regained the control in 1764, and ruled till 1801.

In 1801, the history of Madurai took a turn. The British East India Company took over Madurai and merged it with the Madras Presidency. The old city went under massive modernizing changes in the next few decades, and became a municipality in 1866. Madurai had an important role to play in the freedom movement of India. In fact, Madurai bore the witness to the historical moment Gandhi decided to forfeit fancy dresses and wear loincloths, seeing the same with the agricultural labourers. With the independence of India in 1947, the former Madras Presidency was transformed to the Madras state which later changed to the present day Tamilnadu.

Festivals of Tamilnadu

The Tamils are festive people and several festivals of Tamilnadu are observed in Madurai as well. Among the main festivals of Tamilnadu that are observed in Madurai, the most common and notable are the Pongal Festival, the Chithirai Festival, and the Avanimoolam Festival.

Reach Madurai by Air

To reach Madurai by air will not be a problem for the tourists since Madurai has a domestic airport of its own, the Madurai Airport (Code IXM). The Madurai Airport is a domestic airport. The Madurai Airport has two terminals, two major runways as well as a cross wind runway in it. The facilities of public transport from and to the Madurai Airport are frequent and at the same time quite reliable. Buses, taxis and prepaid taxis are available from the Madurai Airport on a regular basis. Madurai airport is 13 kilometers from the Madurai town. Also, the National Highway 47 is merely 15 kilometers from the Madurai Airport. Shortly, Madurai Airport will be transformed into a full fledged international airport.

Madurai Airport

Madurai Airport is well connected with all the major Indian airheads. Most of the domestic flights fly from the Madurai Airport, including

• Jet Airways
• Indian Airlines
• Kingfisher
• Paramount Airways
• Air Deccan

Reach Madurai by Train

Madurai is well connected by railways with the rest of the country and it will not be an inconvenience for the travellers to reach Madurai by Train. Madurai has good rail connections with Chennai, which is again connected to rest of the country.

Chennai Madurai Trains

There are a whole lot of trains from Chennai to Madurai and vice versa. Check out the Chennai Madurai Train Timings.

Reach Madurai by Road

Madurai is connected to a number of National Highways like NH-7, NH-45B, and NH-49. To reach Madurai by road from Chennai and Bangalore, it takes about 8 to 10 hours. Also, Madurai has got good bus connections with all the major cities of Tamilnadu. There are also many buses from Ernakulam and Trivandram of Kerala and Bangalore and Mysore of Karnataka. There are also a number of bus stands in Madurai. Most overnight and long-distance buses cease at the Mattuthavani Bus stand. Private buses terminate at the Periyar bus stand which is closer to the city. Reservation facilities are available at the respective bus terminuses.

Tourist Attractions of Madurai

Madurai is called the temple city of India. There are lots of ancient temples scattered over the entire Madurai, the most known of them being the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Apart from the Meenakshi Amman Temple, there are other tourist attractions of Madurai such as the Koodal Alagar Temple, the Thiruparanakundram, the Pazhamudhir Solai, the Thirumalai Nayak Palace, the Gandhi Museum, the Kazimar Maqbara and so on.

Meenakshi Amman Temple

The Meenakshi Amman Temple is located in the core of Madurai city and is one of the most famous tourist places of Madurai. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi Amman and Lord Sundareshwara. The Meenakshi Amman Temple complex can be cited as an awesome example of the Dravidian idiom of architecture. Four Temple Towers of Gopurams dot the skyline at the four entry points at cardinal directions and are visible from long distances.

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Meenakshi Amman Temple

Yet another attraction in the Meenakshi Amman Temple is the Golden Lotus pond or Pottramaraikulam. Pottramaraikulam is a mythical pond and is very ancient. This is a common resting place and rendezvous for the tourists and the citizens of Madurai alike. Evenings around this pond are simple majestic!

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Pottramaraikulam, Madurai

Koodal Alagar Temple

The Koodal Alagar Temple is a magnificent as well as religiously significant Vishnu temple of Madurai. The Koodal Alagar Temple has three icons of the presiding deity in three stair levels. In the lowermost stratum the lord is resting in the sitting posture. In the middle level, it is the standing posture and the topmost level shown the position of lying down of the deity. The Koodal Alagar Temple is a place worth visiting and worshipping in Madurai.

Koodal Alagar Temple

Thiruparanakundram Temple

The Thiruparanakundram Temple is yet another famous temple of Madurai. It is one of the tourist attractions of Madurai. The Thiruparanakundram Temple is the first shrine of the six holy temples of Lord Muruga. The Thiruparanakundram Temple is the place where Lord Murgua wedded Thevanai, his first wife. The Thiruparanakundram Temple is one of the 14 Siva Temples established during the Pandya regime and is the foremost adobe of Lord Muruga. The Chera, the Chola and the Pandya kings offered their worships in the Thiruparanakundram Temple and called the then Kayilayayam or the Southern Kailasa. The Thiruparanakundram Temple has also another unique feature. In other temples, Lord Nandi the Bull is placed before Siva but here in the Thiruparanakundram Temple, Lord Perumal is seen before Him.

Thiruparanakundram Temple

Pazhamudhir Solai

Located close to the Alagar Koil, the Pazhamudhir Solair of Madurai is a very significant and famous temple of Lord Karthikeya. The Pazhamudhir Solai temple is placed on the hills, inside the Soali jungle. This is one of the six important temples of Lord Muruga. One can board an auto rickshaw from the Meenakshi Amman Temple to the Pazhamudhir Solai which will cost about 100 INR. Regular buses from the Meenakshi Amman Temple are also available to the Pazhamudhir Solai.

Thirumalai Nayak Palace

The Thirumalai Nayak Palace is yet another of the popular tourist attractions of Madurai. Located at a close distance (less than 2 kilometres) in the south east of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, the Thirumalai Nayak Palace commemorates the 17th century Nayaka ruler of Madurai, Thirumalai Nayak. Thirumalai Nayak contributed highly for the enhancement of the Meenakshi Amman Temple. Unfortunately, most of the Thirumalai Nayak Palace has been ruined now. Only one fourth of the original structure of the Thirumalai Nayak Palace survives till date. Originally, there were two sections of the Thirumalai Nayak Palace; Swargavilasa or the heavenly abode of the King and his Court, and the Rankavialasa or the servants’ quarters. A sound and light show in Tamil and English is held every evening in the Thirumalai Nayak Palace which is of great interest for the tourists in Madurai. A museum is also there in the Thirumalai Nayak Palace that housed portraits of the Nayak rulers along with the sculptures of common Hindu deities like Nataraja and Saraswati. The entry fees to the Thirumalai Nayak Palace are Rs. 10 per head for Indian citizens and Rs. 50 per head for the foreigners.

Thirumalai Nayak Palace, Madurai

Gandhi Museum

The Gandhi Museum is yet another place among the popular tourist attractions of Madurai. The museum is open from 10:00 to 13:00 hours and then again from 14:00 to 18:00 hours. The Gandhi Museum houses the bloodstained loincloth of Gandhi, as well as some other artifacts related to the Mahatma. There is a Khadi Bhavan too, close to the museum. The entrance to the Gandhi Museum of Madurai is free for all.

Gandhi Museum, Madurai

Kazimar Maqbara

The Kazimar Maqbara is yet another place among the popular tourist attractions of Madurai. The Kazimar Maqbara is a traditional mosque situated at the core of Madurai. The Kazimar Maqbara is only a mere 500 metres from the Peryiar Central bus terminus and a kilometer from the Madurai railhead. The land of the Kazimar Maqbara was received by Hazrat Kazi Syed Tajuddin from the Pandyan rulers in the 13th century, and is one of the oldest Muslim structures in the entire South India. The Kazimar Maqbara is looked after by the Government of Tamilnadu.

Kazimar Maqbara

Food in Madurai

The food in Madurai is well referred to as "Manadirkku idhamana sappadu". The cuisine of the food in Madurai is Chettinadu cuisine and represents the true taste of Tamilnadu. There are many popular restaurants in Madurai. The famous Madurai Sri Muniyandi Vilas is a celebrated heaven of the non-vegertarian food lovers. Madurai has under its credit some exclusive dishes including Paruthi paal, jigarthanda, panangkarkandu paal, kuzhi paniyaram, and so on. Hotel Kanna, in 59 A Netaji Road, offers delicious biriyani and other non-vegetarian dishes. The three Janakiram restaurants scattered over the Madurai town are also great abodes for non-vegetarian food lovers. Modern Restaurant, West Avani street (Behind the YMCA), Amma mess, Jaffer's Home Biriyani, Chappati Park, Hotel Sabarish, Hotel meeenakshi Bhavan and Hotel Harish are also some of the most popular restaurants in Madurai.

Hotels in Madurai

There are a number of good hotels in Madurai. Some of them are listed below roughly with an increasing order of superiority and expenditure.

1. HI Hostel,
BBC Building,
33 / 61B Dhanappa Mudali Street,
Madurai - 625001. Phone - 0452 - 3256671 / 2347217
Email -

2. Sree Devi,
20 West Avani Moola Street
(Near the Meenakshi Amman Temple)
Phone - 0452-2347431

3. M.M Lodge,
Town Hall road (Opposite to Railway Station),
Phone - 9791392717

4. Hotel Sethu Tower,
35, Nanmai Tharuvar Kovil Street, Nethaji Road, Madurai-1
Phone - 0452 2343326

5. Elements Hostel,
642, K.K. Nagar, (Opp. to Hindu Office)
Phone - +91 452 439 1116

6. Hotel Rathna Residency,
109 West Perumal Maistry Street (Near the railway station)
Phone - +91-4474444
Email -

7. Hotel Chentoor,
106 West Perumal Maistry Street (Near the railway station),
Phone - +91-4523042222
Email -

8. Taj Garden Retreat (now renamed Gateway Hotel),
Pasumalai Hill, Madurai-4.

9. Heritance Madurai
Melakkal Main Road, Kochadai, Madurai-16

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