Madurai’s history can be dated back to the 3rd century BCE. Today, even with the mess of traffic snarls and ugly ‘development’, the city is absolutely mesmerising in its own unique way.

Things to See & Do

Meenakshi Temple
The temple complex and its surrounding areas are spread over 60,000sq m. There are no less than 12 gopurams, and the South Tower is the tallest at 150ft. The Thousand-Pillared Hall (the actual number of pillars is 985) is now a museum. The paintings, photographs and icons are a must-see. The temple itself is an extended art gallery of sorts, with over 30 million pieces of sculpture and stucco images. The Sundareswarar shrine within the temple precedes Meenakshi’s in antiquity. It is here that Lord Indra supposedly found a lingam by the banks of a lake, in a forest of kadamba trees. Today, the lake is venerated as the Potraamarai Kulam (the Golden Lotus Tank). Though it has more weeds than water now, it is still a lovely sight, lined by a colonnade of granite pillars.

Sanjoy Ghosh
The Thousand-Pillared Hall in the Meenakshi Temple
The Thousand-Pillared Hall in the Meenakshi Temple

The Mukkuruni Vinayakar shrine, with a colossal idol of Ganesha, is splendid. Sangam littérateur Ilango Adigal’s Thiruvilayaadal Puraanam (Divine Games) is painted on the temple walls – note the beautiful restoration near the Meenakshi shrine.

Entry Free Timings 5.00am–noon, 4.00–9.30pm Cameras Still ₹25, Tip Videography is not allowed

Koodalazhagar Temple
This is a Vaishnavite shrine, richly endowed with gold and silver artefacts. Look for the shields on the main deities, the vessels in which tulsi water is served, and the jataari (the sacred crown that is used for blessing devotees).

Thirumalai Nayak Palace
Built in 1636, this palace is a fine synthesis of Indo-Islamic architecture. The superb rectangular courtyard endures the rubble of repairs with rare dignity. It is the backdrop for a passable Sound & Light Show.

Entry Adults ₹50; Children ₹25 Timings English narration 6.45pm

Gandhi Museum
This museum gives an account of the Independence struggle. The blood-stained shawl that Mahatma Gandhi wore when he was shot dead is on display here as well.

Entry Free Timings 9.00am–1.00pm, 2.00–5.45pm Cameras Still ₹5 Videogaphy ₹100 (only by permission)

Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam
This artificial reservoir built by Tirumalai Nayak in the 17th century has now been reduced to a pond. It is filled in time for Teppotsavam, the splendid float festival.

Where to Stay

Royal Court (Tel: 0452-2350555; Tariff: ₹4,000–7,500) and Poppys Hotel (Tel: 4210411; Tariff: ₹4,500–8,500) are good options.

The Information

When to go October–March. Catch Pongal festivities in January and the Chithirai Festival in April–May

Tourist Office

Dept of Tourism, Govt of TN , West Veli Street, Madurai, Tel: 0452-2334757

STD code 0452

Getting There
Air
Madurai Airport (10km from city centre), connected to Chennai, Bengaluru, Coimbatore and Mumbai. Taxi into town costs ₹550 approx

Rail Madurai Junction, connected to all metros except Kolkata. The overnight daily Pandyan Express from Chennai (8hrs) is your best bet

Road Smooth drive down NH45 and NH7 from Chennai Bus A bus leaves every 10 mins from Chennai’s CMBT