Meenakshi Amman Temple, also known as Minakshi-Sundareshwara Temple, is one of the oldest and most important temples in India. Located in the city of Madurai, the temple has great mythological and historical significance. It is believed that Lord Shiva assumed the form of Sundareswarar (the handsome one) and married Parvati (Meenakshi) at the site where the temple is currently located.
Renowned for its amazing architecture, the Meenakshi temple was nominated as one of the wonders of the world, but failed to make the list of the "Seven Wonders of the World". However, the temple is definitely one of the "Wonders of India". It is also one of south India's top attractions with thousands of devotees crowding it every day. During the "Tirukalyanam Festival", which takes place over a period of 10 days, the temple attracts more than one million devotees. Even though many people visit it every day, the temple is well maintained and was named the "Best Iconic Place of Swachh" (the cleanest iconic place) in India.
According to a legend, Meenakshi emerged from a "Yajna" (sacred fire) when she was a three-year-old girl. The "Yajna" was performed by a king named Malayadwaja Pandya along with his wife Kanchanamalai. Since the royal couple had no children, the King offered his prayers to Lord Shiva, asking him to grant them a son. But to her dismay, a three-breasted girl emerged from the sacred fire. When Malayadwaja and his wife expressed concern about the girl's abnormal appearance, a divine voice ordered them not to worry about the girl's physical appearance. They were also informed that the girl's third breast will disappear as soon as she meets her future husband. The relieved king appointed her Meenakshi and, in due course, crowned her as his successor.
Meenakshi ruled the ancient city of Madurai and also went on to capture the neighboring kingdoms. Legend has it that he even captured Indralok, the abode of Lord Indra, and was also on his way to capture Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. When Shiva appeared before her, Meenakshi's third breast disappeared and she knew she had met her half-orange. Shiva and Meenakshi returned to Madurai where their wedding took place. It is said that the wedding was attended by all the gods and goddesses. Since Parvati herself had assumed the form of Meenakshi, Lord Vishnu, Parvati's brother, handed it over to Lord Shiva. Even today, the wedding ceremony is celebrated every year as "Chithirai Thiruvizha", which is also known as "Tirukalyanam" (the big wedding).
The history of the Meenakshi temple dates back to the first century AD.C. and scholars claim that it is as old as the city itself. Kulashekarar Pandyan, a king who ruled the Pandyan dynasty, is said to have built the temple according to instructions given in his dream by Lord Shiva. Some religious texts belonging to the first to the fourth century AD.C speak of the temple and describe it as the central structure of the city. Texts dating from the early sixth century describe the temple as a place where scholars met to discuss important issues. However, the temple as it stands today was rebuilt throughout the sixteenth century, as it was destroyed by Muslim invaders.
During the fourteenth century E.C., Malik Kafur, a commander of the Delhi Sultanate, led his army to most of southern India and looted many temples, including the famous Meenakshi Temple. Valuables such as gold, silver and precious gems were brought to Delhi. Since temples in those days had an abundance of valuables, most of the temples were destroyed and left in ruins. When the Vijayanagar Empire seized Madurai after defeating the Muslim Sultanate, the temple was rebuilt and reopened. The temple was further expanded in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by Vishwanatha Nayakar, a king of the Nayaka dynasty. According to the researchers, while rebuilding the temple, the rulers of the Nayaka dynasty followed the architectural style of 'Silpa Shastras'. 'Silpa Shastras' is a set of architectural laws found in ancient texts.