Madurai is the second largest city in Tamil Nadu state of India. Regarded highly as one of the top destinations of the state, Maduai is over 3,500 years old. The place has always served as the most preferred center for Tamil culture and learning. Often referred to as the “Athens of the East” owing to its architectural style and alleyways, the city attracts a lot of pilgrims and tourists each year. The beauty of this site lies in several majestic buildings and temples constructed under the Nayak dynasty rule. Situated on the banks of River Vaigai, Madurai has served as a major settlement for around two millennia. It is also renowned as one of the oldest consistently inhabited cities across the globe. Here are 10 best places to visit when in Madurai:
1. Meenakshi Temple
Meenakshi Temple is the greatest attraction of Madurai and a must-see south Indian temple. The city of Madurai was constructed around the Shiva lingam present inside temple’s sanctum. Covering 15 acres, the temple is home to 4,500 pillars and 12 towers. The temple is also referred to as a “living temple” with many activities going on inside, including a never ending stream of couples waiting to be married in the corridors. One must visit the temple once in the morning and again in the evening to attend the sacred night ceremony. Dating back to 3,500 years, this temple of Madurai is certainly the most impressive and important temples of south India.
2. Thirumalai Nayak Palace
Thirumalai Nayak Palace is located around one kilometer southeast of Meenakshi Temple. It makes for the second biggest tourists attractions in Madurai. The King Thirumalai Nayak constructed this palace in 1636. The Indo-Sarcenic style blended with dedicated efforts of an Italian architect, the palace served as the residence for the king. At present, only about a quarter of the original structure is intact. Visitors must pay an entry fee of 50 rupees (foreigners) and 30 rupees as camera fee. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Daily (except between 1-2 p.m. For lunch), the palace organises a sound and light show every evening.
3. Gandhi Memorial Museum
Gandhi Memorial Museum is situated across the dry Vaigai River. It is conveniently housed in the Tamukkum Summer Palace belonging to Nayak queen Rani Mangammal. Considered as one of the seven museums across India dedicated to Gandhi, it comprises of items used by the freedom fighter such as yarn, shawl, spectacles, bloodstained dhoti (loincloth) that he was wearing on the day of assassination in Delhi in 1948.
4. Alagar Koil
Alagar Koil is located around 21 Kms North East of Madurai. The place is visited for a widely celebrated Vishnu Temple dedicated to Lord Alagar. Located on a hill amidst picturesque settings, the temple is home to some of the most beautiful carvings.
5. Mariamman Teppakulam
Mariamman Teppakulam is a must visit site for all tourists and pilgrims. It is a beautiful square tank spread over a vast area of around 16 acres. Situated 5Kms East of Meenakshi Temple, this tank makes for the sole site for colourful float festival held in January/February. The festival celebrated to mark the birth anniversary of King Thirumalai Nayak, the builder of this tank. The float has deities of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar placed in it. These are known as “Teppam” and embellished with flowers and illuminated with many hundreds of lights. There is a temple towards the north of the tank dedicated to Mariamman, the popular village deity.
If you have time, head out to Thiruparankundram, around 10 kilometers southwest of Madurai. There you’ll find one of the city’s other impressive ancient temples, dedicated to Hindu god Murugan (handsome son of Lord Shiva), who’s revered as a favorite god of Tamils. At the top of Thiruparankundram hill, there’s also a 14th century grave shrine of the Islamic saint Hazrat Sultan Sikandhar Badhusha. Time seems to have stood still there, and a single family has taken care of the shrine generation after generation.
7. Saint Mary’s Cathedral
Saint Mary’s Cathedral is one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches of India and located on East Veli. It was first constructed in the year 1840. The present structure dates backs to year 1916. This cathedral is widely known for its unique architecture featuring two tall bell towers. The architecture is an eye catching amalgamation of different European and Continental styles.
8. Samanar Hills
Samanar Hills is a popular tourist destination in Madurai. It is located around 10 km away from the famous Meenakshi Amman Temple. The hills are known for caves used by Samanar, the Jains. According to a belief, the caves date back to 1 AD. Visitors can have a look at some of the exquisite Jain carvings and sculptures here. Once at the top of the hill, you can enjoy magnificent view of the entire city. Pechchi Pallam is a natural fountain found here. It belongs to the ancient era.
9. Pazhamudhir Solai
Pazhamudhir Solai is one of the best places to visit in Gaya. The beautiful temple of Madurai is dedicated to Lord Murugan. Its location atop a hill makes it a mesmerising destination. Revered as one amongst the six abodes of Lord Murugan, the beautiful sculptures inside the temple are carved of wood and marble. One must climb giant steps in front of the temple. Solai is celebrated as one of the most exquisite temples in South India.
10. Periyar Tiger Reserve
Periyar National Park is popular tourist destination situated at the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border. Lying around 155 km from Madurai, the park is host to a huge number of animals and birds. Maharaja of Travancore was a nature lover. He made all efforts to help this huge park develop. The Lake Periyar is located amidst high Western Ghat ranges and Savannah grasslands, making it a sure shot nature’s delight. It’s ancient construction in 1895 makes it a historical site holding great significance for visitors and park’s wildlife. Popular for wild elephants and many other wild animals, the best time to visit the park is around October to June.
Madurai is an amazing place to visit. It holds immense potential to keep you entertained right from the point sun rises to when it sets. A lot of places here remain open through the night. A trip to Madurai including all of the above listed and many more will make your memorable forever.