Detail from one of Madurai's temples



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Fought over for many centuries, Madurai
is one of India’s most remarkable cities

By Manikandan

11 June 2006: Madurai is one of the oldest cities of India, with a history dating all the way back to the Sangam period of the pre-Christian era. The glory of Madurai returned in a diminished form in the earlier part of this millennium; it later on came under the rule of the Vijayanagar kingdom after being ransacked by the ravaging armies of Delhi (Malik Kafur). During the 16th and 18th centuries, Madurai was ruled by the Nayak Emperors, the foremost of whom was Tirumalai Nayakar. The Sangam period poet Nakkeerar is associated with some of the Tiruvilayaadal episodes of Sundareswarar - that are enacted as a part of temple festival traditions even today.

The Sangam age or the Golden age of Tamil literature – produced masterpieces way back in the pre-Christian era and in early 1st Millennium Madurai was the seat of the Tamil Sangam or Academy of learning. The entire city of Madurai, is built around the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple – the temple par excellence. Concentric rectangular streets surround the temple, symbolizing the structure of the cosmos.

As early as the 3rd century BC, Megasthanes visited Madurai. Later many people from Rome and Greece visited Madurai and established trade with the Pandya kings. Madurai flourished until the 10th century AD when it was captured by Cholas, the archrivals of the Pandyas.

The Cholas ruled Madurai from 920 AD till the beginning of the 13th century. In 1223 AD Pandyas regained their kingdom and once again become prosperous. Pandian Kings patronised Tamil language in a great way. During their period, many masterpieces were created. "Silapathikaram", the great epic in Tamil was written based on the story of Kannagi who burnt Madurai as a result of the injustice caused to her husband Kovalan. In April 1311, Malik Kafur, the general of Alauddin Khilji who was then the ruler of Delhi, reached Madurai and raided and robbed the city for precious stones, jewels, and other rare treasures. This led to the subsequent raids by other Muslim Sultans. In 1323, the Pandya kingdom including Madurai became a province of the Delhi Empire, under the Tughlaks.

The 1371, the Vijayanagar dynasty of Hampi captured Madurai and it became part of the Vijayanagar empire. Kings of this dynasty were in habit of leaving the captured land to governors called Nayaks. This was done for the efficient management of their empire. The Nayaks paid fixed amount annually to the Vijayanagar Empire. After the death of Krishna Deva Raya (King of Vijayanagar empire) in 1530 AD, the Nayaks became independent and ruled the territories under their control. Among Nayaks, Thirumalai Nayak (1623-1659) was very popular, even now he is popular among people, since, it was he who contributed to the creation of many magnificent structures in and around Madurai. The Raja Gopuram of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, The Pudu Mandapam and The Thirumalai Nayakar's Palace are living monuments to his artistic fervor.

Madurai started slipping into the hands of the British's East India Company. In 1781, British appointed their representatives to look after Madurai. George Procter was the first collector of Madurai.

Now after India's independence, Madurai is one of the major districts of Tamilnadu State. Later on Madurai district was bifurcated into two districts namely Madurai and Dindugul Districts. In Madurai District, there are 15 state assembly constituencies and two parliament constituencies.

The history of Madurai will not be complete without mentioning the name of Rani Mangammal, the woman of great skill and sagacity. History does not provide many instances of ruling queens in Tamil Nadu. Though it was considered that women were not suited to succeed the throne of a kingdom, Rani Mangammmal, however shines in almost solitary eminence as an able and powerful ruler in Tamil Nadu.

Madurai is famous for its temples.The Aappudaiyaar Koyil Tevara Stalam and the Koodalazhagar Divya Desam are the most important temples one should rarely miss to go. In the vicinity of Madurai is Tirupparamkunram, one of six padai veedu shrines of Murugan (glorified in Madurai Sangam Nakeerar's Tirumurugaatruppadai). Also in the vicinity of Madurai is Alagar Koyil, one of the prominent Divya Desam shrines of the Sri Vaishnavite faith.


Temple in Madurai


Gupta Vrindaban
A Secret Garden

The year was 1759. The new ruler seated on the Mogul throne in Delhi was Badshah Alamgir, as he was popularly known. The mood was sombre and introspective in Delhi, unlike the earlier era of Akbar when spiritual discourse and interfaith discussions were encouraged. The new King had forbidden the practice of spiritual music, particularly in the ancient style of music called Dhrupada. When artists employed in the courts of Shah Jahan, who specialised in singing about the romantic escapades of Krishna, were no longer able to earn a living they found a welcome mat at a place far from Delhi in the East, in the Parganas of Bengal. More