Abode of the Goddess
Discover India|September - October 2021
Steeped in legend and jasmine aroma, Madurai draws the bulk of its tourists with ornate temples. But go deeper and you’ll discover that the city holds a unique allure for everyone.
DEVANSHI MODY

IT BEGAN A DECADE AGO, our family’s love affair with Madurai. It was January 2011. My brother, Samir, and I had relocated to Chennai from the UK and wanted to discover Tamil Nadu. Madurai was recommended to us. Taking mum along, we embarked. An eight-hour journey became 14 hours because the driver stopped for an inordinate dinner break and got waylaid after one too many vadais. It ended at 2 am, with imprecations heaped on the driver and our resolve never to return to Madurai. Little did we realise that Madurai’s presiding deity, Goddess Meenakshi, wields the might of destiny in her enigmatic smile. Or that there’s a story in every pillar of Madurai’s temples and every quivering petal of its jasmines that would keep luring us back.

Our first glimpse of Madurai was unforgettable. Hawkers selling onions, people standing around eating street food—at 2 am! Trudging through labyrinthine streets we reached our hotel, Heritage Madurai, created by legendary architect Geoffrey Bawa. It was nearing 3 am, but the staff received us as if we were divinity. Even our drooping eyes appreciated quintessential Bawa manifested in clean lines, spare interiors, vast open spaces, pillared pavillions, and stretches of garden encrusted with a monumental sprawl of a pool replicating a temple tank. We would bring in the New Year at this retreat again and again. As on our latest visit. Anu Abraham (aka Abi), a brisk young Malayali, now runs the hotel ensconced in acres of landscaped gardens swooning under an ancient banyan tree.

Everyone goes to Madurai for the Meenakshi Amman Temple, as did we. Everyone goes back to Madurai for the Meenakshi Amman Temple, as do we. This temple is a love poem in rock of stupendous grandeur. Its towering gopurams echeloned in tight sculptures, superb temple tank, and Hall of 1000 Pillars are spellbinding. After queuing for four hours, you enter Meenakshi Amman’s shrine with its staggering wealth of sculpted pillars, which boast tremendous figures of a pantheon of gods and filigreed carvings. Petrified with awe, thronging visitors seem to only add to the sculpted profusion.

Tamil Nadu’s ancient temples are legend-steeped. This one more than most. Thiagaraja, Heritage Madurai’s owner, smiles wryly over extravagant tales attached to the temple, “Our people have a fine imagination.” His daughter Rukmini, the hotel’s young managing director, and narrates an opulent romance: Meenakshi, during a fiery genesis, unfurled from a fire pit. Thereupon, it was presaged that her congenital third breast would vanish when she encountered her match. Meenakashi ventured on a conquest of the world, vanquishing kings and gods. Enfin, she fell upon an anchorite, Siva. Their eyes met and clashed like swords: Meenakshi realised she was Parvati incarnate. Her third breast vanished, and she made the hermit, now named Sundareswarar (beautiful lord), her consort.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM DISCOVER INDIAView All

New Gear For New Travels

Here’s our selection of some nifty new gear that’s certain to add extra oomph to your next vacation.

9 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021

10 Hidden Gems Of India

The last two years have prepared us to expect the unexpected, so why not explore the unexplored in 2022? India boasts some of the most culturally abundant and visually spectacular places in the world. Pick one or more of these 10 indian destinations to travel to and discover new lands in the coming year.

8 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021

When Travel Heals

Going for a holiday just after you have lost your mother to COVID-19 may not be the most popular idea, but it was the only way for a grieving family to escape the agony with which they were living. And so, they headed to the Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu in search of peace and recuperation.

5 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021

Masks of Glory

Charida is not the most popular tourist spot in West Bengal. But its obscurity is one of the reasons we choose to discover the undiscovered ‘mask village’ of India.

4 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021

Palace of Grandeur

The Grand Mercure Bengaluru at Gopalan Mall offers a slice of Karnataka’s rich architectural and culinary history and culture. We check-in at the palatial property for a plush staycation.

4 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021

The Road to My Roots

A family finds harmony and plenty of nostalgia in the hilly forests of Ramgarh, Uttarakhand and the Kumaon Himalayas.

6 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021

GARDEN of FABLES

On the fringes of Darjeeling, Kurseong is home to India’s most expensive tea, the world’s first tea factory, and a mystical natural phenomenon.

5 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021

MORE than just FOOD

Kochi’s boutique cafés go beyond the traditional meal to o er artisanal experiences that reflect the port city’s varied expressions. From artist residencies to couverture masterclasses and upmarket design stores, there’s much to explore and savour.

5 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021

Magical Moments

Travel blogger and dancer, Nina Okhotina, is also the founder of the clothing brand, The Dress Stories. Her fl owy, one-tone dresses add a touch of magic to her Instagram pictures from her Indian trips. The Russia-born social-media star reminisces about her time in India and the people that made it special.

3 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021

Goa with a Twist

Innovative dining, well-curated high-teas, offbeat local trails, and unparalleled hospitality—Hilton Goa Resort crafts a world far removed from the Goa to which we are accustomed.

5 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2021
RELATED STORIES

JALLIKATTU TRAMPLES COVID-19 PROTOCOL

Social distancing goes for a toss as hundreds of people crowd to watch the sport in Madurai and Tiruchy; winners bag cars, motorcycles

1 min read
The New Indian Express Chennai
January 16, 2022

Only 150 spectators permitted for jallikattu

Govt SOP says participants should be double vaccinated, carry Covid-negative report, and register in advance

2 mins read
The New Indian Express Chennai
January 11, 2022

Layered Allure

Ravi Vazirani suffuses modish and understated glamour into the design narrative of this Mumbai abode

3 mins read
Livingetc India
January 2022

Float fest begins at Meenakshi temple, grand finale at Teppakulam cancelled

THE flag hoisting ceremony for the Float Festival (Theppa Thiruvizha) was held at Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple here on Friday.

1 min read
The New Indian Express Chennai
January 08, 2022

‘Jallikattu will be held with Covid restrictions'

JALLUIKATTU would definitely be held observing all restrictions, Commercial Taxes Minister P Moorthy told reporters in Madurai on Tuesday, allaying fears about the event being cancelled due to the surge in Covid-19 cases.

1 min read
The New Indian Express Chennai
January 05, 2022

स्क्रीन को चमकाने वाले चेहरे

अक्षय कुमार ने अपनी बेल बॉटम और फिर सूर्यवंशी से दर्शकों को फिर थिएटरों में खींचा; और सान्या मल्होत्रा ने पगलैट और मीनाक्षी सुंदरेश्वर में शानदार अदाकारी से घर पर दर्शकों का भरपूर मनोरंजन किया, दोनों ओटीटी पर रिलीज हुईं

1 min read
India Today Hindi
January 12, 2022

LIGHTING UP THE SCREENS

Akshay Kumar brought audiences back to the theatres with the release of his BellBottom and then later Sooryavanshi; and Sanya Malhotra entertained audiences at home with two fine performances in Pagglait and Meenakshi Sundareshwar, both released on OTT platforms

5 mins read
India Today
January 10, 2021

‘Modi Pongal' in Madurai on January 12  

PRiME Minister Narendra Modi is likely to participate in the Pongal celebration event christened ‘Modi Pongal’ in Madurai organised by the Tamil Nadu BJP on January 12.

1 min read
The New Indian Express Chennai
January 01, 2022

MP, Union aviation minister spar over Madurai airport

MADURAI MP Su Venkatesan's recent statement on Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M Scindia turning down the request to upgrade Madurai airport as an international one and to include it in Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) sparked a heated debate between the two on social media.

1 min read
The New Indian Express
December 24, 2021

‘Kejriwal govt has not opened new ration shops, opening liquor stores'

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government has failed to open new ration shops in Delhi but has started opening liquor stores across the city, Union Minister Meenakshi Lekhi claimed on Wednesday.

1 min read
Millennium Post Delhi
December 23, 2021