Built by King Thirumalai Nayak circa 1636, outside holds little promise: bland walls showing signs of endless neglect, surround the complex. But once inside, a vast rectangular quad is ringed by monumental decorative colonnades of palest peach, vanilla, apricot, and cream. Restoration has begun on the smooth-stoned floors, and the decorative ceilings are elaborately painted with intricate designs. Pale creamy backgrounds are picked out in maroon, blue and emerald green. Further inside is the even larger Swarga Vilasa (celestial pavilion). With a dome rising to 25m at its centre, the palace is a perfect blend of Islamic and Italianate architecture and taste.
The Archaeological Survey of India started restoration work when the local courts finally vacated the building in 2009 and has declared the complex a protected site.
Opening times: 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM
Sound & Light Show Time: 6.45 PM to 7.35 PM in Tamil. 8.00 PM to 8.50 PM in English
The enormous temple, stretching over 45 acres, is a sixteenth century homage to Dravidian architecture in all its rumbustious colour and form. Fourteen gopurams (towers) – the tallest of which is about 170ft – dominate the city skyline. Made of granite, wood and stucco, every inch of each structure is covered in brightly painted multicoloured representations of gods and heavenly bodies.
Shoes and socks must be removed before entering the incense-filled interior, but the ancient stone floor is warm underfoot. As a non Hindu I was not allowed into the inner sanctums of the two golden domed shrines of Meenakshi and Shiva, but there are plenty of deities, carvings and columns in the labyrinth of corridors and chambers open to the public. Get there early to avoid the worst of the crowds, although during festivals it is heaving all day.
This Hindu temple, dedicated to Meenakshi, is the centre of Tamil Nadu's city of Madurai, built between 1623 and 1655, attracting thousands of people each day. It contains 14 gopurams, the highest reaching 52m which are decorated with brightly coloured stone representations of gods, goddesses, animals and demons. It's enormous, about 45acres in size so you can spend a good few hours wandering around, taking in the sights, smells and sounds but I found it particularly tranquil late evenings. If you can handle large crowds then the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam(Chithirai) Festival which celebrates the marriage of Meenakshi and Shiva every April/May would be an incredible and unique experience as the Gods are led in procession blessing the devotees. The city is also home to an amazing tailor's market, the Ghandi Museum and Thirumalai Nayak Palace.
I wanted to post something about volunteering because it is a concept which interests me, and many others too! And people too often focus on the negative aspects of it. So I wanted to add my thoughts on the benefits it can have.
My personal experience of volunteering was when I spent three months in India after school. I worked in a junior school, and since it turned out I wasn’t a great teacher I spent my time teaching the two weakest kids basic English and maths. This placement was arranged by a gap year company (Projects Abroad) and I decided to go away with a company because both me and my parents wanted the secure ‘safety net’ these companies provide.
Most gapyear companies do not claim to make a huge difference to people’s lives, it would be arrogant to assume that youngsters with no transferable skills could be of much practical use just because the country they are going to has a lower GDP than the one they are coming from. However, the benefits of these projects – I think – come more from simply being there and staying there for a fairly long period of time. Volunteers go to developing countries in high numbers throughout the year and stay for an average of three months. They therefore constitute a significant part of the income of the communities they live in, especially as they are easily persuaded to buy locally made souvenirs. The company I travelled with paid a host family to look after me and feed me (on locally bought produce) after which they still made a profit for themselves and their family. Tourism is a a very important part of the income of the majority of countries, and no more so than in the developing world. The fact that this form of tourism is ‘dressed up’ as being more ethical than regular tourism is the reason why so many people are keen to criticise it, but I think that this is a waste of energy in the end.
My other point is to do with cross-cultural learning. If you live in Britain as I do, you come into contact with people from almost every country in the world, but the cultural exchange is predominently one way. They learn about England and our culture whereas we do not learn about theirs. A great benefit of travelling and living in other countries is that you gain an awareness of how other cultures differ from your own, an awareness that you cannot attain to the same level unless you travel. Through travelling you can therefore learn more about the people who live in your own country, especially in such a racially diverse country as England. When people learn about each other it often leads to a greater level of tolerance, which is without doubt a positive thing!
Even if the volunteers intentions are selfish, I don’t think it matters too much provided they are respectful to their host country. If a young person can go abroad, learn a bit more about the world and its people, and return home a more rounded, and knowledgable person, that can only be a good thing. Talking about ethics is a tough one these days anyway. It is very difficult to do anything which is truly ethical (from driving your car, to buying a pair of trainers), and equally very few people manage to act with true altruism. So I think that it is better to focus on the good aspects of volunteering and realise that in a world where everything has become a commodity, you are never going to be satisfied with the ethical side of things.
I would like to recommend established companies such as Projects Abroad, as they offer young people, especially girls, a good safe introduction to the developing world, and allow them to become emersed in cultures very different from their own. They offer a very vaulable experience and in many cases the volunteer is able to make a worthwhile contribution to at the very least one other person’s life.
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