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.
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