Madurai, one among the ancient cities in India is situated in the banks of river Vaigai in Tamil Nadu. Madurai city, the capital of Pandya rulers is an important commercial and religious center till today and the history of Madurai dates back to 650 BC. Megasthenes, the traveler and ambassador of Selucus visited Madurai during 3rd century BC and recorded about his visit in his writing named ‘Indika’.
Madurai, the commercial city under the rule of Pandya kings are noted in the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. The fragmentary records of early classical historians has mentioned Madurai as rich source of gemstones, pearls and spices which are much sought by traders around the world and especially in countries around Mediterranean sea, Indonesia and China. There are records of active trade with Rome in the early centuries of Christian era.
The antiquity of the city is revealed through the Tamil epics Silapathigaram and Manimegalai. Madurai has lot to do with Tamil literature. Madurai hosted the ‘Third sangam’ and it lasted for more than 1800 years. ‘Sangam’ is the gathering of poets to publish their literary works. The places where the other two sangams held were destroyed by sea. Totally there were three sangams spanning over thousands of years which helped in spreading Tamil literary work.
Madurai is also known for its art and architecture. The constructions of Madurai Meenakshi temple was initiated by the Pandya king Kulasekara Pandian and the medieval governors of Vijayanagara king completed the temple. The city was constructed and developed in the form of lotus with streets and houses built in a concentric fashion. During 16th century AD, the governor Thirumalai Nayak became the King and took control of Madurai region and played a major role in erecting elegant structures which still stand today as a monument.
The Meenakshi Amman temple is full of artistic stone carvings of animals, men, Hindu gods and divine dramas of gods known as ‘Thiruvilayadal’ in Tamil. There are four ‘Gopurams’ meaning towers each standing approximately 160 feet high decors the entrances to the temple. There are many halls inside the temple and the hall with thousand pillars is very famous with lot of sculptural depictions. The large golden lotus pond inside the temple serves as a place for the pilgrims to wash the feet before getting in.
After the rule of Nayak dynasty for more than two centuries, the queen ‘Rani Mangammal’ ruled Madurai and made huge contributions for the city’s welfare. During her rule, the Marati and Muslim rulers invaded Madurai and ruled it for short period of time. Later from 1801, Madurai completely came under the control of British East India Company. It was under the British rule till the independence of the country.
Madurai people are generous and highly respect their traditions and prefer wearing traditional clothes like sarees (women’s wear) and veashti (men’s wear). Madurai has a rich tradition for music, folk dances and ballads. Yaazh, Parai, Veena and Flute are uniquely Tamil musical instruments that belong to ancient post sangam period of 200CE to 400 CE. After the karnatic music evolved in 16th century, Madurai yielded lot of famous Karnatic musicians in India.