As early as 550 AD, Madurai was an important cultural and commercial centre and engaged in trade with Rome and Greece. Not surprisingly, it finds mention in the works of Roman and Greek historians. Madurai was ruled by different dynasties throughout its long history – the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Vijayanagar Empire and later came under the Nayak emperors. It occupied the pride of place during The Sangam Age or Golden Age of Tamil Literature. It also played a prominent role during the Indian Independence Movement.
Today, Madurai is bustling metropolis. It is very famous for its temples and attracts thousands of pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. The mainstay of Madurai’s economy is textiles and it contributes a major chunk of Indian textile exports. Apart from textiles, there are a number of other small industries like spinning, weaving, and dyeing that contribute to the arts and crafts of the city. Its gold bordered sarees with zari embroidery and fabric painting are very famous. So do remember to add one to your kitty!
Madurai has a grand history of festivals and a number of them are celebrated with great pomp and vigour around the year, chief of them being – The Pongal Festival. Also known as The Harvest Festival, it takes place every January and lasts three days. So if you happen to be in the city in January, you can watch the city come alive. Rest assured, the temperatures are mild from October to February. Though the weather gets progressively hotter and drier after that. In fact, temperatures of 40 degree Celsius are common in summer.
But on the language front, you have nothing to worry. English is widely spoken in the city and Tamil and Telugu are the primary languages.
Sightseeing in Madurai:
Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Temple - This is the city’s most important cultural and architectural landmarks. Built by the early Pandya King Kulasekara, it celebrates the love of Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi. The temple is housed within a high-walled enclosure. Right at the centre are two sanctums for Lord Shiva and Goddess Meenakshi and Sundareshwara. They are surrounded by a number of smaller shrines and grand pillared halls. There are 12 grand Gopuras or gateways that are covered with stucco figures of deities, mythical animals and monsters painted in vivid colours.
Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal - This palace complex was constructed by Thirumalai Nayakar in 1636. Currently, it is a national monument under the care of Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department. There are royal residences, theater, shrines, apartments, armory, palanquin place, royal bandstand, quarters, pond and garden within the palace complex. The gigantic pillars and structures and the ceilings decorated with large paintings showcases the architectural mastery. Do remember to catch the Light and Sound show that is held regularly within the premises!
Gandhi Museum - The museum contains a wealth of information about Mahatma Gandhi. Amongst other memorabilia, it showcases the original blood-stained garment that Gandhi was wearing at the time of his assassination. Also on display is an impresive collection of pictures taken during Gandhi’s lifetime. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the museum in 1959 and it is said that he was much inspired after his tour of the museum.
St. Mary’s Cathedral - This is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madurai. It is one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in India and is situated very close to Madurai Railway station. If you’re seeking a spiritual experience, this Cathedral is a must-see!