PLEASE VOTE (at n7w). There are only six weeks to January 1, 2006 when the 21 finalists will be announced for the New “Seven Wonders of the World”. Right now Meenakshi Temple is at #24 on the list of nominees.
One of the most famous of the ancient temples of India is the Madurai Meenakshi temple. The temple is a huge temple complex that lies at the heart of Madurai. Madurai Meenakshi temple is also known as Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple, and by Madurai natives more commonly known as Meenakshi-Amman Kovil.
The temple measures 254m by 217m (covering almost 6 hectares). It has 12 gopurams, of which the four outer gopurams tower over the city and can be seen from a distance as you approach the city. Each gopuram contains over 700 figures; the largest gopuram is 51m high. The entire temple (floors, pillars, ceiling, walls) is built of solid granite. It is said that there are 33 million carvings in the temple.
The oldest part of the Meenakshi temple, the garbha graha, dates back to 1600 BCE, with successive structures added over the next 900 years. The first major additions where built in the 13th century. In the 14th century the temple was damaged by the Muslim invader Malik Kafur. The temple city of Madurai was under Muslim siege for almost 43 years during that period (here’s a glimpse of the level of atrocities by Muslim rulers during their siege of Madurai, recorded with pride by Muslim historians themselves). Reconstruction began in 1560, with major additions added in the 16th century.
Over 10,000 people visit the temple every day just to have darshan (see and seek blessings) with Sri Meenakshi and Sri Sundareswarar. The temple is also known for the Golden Lotus Tank (this tank has a historic significance, in that it was the meeting place of the great Tamil Sangams), the Thousand Pillar Hall (in which each pillar is sculptured), the Musical Pillar Hall (in which each pillar is tuned to produce a specific musical note when struck).
The temple houses two deities Shiva (as Sundareswarar) and Shakti (as Meenakshi). It is said that the divine wedding of the masculine and feminine cosmic principles of the universe, Shiva and Shakthi took place here on Earth, in Madurai, and this temple encloses the spot were the wedding took place. Normally one enters a temple through the main gopuram (usually the East Gopuram) leading to the main deity (here that would be Sundareswarar). In the case of the Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple it is customary to first enter through another entrance that leads directly to the shrine of the Goddess Meenakshi.
The temple is particularly dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi. The legend has it that the king of the Pandya kingdom was childless for a long time, and so he performed a yajna (here meaning fire ritual). To everyone’s astonishment from the fire emerged a three year old girl. The king heard a voice from the heavens that commanded she be brought up like a prince, and trained in the art of war. Sri Meenakshi grew up to be a beautiful and valorous young princess winning great combats. She vowed that she will marry only the person who will defeat her in combat. Many suitors came and were defeated. Finally Lord Shiva himself disguised as Sundareswarar came and defeated her. The temple walls and the pillar sculptures illustrate the birth and life story of Sri Meenakshi, as well as the thiruvilayaadals (divine plays) of Shiva.
South Indian Hindu temple architecture is laid out on a rectangular foundation, with concentric prakarams (boundaries) representing the various states of differentiation of the universe: the outermost being the material world to the innermost being Pure Consciousness. Thus the outermost structures, the gopurams, are the most complex, often ornate with granite statues expressing the full range of human emotions. In stark contrast, the innermost, the garbha graha (the womb [of the universe]) at the center is void of decorations; it is plain, simple, tranquil, ancient, eternal, dimly lit by oil lamps. It conveys emptying of the mind, and opening up to God. The garbha graha houses the murti of the temple deity. The murti is not just a statue, nor is it considered God Him/Herself, but is considered a porthole to God.
Hindus believe that by puja (chanting and rituals; i.e. mantra and tantra; the key element being devotion – focus and sincerity) God places Him/Herself accessible through the murti. Or looking at it another way, through constant puja the murtis are energized and act as a cosmic porthole into a higher/subtler dimension, through which we are made closer to God. In the garbha graha, our very consciousness occupies the same mind space, devoid of the attachments of worldly life.
Hindus believe God is present everywhere but unless you are really high up there on the spiritual ladder (which comes with years of practice) only one in a million attain the darshan or vision of God. So God makes Her/Himself accessible through a murti.
Hindus believe that everything is Pure Consciousness, and that matter and energy are nothing but grosser and subtler differentiation of the cosmic vibration, pranava. First starting off as one singular cosmic vibration, Om, originating from a cosmic singularity (bindu), then differentiating into seed vibrations (bija), then these bijas interacting and coalescing to form grosser and grosser vibrations, and finally forming energy, and these energies coalescing to form grosser and grosser forms of matter. See also Hindu Cosmology.