Today brings a visit to one of the highlights of south India, the huge Meenakshi temple of Madurai. This is one of the holiest cities in India, perhaps second only to Varanesi in the north. This enormous complex honors Parvati in her Meenakshi guise and Shiva, rather unusually giving precedence to Meenakshi. The huge gopuras can be seen throughout the valley and the complex itself takes up acres in the center of the city. Although the site itself is quite old, much of the current complex dates to the 16th and 17th centuries and the Nayaks. They rebuilt the complex and caused the largest gopuras in the south to be raised to guard it.
The temple is really more a city than anything else, with a large lotus pool, many hallways lined with shops, and a museum. As we walk through we attract all the beggars and touts and have to fend off many offers. It's a loud, gaudy affair that calls to mind the moneylenders in the temple of Solomon. Aside from taking off one's shoes before entering and the nature of the goods sold, there seems little difference between the market outside and the halls inside.
Fortunately as you get deeper inside the complex there are fewer stalls and more shrines. Monks in saffron and pilgrims in black walk purposefully through, abasing themselves at each statue. Lines form to see Meenakshi and Shiva, safe behind successive doors and corridors.
We spend much of the morning here in the temple, wandering the entire space and observing the ongoing devotions. The bronzes in the museum continue our education from Thanjavur. In the afternoon we return to an overlooking building to get a feel for the whole complex from above.
Despite some rather unfortunate decorations in the restaurant, we had almost managed to forget that today is the 25th. At about 11pm we hear what sounds like a series of loud gunshots nearby. Fireworks are exploding 50 yards away at eye level, being set off over the lawn by delighted hotel staff. Once we are reassured that we are not, in fact, under attack we go ahead to sleep.
Business signs spotted in Madurai:
"Panicker's Travel Service"
"Shoes that walk for you"
and, of course, the reassurance that the temple takes Visa.