Madurai The Great Temple of Meenakshi Amman, Festival of Mariamman

Ganesh Madurai

Ganesh Madurai


‘Madri Madri Madri’ The driver shouted out to us sleeping passengers in our double beds in the bus from Cochi to Madurai. I was suddenly as shocked as I’d been 7 hours beforehand when I got on the bus to find out that yes it was a sleeper bus with double bunks down one side and single the other. I was told that I was lucky in that I had the outside or aisle side of the bunk to be shared with a portly Tamil with a huge beard. I had rarely shared a double bed with a man before, but certainly not someone I had never met ! At least we all kept our clothes on.

The Temple at Madurai tower

The Temple at Madurai one of the 14 towers

Temple Madurai ..detail

Temple Madurai ..detail

First thing one notices , apart from more men wearing the Lunghi, is the darker Dravidian skin colour.

Street Madurai

Street Madurai


Madurai, is slap bang in the centre of Tamil Nadu and the bus station has that look of of a third world dusty city but that belies the true magic of Madurai. One of the oldest continually inhabited cities, it was known to the ancient Greeks and has been a Hindu religious centre for 3 thousand years.

Madurai worshipppers outside temple

Madurai worshipppers outside temple

Outside temple

Outside temple

In Tamil Nadu the ethnicity and culture is descended from the much earlier Dravidian peoples who covered the whole of India, probably emanating from the Indus valley, until pushed south by the Indo European people some two thousand years ago.
It is claimed that the Hindu religion and culture is in fact Dravidian and was adopted by the lighter skinned Aryan Indo European peoples at a later date. There is still a popular movement in the south against the interlopers in the north who now rule India.

Madurai  outside the great temple

Madurai outside the great temple

Chennai might be the big administrative city of Tamil Nadu but Madurai is the beating heart of Tamil culture, and the great temple of Meenakshi Amman is at the centre of the heart.
The Temple was on the shortlist for one of the seven modern wonders of the world, and after seeing the 45 acre site with its huge 50 metre carved and painted entrance gates one wonders why it didn’t make the 7.
Inside there are many shrines including 2 famous gold shrines and apparently 33,000 statues. Some of the rooms are enormous, so much so that in one I had been looking round in the gloom for five minutes before I noticed there was an elephant in the corner blessing pilgrims for a few anna.
The temple is dedicated to Parvatti and her consort Shiva.

Madurai

Madurai

Women are the majority of market traders

Women are the majority of market traders


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Praying outside temple..everyone stops at some point around the temple to pray.

Praying outside temple..everyone stops at some point around the temple to pray.


Much of southern India had had socialist and even Communist Party of India elected regional governments since independence and I was staying at the Moskva Hotel, really an Indian businessman’s hotel, so great food as usual.
The south of India still has pockets of communist mayors and this has resulted in a general higher level of education , health care and social welfare than other parts of India. Also there is general greater tolerance. Tamil Nadu has an estimated population of more than 30,000 transgender people. It has made great strides in trying to integrate transgender people into society and includes welfare schemes initiated by the Government.

I particularly liked the scheme in Madurai called swayamvara. In ancient time swayamvara was a form of arranged marriage whereby a girl of marriageble age chose a husband in one day from a list of eligible men and was subsequently married that same evening.

A modern form of ‘Swayamvaram’ was started a few years ago in Madurai to match differently abled couples.
The Differently Abled Women’s Welfare Association holds a yearly event where disabled singles can chose a partner.
“Persons who are not differently abled are also welcome to register for the ‘swayamvaram.’
And this has been an amazing success, so much so that “In the last two years, 77 couples have been united through our initiative” according to the Welfare Association for the Differently Abled.

Great face

Great face

The British were lucky in that there were no cameras or even social media during the two hundred year occupation of India. I think it is quite safe to to put the figure of over 100 million dead during this period; with just the 2 incidents, the backlash to the Indian mutiny and the 1940’s Bengal famine totalling around 25 million alone * .
It was the talabanic destruction of cultural sites in the early days that affected Madurai.

Here under the British or more precisely the East India Company
that the wonderful street system based on lotus flowers and leaves , the fortifications and moat around the temple were destroyed to use the now rubble for their new colonial road system and for building materials for the homes and administrative offices for colonial rule.

My cyckle rickshaw driver

My cyckle rickshaw driver

After visiting the architectural gem of Thirumalai Nayak Palace I was gently but persausively pursued by a cycle rickshaw driver offering ‘cheep tour city’..I walked on smiling and tried to ignore him but after 10 minutes he was still cycling beside extolling the beauty of the flower maket and the coppersmiths, and with not much planned for the rest of the morning I cracked and hopped on the rickshaw and let him take me on his tour.
The flower market was some way out of town and I was starting to feel sorry for him struggling up even the slightest incline..

The flower market was large, serving the numerous temples in Madurai and festivities such as weddings, funerals, births and just general home decoration. It is the men who weave the beautiful garlands and strings of flowers worn by so many. The tour back was past more temples and the green spaces of the Raj district with the typical colonial villas and clubs.

Flower Market Madurai..Typical Tamil Nadu woman

Flower Market Madurai..Typical Tamil Nadu woman

Flower market

Flower market

Madurai flower market ..men do most of the Garland preparation

Madurai flower market ..men do most of the Garland preparation

Madurai flower market

Madurai flower market

flower market

flower market

Temple Madurai

Temple Madurai


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Colourful god

Colourful god


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Banana market Madurai

Banana market Madurai


We visited all the backstreets around the temple with the coppersmiths, basket weavers and many craft trades that have changed little in the last 500 years. The banana wholesale market was sufused with a great yellowy light reflecting off the thousands of ripe bunches. We conducted the ritualistic haggling over the fee for his services at the end of the tour , with the usual I have 4 children to feed and educate, and I, still fresh in my mind the sweat on his back on the long uphillish journey to the flower market paid him what he wanted. He was evidently happy as it was he who bought me the cold drink.

Here, in the rickshaw driver’s world nearly all the men wore the Lunghi, the male wrap around dress, so pratical in the heat and it was in Madurai in 1921 that Ghandi adopted the loin cloth of the poor as his preferred mode of dress for the rest of his life.

Street tailor

Street tailor

Festival to the goddess of rain  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess of rain Mariamman

While walking along the banks of the Vaigai river, more a series of pools at this time of the year, and being entertained by plethora of small artisanal blacksmiths, I looked up distracted by music and shouting and singing from the other bank. Here was one of the holy grails of the street photographer, and interested cultural observer, a full religious procession with band and priests and dancers.
Luck, as finding these local religious festivals is mostly luck as they are not advertised, was on my side again as there was a bridge over the river at exactly this point.

Festival to the goddess  Mariamman ..boy holding milk

Festival to the goddess Mariamman ..boy holding milk


Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


The noise, the heat the dancing, children holding brass bowls of milk on their heads , the older men and women holding clay bowls with burning coals, the two men with long skewers through their cheeks. I was in the middle of something pecularly Indian and it was intoxicating.
Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


This religious festival was to Mariamman, the goddess of rain, harvest and generally praying for better things, and is more of a rural peasant affair and in fact rather than ending up at some large ornate temple we arrived at a small temple in the poorer suburbs of the city.
Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman

All the residents had turned out to cheer and throw buckets of water over the particpants and drinks of local cordial to keep them cool in the now 40 ° heat.
I was struck but the friendliness between each other and especially me.

Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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P1100216
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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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P1100247
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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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Festival to the goddess  Mariamman

Festival to the goddess Mariamman


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P1100277
Madurai is a great city, with a 3,000 years of history, that traded with ancient Greece and Rome and now a future global IT centre that will trade with the whole world.

* However the exact figures might never be known due to the British Foreign & Colonial office systematically destroying all records.

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About mickjennings

Antique mapdealer , Photographer
This entry was posted in INDIA 2014, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Madurai The Great Temple of Meenakshi Amman, Festival of Mariamman

  1. Thank you, Michael for these wonderful pictures and interesting comments.

    Like

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