Considering a trip to Madurai, the home of the renowned Meenakshi temple? Here’s what to do in Madurai, besides temple hopping.
As the third largest city of Tamil Nadu, Madurai is a city known for its historical and cultural significance, the first association with the city being the acclaimed Meenakshi Amman Temple. In fact, the city has been constructed in the form of a lotus around the Meenakshi Amman temple.
An ancient city with a rich cultural and architectural heritage, it is called the ‘Athens of the east’; but Madurai, arguably, has as much as history as Athens itself. The Greeks traded with the then Pandya kingdom from the 3rd to the 10th century B.C.
While there are thousands of articles about Madurai on the Internet, what they cannot provide is the pride that a resident feels when he lifts his chest high and claims, “Maduraikkaranda!” ( I am a proud Madurai-ite!)
While most visitors to the city come on account of the Meenakshi temple, Madurai has some lesser known attractions that are usually overlooked; rather, they are not given much importance. But as a Madurai-ite by birth and by living, I would like to highlight those.
A few tips for the first time visitor to Madurai
The typical hustle and bustle associated with a place of pilgrimage is ever-present. Yes, it can be a harsh sensory overload if you are a first-time visitor. Finding time and space to yourself in Madurai, immediately, can be tough indeed. Rest and Rejuvenation (R&R) should be first on order as soon as you set foot here.
- For starters, the roads leading to the Meenakshi Amman temple are beautifully designed such that, if you are dropped anywhere in the heart of the town, you can choose to walk in a random path as it will ultimately lead to the temple. From there, you can trace your way to your destination easily.
- Choose to enter the Meenakshi temple through the north gate entrance especially in the mornings. It is the least crowded one. The east and south will be packed because they are considered auspicious.
- There is much more to Madurai than just temples. It is known as a city that never sleeps (‘Thoonganagaram’) owing to its many businesses that stay round the clock. It is relatively safe on this account. However, there is no night life as such and it is better not to wander/ shop during late night hours.
- Madurai is a politically active area for many parties, so it is not unusual to face traffic diversions and market shut-downs on occasion.
- The city gets hot and dusty during peak summer. Petty thefts and pick-pocketing occurs in crowded locations – as with most busy pilgrimage destinations, be cautious!
- Beware of guides, many of whom are or claim to be tailors who offer a visit to the textile shops to have the best view of the temple. It is possible that this could be a way to get you to look at and force you to buy goods in that shop.
- What rocks the most in Madurai is the food. You can visit the city just to eat. It is in fact quite hard to decide where to begin describing food in Madurai. You start a typical day with steaming-hot feather-soft idlis and crisp brown dosas from any of the thousands of roadside eateries. Skip drinking water at these pavement joints though.
Madurai beyond Meenakshi
Even though Madurai is best associated with the Meenakshi temple, there are many more interesting things to do in this city. After all, it was on global travel map thousands of years ago. Here are some ways to spend your time in Madurai.
- Madurai is surrounded by mountains of historic significance and cultural importance – Nagamalai, Yaanaimalai, Samanarmalai to name a few. The city’s outskirts are a granite rich resource. Besides scenic spots for a drive, they also offer splendid views of the city.
- Considered a major textile centre, Madurai is famous for its cotton fabrics and batiks. Many streets are lined with shops selling fabrics and ready-made clothing as well as jewellery. It is an ideal place to buy some of the traditional craft products of Tamil Nadu.
- Madurai’s bullion bazaar is Asia’s largest. You can find numerous shops starting from small gold merchants to big branded showrooms.
- Madurai’s Gandhi Museum has the dress with blood stains that Gandhiji wore when he was shot. It is in this city that Gandhiji turned to simplicity in costume, i.e. not wearing a shirt and to wearing Khadi clothes. Rani Mangammal’s palace was turned into the Gandhi museum.
- The temple city is a hub of the South Indian art and culture – not only from Tamil Nadu but the entire South Indian region. Being a witness to the evolution of Carnatic music from the 16th century, the city boasts of a rich legacy of music with famous Carnatic musicians like the legendary M.S.Subbulakshmi and Madurai Mani Iyer. Take in a temple concert in this ancient city.
- There is a famous saying in Madurai, “Even a donkey which roams around Madurai will never leave the city!” Of course, it has little to no infrastructure in comparison with the major metros and water scarcity does exist at certain times, alongside other issues such as bad roads, power failures and so on. But these are minuscule when compared to what it offers – the fun, divinity, contentment, and a kind of satisfaction you get on visiting my Madurai.