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One of the oldest and largest cities in India's southernmost Tamil Nadu state, and historically the capital of the Pandyan dynasty, Madurai is also considered the state's cultural capital - sometimes referrred to as "the Athens of the East and "Temple Town." Popular with Hindu pilgrims, it has been selected as one of the hundred Indian cities to be developed as a "smart city" under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's signature Smart Cities Mission.
And now without further ado, here are the five of the most important Madurai places to visit that visitors shouldn't miss:
Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple
Also called Meenakshi Amman Temple, this historic Hindu complex on the banks of the Vagai River sits on 45 acres with 14 gopurams, a pair of golden sculptured vimanas, and 33,000 of sculptures, and the sacred temple tank Porthamarai Kulam. Among the various halls, the Thousand-Pillar Hall stands out thanks to its "musical pillars," which each produce a different musical note when struck. In April and May, the ten-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival attracts huge number of devotees.
Inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1959, this is one of India's five great Gandhi museums in the country, and among many other things it houses the blood stained dhoti that the Mahatma was wearing at the time of his assassination, along with photographs, artworks, personal letter, and documentation on his life and times. A new wing has been constructed on the northern side which includes a library and open-air theater.
Thirumalai Nayak Mahal
Built for King Thirumalai Nayak in 1636, this grand palace is enclosed with 248 pillars and has ceilings decorated with large paintings showing Shaivite and Vaishnavite themes. There's also a large museum which houses a wonderful collection of paintings, sculptures, utensils, historic photographs of the palace. The the most remarkable part is the dome of Swarga Vilasa, which lies beyond a huge courtyard.
Koodal Alagar Temple
Another of Madurai's ancient temples, also known as Arulmigu Koodalazhagar Thirukoil, it's one of the 108 Divyadesams (Vaishnavite Shrines) of the holy abodes of Vishnu. Erected in the Dravidian style of architecture, the temple tower followed by the main shrine has a large rangamandapa and sanctum. A unique feature of this temple is the three different postures of the same God. With beautifully carved ornamental windows, the temple attracts large number of devotees.
A Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Murugan (aka Kartikeya), the Hindu god of war, and the foremost of Murugan's six abodes. It is a cave temple, and the entrance is built with 48 Nayaka period pillars with artistic carvings. A unique feature is that the gods Shiva and Vishnu face each other in the main shrine, which is a rare scene in ancient Hindu temples. There are also separate shrines for Lord Ganapathy, Shiva, Durgai, Vishnu and other deities.