Madurai

An aerial view of Meenakshi amman temple from above the tree tops -- Madurai: The city of temples

Madurai (Tamil: மதுரை), formerly Madura, is the third largest city in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Located on the banks of the river Vaigai, Madurai has been a major settlement for two millennia. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The city was the capital of the Pandyan kingdom was initially at Korkai, around 600 BCE, and was later moved to Koodal (the present Madurai) during the reign of Nedunj Cheliyan I.

Madurai is famous for its temples built by Pandyan and Madurai Nayak kings in the Dravidian style of architecture. It is also one of India's most outstanding Hindu pilgrimage centres. Madurai is also called as City of Junction (Koodal nagaram), City of Jasmine (Malligai maanagar), Temple city (Koil maanagar), City that never sleeps (Thoonga nagaram) and City of four junctions (Naanmada koodal).

Understand

Madurai is one of the oldest cities of India and was ruled by Pandya kings over most of its history. The city is famous for is rich heritage and promoting Tamil language through "Sangams". The city has been in existence since about 4th century B.C and is mentioned in ancient texts of Greeks, Romans and Arabs. The Meenakshi Amman temple situated in the heart of the city is famous, and there are a number of temples in and around the city. The "Maha Kumbabhishekam" of the temple was performed in April 2009 after the renovation (re-painting) work on the gopurams (towers) of the temple. It is usually performed once every 14 years or more. There are numerous remarkable sculptures on the gopurams as well as inside the premises of the temple. Look out for the "yaali", a mythical creature similar to a dragon on the pillars in the 'pragaram' of the temple. Also, keep looking at the ceiling to catch a glimpse of the beautiful ancient paintings that adorn them.

Madurai is also an important transit point for travelers bound south and also a local commercial hub.

Festivals

Madurai is famous for the Chithrai Festival which takes place during mid April–May, during the Hindu month of Chithrai, when millions pour into the city for the carnival. The main events are:

Madurai is also famous for its yearly bull run "Jallikattu" which coincides with Pongal festival in the month of January.

Get in

Main modes of transport for travelers are by air and by train.

By air

Madurai has a Customs airport with fairly good facilities. It is served by several domestic airlines and international airlines including:

The flights connect mainly to Mumbai, Hydrabad, Delhi and Chennai (Madras), but there are few direct flights to other major Indian cities. Air Pegasus has direct flights to Bangalore three days a week. Recently Madurai Airport has been declared as Immigration cum custom Airport and international connectivity has been established with Colombo by SpiceJet and Sri Lanka national carrier Mihin Lanka and Spicejet also flies daily to Dubai.

The airport is about 15 km from the city center off National Highway 47. It is best to hire a taxi from the airport from the counter in the arrival lounge or arrange for someone to meet you at the airport. For those who prefer to use public transport, you should take bus number 10A, which runs from the airport to the Periyar bus stand.

By train

Trains are the major mode of entry into the city. The railway station is centrally located and many facilities are accessible from there. Madurai is well connected by trains to many parts of India like Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai (Bombay), and Delhi. A train journey from Chennai takes 8 to 10 hours and is the preferred railhead. Train tickets can be booked from Indian Railways' reservation centers or online from IRCTC.

If you book through a travel agent, please book through authorized agents only.

By road

Madurai is situated on National Highways NH-7, NH-45B, NH-49. Almost all of them are presently being upgraded to multi-lane ways as part of National highway development program. Travel from Chennai and Bangalore will take approximately 8-10 hours.

The city is well connected by buses to all major cities in Tamil Nadu via state government operated and private buses. Buses also ply from important cities in the neighboring states of Kerala (Ernakulam, Trivandram) and Karnataka (Bangalore, Mysore).

By water

Madurai is situated inland, and the Vaigai River which used to be overflowing with water is now dry. However, the nearest ports for entry are Chennai (450 km) and Tuticorin (160 km).

Get around

Getting around the city will be mostly by bus. The buses required to get around will all mostly be available in Periyar bus stand and you can also get an auto rickshaw (you should know to negotiate and bargain) or a cab or rent a car.

By bus

Local buses are run by the government and are safe to use. Travelling them is different as you get to see a lot of city while you are in the bus. However, they will be crowded during morning hours and evening hours as they will be crowded by the office-goers. Bus services are available even late at night, though the frequency is less. Please carry proper change to buy tickets. The friendly people are often more happy to help a foreigner find his/her way by giving directions. Just thank them and carry on. There are no queses in the bus stop. It is better to be familiar of the bus numbers that go to the place you need to be but if you aren't, there is always enquiries in the bus stand which will help you [they will not be visible unless you look for it]. You can ask the conductor of the bus, whether the bus you are boarding goes to where you need to go. If it is not the right one, he will help you. There will be different colors of the buses. Orange buses with yellow seats will be less crowded than the others. Remember, India is a country with high population, so if buses are crowded wait for another. You are in a foreign country so, keep a watch on your wallet. You have to be careful.

Madurai has 4 main bus-stands.

All the bus-stands are interconnected by buses or you can hire an auto [Remember, you need to have knowledge of the real fare and you should also know how to bargain]

By car

It is as difficult to drive in certain cities of India like any other big city in the world, as traffic can be high and there needs to be improvement in the fineness of the roads too. Please see India article for more. However, taxis are abundant and you can book one from your hotel.

Average car rental rate in Madurai to go to places like Alagar Temple, Thiruparakundram Hill, Naicker Mahal, Palamudurcholai is ₹600-₹650. Beware of cheats as tourists are easily duped into paying more again like it happens anywhere else in the world.

One can move around by car in Madurai. There are many car rental companies [like taxi taxi, fasttrack, etc.] and private taxis available. Most hotels also offer cab services.

By Auto Rickshaws

Auto rickshaws are readily available in the city and they are not equipped with meters. As we saw before, bargain because it is very much possible that they will ask for more if they think you don't know much. Currently, a 5 km trip should cost about ₹70 by auto [susceptible to change; all credits to high inflation rate]

The rule of thumb rate is ₹10 per km of travel during day time and ₹15 per km during night. There are auto stands[a group of autos standing] alongside the roads. Hire one from them as they possibly are more aware about the locations.

See

Meenakshi Temple

Meenakshi Amman Temple

By far the most common reason for visiting the city is the Meenakshi Amman Temple, also called the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, dedicated to the goddess Meenakshi (considered a form of Parvati) with a sanctum for her consort, Sundareshwarar (or Siva). Actually, historically, the Sundereshwar shrine is the larger and older of the two temple complexes. The complex itself is a splendid example of the south Indian Dravida architectural idiom. Four immense gopurams or temple towers crown the gateways at each cardinal direction, easily visible from a distance. Each tower is encrusted with more than a thousand brilliantly painted sculptures depicting an assortment of mythological and auspicious themes. It is traditional to enter through the south gopuram and, unusually, worship the Goddess before her consort. Inside the shelter for shoe-storage, offering baskets of coconuts, bananas and incense are available in addition to images of the Goddess for home altars. Many pilgrims – particularly the men in black or orange sarongs who are devotees of the god Ayyappan – circumambulate the main temple itself in the prakara or space between the outer wall and main temple. In addition, snake shrines and an assortment of offices and classrooms of religious foundations are found here.

Within the temple, devotees line up for darshan or viewing of the deities. Non-Hindus are not permitted into the inner sancta of Meenakshi or Sundareshwarar; anyone who looks suspicious can and will be pulled out of line by attendants. However, there is an abundance of sculpture and painting accessible to all. In addition, the steps of the Pottramaraikulam or Golden Lotus Pond is open to all and is a common meeting place for inhabitants of the city, in addition to pilgrims and tourists. In ancient times, the sangam or assembly of poets was said to gather at this pool to judge the merits of new compositions, often by throwing the manuscripts into the pool itself. Those that sank were inferior while those that floated were worthy of praise and propagation.

There are many shops within the east gate, selling everything from plastic toys to bronze images of the Goddess. Be sure to bargain hard.

One can buy the special tickets at the counter [each ₹15] to get a special darshan, which is nothing but cutting short the line by at least a half. Do buy these tickets if you can see the queue after getting inside. After the first entrance there is another entrance and after that the entrance to the inner sanctum and after that the inner sanctum itself. You will not be able to see it but the line would be 2 hours long if you are in the general queue.

The temple is usually open 05:00–12:30 and 16:00–21:30.

To catch a glimpse of the beautiful night view of the temple and the city, one could try any of the rooftop restaurants at West Perumal Maistry Street, near the Railway Station. Don't miss the traditional snacks served fresh and attractively presented by street vendors around the temple after sunset.

WARNING: Beware of guides, many of whom are or claim to be tailors, who offer to take you to vantage points outside the temple to get a better view. You will be lured into shops that have a very hard sell.

Other temples

Other sites

"The descendants of Sulthan Alauddin Badusha, and Sulthan Shamsuddin Badusha (called as Sultans of Delhi) purchased from the then King Koo(n) Pandiyan the land of Gorippalayam Dargah for a Feet of Gold piece and other six villages (namely Bibi Kulam, Chokkikulam, Cholikudi, Chirudoor, Kannanendal, Thiruppalai) at the rate of 14,000 Gold pieces for the maintenance of Gorippalayam Dargah. During the reign of King Veerappa nayakkar a dispute arose between the Huqdars of the Durgah and the employees of the Nayakkar Government regarding the six villages. The case was taken to King Veerappa Nayakkar, who inquired and verified the documents written by King Koo(n) Pandiyan and gave his verdict in the year 1573 A.D. as the Six villages and the Dargah land belongs to the Descendants of Sultans and it should be in their enjoyment till the existence of Sun and Moon and who violates this will be liable for the sin of slaughtering a cow in the bank of river Ganga."

This inscription is considered as one of the evidences to prove the existence of the Dargah since 13th century. The anniversary urus festival of this dargah is held on 15th night of the Islamic month of Rabi al-awwal on every hijri year.

Talk

Since Tamil is most widely spoken here, learning a few words of Tamil will make your stay easier.

Work

As with any place in India you should have a work permit. Madurai is not yet into IT boom, so the main activities are into business, banking, government, religion etc. Most of the other work is related to textile and other small scale industries. Paramount airways, a new private airlines, has its head quarters in Madurai. Honeywell Pvt Ltd has set up its development facility in Madurai, near Thiagarajar College of Engineering, approx 5km from the city. Majority of folks work in Government or Government based sectors (like nationalized banks, insurance firms etc.). Sizable number of people work for small and medium business establishments too. Madurai being a commercial center, is an active place to trade and exchange for agricultural products from surrounding towns and villages.

Buy

Madurai is a major commercial center in South India. The main activity is concentrated around the Meenakshi Temple. These are the places to visit for shopping, and actually many have specific markets for groceries (East Masi street), jewelry (South Avani Moola street), Electronics (Town hall road) etc. Madurai is famous for cotton Sungidi Sarees ( Hand Loom), Brass works, Tanjore Paintings, Handicrafts and antiques(check out the Khadi bhavan near Periyar bus stand). Pudumandapam is a small market place (about 500 years old) of sorts, where you can find tailors, books, handicrafts and bronze items in quaint shops. Handloom cotton sarees are available in co-operative stores (often a union of several weavers and/or looms) like Co-optex.

When you don't see a price tag on the item, don't give whatever the trader tells you.

ATMs of most nationalized banks are available in the city. There are private bank ATMs too. ATMs accept standard VISA/MASTERCARD/CIRRUS cards. There are many retail stores in the city where you can buy stuff and almost all of them accept cards(credit and debit). You also have the advantage of internet. Just Google if you need anything. There are a lot of websites providing you with addresses and locations of where you need to go. Use maps. They are highly indispensable.

Major banks accept foreign exchange, and you can walk into any branch to inquire. You will also find money exchangers in mid and high range hotels. The area around railway station also has commercial money changers available. With all of this, banks are highly advisable.

Eat

Coconut rice is very popular in Madurai.

The food of Madurai is well quoted as "Manadirkku idhamana sappadu". The cuisine of Madurai inherits the true taste of Tamils. If you are a lover of non-vegetarian and if you are up for tasting south Indian food, restaurants like Madurai Sri Muniyandi Vilas Dindigul briyani kadai can be tried. Madurai possesses its unique and exclusive foods like Paruthi paal, jigarthanda, panangkarkandu paal and chettinadu varieties like appam, kuzhi paniyaram, etc.

Guide:

Atmosphere NNNN = Extremely noisy and crowded; NNN = Noisy and crowded; NN = Moderately noisy and crowded; N = Spacious and reduced noise level

Food type

[S] = Spicy; [H] = Hot (meaning: Garam); [T] = Tasty!; [NV] = Non-vegetarian; [V] = Vegetarian; [J] = Jain food; [NVV] = Non-vegetarian and Vegetarian

There are any number of restaurants but any guy from college knows how to have the best dinner at one of the " Evening Mutton Stalls " for a pittance. The strong aroma of eye watering dishes is not for the faint-hearted. The next morning you will be reminded of your spicy escapades into culinary discovery. If spicy hot is not your cup of tea, your starting point should be with "Kotthu Parotta" without the gravy, chilies, or chili powder or pepper mixed in it. The music of the Kotthu ladles drumming on the flat hot plate of a charcoal fired Barbeque is Nirvana to a hungry mans ears. I recommend the roadside eatery near the central bus stand branch office of KPN travels in the complex bus stand. Spare the shoddy service and test the immunity of your digestive system! all the best!(NNN). (NV)

However, dinner options are limited. Wherever you are, please don't forget to savor the hot "raw banana bhajia' or Kela Bhajia or valakkai bhajji Tamil. Also be wary of drinking water, better to buy water bottles with seals.

Drink

Try the tender coconut drink. The tender coconut drink is sold by roadside sellers on their tricycles parked under the shade of a tree. Tea shops are always around the corner. Madurai is famous for its unique drink "Jigardanda". Try having Jigarthanda in the "Famous Jigarthanda" store in the Velakkuthoon(this is the place near the Thirumalai Naicker Palace).

Alcohol is served in up-market hotels and it is advised to avoid other places for a drink.

Sleep

There are many hotels around railway station, particularly on the streets coming off West Tower St as you walk away from the station and towards the temple. The more luxurious ones are situated a little further from the station.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Landline phones and mobile phones are available throughout the city, and services are like anywhere in India. Broadband is also available from various providers. Internet cafes are dotted all around the city and it will cost from ₹15-₹30 per hour. Prominent cybercafé chains like i-Way and Reliance Webworld are also available.

Wi-fi access is very limited and is available at the airport, railway station and a few hotels.

There are many post offices and couriers available in the city. The main GPO is located near Meenakshi Bazaar, about 10 minutes walk from railway station.

The international dialing code for Madurai is +91-452

The STD code for dialing within India is 0452

Stay safe

Madurai is a relatively safe place and the city stays awake through night to do business. But, there is no such nightlife in Madurai and it is better not to wander/shop during night time. There have been incidences of violence in the past, though it is extremely rare to affect the common man. Be aware of touts and pick-pockets, and do not hesitate to contact local police in case of trouble. Emergency contact numbers are displayed at many prominent places in the city. Also, Madurai is a politically active area for many parties, so it is not unusual to face traffic diversions, shop shutdowns etc. in case of an occasion.

Women are advised not to wear extreme (provocative) clothes during any time.

Stay healthy

Water is supplied by the Madurai Corporation. But it is advised to drink bottled water, which is available everywhere.

The local food served in restaurants is hygienic however it is best avoided eating at roadside eateries.

The city can get hot and dusty during peak summer, hence drink lot of fluids like coconut water.

There are sufficient medical shops and nearly all major medications are available, but do bring the ones you use regularly.

Petty theft and pick-pocketing occur in crowded locations, so take caution with your belongings. Incidences of mugging though are quite rare. It is safe to hire an auto to get around, but exhibit caution at night. There have been stray occurrences of auto-drivers mugging the passengers, though this is extremely rare. As usual be aware of touts and cheats at places of interest.

Hospitals

Below is a list of major hospitals in Madurai

Cope

Emergency phone numbers

Emergency phone numbers are displayed in various prominent locations is the city. Landlines number in case of emergency:

Respect

The people of Madurai are proud of their city and heritage, so jokes on it are mostly not tolerated. Refrain from making jokes about a person or his family, as it could be disastrous sometimes. The most accepted way of greeting is "Vanakkam" with hands folded at chest level. The locals are of friendly sort who will help you in times of need, but beware of touts.

Go next

Madurai is an ideal hub for touring the extreme south of India. Most places are accessible within a day's travel by bus or train. Prominent destinations near Madurai include Kodaikanal, Munnar, Rameswaram, Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Thekkady and Kuttralam. On the way from Kodaikanal to Madurai, you can visit many important historical places of interest and picnic spots near Vaththalakundu like Manjalar Dam, Siddhar Malai, Peranai dam. There are also many temples like Sendrayaperumal Temple in Old-Batalagundu, Anjaneyar Temple in Anapatti, Kamakshiamman Temple in Devadanapatti, Kasi Visalakshi-Vishwanathar Temple in Kunnuvarankottai or Kannapatti.

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