Meenakshi Amman Temple – Shrines
This temple has a four layered concentric courtyard closed off by high walls on four sides. Goddess Meenakshi and God Sundareswarar are worshipped at two inner sanctums or garbagrihas dedicated one to each of them.
Both the Meenakshi shrine and the Sundareswarar shrine are huge temples in themselves – with their own sets of 2 prakarams mahamandapam and gold plated vimanams.
The central shrine of Meenakshi Amman temple and her consort Sundareswarar are surrounded by three enclosures and each of these are protected by four minor towers at the four points of the compass, the outer tower growing larger and reaching higher to the corresponding inner one.
The Meenakshi shrine has the emerald-hued black stone image of Meenakshi. The shrine of the goddess Meenakshi houses an emerald colored image of the goddess in stone. The goddess is depicted as holding a green parrot in her right hand. The parrot is thought to symbolize Andal, a Vaishnavite saint. Surrounding the sanctum are halls called Kilikoondu mandapam meaning the corridor of bird cages. This name comes from the fact that at one time the corridor housed green parrots that were trained to utter the goddess’s name. Today, only two such cages remain.
The eastern entrance to shrine houses a 13th century gopuram. A 5 tiered gopuram adorns the Western entrance to the Amman temple complex. At every entrance along the axis of the shrine are shrines to Vinayakar and Subramanyar.
The Meenakshi Amman idol is carved out of a green stone, presumably Jadeite. Some people think it is made up of emerald; hence Meenakshi is also called "Maragathambal" or "Maragathavalli". Maragatham is the Tamil word for emerald. However, the statue is too large to be built entirely of emerald and Jadeite is perhaps the best guess. Taking pictures of this idol is prohibited. The distinctive feature of the statue is its eyes. The eyes are big, beautiful and mysterious and Meenakshi is indeed a very apt name (Meen=Fish & Eyes= Aksi). There is a tower directly on top of this shrine which is plated with gold.
The Sundareswarar shrine lies at the centre of the complex, suggesting that the ritual dominance of the goddess developed later. Both the Meenakshi and Sundareswarar shrines have gold plated Vimanam (tower over sanctum). The golden top can be seen from a great distance in the west through the apertures of two successive towers. The area covered by the shrine of Sundareswarar is exactly one fourth of the area of the temple and that of Meenakshi is one fourth that of Sundareswarar.
The Sundareswarar temple alone has 5 gopurams – four 5 tiered ones on its outer walls and a single three tiered one adorning the entrance to the inner prakaram. This tower is said to be an ancient structure. Crowning the sanctum is the Indra Vimaanam. Also seen here are several images of the manifestations of Shiva, as seen in the Thiruvilayadal Puranam.
Within the Sundareswarar temple complex is a shrine to Nataraja – the Rajata Sabha or the Velliyambalam.
Meenakshi’s shrine is located to the southwest of Sundareswarar shrine; the north east position being that of dominance, architecturally, the shrine to Sundareswarar shows this dominance. The Koodalazhagar temple is also located to the Southwest of the Sundareswarar temple, thus reflecting the importance of the Sundareswarar temple.
The idol of Sundarar is a Lingam, a phallic symbol that shows the masculine power. This lingam was formed as a Suyambu, meaning it was not carved, but found in this shape itself. Kulasekara Pandyan, the grandfather of Meenakshi installed this Lingam here. At that point, it was merely worshipped as a symbol of Siva (masculine energy). During Meenakshi- Sundarar wedding, this Lingam was dubbed as Sundarar, and the tradition is kept till date.
The presiding Lord of this sacred shrine was in the times of yore known as Chokkanathar. Now the deity is known as Sundareswarar, Meenakshi Sundarar, Somasundarar, Kalyana Sundarar, Shenbaga Sundarar, Attavai Shevagan, Chockalingam, Adiyarku Nallan, Adhiraveesi, Vilayaduvan, Abhideka Chockar, Azhagiya Chockar, Kadambavana Chockar, Puzhugu Neidhu Chockar, Kadambavaneswarar, Karpoora Chockar, Madureswarar, Irayanar, Peralavayar and other names.
The tall sculpture of Ganesh carved of single stone located outside the Sundareswarar shrine in the path from Meenakshi shrine is called the Mukkuruni Vinayakar. A large measure of rice measuring 3 kurini (a measure) is shaped into a big ball of sacrifice and hence the Ganesh is called Mukkuruni Vinayagar (three kurinis). This deity is believed to be found during a 17th-century excavation process to dig the Mariamman temple tank.