Meenakshi Amman Temple – History
The history of Madurai dates back thousands of years- almost to 6th century B.C. It was a key commercial center for the Pandya dynasty that ruled the place. The temple is said to have been constructed somewhere around this time Pandyan Kings.
There’s a lot of myth around the temple. The Meenakshi temple is believed to have been founded by Indra (king of Deva celestial deities).While he was on a pilgrimage to atone for his misdeeds. He felt his burden lifting as he neared the swayambu lingam (self formed lingam, a representation of Shiva used for worship in temples) of Madurai. He ascribed this miracle to the lingam and constructed the temple to enshrine it. Indra worshipped Shiva, who caused golden lotuses to appear in the nearby pool.
Tamil Literature speaks of the temple over the last two millennia. Tirugnanasambandar, the famous Hindu saint of Saiva philosophy, mentioned this temple as early as the 7th century, and described the deity as Alavai Iraivan. The temple is believed to have been sacked by the infamous Muslim invader Malik Kafur in 1310 and all the ancient elements were destroyed.
The initiative to rebuild the structure was taken by first Nayak king of Madurai, Viswanatha Nayak (1559–1600) under the supervision of Ariyanatha Mudaliar, the prime minister of the Nayak Dynasty and the founder of the Poligar System. The original design by Vishwanatha Nayak in 1560 was substantially expanded to the current structure during the reign of Thirumalai Nayak (1623–55). He took considerable interest in erecting many complexes inside the temple. His major contributions are the Vasantha Mandapam for celebrating vasanthorsavam (spring festival) and Kilikoondu Mandapam (corridor of parrots). The corridors of the temple tank and Meenatchi Nayakar Mandapam were built by Rani Mangammal.
Rous Peter (1786–1828), the Collector of Madurai in 1812, was nicknamed 'Peter Pandian’ as he respected and treated people of all faiths equally. He donated a set of golden stirrups studded with diamonds and red stones to the temple. Goddess Meenatchi is believed to have saved Rous Peter from a fatal incident. He also wished that after his death, his body be buried in a position that would enable his eyes to face the temple.
During the period of early pandyan kings, the king taxed the people for constructing this temple. People paid taxes and donations in the form of gold and silver. But the king wanted contribution as low as a bag of rice which would help in feeding the masons who constructed the temple. So the kings collected one handful of rice daily from every house. This would make few bags of rice in the month end. Thus people from all sectors of life contributed in building the temple. Thus, every family has an emotional attachment towards the temple.