Popularly known as Athens of the East, Madurai, like Varanasi, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in India. Situated on the banks of Vaigai River in Tamil Nadu, the city is renowned across the world for its Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple.
Madurai dons many hats. It is a pilgrim town, a popular tourist destination, a cultural hotspot, Pandyan imperial capital, besides being famous for its food and cuisine, impressive architecture, shopping and endearing people.
Madurai is known by several names. 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) are among the soubriquets of the city. The city even finds mention in the Tamil classical epic Silappatikaram. The epic revolves around Kannagi who avenges her husband’s death by destroying the Pandyan kingdom. The city’s recorded history goes back to the 3rd century BC. It is mentioned by Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to India and Kautilya.
The Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple is the geographical centre and the fulcrum around which the daily life of the locals revolves. Laid out in the shape of square, a series of concentric streets culminating from the temple. The squares named after Tamil month names – Aadi, Chittirai, Avani-moola and Masi streets –have retained their traditional names. The original temple was sacked by Muslim invader Malik Kafur in 1310. The present structure is believed to have been built during 1623 to 1655 CE.
Besides being a pilgrimage town, Madurai is an important industrial hub of Tamil Nadu. Motorcycle major TVS group, IT and ITES majors like Satyam, textile industries and industrial units connected to automobiles are located in Madurai. The city also exports its famed jasmine flowers known as Madurai Malligai.
The city also played a major role in the Indian independence movement. Mahatma Gandhi decided to switch to wearing a loin cloth after seeing agricultural labourers wearing it in Madurai. Madurai’s festivals are also popular and also attract lots of visitors. Meenakshi Tirukalyanam, the 10-day annual festival celebrated during April–May, attracts over one million visitors. The Jallikattu, the game of taming of angry bulls, is similar to the Pampalona Bull Run held in Spain.
Madurai also serves as the gateway to hill stations like Kodaikanal and Munnar and to the famous wildlife hot spot Periyar National Park.
WHERE TO STAY IN MADURAI
Madurai offers a plethora of options for stay. Right from hostels, budget, mid-range to star hotels, the temple city offers it all. Though many of the budget accommodations are located close to the railway station, some are located close to the Meenakshi temple. Madurai is a small town and options to travel in the city are also available, so distances should not be a concern. Most of the luxury hotels are located within a 10 km radius of the airport. Weather tends to be quite hot in summer, so it is advisable to book AC rooms.
WHERE TO EAT IN MADURAI
Hotels, shops and markets in Madurai function 24×7 and it is not for nothing that the city is called Thoonga Nagaram(city that never sleeps). You can get food at any time of the day or night. The city offers some unique flavored drinks like Jigarthanda and Paruthi Pal.
From street stalls to high end restaurants, the city offers it all. Despite being a temple town, restaurants in the city also serve non vegetarian food. Beware! Non vegetarian dishes tend to be very hot and it is not for the faint hearted.
Vegetarians need not despair. Eateries serving authentic Iyengar style meals and breakfast can be found in the city. Some restaurants also offer Rajasthani thalis. Chinese, continental and Chettinad cuisine can be savoured in addition to the ubiquitous South Indian specialities.
The average minimum and maximum temperature of Madurai is as given below. The best time to visit Madurai is also specified.