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MADURAI

Madurai is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the third largest city and the second largest municipal corporation in Tamil Nadu. Located on the banks of River Vaigai, it has been a major settlement for two millennia and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

The city is believed to be of significant antiquity and has been ruled, at different times, by the Early Pandyas, Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Later Pandyas, Madurai Sultanate, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Chanda Sahib, Carnatic kingdom, and the British. The city has a number of historical monuments, with the Meenakshi Amman Temple and Tirumalai Nayak Palace being the most prominent.

The word Madurai is derived from Madhura (sweetness) arising out of the divine nectar showered on the city by the Hindu god Shiva from his matted hair. Another theory is that Madurai is the derivative of the word Marutham, which refers to the type of landscape of the Sangam age. The city is referred by various names like "Madurai", "Koodal", "Malligai Maanagar", "Naanmadakoodal" and "Thirualavai".

Madurai is built around the Meenakshi Amman Temple, which acted as the geographic and ritual center of the ancient city of Madurai. The city is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular streets around the temple. These squares retain their traditional names of Aadi, Chittirai, Avani-moola and Masi streets, corresponding to the Tamil month names and also to the festivals associated. Ancient Tamil classics record the temple as the center of the city and the surrounding streets appearing liken a lotus and its petals.

It was in Madurai, in 1921, that Gandhi, pre-eminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India, first adopted the loin cloth as his mode of dress after seeing agricultural labourers wearing it.

Madurai is a 'Thoonga Nagaram' i.e. a city that never sleeps. Tables and chairs are set out on pavements only after 7 o' clock in the evening. Steaming idlis, egg dosas, kari dosas and parottas can be had there till dawn. Madurai gets its name from 'Maduram' that is nectar. Not only does the food taste heavenly here, all our senses are alerted by the clanging sounds of kothu parottas getting ready, the soft steaming sounds of idlies, and burma idiyappams, the gentle hiss as dosas are prepared and the vibrant clangs of varu kadalais being sauteed. The heavenly smell of biriyan that wafts through the city forces everyone to forgo their decisions to diet.

Sundal, steamed tapioca, ground nuts, kolakkattai, urundais etc... Sourashtrian keera vadai, kepa vadai, puliyodharai and thakkali sadham, fruit salads called fruit chat is also a popular dish on the streets. Coffee, tea, bhajjis and vadas can be eaten round the clock. Madurai is a temple city and no darshan of Gods and Goddesses is complete without eating the prasadams sold here – Murukku, laddu, appams and puliyodharai.

Madurai is famous for

  • Meenakshi Amman Temple which forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500 year old city
  • Vaigai river
  • Mariamman Theppakkulam, the temple tank of Mariamman temple
  • Kazimar Big Mosque, the first Muslim place of worship in the city
  • Gandhi Memorial Museum, one of the five Gandhi Sanghralayas in India
  • The American College, started in 1881 CE – the oldest college in Madurai

(Note: The founders belong to Kazimar Street and bring a tradition making dishes like biriyani, curries, parottas, etc… from the 700 years)