Meenakshi Amman Temple – Legends
Meenakshi is an avatar of the Hindu goddess Parvati - the consort of Shiva, one of the few Hindu female deities said to have a major temple devoted to her. The name "Minachchi" means fish-eyed and is derived from the words "mina" meaning fish and "akshi" meaning eyes. The lady goddess Meenakshi is the principal deity of the temple, not Sundareswarar, unlike most Shiva temples in South India where Shiva is the principal deity.
According to Hindu legend, in order to answer the prayers of the second Pandya king Malayadwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai, Parvati appeared out of the holy fire of the Putra Kameshti Yagna (sacrifice for childhood) performed by the king.
According to another legend, the goddess herself gave notice to Kanchanamalai in one of her previous births that Kanchanamalai would have the privilege of mothering the goddess. The girl who came out of the holy fire had three breasts. A voice from the heavens told the king not to worry about the abnormality and added that the third breast would vanish as soon as the girl met her future husband. The happy king named the girl "Tadaatagai" and as the heir to the throne, Tadaatagai was trained carefully in all the 64 shastras, the fields of science.
As the time came for Tadaatagai's coronation, she had to wage war in three worlds encompassing eight directions. After conquering Brahma's Abode, Sathyaloka, Vishnu's Abode, Vaikunta, and Devas' abode Amaravathi, she advanced to Shiva's Abode Kailasha. She very easily defeated the Bhootha ganas (meaning Shiva's army) and Nandi, the celestial bull of Shiva, and headed to attack and conquer Shiva.
The moment she looked at Shiva, she was unable to fight and bowed her head down due to shyness, and the third breast vanished immediately. Tadaatagai realized that Shiva was her destined husband. She also realized that she was the incarnation of Parvati. Both Shiva and Tadaatagai returned to Madurai and the king arranged the coronation ceremony of his daughter, followed by her marriage with Shiva.
The marriage was to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. Vishnu, the brother of Meenakshi, prepared to travel from his holy abode at Vaikundam to preside over the marriage. Due to a divine play, he was tricked by the Deva, Indra and was delayed on the way.
Brahmma the Creator conducted the marriage as per Vedic rules. Lord Shiva tied the wedding knot to Mother on Panguni Uthira star day – March-April. Indeed, those who had the rare opportunity of being the guests for the divine wedding were blessed lots. Lord Shiva assumed charge of the government. The Bull Flag was replaced by a flag with Fish symbol. He assumed the name of Soma Sundara – Soundara Pandya. His Shiva Ganas came to earth as humans. Lord Shiva was a kind king to ordinary humans, a lion to enemies and a Guru to ascetics.
After the marriage, the pair ruled over Madurai for a long time and then assumed divine forms as Sundareswarar and Meenakshi, the presiding deities of the temple. Following the tradition, every evening, before closing the temple, a ritual procession led by drummers and a brass ensemble carries the image of Sundareswarar to Meenakshi’s bedroom to consummate the union, to be taken back the next morning in dawn. The marriage is celebrated annually as Chithirai Thiruvizha in Madurai. During the period of Nayakar rule in Madurai, the ruler Thirumalai Nayakar linked the festival Azhakar Thiruvizha and the Meenakshi wedding ceremony.
This scene is seen depicted in the temple. Meenakshi & Sundareswarar ruled Madurai before returning to Kailasam. A lotus shaped city is said to have been built by the Pandyan king Kulasekhara around the Siva linga worshipped by Indra in the forest of Kadamba trees. When Lord Siva came to bless them, nectar dripped from his matted locks & hence the city was named Madhurapuri (madhu - honey), & is now known as Madurai.
Another legend says that being Lord Vishnu’s sister Meenakshi was to be ceremoniously given away by him. But Lord Indra played prank on him and he was unable to do so. In atonement, Indra went on a pilgrimage. He felt his sins wash away as he reached a lingam (a representation of Shiva) in Madurai that was believed to have been self manifested. He constructed a temple over it and worshipped Shiva there. During his prayers golden lotuses appeared in the temple pond, like the one which is present in the pond to this day.
The name of Mother-Goddess is Meenakshi, which in chaste Tamil is known as Angayarkanni, meaning her eyes are in the shape of a fish. As the fish protects its eggs with its eye sight, so protects Mother Meenakshi her devotee with a very look of her eyes. The fish does not have eye lash, so the eyes never close and ever open. Similarly, Mother never closes her eyes and keeps them ever open day in and day out without twinkling to take care of her devotees. (Unmesha nimishodhpanna vipanna bhuvanavali-Sri Lalitha Sahasranama).
Mother Meenakshi has many names as Pachai Devi, Maragathavalli, Thadathagai, Abishekavalli, Abhiramavalli, Kayarkan Kumari, Karpooravalli, Kumari Thurayal, Komagal, Sundaravalli, Pandipiratti, Madurapuri Thalaivi, Manickavalli, and Mummulai Tiruvazhumagal.
Lord Nataraja changing legs in dance: The divine wedding of Mother Meenakshi with Lord Shiva was going on in a grand way. The divine couples invited the Devas and Maharshis for lunch. Sages Patanjali and Vykrapada told the Lord that they use to eat only after seeing his dance in the Golden Hall-Ponnambalam. This is in Chidambaram. With a view to respect the principle of the Rishis, Lord created a Silver Hall (Velli Ambalam) in the Meenakshi Amman Temple itself and performed His divine dance. Their joy knowing no bounds, the Rishis enjoyed the wedding lunch also.
Rajasekhara Pandian, son of Vikrama Pandian who ruled Madurai was a master of 63 of the 64 arts, the one remaining was dancing. He thought that while Lord Nataraja is ever dancing, how he could learn the art. Meantime, he came to know that Karikala Chozha, his counterpart in Chola kingdom, was a master of all the 64 arts including dancing. Pandian decided that he too learn this art and experienced the pain of learning dancing. Happy with his mastery over all the arts, he came to Lord Shiva seeking his blessings. Experiencing the pain during the practice of art, he thought how the Lord could endure this pain as he is dancing for ever without any break. He wondered how the Devas and Rishis never thought of this difficulty of the Lord. He was hesitant to put this question to Lord when great souls remained mute.
Shivrathri came. After completing four pujas, Rajasekhara Pandian stood before the Lord and spoke with tears, “Oh! Lord, you are dancing on only one leg for long. Can’t you change the leg for me? If you don’t, I shall plant my sword before you and fall on that and end myself.” So saying, he closed his eyes in meditation. When he opened his eyes, he was excited to see the Lord dancing with his right leg pressing the left on the stage. Lord could not see his devote suffering from any reason. The king sang in praise of the Lord’s response to his prayers. He also secured a boon from the Lord that he would stay in Madurai in the same dancing form.
In his celebrated Epic Thiruvilayadal Puranam, inspired poet Paranjothi Munivar describes this episode very beautifully in the 24th Chapter. This is the 6th of the 64 Tiruvilayadals (graceful incidents) of Lord Shiva.
Lord the Siddha: During the rule of Abhisheka Pandian, Lord Soma Sundara-Meenakshisundaram was going round the parts of Madurai doing miracles in the guise of a Siddha. He made the aged a youth, man the woman, iron to gold, lame to run, dumb to sing, dancing on a needle by the toe and many such bone chilling acts. Informed of the miracles happening in the city, Abishek Pandian summoned Siddha to his court. As those who went to Siddha did not return, the king sent his minister. The Siddha told the minister that he had no use of the king and said that the king may come to see him if he so desires.
Knowing that the king was coming to see him, the Siddha entered Meenakshi Temple and went into deep meditation facing northwest. (The place where the Siddha went in is in front of the Durga shrine on the Meenakshisundareswarar shrine prakara). The king’s men could not disturb the meditation of the Siddha and their raised hands simply stood up as it were.
The shocked king spoke to Siddha and offered his wishes if any. Siddha opened his eyes and said that he was all in the universe and that he was the origin and end of the world moving everywhere. “I give my people the boon they wish. I am a Siddha of supreme capabilities.” The king asked the Siddha if he could make the stone elephant eat the sugar cane in his hand. Siddha just cast his look on the stone. In fraction of a second, the statue got life, picked not only the sugar cane and ate it but also snatched the jewel on the chest of the king. The king fell at the feet of the Siddha-Shiva, sought his pardon and child boon. The king was blessed with a son. The Siddha was known as Sundaranandar.
Expressing their gratitude to the Lord, devotees build flower tents and worship the Siddha. Murthy Nayanar, born in a trader community on Kruthika star day in the month Aadi (July-August) and belonging to the congregation of 63 Saivite Nayanmars was serving the Lord by grinding sandal for his pujas. Madurai was then under the rule of a king who was a coward. Taking advantage of the weakness of the country, Karnataka king invaded Madurai, defeated the king and had Madurai as his capital. As a Jain, he began to harass Shiva devotees, brought the Gurus to spread Jainism. He prevented the growth and spread of Saivism and did not allow renovations of temples. He also prevented supply of sandalwood to Murthy Nayanar.
Though Nayanar could not get sandalwood for Lord’s puja, he ventured to use his hand as sandalwood and began to grind. He began to bleed. Bones were damaged. Pleased with the steadfast devotion of Nayanar, Lord appeared before him and suggested to wage a war against the Karnataka king, recover the land from the enemy and ensured salvation to him. Nayanar’s hands were immediately cured. Karnataka king’s end also came in. His rule too came to an end. Saivism got a new lease of life. Karnataka king had no heir to succeed him.
As was the custom then to choose a king, ministers of Madurai gave a garland to an elephant. The one garlanded by the elephant shall be the king of the region. Murthy Nayanar was the choice of the elephant. Nayanar refused to accept precious jewels and offered to rule the city wearing only Rudraksha, sacred ash the Vibhuti etc. The land was prosperous under Nayanar’s rule. After long years of service to the subjects of the region, Nayanar attained the Lotus feet of Lord Shiva.
This is a temple speaking volumes of the glory of Tamil culture and arts with live statues and idols, stones singing and great literatures produced by eminent scholar poets. There are live paintings all over the temple depicting the Tiruvilayadals of the Lord. Prose, poetry, plays all three forms of Tamil language – Iyal, Isai & Natakam reached the peak of glory.
It is here that Pottramarai Kulam – the tank with golden lotus came into being offering flowers to Indira for Shiva puja. There are no fish or water creatures in the tank. There are temples on four directions within the Madurai city known as Inner Aavaranas. There are also four temples on the outer limits of the city. Tiruparankundram on the east, Tiruvedagam on the west, Tiruvappanur on the North and Tirupuvanam on the south are these Temples. The inner Aavaranam consists of Chokkanathar temple worshipped by Kubera, the temple where Lord worshipped himself-Immayil Nanmai Tharuvar temple- Iravadhanallur Muktheeswarar Temple worshipped by white elephant Iravadham and the Then Tiru Alavai temple worshipped by Yama the God of Death.