Meenakshi Amman Temple – Thousand Pillar Hall (Mandapam)
One of the most exciting and unique features as far as the architecture concerned here is the 1000 pillar mandapam. This pavilion is at the juncture of the northern and eastern Adi streets. The mandapam was built by the Ariyanatha Mudaliar. Continuous additions were made to the mandapam by the Kings from time to time.
Kampathadi Mandapam and the tower that has nine stories have been built by Krishna Veerappa Naicker.
Even though it is well documented that this structure was constructed in 1569 A.D by Ariyanatha Mudaliyar, there is an interesting local anecdote. Once upon a time a dwarf appeared before Meenakshi and challenged her to a sword fight. Meenakshi laughed at him, because he was only as tall as a one year old. However, the dwarf insisted that he could defeat anyone in a fight. So, she summoned her army chieftain to fight the dwarf.
To her surprise, the dwarf defeated the army chieftain in seconds and killed him. Meenakshi realized that the dwarf possessed magical powers. So, she gave him an impossible challenge. He had to build a structure with 1000 pillars in a day. If he succeeded, it would be Meenakshi's turn to build a similar structure.
The dwarf started chanting mantras and the nearby mountain split into rectangular rocks and pillars. He started arranging the pillars and towards dawn, he had set up the structure with 985 pillars, only 15 pillars were remaining. So, he took a nap deciding to wake up when the first ray of sunlight hits him. He still had plenty of time as he had time until noon. However, clever Meenakshi threw her earring into the sky which completely covered the sun, making the dwarf sleep until the afternoon.
The dwarf admitted his defeat and burnt himself to ashes. This is why the structure of "1000 pillar hall" has 985 pillars, instead of 1000. This story is very similar to the dwarf of Uxmal, but the dwarf won the challenge in Uxmal.
Thousand Pillar Hall
It is located in the northeast corner of the complex. The Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam ("Hall of 1000 pillars") has two rows of pillars carved with images of yali (mythological beast with body of lion and head of an elephant), commonly used as the symbol of Nayak power. It is situated to the north of Sundareswarar flag staff hall.
The Thousand Pillar Hall contains 985 (instead of 1000) carved pillars. The hall was built by Ariyanatha Mudaliar in 1569 and blends engineering skill and artistic vision. Ariyanatha Mudaliar was prime minister and general of Viswanatha Nayak, the first Nayaka of Madurai (1559–1600). He was also the founder of Poligar System, the quasi-feudal organization of the country dividing it into multiple palayams or small provinces in which each Palayam was ruled by a Palayakkarar or a petty chief.
At the entrance of the hall is the statue of Ariyanatha Mudaliar seated on a horse-back, flanking one side of the entrance to the temple. The statue is periodically garlanded by worshippers. Each pillar in the hall is a carved monument of the Dravidian sculpture.
The more prominent among the carved figures are those of Rati (wife of Kama), Karthikeya, Ganesha, and Shiva as a wandering mendicant and endless number of yalis (mythical figures of lions), a lady playing the vina, a dancing Ganesh, and a gypsy leading a monkey.
There is a Temple Art Museum in the hall where icons, photographs, drawings, and other exhibits of the 1200 years old history of the temple are displayed. Just outside this hall, towards the west, are the Musical Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different musical note.