How to Visit the Wonders of Madurai Meenakshi Temple

The Madurai Meenakshi temple in Tamil Nadu in the south of India is one of those temples that you can not describe in words. It’s a place that you need to experience with all your senses. The sounds of the temple bells, the smell of sweets and incense, the sight of beautiful carvings and paintings.

The Madurai Meenakshi temple can be an explosion of colours, but at the same time a tranquil and peaceful place. Then there is the chaos and India’s characteristic hustle and bustle, but also the serenity and spirituality. In short, it is one of those Indian experiences that will stay with you.

The thousand pillar hall at the Madurai Meenakshi temple
The Madurai Meenakshi temple

The Madurai Meenakshi temple

India has thousands of temples, but the Madurai Meenakshi temple is something special. Of all the places and temples I have visited in India, it remains one of the most impressive ones I have seen.

Nobody knows how old the temple really is. Madurai itself is among the oldest cities in India and ancient literature mentions the existence of a large and important temple as early as the 6th century. In its long history the temple survived several invasions and destructions.

The current structure of the Madurai Meenakshi temple was build by the Tamil rulers of the Nayak dynasty in the 16th and 17th century and is an example of the Dravidian style common in South India.

The temple is dedicated to Meenakshi, a form of Parvati, who married Shiva. Therefore it is a Shiva temple, but unlike most Shiva temples in South India, he is not the principal deity. Devotees come to pray to the goddess Meenakshi. Meenakshi means fish eyed in Hindu mythology. She was a fierce meat eating goddess before she married Shiva and took her current form.

One of the legends claims that Meenakshi was born as a princess with three breasts, but a prophecy stated that she would marry the man who could defeat her in battle. This man turned out to be Lord Shiva, who descended to earth and defeated Meenakshi in battle. After their marriage, Meenakshi lost her third breast and became a goddess.

The Madurai Meenakshi Temple quickly became one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India, attracting thousands of devotees each year. The temple complex is an architectural marvel, featuring towering gopurams (gateway towers), elaborately carved pillars, and a sprawling inner courtyard.

Carved deity at the Madurai Meenakshi temple
One of the 30,000 sculptures at the Madurai Meenakshi temple

Things to do in the Madurai Meenakshi temple

The Madurai Meenakshi temple is a huge complex of high walls, impressive gateways and sacred spaces where it is easy to lose yourself among the more than 30,000 sculptures. There is even a bazaar and a museum, all within the Madurai Meenakshi temple complex.

Don’t think a quick sneek peek inside can satisfy you. A visit to the Madurai Meenakshi temple can easily take up your whole day. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful temples in India along with the Belur and Halebid temples and the temples in Hampi in Karnataka.

Meenakshi temple gopurams

The Madurai Meenakshi temple has no less than 14 richly decorated towers called gopurams. Four of them form the colorful entrance gates.

The south entrance is the tallest, being 52 meters high and the eastern gate is the oldest. All of them have detailed carvings of more than 2000 gods, goddesses, animals and demons that depict stories from ancient Hindu texts.

Insider tip: The main entrance is at the eastern gate, but this is also where the line to get in is longest. The entrance at the southern gate is sometimes more quiet.

Insider tip 2: Remember the gate that you enter through as this is where you need to exit as well to get back your belongings. Like any Indian temple you should take off your shoes, but in Madurai they are quite strict and you can also not bring bags, cameras, water bottles etc. Each gate has lockers where you can leave your stuff

Insider tip 3: There is no toilet inside the temple so make sure you go before you enter.

Detailed Snapshot of one of the gopurams at the Madurai Meenakshi temple
Detailed Snapshot of one of the gopurams at the Madurai Meenakshi temple

Golden Lotus pool

The Madurai Meenakshi temple is so big that it is easy to loose your way. No matter how lost you are in time and space, at some point you will find yourself back at the courtyard with the sacred golden lotus pool.

This is at the center of the Madurai Meenakshi temple and offers nice views on the colorful gopuram towers

The Meenakshi and Shiva shrine

For Hindus the Meenakshi and Shiva shrines are probably the most sacred places within the Madurai Meenakshi temple and you will see long lines of people waiting to get inside. There are some other smaller shrines as well.

Non Hindus are not allowed to see the inner sanctums, but don’t worry. If you are not religious you won’t miss much. There is more than enough to see in and around the shrines including a large number of impressive sculptures. One of my favourites was the large Ganesh statue near the Shiva shrine.

Ganesh statue at the Madurai Meenakshi temple
Daily prayer at the Ganesh statue

The thousand pillar hall

The thousand pillar hall is one of the highlights of the Madurai Meenakshi temple. There are indeed almost a 1000 pillars. 985 to be exact. All of them have carved statues of Hindu deities including mythological figures. Look out for the Yaali, a mythical hybrid of a lion and elephant.

The thousand pillar hall at the Madurai Meenakshi temple
Thousand pillar hall

Musical Pillars

Just outsides the thousand pillar hall are the musical pillars. These pillars are special, because they produce musical notes when you tap on them.

These musical pillars can be found in several old temples in South India including the Vittala temple in Hampi.

Watch Hindu Ceremonies

Madurai is the spiritual heart of Tamil Nadu and 20,000 pilgrims visit the temple every day. It sometimes reminded me of Varanasi, because there is something interesting happening around every corner.

Families come here to seek their blessings after important life events. New born babies and couples that just got married all celebrate this in the presence of the gods.

Marriage ceremony at the Madurai Meenakshi temple
Marriage ceremony going on in the Madurai Meenakshi temple

Evening Ceremony

Besides the private family ceremonies going in, there are also 6 daily prayer ceremonies that are performed by the priests of the temple. The most impressive ceremony is the daily night ceremony that starts at 09:15 PM when the idol of Lord Shiva is brought to the shrine of Meenakshi where he will spend the night. This is done in a procession with lots of chanting and singing.

Madurai Meenakshi temple food

You can not bring any food or drinks into the Madurai Meenakshi temple. Luckily the temple has its own kitchen and provides good and cheap food for those that visit the temple.

In fact, trying some of the temple food at one of the stalls is one of the best things to do in the Madurai Meenakshi temple. Whether you want to snack away on some of the delicious temple sweets or have a substantial meal. Here are some of the things worth trying

Chakkarai pongal – sweet rice with lentils, nuts and raisins.

Puliyodharai – tamarind rice with peanuts

Murukku – deep fried crunchy snack from rice and urad dal flour

Appam – Sweet fried snacks with rice flour and jaggery

Ladoo – Sweets made from butter, flour and sugar

Vada – deep fried fritters from chana dal

Ladoo and Appam
Ladoo and Appam

Madurai Meenakshi temple souvenirs

Besides food there is also a small market in the Madurai Meenakshi temple where you might be able to find some unique souvenirs like idols and bangles.

Elephant souvenirs in the Madurai Meenakshi temple
Elephant souvenirs in the Madurai Meenakshi temple

Madurai beyond the Meenakshi temple

While the Madurai Meenakshi temple is Madurai’s biggest attraction there is of course much more to this city than temples alone. Madurai’s colorful and peaceful streets are a joy to wander around in and I found Madurai to be very clean and peaceful for an Indian city. The food scene is also a great reason to stay a bit longer in Madurai.

Madurai market

The history of the Madurai Meenakshi temple extends into the lively market opposite the temple where business continues among old temple ruins which is a strange combination. Don’t miss this market to do some last minute souvenir shopping. Madurai is famous for silk, cotton and jasmine.

market in Madurai
Madurai bazaar
Sarees for sale in Madurai
Silk Sarees

Thirumalai Nayakkar palace

Like the Mysore palace, the Thirumalai Nayakkkar palace is a strange colorful mix of different styles. The European influences in its design are obvious, but it also kept a truly unique Indian atmosphere and outlook with its Rajput and Dravidian architecture.

It was built in the 17th century as the palace for king Thirumalai Nayakar and was one of the wonders of South India.

Food walking tours

Madurai is one of the best cities in tamil Nadu to try Tamil cuisine as well as local specialities. Vanakkam Madurai offers food tours where you get to try some of the best street food in Madurai.

The Madurai Meenakshi temple travel tips

Entrance

The Madurai Meenakshi temple is open every day from 5 AM till 12:30 and from 16:00 till 21:30. Foreigners need to pay an entrance fee of 50 rupees.

Where to sleep

Madurai has a range of accomodation options. Good budget places are Criston homestay and Mani’s residency. Also check Oyo rooms that sometimes have good budget deals.

How to get there

Madurai is an easy detour if you are travelling in Kerala or a must if you are visiting Tamil Nadu. There are buses from the following towns: Fort Kochi (8 hours), Munnar (4 hours), Thekkady (3,5 hours), Kodaikanal (3 hours) & Chennai (8 hours).

Madurai is also well connected by train. You can check time tables and book your tickets online directly through the Indian railways (IRCTC). Unfortunately this is not always a straightforward process. For a small extra fee you can use 12goAsia or Makemytrip

How to get around

Uber and Ola: Uber is a good way to get around in Madurai, but India has its own similar business called Ola cabs that is even more popular. The good thing about both Ola and Uber is that it is cheaper than a tuk tuk and you do not need to negotiate the price or explain where you need to go. Both offer a pool option in which you share your ride with others that makes it even more affordable.

Ola also has a tuk tuk option that is one of the best and most affordable way to travel for shorter distances. I never had to wait long for a Ola or Uber to come and most of the time when I ordered the pool option I had no other passengers.

Tuk tuks: There is of course always the option of stopping a tuk tuk on the road, but be prepared to negotiate about the price.

When to visit

The best time to visit the Madurai Meenakshi temple is between October and March. In October temperatures cool down and you might have a chance to join the festivities for Dussehra and Diwali. India’s biggest festivals.

Temperatures remain pleasant till March. In April and May it becomes extremely hot. In June it is the start of the monsoon that lasts till September and will see lots of rainfall.

Temple etiquette

The Madurai Meenaksi temple attracts both tourists as well as religious pilgrims. Therefore it is important to dress modestly. For both men and women this means that it is best to cover your legs and shoulders.

Like most temples in India you should take off your shoes. My advice is to bring shoes that you can take off easily and that you can recognize among all the others. There will be a person in charge of the shoes and it is custom to give a few rupees (10 rupees should be enough).

You can hire a guide if you like. It will certainly enrich your experience as the temple is huge and there are a lot of things going on. Do negotiate a price beforehand.

Sustainable travel to the Madurai Meenakshi Temple

The Madurai Meenakshi temple is one of the top tourist sites in Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu is a beautiful state, but to preserve its culture, it is important to be aware of the possible negative impacts mass tourism can have.

Support the local community: You can support the community by purchasing goods and services from local vendors, artisans, markets and restaurants. It is better to try South Indian cuisine that uses local ingredients rather than imported foreign foods. South Indian food is very vegetarian friendly and it is easy to follow a vegan diet.

Stay in small scale sustainable hotels: It is also better to stay in locally-owned guesthouses or homestays to support the local economy directly. These accommodations often have a more positive impact on the environment compared to large hotels.

Where possible, I can recommend staying in a homestay for an authentic cultural experience. You might want to bring a small book with pictures of your family to break the ice.

You can also try to look for guesthouses or homestays that prioritizes sustainable practices. That said, environmental awareness is still low. It’s up to you to use water sparsely, turn off lights, air conditioning, and heating when leaving your accommodation.

Use public transport: Tamil Nadu has a well-developed public transportation system. It is easy to reach Madurai by train or bus. Opt for public transport, whenever possible, instead of private cars to reduce carbon emissions.

Leave no trace principle: I encourage you to take all your trash back with you when you visit the Madurai Meenakshi temple and don’t leave any trash behind. In other words, leave no trace of your visit. Even better is when you bring something to pick up any of the trash that other people left behind.

Respect the culture: Besides environmental concerns it is also important to respect the culture. People will appreciate it, if you dress modestly. Learning a few basic phrases in Tamil, can go a long way in building meaningful connections and to learn more about the local culture. Not everybody is happy to have their picture taken. When in doubt, ask permission.

DisclaimerThis post about the Madurai Meenakshi temple contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!



9 thoughts on “How to Visit the Wonders of Madurai Meenakshi Temple”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *