Madurai Meenakshi Temple (also known as Meenakshi-Sundaresvara Temple or Meenakshi Amman Temple)

The focal point of the city of Madurai, the Meenakshi-Sundaresvara Temple is dedicated to two deities, Shiva (known locally as Sundareshvara) and Meenakshi (a form of Shiva’s consort, Parvati), each with a separate shrine set within its own walled area inside the larger complex. According to legend, Meenakshi emerged from a sacrificial fire as a young girl in answer to the prayers of the childless Hindu Pandya king of Madurai, Malayadvaja. The king adopted the girl, but was concerned that she had three breasts. A divine voice told him that Meenakshi’s extra breast would disappear after she met her rightful consort.

Meenakshi grew up to become a fierce warrior and, during a skirmish against Shiva’s armies at Mount Kailash, the god’s Himalayan home, she saw him on the battlefield and immediately lost her third breast. Meenakshi recognized Shiva as her divine consort, as she was the incarnation of his wife, Parvati, and they were married. Together they ruled the Pandya kingdom and subsequently became the presiding deities of the Madurai temple.

The immense, rectangular temple’s layout is based on a mandala, a grid with concentric squares, surrounded by a high wall. Initially built by the city’s Pandya king, Kulasekara, in the 13th century CE, the temple was badly damaged in the early fourteenth century following the establishment of Muslim rule in Madurai. Most of the present complex dates from the 16th and 17th centuries, during the rule of the Nayak dynasty.

Renowned for its enormity (843 feet by 787 feet) and design, the complex’s main sanctums, to Shiva and Meenakshi, feature ancillary shrines and large, columned halls (mandapa), with one containing nearly 1,000 richly carved pillars. Other features include its numerous sculptures, 12 towered gateways (gopuras), and sacred tank, known as the Golden Lotus Tank, where devotees take baths before a puja (religious ritual).

Source: PBS

You can take a virtual tour of the Temple here.


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MADURAI: Androgynous, epicene, neutrois, retransitioner, transfeminine, transmasculine, cross-dressers…the list is long. For those wondering what these terms mean, the answer is these are genders, according to M Gopi Shankar, a student of American College in Madurai. 

"What we know as genders are male, female and transgender. But there are more than 25 other genders biologically identified and accepted through recent medical research worldwide," says Shankar 

"But not many, even among medical fraternity are aware of the existence of so many genders," adds Shankar, who is also the founder of Srishti, a student gender queer group. 

For instance, only transwomen - male to female - are considered transgender totally ignoring the existence of transmen - female to male, he says. 

It was this lack of awareness that prompted the 22-year-old to pen a book in English as well as Tamil on the gender variants. 

The book has been completed and is slated for release next month. Even before the book is to be released, it is being translated in French, German and Spanish. 

Shankar claims such a book has not been written anywhere in the world yet. In the book, he has coined Tamil names for the different gender identifications. 

After English, Tamil is the only language that has been given names for all the genders identified so far, according to Shankar. 

"The book is a scientific, sociological, anthropological, psycho analytical, religious, philosophical and political take on gender. There is scattered information on these genders variants, but no authoritative book. I have stratified and labelled each of the genders," the young writer says. 

The yet to be named book also interprets references to alternative genders in Hindu mythology, the Holy Quran and the Holy Bible. 

"Indian culture is abundant with legends and mythologies where heroes and heroines have chosen various genders. Ironically, today the western nations are progressive in researching and educating about gender and sexuality expressions, while we, despite our rich cultural heritage of respecting and accepting gender variations, are lagging behind and even lacking that sensitivity," says the American College student. 

The writer has spent more than one-and-a-half years researching, gathering data, poring though religious texts, visiting temples and meeting people of various genders and experts in the field. 

"I travelled across rural Tamil Nadu, Kolkata, Kerala, Karnataka and to the UK," he says. 

In addition to gender, the book also talks about various types of sexuality. 

"Besides homosexuals, heterosexuals and bisexuals, there are 15 types of sexual orientations like translesbians and transgays," says Shankar.