Madurai

The cultural capital of Tamil Nadu and one of India’s oldest cities, Madurai (earlier called Madura) is a medieval pilgrimage hub steeped in 5th century history. With a place on the spiritual map of the world and a booming IT economy, the city perfectly encapsulates the contrasts of modern day India.

The famous Meenakshi Amman temple, located in the heart of the city, put Madurai on the tourism map of India and the rest of the world, and justifiably so. Built almost 2500 years ago on the banks of the Vaigai River, this magnificent temple, features a grandiose ceiling adorned with ancient paintings and a whopping 33,000 sculptures. The city’s significance as a pilgrimage hub for Hindus has earned it the nickname of Koil maanagar – temple city. It is here that pilgrims, architecture enthusiasts and the curious can glimpse into the opulence of 5th century Dravidian architecture which stands, in striking contrast with present day life in this urban Indian city. Don’t miss the daily evening aarti (prayers) at the Meenakshi Amman Temple, an invigorating experience with traditional chants and rituals, under the crimson hues of the setting sun.

Continuously inhabited since the 4th century, Madurai traded goods with ancient Rome, played host to Arab sailors, and found a mention in ancient Greek texts, before Chennai, the present day capital of Tamil Nadu, was even born. In more recent times, Madurai has become entrenched in the Tamil language and culture, home to a homogeneous population of Tamils (as opposed to Chennai which is more metropolitan), it takes great pride in the significant role it plays in promoting the Tamil language through Sangams, a language academy run by Tamil language scholars.

Madurai is well connected to the rest of India through flights, roadways, trains and with a small international airport, it makes for an interesting cultural transit point for travelers on their way to Kanyakumari and South Kerala. Located on the shores of the mostly dry Vaigai River, Madurai experiences hot, tropical weather all year round. Summers (May-June) are hot and dusty, and best avoided. The city receives moderate to heavy monsoon rains from July to August and; the winter months from October to March offer the most pleasant weather.

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