Madurai, the cultural cradle of South India, is the third largest metropolitan city in the state of Tamil Nadu and the 31st biggest metropolitan city in India. It serves as the headquarters of Madurai District and the city is a place of high reverence as it treasures innumerable historic monuments and thus is also known as the Athens of east. The Vaigai river passes through Madurai which occupies about 148 square kilometres, and it is one of the oldest cities in the world. The city is identified by its significance in the Tamil literature and from 1780 BC to 3rd century AD all Tamil Sangams were held in this city. The city has been ruled by Cholas, Pandyas, Vijayanagar dynasty, Nayaks, Carnatic Empire until the British rule. The monuments built by different rulers including the famous Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple stand as testimony to their achievements, culture and architectural genius and the inscriptions on these monuments speak of their glory.
Today, the city is well established and it is ranked next to the state capital Chennai and Coimbatore in terms of industrial growth and development at the state level. Various industries such as the rubber, granite, automobile manufacturing industries flourish in and around the city and there are important educational and administrative institutions such as the Madurai Medical College and Madurai Law College. This city also boasts its own bench of Madras High Court where disputes are handled by judicial means. Many Information Technology companies have also developed branches in this city.
There are different theories on how the name “Madurai” was coined. According to the Tamil Sangam literature, Madurai is derived from the word “Marutham”, a type of land topography while another theory is that Hindu God Shiva showered sweet nectar on the city and hence the name “Madurai” was termed from the Sanskrit word “Madhura”, meaning sweetness.
The city is also referred by other names such as “Koodal”, meaning a gathering of scholars with reference to the Tamil Sangams held. “Malligai Maanagar” is another name to the city as it is famous for Malligai (Jasmine) flowers. Madurai is also popular for the junction of four temples and hence it is called “Naanmadakoodal” and it is also referred as “Thirualavai”, the reference of which can be seen in the Tevaram written by Thirugnanasambandar, Sundararar and Appar, the three prominent Nayanars of 7th-8th centuries.
Madurai, being one of the ancient cities in the world, has been continuously populated over two millennia and the description of the city was first recorded in the third century BC by a Greek ambassador, named as Megasthenes and by a minister of the Mauryan ruler Chandragupta Maurya named Kautilya. In the Tamil Sangam age, the city had served as the capital of Pandyan Empire. The city also finds place in the works of Strabo (Greek Geographer), Ptolemy (Roman Historian) and Pliny the Younger (Roman Historian).
The city was ruled by the Kalabhra dynasty after the Sangam period, Pandyas defeated them around 590 AD and later the Cholas ruled over the city in the 9th century. The city was ruled by Cholas over four centuries till they were defeated again by Pandyas who remerged powerful and took control of Madurai in the 13th century. After the demise of King Kulasekara Pandya, the city came under the control of Sultans of Delhi. In 1378 AD, Vijayanagar kingdom defeated the Sultans of Madurai and were later ousted by the Nayaks in 1559 CE. The city came under the British East India Company in 1801 and it became a planned city with industrial and political developments, thus served as the headquarters of the district of Madurai.
In 1921, during the fight for Independence, Mahatma Gandhi started to use loin cloth as his standard dress in Madurai, inspired by the farmers wearing it. Mohammad Ismail Sahib and N.M.R. Subbaraman were prominent leaders from this city during the struggle for independence. The Madras Presidency in 1939 under the guidance of its well-known and forward thinking premier C. Rajagopalachari passed the Temple Entry Authorization and Indemnity Act which removed prohibitions on Dalits entering the temple and the temple entry movement was led by A. Vaidyanatha Iyer in 1939.
Madurai had been built around the Meenakshi Amman Temple in concentric quadrangular design. In 1159–64 CE, the city was designed according to the Shilpa Shastras (the rules of architecture) by Vishwanatha Nayak, in concentric streets accommodating all the twelve months of Tamil Calendar and the streets are named after these months. This system exists even today and during festivals, the temple chariot processions take place in these streets and the size of the chariots varies progressively larger according to the size of the concentric streets. The city is described as lotus in ancient Tamil literature, with the temple being the centre and the streets representing the petals of the lotus. The axes of the city are aligned with the four gateways of the temple, which are in turn aligned with the four quarters of the compass.
Geography and Climate
Madurai’s average elevation is 101 m and is situated at 9°55'01.6"N 78°07'01.7"E and the city is divided into two halves, by the River Vaigai that flows in the northwest-southeast direction. The land is flat and fertile and paddy is the major cultivation crop. Sugarcane, millet, and cotton are also widely cultivated here. The city is hot and dry almost throughout the year with hottest months between March and July and pleasant winter months between November and February. The temperature rises up to a maximum of 43 °C during summer. During winter the temperature here is pleasant and varies between 17 °C and 33 °C.
Madurai has a population of about 35 lakh people (3.5 million people) with sex ratio of 999 females to 1000 males while the national ratio being only 929 females to 1000 males. The literacy rate of the city is about 83%, much higher than the national literacy rate. Tamil is the mother tongue of most of the people living here. Patnulkarars also form a sizeable part of the population of the city. The Patnulkarars had migrated from the area which is presently part of Gujarat to Madurai and the language spoken by them is Saurashtrian. The city has a majority of Hindus while Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Jains forming the minority community.
Administration and Politics
Madurai was upgraded to Municipal Corporation in 1974 and the corporation limit constitutes 13 Panchayats with Madurai city being the administrative headquarters of the Madurai District. It is the second oldest Municipality next to Chennai and is divided into 100 wards. An elected Mayor heads the municipality and he is assisted in his work by a Deputy Mayor. The district is represented by five elected members in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and it is also a part of Madurai Lok Sabha Constituency that elects a member of Lok Sabha of Parliament, once in every five years. The law and order in the city is enforced by the Police department headed by a Commissioner of Police.
Madurai is well connected to major districts such as Theni, Dindigul, Kanyakumari and important cities such as Chennai, Coimbatore, Trichy. The city has three major bus terminus namely Periyar Bus Stand (for intra-city buses), and Arappalayam (for intercity buses), Mattuthavani Integrated Bus Terminus (MIBT). The National and State Highways in addition to other major roads which pass through the city are NH 208, NH 45B, NH 49, NH 7, SH-73A, SH-73, SH-72A, SH-72 and SH-33.
Madurai Junction is a major railway junction in Tamil Nadu that forms the second largest revenue division of the Southern Railways next to Chennai. It connects Madurai to almost all the major cities across Tamil Nadu by train..
Madurai Airport is an important airport in the state of Tamil Nadu that offers international flight services to Dubai (UAE) and Colombo (Sri Lanka) in addition to several domestic flights which fly daily. Madurai Airport is situated about 11.5 km from Madurai city at 9°50'18.1"N 78°05'21.8"E.
Right from the Sangam age, Madurai has been a centre of learning and today, there are more than 50 higher educational institutions and about 400 primary and secondary education schools in and around the city. The American College, established in 1881 by the American Christian missionaries, is the oldest college in city. The city also emphasises on education for women from very early days and Lady Doak College is the oldest women’s college in Madurai, established in 1948. Thiagarajar College of Engineering is the oldest Engineering college in Madurai established here in the year 1957. The oldest Medical college in Madurai is the Madurai Medical College established here in the year 1954.
At present there are more than 50 schools in Madurai providing quality schooling to the students here of which the most famous are Jeevana School, TVS School, Mahathama Montessori Higher Secondary School and SBOA school.
Madurai has rich fertile soil that makes it feasible for paddy crop cultivation. Paddy is the major crop grown around the city. Apart from rice, cotton, rubber, sugarcane, and oilseed cultivation is also carried out in the fields around the city. Madurai is also famous for jasmine flowers called “Madurai Malli” that is grown on the foothills of Kodaikanal and are brought here to be sold. Rubber industries also yield a major source of revenue and companies such as Ford, Honda, and General Motors are the major consumers of the rubber-based industries in the city. Madurai is also home to a huge number of small scale IT industries.
Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple, dedicated to Hindu Goddess Parvati (Meenakshi) and Lord Shiva (Sundareshwarar) is the main landmark representing the city. The city is built around this temple and the architecture of the temple is extraordinary that made it to the list of the top 30 nominees in the selection process for the “New Seven Wonders of the World”. The temple has 14 gopurams (towers) ranging from 45-50m in height and the temple attracts visitors from all over the world.
Pazhamudhircholai, one of the six holy abodes (Aarupadaiveedu) of Hindu God Muruga is in the Solaimalai hills. Azhagar Kovil, dedicated to Lord Vishnu is also in situated on the foothills of Solaimalai hills 21 km from the city. Thiruparamkundram located at 8 km from Madurai is also one of the six holy abodes of Lord Muruga. Kazimar Big Mosque, which had been constructed by the prominent Kazi, Syed Tajuddin is the oldest mosque in the city.
A 200 year old church named St. Georges church is present near the Meenakshi Amman temple at West Avani Moola street.
Culture, tourism and entertainment
Madurai due to its historical importance attracts a huge number of tourists from around the globe. The Thirumalai Nayak Palace, in Madurai draws a number of tourists to visit the Palace in which lived the great Nayak Ruler. The palace had been constructed in 1636 AD is a national monument taken care of by the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department and is famous for the light and sound show. Rani Mangamma palace has been renovated and constructed as Museum where the blood-stained cloth of Mahatma Gandhi (worn when shot by Godse) is preserved, which inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to lead a non-violent protest against racism. Rajaji children’s park, Tamukkam ground, MGR Race course stadium are the other local sights here.
The city celebrates festivals and processions throughout the year. The most famous one here is the Meenakshi Thirukalyanam (Chithirai festival), associated with the popular legend that Azhagar (Lord Vishnu) rode horse to attend the wedding of Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Meenakshi (Goddess Parvati), is celebrated during April-May every year and more than a million visitors attend this 10-day festival, with the Car procession being an integral part of the festival. The birth of King Thirumalai Nayak is celebrated every year on a full moon day of Tamil month “Thai” (falls on January-February month) by celebrating Thepporchavam festival (float festival). The 64 sacred talents of Lord Shiva are recited during the Avanimoolam festival. Apart from these major festivals there are other festivals celebrated around the city, worshipping many deities. Madurai is also famous for the legendary sport “Jallikattu (bull taming) that is conducted in most of the prominent villages of Madurai district every year during the Pongal festival that falls in the month of January.
Media and utility services
Madurai is well sought after by the media. English dailies that publish Madurai edition are The Hindu, The Times of India, and The New Indian Express and the Tamil dailies that publish Madurai edition are the Dina Malar, Dina Mani, and Dina Thanthi. Tamil Nadu Electricity Board and Madurai City Corporation are responsible for supply and distribution of electricity and water to the city and its suburbs respectively. Communication facility is well established and the city is covered by both CDMA and GSM mobile services and broadband internet facility is also available. A new modern Passport office was instituted in 2007 in the city and it covers nine districts namely Madurai, Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram, Theni, Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Dindigul, Virudhunagar, and Thoothukudi.