The second largest city in Tamil Nadu, Madurai is one of India’s most sacred pilgrimage centres and has been mentioned in Tamil literature for more than 2000 years. Built at around the same time as the Muslim Taj Mahal, the Sri Meenakshi temple is an equally impressive example of south Indian Hindu architecture in terms of scale and the vast number of gods and goddesses that cover 14 massive towers.
The whole complex is like a town in itself with a labyrinth of pillared halls and courtyards filled with devotees. Nearby at the Tirumalai Nayak Palace built for the ruler of the same name, all that remains of a huge 17th century complex is the Celestial Pavilion which was used as a throne room. The massive circular columns linked by pointed scalloped arches are finished in exquisite shell lime and egg white stucco to to obtain a smooth texture that remains surprisingly glossy to this day. Elsewhere in the city the Gandhi Museum in a former Nayak queen’s palace is a poignant reminder of India’s struggle for independence and exhibits include the dhoti the Mahatma was wearing when he was assassinated.
Madurai can be visited during a tour of Tamil Nadu but if you are visiting Kerala it is also worth crossing the Western Ghats and the state border to include Madurai in your trip.