Having spent a total of almost six weeks at different beaches along India’s west coast we were ready to jump back in, head first to ‘real India’ and we were excited at the prospect. Madurai is one of the oldest cities in India and is dominated by the mind-blowing Sri Meenakshi Temple, whose gateways are decorated in a kaleidoscope of colour. Arriving during the Diwali festival, celebrating the triumphs of good over evil and giving thanks to the Hindu Gods, the streets surrounding the city’s most iconic structure were even more hectic than usual. Meandering through the chaotic market sales was a reminder that we were back to the true Indian hustle, in a great way!
Venturing into one of Tamil Nadu’s most prolific temples was absolutely incredible. Madurai’s Sri Meenakshi temple has a total of twenty-two gopurams, incredibly colourful towers decorated with sculptures of Hindu Gods and mythological creatures, the tallest standing a staggering fifty-two metres high. Spread out over massive six hectare complex, Madurai’s greatest joy is getting lost within the red and white striped walls of this place of worship. Blindingly colourful corridors lead you around the inside of the complex, meeting statues of various Hindu deities along the way to the sound of drums and flutes echoing through the halls. Pilgrims reverently move through the maze of corridors as tourists walk in awe, staring at the colourful and incredibly ornate passageways. Designed in 1560 by Vishwanatha Nayak the temple has a history going back more than two thousand years to the time when Madurai was a Pandyan capital and you can feel the rich history just strolling through this expansive temple complex.
As is traditional in many southern Indian temples, the Sri Meenakshi Temple is home to a temple elephant. Being blessed by the elephant may seem like a tourist gimmick but it’s certainly not, as devout Hindus wait their turn to receive their blessing from the animal. Getting in on the action, we approached the enormous creature one at a time, with our offering of a ten rupee note. With a command from the mahout (elephant handler) the elephant took the note from my hand, passed it to the mahout and then placed her trunk gently on my head and then my shoulders blessing me, elephant style! Switching places, Noelle was blessed too and with our exploration of the temple complete and our elephant blessing finished, our time in Madurai was almost up and with good memories of the city, renowned for being the soul of Tamil Nadu, we once again moved on.