Meenakshi Temple Madurai: Did someone say they would bomb this place?

Picture this: A man called Johnson has an illicit relationship with a woman. Another man called Satish objects to this. Irked by the objection, Johnson informs the police that Satish has planted a bomb in the famous Meenakshi Temple. The 3000 year old temple attracts 15-25000 visitors a day so the bomb squad is on its toes as soon as they hear this news.  After a thorough check on the temple premises, they say it’s a hoax. Satish & Johnson are arrested for allegedly threatening to blow up Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. Johnson says he had meant the call to be a prank and did not realize its impact!

For the past two days the temple has been in the news for this flippant prank. I was amused; it’s that weird kinda stuff that can only happen in India. This story prompted me to dig into my photo archives from a visit to the temple in 2009. Since then I’m told security has been increased at the temple following bomb blasts in Hyderabad and various other bomb scares near the site in recent times. I believe cameras are no longer allowed inside the temple, although phones with cameras are permitted. I was lucky to be able to shoot with my DSLR then. However, I had a time trying to convince the priests (in vain) about my being Hindu, leave alone Indian. I was granted an Indian ticket (which is a lot cheaper than the one for foreign nationals) after much persuasion (in Hindi) but was prevented from entering any of the shrines as they were not convinced about the Hindu argument.

Meenakshi temple in Madurai dates back as far as 3,500 years! Apparently, the city was built around the Shiva lingam that's inside its sanctum. The temple complex covers 15 acres, and has 4,500 pillars and 12 towers -- it's massive!Meenakshi temple in Madurai dates back 3,500 years! Apparently, the city was built around a Shivalingam (Lord Shiva’s phallus) that’s inside its sanctum. The temple complex covers 15 acres, and has 4,500 pillars and 12 towers, its massive!
Though the temple dates back to 1216 AD, its a 'live ' space brimming with devotees, worshippers and priests shoulder to shoulder with tourists from all over the world.   The temple is a ‘live’ space brimming with devotees, worshippers and priests shoulder to shoulder with tourists from the world over. Without a guide and no via language, it can be overwhelming with so much to see.
Every night, a deity of Lord Shiva (or Sundareswarar) is carried out from his shrine by temple priests in procession, to his wife Meenakshi's shrine where he'll spend the night. The goddess's gold feet are brought out from her shrine, while Shiva's chariot is fanned to keep it cool.In a procession every night, a deity of Lord Shiva is carried out from his shrine to his wife Meenakshi’s shrine, where it will spend the night symbolic of conjugal bliss. 
His gold feet are brought out from her shrine, while his chariot is fanned to keep it cool, and a puja (worship) is performed, amidst much chanting, drums, horns, and smoke.I was here in the morning where various pujas (worship) were being performed, amidst much chanting, drums, horns, and smoke. The light and atmosphere were beautiful but very little time for me to get the settings right on my camera.
The sacred elephant inside the temple chooses to bless a few visitors by lifting its trunk over the visitors head. I was lucky to be chosen, an experience of a lifetime. The sacred elephant inside the temple chooses to bless a few visitors by lifting its trunk over the visitors head. I was one of them. The action around me notwithstanding, I was using available light on a wide open aperture with slow shutter speed on really high ISO setting. The effect as you can see was how I felt: a bit shaken and stirred!
The temple's four main towers and entrances each face one of the four directions (north, east, south, and west). The tallest one, the southern tower, stretches nearly 170 feet (52 meters) high! Inside, there are two main shrines -- one dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi (also known as Goddess Parvati) and the other to her husband Lord Shiva. Meenakshi's shrine, which is green, houses a piece of emerald that was brought back from Sri Lanka in the 10th century.The temple’s four main towers and entrances each face one of the four directions (north, east, south, and west). The tallest one, the southern tower, stretches nearly 170 feet high! Inside, there are two main shrines – one dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi (also known as Goddess Parvati) and the other to her husband Lord Shiva. Sadly, I was unable to see the shrines.
The sheer size of the temple means that it's easy to get lost inside. I went in there without a guide and was at once intimidated by all that there was to see, I noticed a constant stream of couples waiting to be married in its corridors. I was deemed a non-Hindu and allowed to wander around inside the temple, but could not enter the shrines.The sheer size of the temple means that it’s easy to get lost inside. I went in there without a guide and was at once intimidated by the crowds milling about. I noticed a constant stream of couples waiting to be married in its corridors.
The bottom part of the temple is made from granite, while its towers (gopurams) are made from limestone. On them is an astonishing array of sculptured and brightly painted gods, goddesses, animals, and demons.
The temple also contains a 1,000 pillared hall, temple art museum, holy golden lotus tank, musical pillars, stalls, and many smaller shrines. This is the pillar hall where every pillar is in a straight line no matter where you stand in the hall. Quite a feat in Geometry to think of the minds that designed it 3500 years ago.The temple also has a 1,000 pillared hall. The outstanding feature being that all the pillars stay in a straight line no matter where you stand in the hall. Quite a feat in Geometry from 3500 years ago.
Sculptures on columns everywhere. There is so much to see and understand about Hindu mythology, you need more than a week to soak in all the tales of the love that bound Shiva and Parvati.Sculptures on columns everywhere. There is so much to see and understand about Hindu mythology, you need more than a week to soak in all the tales of the love that bind Shiva and Parvati in this enormous temple.
Another gorgeous view of a sculpted column in one of the corridors leading to the shrine of the goddess Parvati.Another gorgeous view of a sculpted column in one of the corridors leading to the shrine of the goddess Parvati.
These figurines not more than a few inches in height are sculpted lovingly out of ivory, maybe marble. Such exquisite craftsmanship was rather shabbily displayed on stale faded velvet with spot lights burning out random parts of the sculptures.These figurines not more than a few inches in height are sculpted lovingly out of ivory, maybe marble. Such exquisite craftsmanship was rather shabbily displayed in the museum section; on a stale faded velvet cloth with spot lights burning out random parts of the sculptures.
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About shabnamphoto

I'm a graphic artist with a passion for photography. I like to tell a story with my pictures. Sometimes a picture may speak on its own and at other times it may need an explanation. I'm intrigued by the ordinariness of life and enjoy documenting my life in the light and shadow of what surrounds me. Be it people, landscape, flowers, architecture or birds, the camera helps me see what I wouldn't with my naked eye.
Image | This entry was posted in Documentary, Street Photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Meenakshi Temple Madurai: Did someone say they would bomb this place?

  1. I really enjoyed the blurriness in those first couple photos. I’m not a photographer so I cannot provide an accurate explanation but they caught my attention 🙂

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    • shabnamphoto says:

      thanks for taking a look, we’re all photographers in this age, the eye that appreciates a blur in a photograph is more so, give it a shot…got a camera shoot and there u r with a fine image to show the whole world! I like shooting pictures coz they help me find my stories so thanks for the attention once again!

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  2. Madhu says:

    Lovely account and photos Shabnam. I went years ago and don’t have pictures to show sadly.. A small correction: The temple isn’t 3500 years old, although one existed in antiquity. The present temple dates back to the 16th century. The having to prove one is a Hindu is an annoying feature of some South Indian temples. I hope they evolve with the times 🙂

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  3. lesouffleurdemots says:

    Thank you for this particular ambiance ( sorry for my english ;-))

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  4. How strange to learn about your difficulty to enter as an hindu/indian. But I find it quite natural that tourists pay more. I don’t think any of them had to walk bare foot to come there. May this temple and every other cultural heritage in the world never be bombed! Such a nice series, and I am gld you could take pictures then. My favorite is the shaken and stirred elephant-picture.

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    • shabnamphoto says:

      Hi Bente, This is indeed a land of contrasting cultures and strange differences. The north of India is totally different from the south hence the difficulty in seeing me as Hindu! Thanks a million for your visit and comment am glad that the shaken n stirred blurs somehow work, though I know they are not that technically sound!

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  5. Thanks for an interesting tour of this temple. I reacted to the tourist price when I visited Taj Mahal. At the time the tourist price was 37,5 times more expensive (if I remember correctly). So I started thinking about how it would look and how people would react if we charged Indians these kind of prices in Norway: “Oh, you’re from India? So the price is 37,5 times more for you.”

    Another thing: How can you prove you’re Hindu?
    “Do you know Hanuman? Yes, I’ve met him in Rishikesh on several occasions.”
    “OK, what about Ganesh? Ganesh-ji and myself go way back.”
    “Bhota cha. You can enter.”

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    • shabnamphoto says:

      The disparity of the rich and poor is more visible in India than in any other country of the world. The average Indian who visits this place has walked miles and miles maybe bare foot on empty stomach to receive a blessing from the gods or has subject himself to such hardship towards fulfilment of a wish. Remember we’re mostly poor around here and the govt policy towards ticket prices seems to reflect this very distance between the rich and the poor. I agree it is weird and discriminating but a Rs.5 entry ticket for a Norwegian is equally laughable! Thanks for your comments and visits cardinal. I cherish your conversations on my posts, somehow you seem like half an Indian! 😀

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