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Varanasi - A Haven For Pilgrims

Varanasi (Sanskrit: वाराणसी Vārāṇasī, Hindustanipronunciation: [ʋaːˈɾaːɳəsiː] , also commonly known as Benares or Banaras (Hindi: बनारस, Urdu: بنارس, Banāras [bəˈnɑːɾəs] and Kashi (Hindi: काशी, Urdu: کاشی, Kāśī [ˈkaːʃiː], is a city situated on the left (west) bank of the River Ganga (Ganges) in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, regarded as holy by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest of India.
The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river's religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in North India for several thousand years. The Benares Gharana form of Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi, including Kabir, Ravidas Their Guru Swami Ramanand, Trailanga Swami, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote his Ramacharitamanas there, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath near Kashi.
 Varanasi is home to four universities: Banaras Hindu University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Residents mainly speak Kashika Bhojpuri, which is closely related to the Hindi language. People often refer to Varanasi as "the city of temples", "the holy city of India", "the religious capital of India", "the city of lights", and "the city of learning."
 American writer Mark Twain wrote: "Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together."
The name Varanasi, has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi for it lies with the confluence of Varuna with the Ganges being to its north and that of Assi and the Ganges to its south. Another speculation about the origin of the name is that the river Varuna itself was called Varanasi in olden times, from where the city got its name. This is generally disregarded by historians though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so.
Through the ages, Varanasi was variously known as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, and Kasi.
In the Rigveda, the city was referred to as Kasi or Kashi, "the luminous one" as an allusion to the city's historical status as a center of learning, literature, and culture. Kasikhanda described the glory of the city in 15,000 verses in the Skanda Purana. In one verse, God Shiva says,
The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kasi is my royal palace therein.
 Another reference to Varanasi is found in a hymn by Sri Veda Vyasa: 
 Varanasi-pura-patim bhaja Vishwanatham.
According to legend, the city was founded by the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, around 5,000 years ago, thus making it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country. It is one of the seven sacred cities of Hindus. Many Hindu scriptures, including the Rigveda, Skanda Purana, Ramayana, and the Mahabharata, mention the city.

Varanasi is generally believed to be about 3,000 years old. Varanasi was a commercial and industrial center famous for its muslin and silk fabrics, perfumes, ivory works, and sculpture. During the time of Gautama Buddha (born circa 567 BCE), Varanasi was the capital of the Kingdom of Kashi. The celebrated Chinese traveler, Xuanzang, attested that the city was a center of religious, educational, and artistic activities, and that it extended for about 5 km along the western bank of the Ganges.

Kashi Naresh and Ramnagar  

Kasi Kingdom
Varanasi became an independent Kingdom of Kashi in the eighteenth century, and under subsequent British rule, it remained a commercial and religious center. In 1910, the British made Varanasi a new Indian state, with Ramanagar as its headquarters but with no jurisdiction over the city of Varanasi itself. Kashi Naresh still resides in the fort of Ramanagar. The Ramnagar Fort of the Kashi Naresh is situated to the east of Varanasi, across the Ganges. The Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone in the eighteenth century. It is a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and picturesque pavilions. The other fort of the Kashi Naresh is the Chet Singh Palace, near Shivala Ghat, Varanasi built by Maharaja Chet Singh.

Varanasi (Benares) in 1922. 

Ramnagar Fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares and since the 18th century has been the home of Kashi Naresh. Even today the Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the people of Benares. He is the religious head and the people of Benares consider him the incarnation of Lord Shiva. He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.

 Painting of Benares in 1890.
Geography and climate

The city of Varanasi is located in the middle Ganga valley of North India, in the Eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, along the left crescent-shaped bank of the Ganga river. It has the headquarters of Varanasi district. The "Varanasi Urban Agglomeration" — an agglomeration of seven urban sub-units — covers an area of 112.26 km² (approximately 43 mi²).[19] The urban agglomeration is stretched between 82° 56’E - 83° 03’E and 25° 14’N - 25° 23.5’N.[19] Being located in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India, the land is very fertile because low level floods in the Ganges continually replenish the soil.

On a local level, Varanasi is located on a higher ground between rivers Ganga and Varuna, the mean elevation being 80.71 m.[20] As a result of absence of tributaries and canals, the main land is continuous and relatively dry. In ancient times, this geographic situation must have been highly favorable for forming settlements. But it is difficult to ascertain the original geography of Varanasi because the city's current location is not exactly the same as the one described in some old texts.

Varanasi is closely associated with the Ganges and has many temples along its banks

Varanasi is often said to be located between two confluences: one of Ganga and Varuna, and other of Ganga and Assi [disambiguation needed], (Assi having always been a rivulet rather than a river.) The distance between these two confluences is around 2.5 miles, and religious Hindus regard a round trip between these two places—a Pancha-kroshi Yatra (a five mile journey) ending with a visit to a Sakshi Vinayak Temple as a holy ritual.

Varanasi has a humid subtropical climate with large variations between summer and winter temperatures. Summers are long, from early April to October, with intervening monsoon seasons. Cold waves from the Himalayan region cause temperatures to dip across the city in the winter from December to February. The temperature ranges between 32°C – 46°C (90°F – 115°F) in the summers, and 5°C – 15°C (41°F – 59°F) in the winters.[20] The average annual rainfall is 1110 mm (44 in).[21] Fog is common in the winters, while hot dry winds, called loo, blow in the summers.

 A view of the Ghat of Varanasi from the River Ganges 

Through a combination of water pollution, new constructions of upstream dams, and increase in the local temperature, the water level of the Ganges has recently gone down significantly, and small islands have become visible in the middle of the river.

Varanasi has several small cottage industries, including Banarasi Silk sari making, the production of textiles such as hand-woven carpets, and handicrafts. Banarasi paan (betel leaf) and khoa (a milk product) are popular, and the related small-scale industries employ many people.
Banarasi Silk is known all over the world for its finery and softness. Banarasi Sarees are adorned with intricate designs and zari embellishments making it popular during traditional functions and weddings. Earlier, the embroidery on sarees were often done with threads of pure gold.
Indian Railways runs a major diesel locomotive factory in Varanasi, Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW). The first Indian business house of Varanasi and Kanpur was the firm NihalChand KishoriLal established in the year 1857 which set up the fourth Oxygen plant in the country here by the name of Indian Air Gases Ltd.
According to Macaulay, Varanasi was the "city which, in wealth, population, dignity and sanctity was among the foremost in Asia". He described the commercial importance saying "from the looms of Benaras went forth the most delicate silks that adorned the halls of St. James and of Versailles." Varanasi is a centre of Child labour.

Varanasi's "Old City," the quarter near the banks of Ganga, has crowded narrow winding lanes that are flanked by road-side shops and scores of Hindu temples. As atmospheric as it is confusing, Varanasi's labyrinthine Old City is rich with culture, and a deservedly popular destination for travelers and tourists.[33] The main residential areas of Varanasi (especially for the middle and upper classes) are situated in regions far from the ghats; they are more spacious and less polluted.

Varanasi attracts thousands of Hindu piligrims every year.

Ram leela at Ramnagar
When the Dasara festivities are inaugurated with a colourful pageant Kashi Naresh rides an elephant at the head of the procession.[5] Then, resplendent in silk and brocade, he inaugrates the month long folk theatre of Ramlila at Ramnagar, Varanasi.[5] The Ramlila is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, as told in Rāmacaritamānasa, the version of the Ramayana penned by Tulsidas.[5] The plays sponsored by the Maharaja, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days.[5] On the last day the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana.[5] Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition of staging the Ramleela at Ramnagar in mid-nineteenth century.<[5] This is very important to the river ganges ritual

Wall paintings, Varanasi, 1974

Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations. More than 1,000,000 pilgrims visit the city each year. It has the holy shrine of Lord Kashi Vishwanath (a manifestation of Lord Shiva), and also one of the twelve revered Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.

Hindus believe that bathing in Ganga remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person's soul from the cycle of its transmigrations. Hindus regard Kashi as one of the Shakti Peethas, and that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati's earrings fell.[15] Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard river Ganga itself as Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have always co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously.

Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself (the others being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini). In the residential neighborhood of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha is said to have given his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism. The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still standing, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples (in the 5th century or earlier, BC). An octagonal tower was built later there.

Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Islamic culture has also had an influence on Varanasi. There has been some degree of continuous tension between different religious communities in the city.

 Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats. Many of the ghats were built when the city was under Maratha control. Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwes (Peshwas) stand out as patrons of present-day Varanasi. Most of the ghats are bathing ghats, while others are used as cremation sites. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned. The former Kashi Naresh owns Shivala or Kali ghat.

Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi

Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to Vishwanath Temple, and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses in a yajna here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat "Agni Pooja" (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.

 Manikarnika Ghat: Two legends are associated with this Ghat. According to one, it is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu dug a pit with his Chakra and filled it with his perspiration while performing various penances. While Lord Shiva was watching Lord Vishnu at that time, the latter's earring ("manikarnika") fell into the pit. According to the second legend, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings, and asked him to find them, saying that they had been lost on the banks of Ganga. Goddess Parvati's idea behind the fib was that Lord Shiva would then stay around, searching forever for the lost earrings. In this legend, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings.

According to ancient texts, the owner of Manikarnika Ghat bought King Harishchandra as a slave and made him work on the Manikarnika at Harishchandra Ghat. Hindu cremations customarily take place here, though a majority of dead bodies are taken for cremation to the Manikarnik Ghat.

Scindia Ghat also known as Shinde Ghat borders Manikarnika to the north, with its Shiva temple lying partially submerged in the river as a result of excessive weight of the ghat’s construction about 150 years ago. Above the ghat, several of Kashi’s most influential shrines are located within the tight maze of alleys of Siddha Kshetra (Field of Fulfillment). According to tradition, Agni, the Hindu God of Fire was born here. Hindu devotees propitiate at this place Vireshwara, the Lord of all heroes, for a son.

 Mana-Mandir Ghat: Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur built this Ghat in 1770, as well as the Yantra Mantra equipped with ornate window casings along with those at Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, and Mathura. There is a fine stone balcony in the northern part of the ghat. Devotees pay homage here to the lingam of Someswar, the Lord of the Moon.

 Lalita Ghat: The late King of Nepal built this Ghat in the northern region of Varanasi. It is the site of Ganga Keshav Temple, a wooden temple built in typical Kathmandu style, dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple also has an image of Pashupateshwar, a manifestation of Lord Shiva. Local festivals including musical parties and games regularly take place at the beautiful Assi Ghat which is at the end of the continuous line of ghats. It is a favorite site of painters and photographers.

Man Singh of Amber built Mana-Sarowar Ghat. Maharaja of Darbhanga built Darbhanga Ghat. Tulsidas wrote Rāmacaritamānasa at Tulsi Ghat. Devout Jains visit Bachraj Ghat in particular because it has three Jain temples near the river's banks.

Varanasi is a city of temples. Almost every road crossing has a nearby temple. Such small temples form the basis of daily local prayers and other rituals. But there are many large temples too, erected at different times through out the history of Varanasi.

Durga Mandir (temple) in Ramnagar in Varanasi
Kashi Vishwanath Temple, also called Golden Temple, which in its present shape was built in 1780 by Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore, is located on the outskirts of the Ganga. This temple makes Varanasi a place of great religious importance to the Hindus, as Vishweshwara or Vishwanatha, the aforementioned Jyotirlinga of the Lord Shiva is enshrined here. It is said that a single view of Vishwanatha Jyotirlinga is considered to merit more than that of other jyotirlingas. A Naubatkhana was built up in front of the Temple by the collector Mohammed Ibrahim Khan at the instance of Governor General Warren Hastings in 1785. In 1839, Punjab Kesari, the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab donated gold to cover the two domes of the temple. On 28 January 1983 the Temple was taken over by the government of Uttar Pradesh and its management was transferred to a trust with Late Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, then Kashi Naresh, as president and an executive committee with Divisional Commissioner as chairman.

 The temple was once destroyed by the Muslim Emperor Aurangzeb who built a mosque over it. It was later resurrected at a location near the mosque.

Durga Temple, also nicknamed "Monkey temple," was built at some point of time in 18th century. The temple got the name 'Monkey temple' because of the presence of large number of monkeys in the temple. According to legends, the present statue of Goddess Durga was not made by man but appeared on its own in the temple. Thousands of Hindu devotees visit the Durga temple during Navratri and other auspicious occasions. Non-Hindus can enter the courtyard of the Durga temple but not the inner sanctum.

The architecture is of Nagara Style, which is typical of North India. The temple is accompanied by a rectangular tank of water called Durga Kund. ("Kund" meaning a pond or pool.) The temple has multi-tiered spires and is stained red with ochre, signifying the red colour of Durga. The Kund was earlier connected to the river itself thus refreshing the water. This channel was later closed, leading to locked water which is replenished only by rain or drainage from the Temple. Every year on the occasion of Nag Panchami, the act of depicting Lord Vishnu reclining on the coiled-up mystical snake or "Shesha" is repeated in the Kund.

Sankat Mochan Temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and is very popular with the local citizens. It is a place for many yearly religious as well as cultural festivals. On 7 March 2006, one of the three explosions carried out by Islamic militants hit the temple, while the aarti, in which numerous worshippers and wedding attendees participated, was in progress.

Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar According to a popular Puranic story, when Vyasa failed to get alms in Varanasi he put a curse on the city. Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa was so pleased with the alms he received that he forgot his curse.However, because of his bad temper Shiva banished Vyasa from Varanasi. Resolved to be near at hand, Vyasa took his residence on the other side of the Ganges where his temple may still be seen at Ramnagar.
The new Vishwanath Temple, called Birla Mandir, mainly funded by Raja Birla of the Birla family of industrialists, was built as a replica of the old Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Planned by Madan Mohan Malaviya, the temple is part of the Banaras Hindu University, and stands for national revival. The temple is open to people of all castes and religions.

Art and literature

Architecture of the Vishwanath Temple in BHU

Varanasi has its own culture of fine art and literature. Great Indian writers have lived in this city from Kabir, Ravidas, Tulsidas who wrote much of his Ram Charit Manas here, Kulluka Bhatt who wrote the best known commentary of Manusmṛti here in 15th century and Bharatendu Harishchandra, later writers have been Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Shukla, Munshi Premchand, Jagannath Prasad Ratnakar, Devaki Nandan Khatri, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, Tegh Ali, Kshetresa Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Vagish Shastri, Baldev Upadhyaya, Sudama Pandey (Dhoomil) and Vidya Niwas Mishra.

Art lovers and historians like Rai Krishnadasa, his son Anand Krishna, musicians like Omkarnath Thakur Ravi Shankar, Bismillah Khan, Girija Devi, Siddheshwari Devi, Lalmani Misra and his son Gopal Shankar Misra, N. Rajam, Rajbhan Singh, Anokhelal, Samta Prasad, Kanthe Maharaj, M. V. Kalvint, Sitara Devi, Gopi Krishna [disambiguation needed], Kishan Maharaj, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Mahadev Mishra and numerous others have kept the city alive to the spiritual aspect of fine arts apart from their ability to entertain. Numerous festivals are celebrated that preserve traditional styles of classical and folk culture. All night, open music concerts like ones organised at Sankat Mochan Temple, Hori [disambiguation needed], Kajari and Chaiti Mela, Budwa Mangal, are annual features that draw connoisseurs from all over.

Sushruta, the great surgeon and author of Sushruta Samhita, the Sanskrit text of surgery, also lived in Varanasi.

Kanipakam Varasidhi Vinayaka Swamy

 Sri Swayambu Varasidhi Vinayaka Swamy

Main Temple
 Kanipakam is a small village on the bank of Bahuda River.

"Kani" means wetland and "Pakam" means flow of water into wetland. According to the legend of the temple there were three brothers and each one had a handicap. Viz., Dumb, Deaf and Blind. They were earning out their livelihood by cultivating a small piece of land.
In olden days water was drawn from the well by way of 'Piccota System'. As one of them used to irrigate the field through the channels, the other two used to ply on the Piccota. On one such operation they found that the water in the well got dried up and they could no longer continue their job. One of them got into the well and started digging it up. He was taken aback to see the iron implement hitting a stone like formation.

Later, he was shocked to see blood oozing out from it. Within in a few seconds the entire water in the well, turned blood red in colour. Thus, startled by this divine sight, all the three became normal getting rid of their deformities. As soon as the villagers came to know about this miracle, they thronged to the well and tried to deepen the well further. But their attempt proved futile because the 'swayambhu' idol (the self-manifested) of Lord Vinayaka emerged from the swirling waters.

Ultimately they offered many number of coconuts with all prayers- modesty kneeling before the new idol afford “MAGALHARATHI” etc. They declared the ideal of “SWAYAMBHU” and tendered number of coconuts. The coconuts water flowed into the channel to a distance of more than one and a quarter acres. The indication of this led to the modification in the usage of the Tamil word “KANIPARAKAM” and later pronounced as KANIPAKAM. Even today the idol is in the original well and the springs of the well are perennial and the eternal. During the rainy season, the holy water from the well overflows even today.

Another striking and strange feature of the idol is that it is still growing in size. At present, we can see the knees and the abdomen of the idol. Smt. Lakshmamma, an ardent devotee had offered a 'Kavacham' (Armour) to the Lord, fifty years ago but today it is out of size and doesn't fit the idol. The holy water from the well is offered to the devotees as theertham.

The legend behind Bahuda River
Long ago there lived two brothers Sankha and Likhita. They were on a pilgrimage to Kanipakam. As the journey was tiring, the younger brother Likhita felt hungry. Disregarding the advice of the elder brother he plucked a mango from the mango grove. Sankha felt bad and reported this to the ruler of that area and pleaded for punishment for the sin committed during the pilgrimage. Thus Likhita was punished severely being deprived of both arms.

Bahuda River 

Later they took bath in the river near Kanipakam temple. Lo Behold! The chopped arms were restored to Likhita as soon as he had a dip in the sacred waters of the river. These incidents lead the ruler to rename the river as 'Bahuda' (Bahu means human arm). Thus the river beside Kanipakam temple is now known as 'Bahuda River'.

Sri Varasiddhi Vinayaka as up-holder of 'Truth'
The swayambhu idol of Kanipakam is the up-holder of truth. Day to day disputes between people is resolved by taking a 'special oath'. The people in the dispute take a holy dip in the temple tank and swear before the lord. It is taken as gospel truth.

There are instances when the person who committed that sin voluntarily agrees as soon as he had the dip and much before entering the temple itself. It seems the Lord lawns invisibly on the sinner and makes him repent & feel guilty for his sinful deeds.

Thus the glory of Sri Varasiddhi Vinayaka spread far and wide and the honorable courts uphold the 'special oath' in their judicial pronouncements.

Festivals: Bramhostavams
The annual Brahmotsavam commences from Ganesh Chaturthi. It goes on for 20 days with all traditional pomp and gaiety. The utsavamurthi (Festive idol) is taken out in procession on all the days colourfully decked on different vahanams (Carriages). The soulful participation of the devotees is praise worthy. The float festival attracts pilgrims from all over the country.
  • motsavam 
  • Hamsa Vahanam
  • Peacock Vahanam
  • Mooshika Vahanam
  • Shasha Vahanam
  • Vrishabha Vahanam
  • Gaja Vahanam
  • Rathotsavam(Chairot)
  • Thiru KalyanamVadayathu Utsavam

The temple was constructed in the early 11th century CE by the Chola king Kulothunga Chola I and was expanded further in 1336 by the Emperors of Vijayanagara dynasty.
There is an interesting legend about the sthalapurana of this ancient temple which has 1000 years history. About 1000 years back, three physically handicapped blind, dumb and deaf persons were eaking their livelihood by cultivating a piece of land near Viharapuri village. On one day two persons were taking out water with the help of a picot and the thisd person was irrigating the land. After some time water was exausted in the well. One person took a spade and hit a stone inside the well and blood started flowing continuously, when the three handicapped pesons touched the water mixed with blood, surprisingly they became normal persons. After digging for some time they found an idol of Lord Sri Vinayaka in the well with an injury on the head oozing with blood. They could not take out the idol as it was growing in size,as they were digging. They informed the villagers about this surprising phenomena. People came running with cocunuts and other pooja materials to worship the Lord Sri Vinayaka. They broke thousands of Coconuts, the coconutwater was spread to an area of one and quarter acre. In the local language it is called as "Kani". That is how the palce was called as "Kanipakam" since then.

Even now we can see the well around Sri Vinayaka idol. Always water is seen around the idol. We can also see the wound on the head of the idol.

Anohter astonishing feature is that the idol is growing in size. In 1947 a devotee Sri Bezawada Siddaiah of Aragonda Gollapalli village presented a Silver Kavacha to the Lord which correctly fitted the idol. Now, it is not fitting the idol. As the idol is growing in size. Always there will be water at the same level around the base of the idol in all seasons. This sacred water is given as theertham to all other devotees.

It is believed that the idol will be growing in size regularly until the end of Kaliyuga and in the end Lord Sri Vinayaka will appear in person.

Another interesting feature here is that if a person swears(Pramaanam) about a particular incident, it is taken as 'truth'. Most of the disputes are settled by this method. People take it as more than a court judgement. if anybody does false swearing beforehim, Lord Sri Vinayaka shall punish him. For this swearing ceremony a sum of Rs. 516/- is collected by temple authorities. This ceremony is done everyday. Thus people get instance justice here.

In the ancient Vedas Lord Sri Vinayaka hailed as possesser of gunas of all gods, gandharvas, demons and human beings. In 'Adarvaseershopanishath' Lord Sri Vinayaka is extolled as the parabhramha embodiment of paramathma that have (The absolute). hence by taking 'Ganapathi deeksha' the devotees can fulfill all their wishes with the blessings of Lord Ganesha. The deeksha will be for a of 41 days (Mandalam), 21 days (half mandalam), 11 days(Ekadasa). It is like Swamy Iyyappa (or) Lord Sivadeeksha. And the rules and regulations are almost the same. Sri Ganesh Deeksha can be started in any Ganesh temple but should end at Sri Varasidhi Vinayaka Temple at Kanipakam only.

Shirdi Sai Baba

 Shirdi Sai Baba sitting on a Stone (Original)

Full name Sai Baba of Shirdi
Born September 28, 1835
Shirdi, India
Died October 15, 1918
Era 20th century
Region India
School Advaita Vedanta, Sufism

Sai Baba of Shirdi (Unknown – October 15, 1918), also known as Shirdi Sai Baba (Telugu: షిర్డీ సాయి బాబా), was an Indian guru, yogi and fakir who is regarded by his Hindu and Muslim followers as a saint. Some of his Hindu devotees believe that he was an incarnation of Shiva or Dattatreya. Many devotees believe that he was a Sadguru. There are many stories and eyewitness accounts of miracles he performed. He is a well-known figure in many parts of the world, but especially in India, where he is much revered.

The name 'Sai Baba' is a combination of Persian and Indian origin; Sāī (Sa'ih) is the Persian term for "well learned" or "knowledgeable", usually attributed to Islamic ascetics, whereas Baba (honorific) is a word meaning "father; grandfather; old man; sir" used in Indo-Aryan languages. The appellative thus refers to Sai Baba as being a "holy father" or "saintly father". His parentage, birth details, and life before the age of sixteen are obscure, which has led to a variety of speculations and theories attempting to explain Sai Baba's origins. In his life and teachings he tried to reconcile Hinduism and Islam: Sai Baba lived in a mosque which he called Dwarakamayi, practiced Hindu and Muslim rituals, taught using words and figures that drew from both traditions and was buried in a Hindu temple in Shirdi. One of his well known epigrams says of God: "Sabka Malik Ek Hai" ("One God governs all") which traces its root to the Bhagavad-Gita and Islam in general, and Sufism, in particular. He always uttered "Allah Malik" ("God is Master"). He had no love for perishable things, and was always engrossed in self-realization, which was his sole concern.

Sai Baba taught a moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, devotion to God and guru. His teachings combined elements of Hinduism and Islam and tried to achieve communal harmony between these religions.

Sai Baba remains a very popular saint and is worshipped by people around the world. Debate over his Hindu or Muslim origins continues to take place.He is also revered by several notable Hindu and Sufi religious leaders.[who?] Some of his disciples received fame as spiritual figures and saints such as Upasni Maharaj, Meher Baba, Saint Bidkar Maharaj, Saint Gangagir, Saint Jankidas Maharaj and Sati Godavari Mataji.

Sai Baba Idol and Samadhi @ Shirdi 

Life History Of Shirdi Sai Baba
It was the year 1917. Devotees kept coming to Shirdi in very large numbers like ants. A good number were drawn to Shirdi by Baba in the same manner as a thread is tied to the leg of a sparrow and drawn. The following is the story of one such devotee.

Appa Saheb Kulkarni

One day a fakir resembling Baba came to Kulkarni’s house at about noon. Kulkarni was not in the house. His wife and children asked the fakir whether he was Shirdi Sai Baba. The fakir replied that he was a servant of God and on His orders only he came to enquire about the welfare of Kulkarni’s family. He asked for dakshina . Kulkarni’s wife gave him a rupee. The fakir gave her some udi and asked her to keep it in her puja for worship. That evening when Kulkarni returned home and heard of the fakir’s visit, he felt sorry for not being present at then. He told his family that he would have given ten rupees dakshina. Though he was hungry, he went out in search of the fakir. As he could not find him anywhere, he returned home, had his meal and again started along with a friend in search of the fakir. All of a sudden, the fakir came from behind and extending his hand asked for the dakshina. Kulkarni gave him a rupee. Again the fakir asked dakshina and he gave him one more rupee. When the fakir asked again he took three rupees from his friend and gave it to the fakir. As he found the fakir not fully satisfied, he took him home and gave him another four rupees. When the fakir asked again, he gave him a ten-rupee note. The fakir gave him back nine rupees and went away. Since Kulkarni wanted to give ten rupees as dakshina, the fakir was not satisfied till he got the ten rupees. Kulkarni kept the nine rupees consecrated given back to him by the fakir in his puja room and worshipped them. When once Kulkarni visited Shirdi, he got a strand of Baba’s hair . He put it in a small silver container and tied to his hand. After those two incidents, he got a lot of money and also progressed much spiritually.

It was the talk of those days that Sai Baba’s hand was without bones and he would never send away anyone who approached him empty-handed. Because of this, many people like singers, astrologers and street circus performers came to Baba and exhibited their talents and received presents. When close devotees of Baba visited him along with their family members, Baba gave them clothes. Other than accepting dakshina, Baba never associated himself with any other financial matters. If someone came to Baba with any such proposals, he told them frankly that he did not want to involve himself in such affairs.

Baba not only never yielded to the lure of the lucre but also followed the same principle in respect of ladies. He was an Askalika Brahmachari throughout. 

Pictures of Sai Baba (Original)

Sai Appearing as a Snake
Raghu Patil, a resident of Shirdi village, would start any work, only after visiting Baba and saluting him. Once, he went to Nevasa village to see his brother-in-law. He went by horse up to Srirampur and from there by tonga to Nevasa. He woke up the next morning and remembered Baba, praying to him with closed eyes. He heard the following words in Baba’s voice, "If I give darshan, do not be frightened." In the meanwhile, a servant working in the cowshed cried, "Snake!Snake!" . All ran there. Raghu Patil thought that Sai had come in that form and put a bowl containing milk in front of the snake, and it drank the milk. The frightened people ran away. While Raghu Patil was watching, the snake crawled for some distance and disappeared. He felt very happy that Sai had given him darshan in the form of a snake. 

Feeding Baba
Among the women devotees who served Baba with utmost devotion were Baija Bai, Radhakrishna Mai and Lakshmi Bai Shinde. After the demise of Radhakrishna Mai, Lakshmi Bai Shinde attended personally to the needs of Sai Baba, like a daughter serving her father. In those days she was the richest women in Shirdi village having an exemplary character and serving Baba day and night. In the nights, only Mhalsapathi, Tatya and Lakshmi Bai were permitted into the mosque.

One evening, in 1917, when Baba and Tatya were conversing in the mosque, Lakshmi Bai came and saluted Baba. Baba told her that he was hungry. She told him that she would go home and bring food for him. After a short while, she brought roti ( leavened bread ) and curry. Baba took the food and threw it to the dog which was there. The dog ate the food completely and it wagged its tail out of joy. Then Lakshmi Bai asked Baba why he had given her the trouble to prepare the food, when he did not eat it., but gave it to the dog. Baba replied, "Please do not feel for it. To satisfy the hunger of the dog is the same as satisfying my hunger. Animals also have Atma. Lives may be different but hunger is the same. Humans can speak but animals cannot. Whoever satisfies the hungry will be giving me complete satisfaction. Know this as a great truth." From what Sai said we learn that he is present in all living beings, Omnipresent and Immortal. Let us all recollect what Baba said in such matters, "You need not go to distant places in search of me. If you cast aside your name and body form, Atma remains. This is there in all living beings. I am the Atma. If you can carefully realise this truth, you will know my true form and merge in me."

Bapu Saheb Jog’s Sanyas
After retirement from service in 1909, Bapu Saheb Jog came to Shirdi along with his wife and settled there permanently. They had no children and therefore no family responsibilities. Both of them were completely immersed in the service of Baba. After the death of Megha, Jog gave arathis in the mosque and Chavadi. He did this only till Baba’s Samadhi. He was also called Pujari Jog. In the evenings, he would recite sacred books like Jnaneshwari and Eknath Baghavata and explain them to the devotees who assembled there. But he did not enjoy peace of mind in spite of doing all these.

One day he asked Baba, "Baba, I am fully immersed in your service since so long. But there is no peace of mind for me. Why? When are you going to take pity on me?" Baba replied, "Wait for some more time. The sufferings for your past actions will be over. Your merits and de-merits will be burnt down to ashes. When you renounce all your attachments, conquer your lust and sense of tastes, and overcome all other obstacles, then your life will be a blessed one." After sometime his wife died. As there was no other attachment for him, he took sanyas. We must carefully observe Baba’s message in the above story. After overcoming our weakness like jealousy, selfishness and hatred, the other small enemies like, attachment, lust and tastes will remain and unless we win over these also, there will not be complete peace. The Sadguru teaches such things to his disciples according to their levels, and takes them on the Jnana Marga. But some Gurus who take the status and wealth of the disciples into consideration, cannot understand the level of the disciples. Even suppose such a Guru understands the level of his disciples to a certain extent, he will not teach them the main things for fear that they may leave him. This is the difference between Shirdi Sai Baba and the numerous Gurus that exist nowadays.

Arrival of Bal Gangadhar Tilak at Shirdi
Khaparde came along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak, to Shirdi on 19 May 1917. Khaparde who had come earlier also to Shirdi, had seen the greatness of Baba personally. Hence, he brought Tilak who was the extremist leader in the Indian National Congress and a freedom fighter, to have darshan of Baba and take his advice in the matter of freedom movement. There were proofs that Baba gve Tilak certain advices secretly. According to the then prevailing conditions under British rule, these matters were kept secret. After Tilak left Shirdi, then District Collector of Ahmednagar sent a CID Officer to Shirdi to keep an eye on the activities of Sai Baba and send a confidential report. 
There were several proofs to show that Baba predicted that India would certainly become an independent nation, through a non-violent revolution only and not through extremist violent acts. He gave advice to Tilak along the above lines and there were indications that from that day the extremist actions were toned down.

Hindu-Muslim Unity
In those days, to attain independence for our country was the main issue. This was a political problem. The main social problem in the country was religious differences between Hindus and Muslims. The British Government did not try wholeheartedly to remove these differences. They thought that the minds of the people could be diverted from the movement for independence, if the religious differences were encouraged. Religious clashes occurred in the predominantly Muslim populated areas of Aurangabad and nearby places causing much hardship to the ordinary citizen. Unrest, disputes, loss of lives and properties were plaguing the society. Baba found that communal harmony could bring peace and happiness to the people rather than rituals. He also found that in both the religions and religious leaders, the qualities of equality, cooperation and love were completely absent. There was none then to bring peace to the common man in the fields of religion and politics. That was why Sai Baba dedicated himself to the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity and reminded all, that God is one. Sab ka Malik ek hai. The truths in both the religions were same. The gist of the two religions was the same. But the trouble lay with the heads of these two religions and their blind beliefs. The movement started by Baba for Hindu-Muslim unity was found to be necessary for the country’s political future and hence Mahatma Gandhi gave the slogan "Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai". The main aim in Sai’s philosophy was to unite all religions. That was why he resided in a mosque where he started the Dhuni which was sacred to the Hindus. In the front side of the mosque, he planted a tulasi plant. The slogans given at the end of arthis Sai Nath Maharaj Ki Jai etc., resemble those recited at the end of the ‘namaz’ by the Muslims, and were prescribed by Sai Baba. In this manner, Shirdi Sai Baba made sincere efforts to unite both the religions.

Before trying to understand Baba’s conception of communal harmony, let us try to know what is religion and how it came into being. Religion was only a set of norms prescribed for the people living in different parts of the world, for their ways of living in relation to their societies. The humans established a society for smooth living, different fron non-humans like animals, etc. When different kinds of people lived together in a society, there would naturally be a clash of behaviours resulting in suffering to some. The living methods were decided keeping in view the climatic conditions of that place and the avaiability of natural resources. Taking into consideration all these aspects, certain experienced people had indicated certain norms to be followed. Some meant for the self and some for his behaviour in a society without causing difficulties to others. In this manner, the social regulations and taboos came into existence and deveoped into religions. So, religion means the regulated behaviour and actions of the people in a society. The aim was to see that all sections of people in a society were happy.

As time passed, such religions developed hatred among societies, leading to bloodshed . The causes for this were not religions or the philosophies, but the religious leaders. We had seen in the story of the ‘Two Goats’ in Chapter 18 that two brothers born to the same mother and belonging to the same religion killed each other. Same blood and same religion could not prevent this. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with religion and if at all there is something, it is only in the people. We should put an end to the hatred towards other religions. Our hearts should be filled with tolerance and love for other religions and equal treatment meted out to people of different religions. This is the philosophy of Sai Baba towards religious harmony. If we look at our country today, with a name like Hindustan, it has a number of people belonging to other religions - Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Jains. Now and then, in the name of religions, atrocities are being committed. The cause for this is not religion but religious leaders. Because of so many religions, India has been declared as a secular country.

If so many religions are there in a country, differences between the religions are bound to be there. Hence, some intellectuals are of the opinion that it would be good to have only one religion in a country. This appears to be a good proposal but it is important to know the methods by which it can be achieved. Violent methods should not be used. We must proceed only in the path shown by Sai Baba - Prema Marga . Marriages between persons belonging to two different religions should be encouraged. In this ways all religions can be intermixed to establish a Sai Religion by which we can forget all religious differences. The politicians and religious heads may take an initiative in this matter, so that there will not be any opposition from others.

Let us pray to Sai Baba that in this Sai Yuga the Sai Religion spreads not only in our country but throughout this world.

Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple

Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple
  • The entire temple complex
  • A shrine continuously worshipped since 300 BCE
  • Temple covering an area of 17 acres, the entire Madurai city being built around it.
  • Present structure is believed to have been built in 1600 AD. 
  • The tallest temple tower is 51.9 metres (170 ft) high.
  • Madurai was the seat of the Tamil Sangam (or Academy) of learning.
  • Concentric rectangular streets surround the temple, symbolizing the structure of the cosmos.
  • Temple attracts six thousand visitors a day and gets an annual revenue of rupees 6crores.
  • Attained 26th place in the list of top nominees for the new 7Wonders of the World.
  • Madurai , is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Indian peninsula.
  • Madurai is also known as ’City Of Divine Nectar’-Madhurapuri, cultural capital of TN.
Devi Meenakshi

Legend : 
Madurai was once called forest KADAMBAVANAM. Once a merchant named Dhananjaya who was passing through the forest, saw INDRA - the king of Gods, worshipping a SWAYAMBHULINGAM under a kadamba tree in the forest. This was reported immediately to the king Kulashekara Pandyan. Kulashekara cleared the forest and built a magnificent Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple around the sacred LINGAM and he built a lotus shaped city around the temple. On the naming ceremony of the city, Lord Shiva appeared magnificently to bless the city. The divine nectar (madhu) from the matted locks of Shiva fell on the blessed city. So, then the city was named "Madhurapuri". 

As early as the 3rd century BC, Megasthanes visited Madurai. Later many people from Rome and Greece visited Madurai and established trade with the Pandya kings. Madurai flourished till 10th century AD when it was captured by Cholas the arch rivals of the Pandyas.

The Cholas ruled Madurai from 920 AD till the beginning of the 13th century. 
In 1223 AD Pandyas regained their kingdom and once again become prosperous. Pandian Kings patronised Tamil language in a great way. During their period, many master-pieces were created. "Silapathikaram", the great epic in Tamil was written based on the story of Kannagi who burnt Madurai as a result of the injustice caused to her husband Kovalan.

In April 1311, Malik Kafur, the general of Alauddin Khilji who was then the ruler of Delhi, reached Madurai and raided and robbed the city for precious stones, jewels, and other rare treasures. This led to the subsequent raids by other Muslim Sultans. 
In 1323, the Pandya kingdom including Madurai became a province of the Delhi empire, under the Tughlaks. 
The 1371, the Vijayanagar dynasty of Hampi captured Madurai and it became part of the Vijayanagar empire. Kings of this dynasty were in habit of leaving the captured land to governors called Nayaks. This was done for the efficient management of their empire. The Nayaks paid fixed amount annually to the Vijayanagar empire. After the death of Krishna Deva Raya (King of Vijayanagar empire) in 1530 AD, the Nayaks became independent and ruled the territories under their control. 

Among Nayaks, Thirumalai Nayak (1623-1659) was very popular, even now he is popular among people, since, it was he who contributed to the creation of many magnificent structures in and around Madurai. The Raja Gopuram of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, The Pudu Mandapam and The Thirumalai Nayakar's Palace are living monuments to his artistic fervor. 

Madurai started slipping into the hands of the British's East India Company. In 1781, British appointed their representatives to look after Madurai. George Procter was the first collector of Madurai.

Some beautiful carvings(painted)

Procedure For Worship:
Worshipping Arulmighu Meenakshi Amman at first had been the manner of prayer traditionally.
Devotees should enter the temple through East Gopuram, pass along Ashtasakthi Mandapam, Meenakshi Nayakar Mandapam and Mudali Mandapam, take a bath in the Golden Lotus pond and wear clean clothes.
Foremost, they must worship the Viboothi Vinayakar on the south of the sacred pond. From the southern bank, devotees could worship the golden pinnacles of Swamy and Amman temples. They can see the 64 miracles of Lord Shiva on the walls surrounding the pond.
After worshipping Sithi Vinayakar, Kumaran and other deities in the parrot cage mandapam, must go round the altar at the Amman Sannidhi, and then enter the sanctum through the main entrance. Men and women should stand in separate rows and worship the deity.
Devotees should meditate the five holy alphabets, recite the sacred names of the Lord, sing divine songs and go round the shrine.
While going round the first corridor, Airavatha Vinayakar on the south east, Valla Vinayakar on the south west, Nirutha Ganapathy and Muthukumaraswamy and Chandikeswarar on the northwest must be worshipped.
While going round the second corridor, the devotees could see a statue of Thirumalai Naicker in the east, kolu mandapam and Koodalkumarar sannidhi in the west.After worshipping Kumarar, the devotees should proceed to the second corridor of Swamy shrine.
It is the normal practice toseek the permission of Nandiam Perumal to grant permission to enter the temple. After that the Anukgnai Vinayakar and the Nandi at the main entrance to the Swamy temple.
After that the devotees should proceed along the six pillared pedestal and worship Chandrasekarar and other deities and the Natarajar who danced changing his legs at the Velliyambalam and then worship the Lord at the sanctum.
While going round the first corridor of the Swamy temple, Vandhiyammai, Sivalingam, Sun, Kalaimagal, the Saints, Somaskander, various Lingams, Pitchadanar, Kasiviswanathar, Ellam Valla Siddhar, Durgai Amman, Kadamba tree, Kanagasabai Natarajar, Chandikeswarar, Atcharalingam, Mahalakshmi, Rathnasabai Natarajar, Vanniyum well, Lingam and Bhairavar should be worshipped in that order before coming out.
On the north of the main entrance is the shrine of Arulmighu Palani Andavar.
Having worshipped the deities including Sadayappar between the Nandhi Mandapam and coming round the hundred pillar hall, Agni Veeraputhirar, Ahora Veerapathirar, Ooothuva Thandava Moorthy and Badrakali, devotees should proceed to the Thirugnanasambandar mandapam and there offer worship to the four deities, Mangayarkarasiyar, Kulachirayar and Nedumaranayar and then after paying obeisance to the flag pole, they should sit down for a while. Later the idols of Hanumar, Krishnar and other deities on the pillars at the back and then enter the middle way and leave through Amman Sannidhi.
Devotees proceeding the temple should bathe and wear Saiva symbols such as holy ash, Uthiraksham, and carry with them coconut, fruits, incense and other items of offering to the extent possible. It is the practice to meditate the holy scriptures, and recite the saced names of the deities while in the sacred premises. 

Thiruvanandal poojaMorning                 05 : 00- 06 : 00 

Vizha poojaMorning                                 06 : 30- 07 : 00 

Kalasandhi poojaMorning                 07 : 30- 08 : 30 

Thrikalasandhi poojaMorning                10 : 30- 11 : 30 

Uchikkala Pooja (Noon Pooja)Morning 10 : 30- 11 : 30 

Maalai poojaEvening                                 04 : 30- 05 : 00
Ardhajama Pooja (Night Pooja)Night 07 : 30- 08 : 30 

Palliarai poojaNight                                 09 : 15- 10 : 00

Register: E-pooja 

 The 1000 pillar hall-its amazing

A tour inside the Temple:
The Outer Gopuram, Ashta Shakti Mandapam, Chitra Gopuram, Mudali Mandapam, Potramaraikulam Rani Mangmmal Mandapam, Oonjal Mandapam, Killikoondu Mandapam, Ayirakkal Mandapam, Musical Pillars, Thattu Chuttur Mandapam and the Raja Gopuram.
The temple had its origin in a modest structure that conformed to the barest
agamic ( rules governing sacred structures ) essentials. But it grew with addtions
and alterations, and despite the various sieges to which the city has been
subjected, the temple of today is an enormous complex occupying an area
approximately 240 meters by 8260 meters.
The Meenakshi-Sundareswarar Thirukkalyanam (wedding) is celebrated every year in the month of Chithirai (March/April). The Meenakshi temple is always filled with worshippers, but its grandest moments are in Chithirai, when a veritable human sea floods the temple on all ten days of the festival. 
Walking westwards from the Ashta Shakti Mandapam, you enter the Meenakshi Naicker Mandapam. Each pillar in this hall has the sculpted figure of a yali - a lion-like animal with an elephant's proboscis. A small mandapam joins the Ashta Sakthi Mandapam and the Meenakshi Naicker Mandapam. 
There is a verandah on each side of this mandapam. On the southern verandah there is a statue of Goddess Parvathi eight feet in height. She is in a dancing pose with a 'Soolayudham' (a fierce weapon) in one of her hands. A five-hooded serpent shelters her head from the sun and rain. Some consider this statue to be that of a huntress. On the northern verandah, there is a statue of a hunter. This statue is also eight feet high. The hunter has majestic look. The legends say that Lord Sundarar and Sree Meenakshi appeared in the form of a hunter and huntress and blessed a villain who repented for his crimes. It is believed that these statues relieve the suffering of those who repent for their sins. 

Passing through another pavilion called the Mudali Mandapam, you came to the Potramaraikulam (golden lotus tank). This tank is 165 feet long and 120 feet wide. There are stone steps on all four sides leading almost to its bottom. The tank is filled with water during most part of the year. Only very rarely does the tank get dry. Before entering the sanctum sanctorum, the devotees who go into the temple bare-footed, wash their feet in the tank's water. 

The southwestern comer of the Golden Lily Tank presents a grand view to one coming in the from the Mudali Mandapam. In the background, we see the upper part of the majestic southern tower of the temple. The area around this tank was the meeting place of the Tamil Sangam - the ancient academy poets. The history of the Sangam goes back to the days when gods dallied with men. This academy judged the worth of any work of literature present~ before it by throwing it into the tank. Only those that did not sink well'~ considered worthy of attention. The tank is surrounded by a pillared corridor steps lead down into the tank; enabling worshippers to bathe in it. The Oonjal (swing) Mandapam and Killikoodu (parrot cage) Mandapam are on the western side of the tank.

Every Friday, the golden idols of Meenakshi and Sundareswarar are seated on the swing in the Oonjal Mandapam and hymns are sung as the deities gaily swing to and fro. The parrots in the Killikoodu Mandapam have been trained to repeat Meenakshi's name. But more interesting are the 28 pillars of the mandapam ,.which exhibit some excellent sculptures of figures from Hindu mythology. From here, you can enter Meenakshi's sanctum sanctorum through a gateway surmounted by a three-storied tower. Non-Hindus are riot allowed beyond ' ' this entrance. Having worshipped Meenakshi, you cross over to the Sundareswarar temple through a five-storied tower-entrance. Opposite this gateway is a huge idol of Vinayaka. The sanctum sanctorum of Sundareswarar, is closed to non-Hindus. Nevertheless, there is a lot to interest the non-Hindu visitor outside the sanctum sanctorum. 
The Swamy Temple On each side of the entrance to the Swamy temple (Lord Sundareswarar) is a statue of a Dwarabalaga or guard, 12 feet tall. On a nearby pillar, we see Lord Siva and his consort Sree Meenakshi, each with five heads. Other statues 8re that of Appar, Sundarar, Sambandar and Manickavasagar. Next is the three-storied tower of the Swamy sannadhi, bearing in all 36 sculptures. Non-Hindus are not allowed to go beyond this entrance. Inside : the gateway of this tower are Adhigara Nandhi and Chamundi. 

After the pragaram, we enter the inner pragaram of Lord Sundareswarar. We first come to a big hall called 'Veli Ambalam' where we see the dancing idol of Nataraja. The idol of Nataraja is plated with silver. It is unique, as there is no other known idol of the Lord standing on his left leg with his right leg raised to his shoulder. Generally, it is the other way around. 
The Veera Vasantharayar Mandapam is in the Adi Veedhi, a street which runs around the Meenakshi - Sundareswarar temple. To the north of this mandapam is the fascinating Ayirankaal Mandapam (Hall of the thousand pillars). 985 pillars, each profusely decorated, provide an exuberant display of Dravidian sculpture. This 16th century mandapam also houses the Temple Museum. 

Going south from the Thousand Pillar Mandapam, we come to an open space where we find a newly built mandapam, the Mangaiyarkarasi Mandapam. The statues of Mangayarkarasi, Kulachirayar, Koon Pandian and Gnanasambandar find a place in this mandapam. The Linga form of Lord Siva has also been installed in this mandapam. This mandapam is named after the queen who contributed well to the growth of the Tamil language and the Saivite religion. 
To the south of the Mangayarkarasi Mandapam is the Servaikarar Mandapam, built by the Marudhu Pandyas. On the left pillar we see the figure of Elder Marudhu. 
We next come to the Thirukalyana Mandapam in which the marriage ceremony of Sree Meenakshi is performed every year during the Chithirai Festival. On the southern and northern walls, the origin of the universe and the living beings is painted within big circles. 
Just outside this mandapam, towards the west, are the Auspicial Pillars. Each pillar, when struck, produces a different swara - musical note. 
Another magnificent construction within the temple is the Vasantha Mandapam built by Tirumalai Nayakkar. Vasanthotsavam - the Spring festival - is celebrated in this mandapam in Vaikasi (April/May). Its pillars contain elaborate sculptures of Siva, Meenakshi, scenes from their wedding as well as the figures of ten of the Nayak Kings and their consorts. This is also called the Pudhu Mandapam.

The golden lotus pond

Festivals are celebrated in this temple thoughout the year. Some of the most popular festivals of the temple are Chitra festival, Avanimoola festival, Masi Mandala festival, Float festival, and Navarathri cultural festival.
Month of Chitrai (April):
The Chitra festival is celebrated for 12 days during the Tamil month of Chitrai (April in the English calendar) and begins with the flag hoisting on the first day. On the 8th day the coronation of Meenakshi Amman takes place. On the 9th day the Goddess is taken out in procession. On the 10th day the celestial wedding of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareswarar is performed, followed by car festival the next day, Theertha festival is celebrated on the 12th day with the Lord and Goddess going round Masi streets.

Month of Vaikasi (May):
The spring festival is hosted for ten days during this month. On the 10th day milk mango offerings would be offered to the deities. The Lord and Goddess would proceed to the New Mandapam stay there and be taken out in process. On the day of Moola star, the procession of 63 Saints would be conducted in the morning and at night Thirugnanasambandar would be taken out in procession.

Month of Aani (June):
Oonjal festival would be conducted for ten days during this month. On the `10th day, the triple fruit pooja would be performed. Abhishekam would be performed for Sivakami Amman and Arulmighu Nadarajar on the day of Uthiram. The Panchasabha Nadaraja Moorthy would be taken out in procession along the fur Masi streets.

Month of Aadi (July):
The Aadi Mulaikottu festival is celebrated for 10 days during this month. The festival would be confined to only to the Amman, who will be taken out in procession along Aadi streets. Spcial recitals of Nadaswaram would be the highlight of this festival.

Month of Aavani (August):
The Aavani festival would be conducted for 18 days. Six days of the festival would be devoted to Arulmighu Chandrasekarar and the balance 12 days would be for the Panchamoorthies. On the 7th day of the festival, coronation would be performed for Sundareswarar and on the 8th day the horse reins would be exchanged. On the 9th day the episode of Lord Sivaperuman carrying soil for earning pittu would be enacted while the theertham on the occasion of the joining of Avittam and Pooranai would be celebrated. On the same night, Arulmighu Thirupparankundram Subramaniyar and Thiruvadhavur Arulmighu Manickavasaka Peruman would bid farewel. During the festival of Chandrasekarar, procession would be taken out along the second corridor of Swami shrine. The Panchamoorthies would be taken around in processiion along Aavani Moola streets. During these days the ten miracles performed by the Lord of Madurai would be enacted by the Sivachariars.

Month of Purattasi (September):
The Navarathri festival would be celebrated for Amman in a grand manner during this month. Amman would appear in a separate dress and look every day and bless the devotees at the `kolu mandapam' in Amman Sannidhi. Kalpa pooja and Lakshacharna would be performed everyday for the Amman at the sanctum. On the 10th day the washing of hair ceremoney would be performed. On that Panchamoorthies would be taken out in procession within the temple premises. On all ten days of the festival cultural festivals would be hosted in a grand manner. The entire temple complex would be bathed in colour lamps and the dolls would be arranged in a manner to find a niche in the hearts of the devotees.

Month of Aipasi (October):
Kolattam festival would be conducted for six days during this month. For five days Amman would be taken out in procession along the Aadi streets while on the sixth day both Amman and Swamy would be taken out in procession. Women would dance striking short sticks together. It is during this month, that Pavithrotsavam would take place. Chandrasekarar would be taken in procession along the second corridor of Swamy Sannidhi.
Kanda Sashti fesival would be celebrated for six days at the Koodal Kumarar Sannidhi. Soorasamharam is not performed here. On the seventh day when Arulmighu Muthukumarar goes out in procession, `Pavadai Dharshan' would be conducted.

On the day of Deepavali festival, a durbar would be held for the employees of the temple.

On the days of Pooram in this month, the ceremony of hoisting and swinging Meenakshi Amman would be performed.

Month of Karthigai (November):
Deepam (lights) festival would be conducted for ten days during this month. Swamy would be taken out in procession along the Aadi streets. On the day of Karthigai one lakh lamps would be lit in the temple. On that day a bonfire would be lit in East Masi street,

Month of Marhazhi (December):
Oil anointing ceremony would be conducted for nine days in this month at the New Mandapam. Arulmighu Meenakshi Amman would be taken out in procession along the Chitra streets. On the day of Thiruvadhirai, Arudhra Dharshan will take place. Pancha Sabha Nataraja Moorthigal would be taken in procession along the Masi streets.On the day of Ashtami the Lord and Goddess would ride the oxen vehicle and go round Kottai streets. Thiruvembavai festival would be conducted for ten days. Everyday, Arulmighu Manickavasagar would be taken out in procession along Aadi streets in the mornings. On the 10th rotating wheel and golden spring ceremonies would be conducted. In the mornings Thiruvembavai and Thirupalli Yezhutchi lyrics would be recited and there will be religious discourses by spiritual leaders. competitions would be conducted for school and college studens and prizes presented.

Month of Thai (January):
The float festival would be conducted for 12 days during the month. Swamy and Amman would be taken out in procession along the Chitra streets. On the 8th day the casting of net festival would be held while theertham festival and the pushing of the float would be held on the 10th day. On the 11th day harvesting of sheaves and on the 12th day the float festival would be conducted.

Month of Maasi (February):
The Maasi Mandala festival would be conducted for a mandalam (48 days). Six days of the festival is devoted to Arulmighu Vinayaka and six days for Arulmighu Kumar and three days for the triumvirate and six days for Chandrasekarar. The deities would be taken out in procession along the second corridor of Swamy Sannidhi. Panchamoorthy festival would be celebrated for ten days, when they will be taken out in procession along the Chitra streets. Theertham would be held on the day of Maham. Silent festival would be conducted for nine days of which three days would be for Chandrasekarar and an equal number of days for Swamy and Chandikeswarar. On the 10th day, the flag would be lowered and accounts read.

Month of Panguni (March):
The summer spring festival would be hosted for nine days at the Velliaymbala mandapam. Swamy and Amman would be taken in procession along Chitra streets. On the day of Panguni Uthiram, Swamy and Amman would proceed to Arulmighu Thiruvappudayar temple and bless those who excel in their religious belief by sprinkling `rasa vadham'.

How to get Madurai:
Madurai is well connected all over India through Road, rail and by Air.
Madurai Junction
The railway station is one of the busiest in the country and has computerized reservation counters. Madurai division has repeatedly received the award for being the best-maintained station in the Southern Railway. The railway station code for Madurai junction is MDU. It is connected to most major Indian cities and towns.
Madurai Railway Division is the second largest revenue generating division in Tamilnadu next only to Chennai.
As the TN's second largest City strucks daily with a single railway terminal unable to handle the heavy Passenger Crowds, Southern Railway has come-up with a plan of extension & modification of the City Junction. Works are going on in the same at fast pace.

Ellis Nagar bridge
Madurai has several major bus stands: Madurai Integrated Bus Terminus (MIBT) at Maattuthavani (North), Palanganatham (South), Arappalayam (West), Periyar (Central) and Anna Bus stand (East). From MIBT, many buses to locations all over the south India operate round the clock. From Arapalayam bus stand, buses to places of western Tamil Nadu like Theni, Coimbatore, Tirupur, Erode, Salem operate and Periyar bus stand is where only city buses and private buses to major cities operate. Anna bus stand and Palanganatham are not in operation currently.
Apart fom city buses, three-wheeled, black and yellow auto-rickshaws, referred to as autos, are available for travel with in the city. MIBT has pre-paid auto counter where commuters can pay fixed auto-fare depends on destination and hire.
Madurai is connected by the following major National Highways:
NH 7 : (North-south Corridor Expressway) Bangalore – Salem – Dindigul – Madurai – Tirunelveli – Kanyakumari
NH 45B : Trichy – Madurai – Thoothukudi
NH 49 : Madurai – Rameswaram
NH 49 Extn: Madurai – Theni – Bodi – Cochin
Bridges have been constructed across the Vaigai river to connect Madurai at various points. Flyovers have been constructed within the city to overcome traffic congestion. Four lane express highways to Chennai, Kanyakumari, Tuticorin and Bangalore make Madurai well-connected by road.

Madurai Airport is 12 kilometers from Madurai Junction and it offers flights to major cities in southern and western India. Madurai airport has handled 3 lakhs passengers between the period Jan 2009 to Oct 2009 [30] Paramount Airways, Jet Air Ways, Kingfisher Airlines, Air India operates flights from and to Madurai. Flight services to Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai are available at Madurai Airport.
Madurai Airport is under a major expansion now with a state-of- the-art new integrated terminal of 17,560 Sq.ms space being built.
The terminal is all set to come for operation by Second Quarter of 2010. International connectivity is expected after the modernization gets over.

Geography and climate:
Madurai city has an area of 52 km2, within an urban area now extending over as much as 130 km2 and it is located at 9.93°N 78.12°E
It has an average elevation of 101 meters above mean sea level.
The climate is dry and hot, with Northeast monsoon rains during October-December. 
Temperatures during summer reach a maximum of 40 and a minimum of 26.3 °C, though temperatures over 43 °C are not uncommon. 
Winter temperatures range between 29.6 and 18 °C. The average annual rainfall is about 85 cm. 

Other attractions:

Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal
This palace complex was constructed in the Indo-Saracen style by Thirumalai Nayakar in 1636. It is a national monument and is now under the care of the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department.
The original palace complex was four times bigger than the present structure. It was divided into two parts, Swarga-vilasa and Ranga-vilasa. In each of these there are royal residences, theater, shrines, apartments, armory, palanquin place, royal bandstand, quarters, pond and garden. The ceilings are decorated with large paintings showing Shaivite and Vaishnavite themes.
The portico known as Swarga Vilasam is an arcaded octagon wholly constructed of bricks and mortar without the support of a single rafter or girder. The stucco work on its domes and arches is remarkable. The gigantic pillars and structures represent architectural mastery. The courtyard and the dancing hall are central attractions for visitors. There are 248 pillars, each 58 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter. Furniture and utensils used by the kings is on exhibit inside the palace. The palace is equipped to perform "Light and Sound" shows depicting the story of "Silappathikaram", in both Tamil and English languages. 

Gandhi Museum
Rani Mangamma's palace has been renewed and converted to Gandhi museum.The museum displays information about Mahatma Gandhi, and most importantly it showcases the blood-stained garment of Gandhi when he was assassinated. The other piece of the garment is kept at the Gandhi Museum in Delhi. This museum, is one of the 5 museums in India (others in Mumbai, Barrackpore, Sabarmati and Patna) known as Gandhi Sanghralayas.[40] Also lot of pictures taken during the Life time of Gandhi with various leaders all around the world and also during various incidents of freedom struggle is kept. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the museum during his tour of India in 1959 and is said to have got his inspiration to launch a series of peaceful agitations against racial discrimination No entry fee for museum visitors.

Theppakulam belongs to Vandiyur Mariyamman temple. It has become quite a pilgrim spot now. There is an artificial island at the centre, made of stone. It is was built sometime around 1500 A.D.

Koodal Azhagar Koil
A beautiful Vishnu temple which has Navagraham also (usually Navagraham is found only in Shiva temple). There is a hayagrivar temple close to this temple where hayagrivar (Horse/"haya"griva avataram) is the main deity. Most of the students do their regular prayer here as hayagrivar is the one who brought the epic fallen into water back to the earth. This is one of the temple found in center of city. This is located 100 mtrs north to the Kazimar Big Mosque (Periya pallivasal) and to the south of Sunnambukara street. This temple is believed to be older than the Meenakshi temple.

Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple Photos