Madurai – The Jewel of South India

Madurai – The Jewel of South India
Madurai, also referred to as Koodal, Thirualavai and Naanmadakoodal, is situated on the banks of Vaigai River in the state of Tamil Nadu. The name Madurai has been derived from Madhura, meaning sweetness, coming out of the sacred nectar sprinkled on the city by Lord Shiva. It has been ruled by many rulers such as the Pandyas, Cholas, Madurai Sultanate, Madurai Nayaks, Vijayanagar Empire, Carnatic Kingdom, Chanda Sahib and the Britishers. There are many famous temples in Madurai which include Tirumalai Nayak Palace and the Meenakshi Amman Temple. It is an important educational and industrial hub of Tamil Nadu. More than 9 crore tourists, including many foreigners, visit Madurai every year.

Climate of Madurai
Madurai is located at an average elevation of 101 meters. It is very hot during the summer months, the hottest being March-July. The climate is moderate from August-October. It experiences moderate rainfall. Winters are cool.

Reaching Madurai

  • By Rail – Madurai railway Station is one of the important railway junctions of the Southern Railway. It is well-connected to all major cities in India.
  • By Road – Many national and state highways pass through Madurai. The Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation has its headquarters at Madurai and it has five major bus terminals. It is well-connected to all major cities. Auto rickshaws, local city buses and mini-buses are available for travel within the city.
  •  By Air – Madurai Airport is 12 Kms away from the city and it is an important airport of Tamil Nadu. Domestic flights to all major cities are available, along with international flights to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Architecture

The city of Madurai was redesigned by the first Madurai Nayak King – Vishwanatha Nayak, according to the Shilpa Shastras, meaning rules of architecture and so it is built using urban planning. The Meenakshi Amman Temple is the center of the city, both geographically and for performing all religious rituals. A number of festivals are celebrated here throughout the year. Huge processions are carried out and large chariots of the temple are used. The temple has four gateways. The elite class people had homes located near to the temple while the poor had their dwellings away. The British also made Madurai as the headquarters of a colonial complex as well as an industrial town. The social

Religious sites

 

  1. Meenakshi Amman Temple– This historic temple is the most important landmark of the city. It is devoted to Goddess Parvati, also known as Meenakshi and Shiva as Sundareshwar, who is her consort. The temple has 14 gateway towers (Gopurams) and two shrines which are golden. This temple has also been mentioned in Tamil literature, since it holds lot of religious significance for the Tamilians. More than 15000 devotees come here every day. There are more than 33000 sculptures in the temple.
  2. Koodal Azhagar Temple – This Vishnu temple has the idols of the nine planet deities, unlike any other Vishnu temple.
  3. Alagar Koyil – Located 21 Kms from Madurai is another Vishnu Temple – Alagar Koyil. The deity in this temple is Azhagar, and it is believed that he is Goddess Meenakshi’s brother.
  4. Kazimar Big Mosque – It is the oldest mosque in Madurai. It was built under the guidance of Kazi Syed Tajuddin, who came from Oman and was a descendant of Islamic Prophet Mohammed. He had received this land as a gift from Kulasekara Pandiyan, a Pandya ruler, in the 13th century. The Madurai Maqbara which contains the dargah of the Madurai Hazrats is placed inside the mosque.
  5. Thiruparankundram – Located 8 kms from Madurai is the Thiruparankundram hill, where the marriage of the Hindu god Murugan and Deivanai had taken place. It is a very popular tourist spot. There are carvings of many Hindu gods on the walls of the temple.
  6. Goripalayam Mosque – This mosque situated in Gorippalayam houses the graves of Hazrat Sulthan Shamsuddeen Badhusha, Hazrat Sulthan Alauddin Badhusha and Hazrat Sulthan Habibuddin (Ghaibuddin) Badhusha.
  7. St. Mary’s Cathedral – The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Madurai is seated in this cathedral.

Other Places to Visit in Madurai

  1. Thirumalai Nayak Palace – This palace complex displays the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. It was built by Thirumalai Nayakar. It has been declared as a national monument and the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department is responsible for maintaining it. A sound and light show is organized here every day.
  2. Palace of Rani Mangamma – It is used as Gandhi Memorial Museum and it has Gandhiji’s blood stained garment, which he had worn at the time of his assassination by Nathuram Godse.
  3. The Eco Park – The Eco Park is located in Tallakulam. The main feature of this park is the lighting in trees and fountains.
  4. Rajaji children’s park – It is located between Tamukkam grounds and Gandhi museum. More than 5000 visitors come here every day.
  5. MGR Race Course Stadium – This stadium is mainly used for athletic meets. It also has a swimming pool. Many national meets have been hosted here. Many national and international level Kabbadi Championships are also held here.

Festivals

Numerous festivals are celebrated by the people of Madurai. The important ones are the Car Festival, Chittirai Festival, and Meenakshi Tirukkalyanam.

  1.  The Meenakshi Tirukkalyanam is a 10-day long festival which is celebrated every year in the months of April and May. More than a million people come to see it. The idols of Goddess Meenakshi and Sundareshwar are taken in a beautiful procession during the Cradle Festival.
  2. Another festival celebrated in September is the Avanimoolam, wherein the thiruvilayadal(64 sacred names of Lord Shiva) are recited.
  3. The Float Festival, also known as Thepporchavam is celebrated to mark the birth of King Thirumalai Nayak, on a full moon day of the Tamil Month – Thai in the months of January and February. The icons of Meenakshi and Siva are decorated and floated in a tank on a raft, which has glittering lamps and flowers.
  4. Jallikattu is the most famous sport of Tamil Nadu. It is celebrated in January during the festival of Pongal. It is the popular bull taming festival held every year.
  5. Santhanakoodu – These festivals are celebrated according to the Islamic Calender to commemorate the Islamic saints.

Kanyakumari – The Tip of India

Kanyakumari – The Tip of India
Located at the southernmost tip of India, Kanyakumari lies in the state of Tamil Nadu. In olden times, it was called Cape Comorin. Kanyakumari is one of the most famous tourist spots of India. The name Kanyakumari has been dervised from the name of a hindu goddess Kumari Amman, whose temple is located on the shores of the Laccadive Sea.

Reaching Kanyakumari
Railways – Trivandrum Central is the major rail station near Kanyakumari and it is connected to all major cities of India. Kanyakumari Junction is 1Km from the bus stand.
Airways – Trivandrum International Airport is the nearest airport and it is 87 kms away. One can hire a taxi from Trivandrum. Trivandrum is well-connected all major cities of India.
Roadways – Kanyakumari is connected to all major cities through the Tamil Nadu and Kerela Road Transport Corporation Services.

Climate of Kanyakumari
Kanyakumari enjoys a moderate climate throughout the year. Winters and summers both are pleasant but it gets a bit warm and less tourists visit here during the summer months. It receives heavy rainfall and also experiences thunderstorms. The best time to visit Kanyakumari is October-March.

Legends
There are many legends about Kanyakumari. One Hindu Legend states that Kanya Devi who was an avtar of Goddess Parvati was supposed to marry Mord Siva but he failed to show up on the wedding day and the grains and rice which were to be used for the wedding feast remained unused. These unused grains turned into stones and these stones are still seen on the seashore.
Another Hindu Legend states that Lord Hanuman had dropped a small piece of the earth when he was carrying a mountain from the Himalayas with a life-saving herb, while going to Lanka during the war between Ram and Ravana. This piece of the earth is known as Marunthuvazh Malai which means the hill where medicine lives. This is why once can find lots of medicinal plants in the area. Marunthuvazh Malai is 7 Kms away from Kanyakumari.
A medicinal expert, the sage Agasthya also lived around this area in the olden times. This is also one of the reasons why so many medicinal plants are found here. A nearby village has also been named after the sage. It is called Agastheeswaram and there is an ashram also where many tourists visit. A can get a fantastic view of Kanyakumari from the top of the hill.

History of Kanyakumari
Kanyakumari is well known for its art, culture and religion since the ancient times. In the earlier times, it was also a major centre for trade and commerce. The Cholas, the Cheras,the Pandyas and the Nayak rulers ruled here. The temples built by these rulers display great architectural beauty. Kanyakumari was later made a part of the Venad Kingdom by King Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma who made Padmanabhapuram his capital. Between 1729 to 1758, the King set up Travancore and the current Kanykumari town was called as Southern Travancore. In the year 1741, the Dutch East India Company was defeated by Maharaja Marthanda Varma in the Battle of Colachel. After the downfall of the Pandyan Kings, the Travancore Royals ruled over Kanyakumari till 1947. It was during the reign of the Travancore Royals that Kanyakumari got its present name. Malayalam is the preferred language in Kanyakumari.

Places to visit
Tourism is an important industry in Kanyakumari.There are many noteworthy locations in Kanyakumari:-
• The Kanyakumari Temple – The Kumari Amman temple is located on the shore and is devoted to Goddess Parvati. The diety of Goddess Parvati has a scintillating nose ring which is said to be visible from the sea.
• Vivekananda Rock Memorial – Eknth Ranade built this 41 m high structure of the famous Tamil poet and saint Thiruvalluvar in the year 1970. This statue is one of the tallest statues of Asia.
• Sri Padhaparai – This rock is believed to have the footprints of the Goddess Parvati, the virgin goddess and Swami Vivekananda also meditated on this rock.
• Gandhi Memorial – is also place worth-seeing, since Gandhiji’s ashes have been preserved here and can be seen by the public.
There are many other religious sites, beaches, forests and mountain valleys in the Kanyakumari district.

Hampi – A delight for Pilgrims

Hampi – A delight for Pilgrims

The Hampi village is located in Vijayanagara in the state of Karnataka. It is a religious city and has many temples and old monuments which belong to the old city. UNESCO has declared the ruins of the city, a World Heritage Site and it appears as ‘Group of Monuments at Hampi’ in the list. The name Hampi has been derived from the old name of the Tungabhadra River – Pampa, since the city is built on the banks of this river. At times it is also referred to as Virupakshapura and Vijayanagara. Hampi is 353 Kms away from Bangalore and only 74 Kms from Bellary. The nearest railway station is Hosapete, also called Hospet which is 13 Kms from Hampi. Mantralayam city, which is also built on the banks of the Tungabhadra River is in AP and 150 Kms from Hampi. Thousands of pilgrims and tourists visit Hampi every year. There are more than 500 monuments around the valleys and hills, which include remains of aquatic structures, palaces, beautiful temples, ancient markets, bastions, royal pavilions and so on… Hampi is a delight for pilgrims and a great holiday spot for backpackers as well.

The History Of Hampi

In Hampi, the first settlements were as old as 1 CE. Hampi served as one of the most important areas of the capital city of the Vijayanagara Empire between 1336 – 1565, after which the Deccan Muslim Confederacy captured it. Since the city was protected by hills on three sides and the Tungabhadra River on the fourth side, it proved to be of strategic importance.
Both architecturally and historically, the city is of great significance. Several large stones have been found in the city, which might have been used to make idols of the Hindu gods and goddesses. Excavations are frequently conducted in the area by The Archeological Survey of India, in order to find temples and artifacts.

The Government of Karnataka organizes the annual Vijayanagara Festival in the month of November, every year. Agriculture and tourism are the two key industries in the village apart from the endorsements from the Virupaksha Temple and other temples in the neighbourhood of the city.

Several mineral deposits are present in the region, iron-ore and manganese being the principal ones. Mining is done in the region since the past many years. But recently, the mining of iron-ore has been increased due to a boom in the international market. This is a threat to the Tungabhadra dam and the World Heritage Site Hampi.

Significant Places Near Hampi -:

  1. Achyutaraya Temple/ Tiruvengalanatha Temple
  2. Anegondi
  3. Anjeyanadri Hill
  4. Aqueducts and Canals
  5. Archaeological Museum at Kamalapura
  6. Badava Linga
  7. Chandramauleshwar Temple
  8. Elephant stables
  9. Hazara Rama Temple
  10. Hemakuta Group of Temples
  11. Lake(Near sanapur)
  12. Lotus temple
  13. Preksha temple and groups
  14. Sasivekalu Ganesha
  15. Sri Lakshmi Narasimha
  16. The Kings’ balance
  17. The Underground Temple
  18. Tungabhadra River
  19. Uddana Veerabhadra temple
  20. Virupaksha Temple
  21. Virupapura
  22. Vitthal temple
  23. Yantrodharaka Anjaneya temple
  24. Yeduru Basavanna
  25. Zenana enclosure

Temples at Hampi

There are various temples at Hindu which depict vedanta mythology and many people still go there to worship. Some of the important places are:

  1. Virupaksha Temple – Situated in the Bazaar of Hampi, this is the most ancient temple and it is also referred to as Pampapathi Temple. At the entranc e of this temple, there is tower which is 160 ft high. There is a statue of Lord Shiva in the temple. Also, there are many erotic statues of Pampa and Bhuvaneshwari in the temple complex.
  2. Malyavanta Raghunathaswamy Temple – This temple is located three kilometres across the road and depicts the architectural style of the ancient times. Engrossing motifs of fishes and other marine creatures can be seen on the inner walls of this temple.
  3. Hazara Rama Temple Complex– This temple complex is in ruins now. It has a huge courtyard with beautigul gardens. It is best known for the intricate frescos of the Hindu religion. There are over thousand inscriptions and carvings in this temple and these carvings depict the story of the great epic – Ramayana. This is why it is called the Hazara – (Thousand ) Rama temple.
  4. Vitthal Temple Complex – The Vitthala Temple complex is the most famous temple of Hampi. Floodlights have been positioned in the temple to light it up and they enhance the beauty of this architectural masterpiece. There is a stone chariot in the area surrounding the temple, which is the logo of Karnataka Tourism. Many musical pillars are installed in the temple. There are two pillars which are cut. These pillars were cut down by the Britishers, since they wanted to find out the source of the sound but all their efforts were in vain. All they could find was hollow pillars.
  5. Krishna Temple Complex – The Krishna Temple Complex has been excavated in the last decade and efforts are being made for its restoration.

Global Heritage Fund, a non-profit organization, in collaboration with the Hampi Foundation, the State of Karnataka and Cornell University are making all possible efforts to preserve the rich cultural heritage of Hampi.

Mysore – The City of Palaces

Mysore – The City of Palaces

Mysore is located at an altitude of 770m above sea level between the Kaveri and Kabini rivers. It is about 140 Kms away from Bangalore. It is spread across an area of 50 square kilometers. It is often referred to as the city of Palaces. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Mysore is the cultural capital of the state of Karnataka. It is famous for its Dussehra celebrations, which is a ten day celebration. According to Hindu Mythology, Mahishasura, a demon used to rule over Mysore. The anglicized version of Mahishasura is Mysore. Goddess Chamundeshwari later killed Mahishasura. Goddess Chamundeshwari’s temple is situated on the top of the Chamundi Hills, on base of which Mysore is located.
There are many palaces in Mysore, which include the famous Mysore Palace. The famous Mysore style of painting is named after Mysore. King Raja Wodeyar is the patron of the Mysore style of painting. The gesso work with gold foil is the distinctive feature of these paintings. The Mysore style of painting is considered to be an offshoot of the Vijayanagar painting school. Mysore also lends its name to a sweet dish called Mysore Pak and a silk saree – Mysore Silk which is made from pure silk and gold zari. A traditional silk turban worn by men during traditional ceremonies called Mysore Peta also gets its name from the city. The major industry here is tourism but information technology is also emerging as a leading employer. The first private radio station in India is located in Mysore. The most popular sport in this city is Cricket.

Climate

One can visit Mysore at any time of the year but it is more preferable to go there between September to March. Winters prevail from October to February. It is cool with the minimum temperature dropping to 10°C. Mysore experiences a short summer season from March – May. It becomes very hot during the summers with a temperature as high as 39°C. Medium to heavy rains are expected from June to September.

How to reach

  • Railways – Mysore is connected to Bangalore through trains and all major cities in India are connected to Bangalore.
  • Roadways – The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation provides a variety of buses from Bangalore to Mysore. There are deluxe and semi-deluxe buses available.
  • Airways – There is a small domestic airport in Mysore and it is connected to Bangalore. One can also take a flight to Bangalore and hire a taxi to Mysore, which is only 140 Kms away.

History

Mysore was called Puragera till the 15th century and King Chamraja Wodeyar III constructed the splendid Mahishuru fort at this time. During the reign of the Vijaynagar kings, Mysore was used as a feudatory of Mysore Kings and later on, Raja Wodeyar made it his capital. Mysore was the capital of the Kingdom of Mysore till 1947. The Wodeyar dynasty ruled the city. Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan ruled Mysore in the 18th century for a short span of time. The Wodeyars have significantly contributed to the cultural heritage of Mysore.
Mysore became an independent state in the year 1565 during King Narasraja Wodeyar’s rule. The Wodeyars ruled Mysore till 1799 and the city was taken over by British allies. During this time, the administrative status of Mysore was lost. It regained its lost glory in the year 1881, when the British made Bangalore their capital. At the time of independence, all kings had to surrender their titles but Raja Jayachamrajendra Wodeyar was permitted to keep his title and he worked as the head (Rajpramukh) of Mysore till 1974, when he died.

Culture of Mysore

Mysore has a rich cultural heritage. It is called Karnataka’s cultural capital. Dussehra is celebrated with much vigor. The celebration carries on for ten days. King Raja Wodeyar first introduced it in the year 1610. On the day of Mahanavmi, the nineth day, people worship the royal sword and it is then taken on embellished horses, camels and elephants in a procession. On Vijaydashami, the tenth day, the traditional Dussehra procession is carried on in the local streets of Mysore. An idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari is placed on a golden mandapa on an elephant during the procession. There are musical band and dance groups which accompany the procession. It starts from the Mysore Palace and goes till the Bannimantapa. The festivities end on the night of Vijayadashami with Panjina Kavayatthu or the torchlight parade.
The city of Mysore is home to a number of palaces, which is why it is often referred to as the City of Palaces. The Amba Vilas or Mysore palace is the most famous palace. The Jaganmohan palace is used as an art gallery. The Rajendra Vilas is known as the summer palace. The Lalitha Mahal has been transformed into a Hotel. The Jayalakshmi Vilas, which was the main palace of Mysore, got burned in the year 1897. One can see the indo-saracenic architectural style in the Amba Vilas Palace. The palace is maintained by the government of Karnataka. A small portion is used by the royal family as their residence. King Chamaraja Wodeyar constructed the Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion for his daughter Jayalakshammanni but it has been converted into a museum and it displays artifacts and folk culture of the royal family.

Tourism

The Amba Vilas Palace is the most famous monument of Mysore. Apart from other palaces, the Chamundeshwari temple and St. Philomena’s Church are other noteworthy places in Mysore. The Karanji and Kukkarahalli lakes are popular lakes in Mysore. The Mysore Zoo is much loved by kids. There are many museums in Mysore – The Folk Lore Museum, Regional Museum of Natural History, Oriental Research Institute and the Railway Museum. Another museum that houses musical instruments and wax statues is the Melody World. The Krishnarajasagar Dam is only a short distance from Mysore. A musical fountain show is held in the adjacent Brindavan Gardens every evening. Somanathapura, Srirangapatna and Talakad are other places of importance near Mysore. Bylakuppe, Nanjanagud and the waterfalls at Shivanasamudra are places of religious significance close to Mysore. The hill station of Ooty, Madikeri and Sultan Battery are located very near to Mysore. The Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta hill and the B R Hills are also close by. Mysore also has some attractive destinations for those who like wildlife. Some of the popular places to visit are Bandipur National Park, Nagarhole National Park, Kokrebellur and Ranganathittu bird sanctuaries, Mudumalai National Park, B R Hills and Melkote wildlife sanctuaries. Elephants, chital, tigers, Indian leopards, gaur and other threatened species are found in these sanctuaries.