Madurai is one of South India’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, situated on the banks of Vaigai river in Tamil Nadu. The city is also known as the City of Temples, the most famous temple here being Meenakshi Amman Temple. Apart from being a centre of pilgrimage and the erstwhile capital of the Pandyan dynasty, Madurai is also known for its cuisine, architecture, people and culture.
Madurai finds mention in the Tamil classical epic – Silappatikaram that revolves around Kannagi who avenges her husband’s death by destroying the Pandyan kingdom. The Meenakshi Amman Temple is at the geographical centre and the fulcrum around which the daily life of the locals revolve. The original temple was ransacked by the Muslim invader Malik Kafur in the 14th-century; the present structure is believed to have been built in the 17th-century.
The city is also famed for its jasmine flowers known as Madurai Malligai, which is mostly sent for export. In fact, as a city it played a major role in the Indian Independence Movement; it was after seeing the agricultural labourers wearing the loin cloth in Madurai that Mahatma Gandhi decided to switch to wearing one himself.
If you’re visiting Madurai, you could consider a getaway to gorgeous hill stations such as Kodaikanal and Munnar and wildlife hot spots such as Periyar National Park. The city is a riot of sounds and colours during festivals, and its highly recommended that you visit then. Meenakshi Tirukalyanam is a 10-day annual festival celebrated during April-May, and Jallikattu (a game of taming angry bulls) are two festivals that bring a lot of culture and beauty to the scene.
Interestingly Madurai is a city that never sleeps; offers some unique flavoured drinks such as Jigarthanda and Paruthi Pal; and unlike several pilgrimage towns, serves non-vegetarian food. However, sample non-vegetarian dishes at your own risk because they tend to be very spicy. Vegearians too have a plethora of options to choose from; try authentic Iyengar style meals that can be easily found in the city.