Spiritual Travel - Meeting the Goddess Meenakshi
by Rachna Singh Chopra
The girl was pretty, but had three breasts. This worried the king. However, a divine voice assured him that the extra breast would vanish as soon as the girl meets her consort. The girl grew into a bold and beautiful princess, and no sooner did she sight Shiva on the battlefield of Kailash, than her third breast disappeared! The princess was none other than Parvati. After the couple wed and ruled long over the Pandian kingdom, they settled in Madurai.
The train started moving slowly as soon as I finished hearing this tale from a co-passenger. I was on my way to the famous Meenakshi temple in Madurai where the couple (princess Meenakshi and Sundereshwar Shiva) has been residing ever since. As I watched the sky change colour and wear a bridal red, I marvelled at the strength of their love; that till today, their wedding is held sacred, their idols worshipped, their union revered. The pillars of the Meenakshi temple are said to resonate with the tales of the two eternal lovers. Soon the aroma of sambar, dal, vadas, and freshly prepared idlis being served on banana leaves permeated the air. I wrote a haiku-The breeze moves the branch, the branch the bird; the bird the breeze. Soon, I was lulled to sleep by the rhythmic rattling of the train.
The next morning found me in the city of Madurai, pulsating with the presence of the goddess, the temple walls towering out from the teeming streets of the city. Checking into a room near the temple complex, I waited for her call. Admiring the commanding structure from different angles kept my attention gripped for one entire day. From each peep, the temple looked different, with each of its four awe-inspiring entrances giving a different view of the abode, where Parvati disguised as Meenakshi resides with her timeless consort Shiva.
As the next evening strolled past, it whispered an invitation from the devi in my ear. With an offering of a jasmine flower in my palm, I entered from the eastern street through the Ashtha Sakshi Mandapam, with its pillars illustrating different aspects of the goddess and the miracles performed by Lord Shiva in Madurai. I passed idols of Ganesha, carvings of the eight Shaktis, innumerable inscriptions of verses, and thousands of idols embedded on the walls and ceilings on the way. Hearing the sculpted figures narrate details of the wedding, it felt as though a perennial celebration is being held here each moment in vibrant colour and spectacular ritual. In temple tradition, it is customary to meet the goddess before encountering Shiva. Of course, isnít the route to Shiva through Shakti?
Procuring a one-rupee ticket from the counter, as I moved towards the shrine of the Shakti incarnate Pandian princess, I knew I had embarked not in a temple, but a city! The sprawling area of over six hectares boasts of long corridors, towering sculptures and several 45-50 metre tall gopurams or gateways, studded with myriad mythological images of Dravidian gods and goddesses. The busy lanes of this city are dotted with several dance halls (whose mention is heard in the poetic renditions of Tamil scholars), stunning architectural splendour, and rich legend.
Skipping the line of devotees, I sat facing the splendid shrine of the goddess. The 2000-year-old, dark sanctuary was lit up with a single oil lamp, which revealed the countenance of Meenakshi, carved out of a single emerald. The delicately adorned Pandian beauty with high cheekbones, arched eyebrows, well-defined chin and lotus eyes cast a spell. If her stone image could be so engrossing, how bewitching must she be in flesh and bone! I could have watched her endlessly, but for the call of the priest, who signalled me to come forward and receive prasadam-a lotus flower from her feet and a pack of sindoor; both symbolic of union!
Past the sanctum sanctorum, crossing a corridor with mythical lions jumping out of pillars, a gigantic idol of Ganesha (unearthed 3 km from the temple by king Thirumalai Nayakar), a dancing Nataraja, the ancient tank of Golden Lotuses where Indra is believed to have plucked out golden lotuses to worship Shiva (and where Tamil threw in literature and rated it worthy only if it floated!); past the 12-ft-high dwarapalaks (gatekeepers), eight elephants and 12 lions keeping vigil at the entrance, I proceeded to meet Lord Sundereshwara. After all, he was the lord of the lords! When face-to-face with the idol, it was evident that the splendour preceding the shrine was an effort to match his grandeur.
My visit culminated when I got ushered into the awe-inspiring thousand-pillared hall, with 985 pillars arranged such that they appear to be in a straight line from all angles. The 22 smaller musical pillars have been carved out from a single stone. Each pillar spoke to me a different tale of the deviís beauty and compassion. It seemed as though the thousand-pillared hall was Sahasrara, the pivotal point of bliss attained in union.
Subject: meenakshi in devon ke dev mahadev - 24 March 2013
in devon ke dev mahadev the story of meenakshi has been altered completely and much neglected.she is one of the most important deity we pray to. would you like to comment on this?
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