Minaksi Goddess and Temple
There is a myth that tells of Minaksi’s origins. According to it King Malayadhvaji Pandya and his wife needed to produce a male heir so that he could be the next successor of the city of Madurai (Harman 44). Malayadhvaji Pandya and his wife’s religious devotion and good works did not seem to be enough to change their childless state, so they decided to conduct a series of asvamedha or horse sacrifices. Through these horse sacrifices Malayadhvaji Pandya and his wife hoped that they would please the deities and be given a son. Unfortunately, the horse sacrifice is not always successful in the birth of a son, and after ninety-nine unsuccessful horse-sacrifices the god Indra intervened. Indra informed Malayadhvaji Pandya that if he wanted a son that he should perform “the sacrifice which brings forth a son” (Harman 45). The king took Indra’s advice, but the result of the sacrifice was unexpected. Instead of the sacrifice producing a son, it gave Malayadhvaji Pandya and his wife a three year old daughter. This upset the King for the sole reason that this daughter was not normal; she was considered to be a freak, because she had three breasts. Malayadhvaji Pandya complained to God and the king’s complaint did not go unheard. A heavenly voice of Siva responded:
[Oh King! Treat your daughter as though she were a son:
Perform for her all the rites as specified in the Vedas.
Giver her the name, “Tatatakai.” Crown her queen.
And when this woman, whose form is golden, meets her Lord, one of her breasts
Therefore, out your mind at ease.
In this way, Siva graciously appeared in the form of words spoken from the sky (Harman 45).]
King Malayadhvaji Pandya took the advice and trained his daughter as though she was the male heir to the throne. She was crowned queen, but shortly after the king dies. After the king passes away, his widow Kancanamalai enters the temple to worship “The Mother” (Annai) who is interpreted as “Minaksi” (The Fish Eyed Goddess) (Harman 45). It is in the temple that Kancanamalai, the queen’s mother, is informed that Siva’s consort Parvati was born in the form of Tatatakai/ Minaksi.
Minaksi is a goddess who is regarded as pure energy. In her benevolent form, as Siva’s bride she is Parvati, and in her terrifying form, as a bloodthirsty killer she is Kali (Brockman 326). Minaksi rules Pandya as an unmarried queen for quite some time, which is not proper for an Indian monarch. Minaksi’s mother complains about her unmarried state, but Minaksi assures her mother that there are better things to do than get married. She wants to conquer the world, and once she has successfully conquered the world she will marry.
Minaksi met Lord Siva when he was a great yogi meditating on Mount Kailas and she was on a pilgrimage (Brockman 326-327):
[The moment She saw him Her [third] breast disappeared.
She became bashful, passive, and fearful.
She leaned unsteadily, like the flowering branch of a tree under the weight of its
Her heavy dark hair fell on Her neck.
She looked downward, toward Her feet, with collyriumed eyes that were like
And there She stood, shining like lightning, scratching in the earth with Her toes (Harman 47).]
As Minaksi stood in front of Lord Siva, her minister Sumati pointed out that the ancient prophecy that was made at her birth has been fulfilled. Siva tells Minaksi to return to Madurai where he will marry her (Harman 47). When Minaksi arrives in Madurai she finds that the city is beautifully decorated, and that everyone is ecstatic about the wedding. The wedding preparations include the assembly of the bride’s garments, preparing the food, and sending out wedding invitations to an extensive guest list.
At the ceremony, Visnu gives the bride to Siva. [Siva blesses and partakes of the sweet drinking mixture. Brahma feeds the sacrificial fire with clarified butter. Siva ties the wedding necklace on his bride, pours parched grain into the fire, places the bride’s foot on the grinding stone, and points out to her the pole star, which symbolizes steadfastness (Harman 47).]
The marriage of Minaksi to Lord Siva represents many changes. The first significant change was the disappearance of her third breast. This disappearance meant that for the first time she was going to be treated as a woman. This was an important change because growing up her father always treated her as a male heir and she acted as a male heir. She conquered the world and ruled powerfully over Madurai.
The Minaksi temple is located in Madurai’s city center and it was built to honor the sacred marriage of the goddess Minaksi and the god Siva (Brockman 326). The Minaksi temple was built from 1623 to 1655, but its roots are over 2000 years old (Brockman 326). The original temple was built by Kulasekara Pandya, however most of what is seen on the temple today was built by the Nayaks in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. It is one of the largest temples in India with its measurements being approximately 850 feet long by 720 feet wide. The outer wall is about 20 feet high to protect the temple and the royal god Siva and goddess Minaksi who reside within it (Fuller 2). The temple contains twelve gopurams, four of which are the main entrances to the temple [Stevens]. Surrounding the temple is a series of expanding, ‘concentric’ squares (Fuller 2).
All South Indian temples representing Siva have two temples in one; the Minaksi temple is no different. There are separate temples for Minaksi and Siva who is locally known as Sudaresvara (The Beautiful Lord) (Hudson 33). Minaksi’s temple is southwest of Sudaresvara’s, which means both temples face east and positions the goddess to the god’s right. Minaksi being situated on Siva’s right is the usual positioning of their images during temple festivals (Fuller 3).
Inside the temple there are more than 30, 000 statutes (Brockman 326). The two major ones are Siva’s mount (a bull named Nandi), and his lingam. Both of which are located at the center of the courtyard (Brockman 326). Every evening before the temple closes, a palliyarai pujai (‘bedchamber worship’) takes place. The priest removes Minaksi’s nose-jewel from her main image, which symbolizes the transfer of power to the smaller image of Minaksi that is always kept in the bedchamber (Fuller 11). The palliyarai pujai is a procession led by drummers and a brass ensemble carries an image of Siva to Minaksi/Parvati’s bedroom to consummate their union (Brockman 327). It is at this time that the divine couple is offered food and lamps are waved in front of them. Two rituals are also performed at this time (Fuller 11). It is only at night that the god and goddess are united and seen as lovers.
In the morning, the priest’s first task is to worship at Siddhi Vinayaka’s shrine, which is located near the entrance of the Minaksi’s temple. Next, he goes to the bedchamber where the god and goddess are located and woken by song. The chamber is opened and the god and goddess are offered food and lamps are waved before the images. It is at this time that the priest goes to Minaksi sanctum and replaces her nose-jewel. The replacing of her nose jewel transfers her powers back to her main image. Minaksi is worshiped and any devotees present have their first sight of the goddess, a most auspicious vision to begin a new day (Fuller 12). The priest then returns Siva back to his temple, where the image is placed in its chamber and worship is then performed before the main linga. There is no specific ritual at this time, however, the gods powers are believed to return. It is at this time that the priest takes a sip of milk that had been offered to the deities, and then the rest is distributed to the attending devotees (Fuller 12).
The Minaksi temple indicates the importance of Devi worship, and the transformation of Minaksi from a powerful warrior queen who conquered the world, to a shy and modest woman when she met Siva for the first time (Rodrigues 284).
There are six major annual festivals that are held at the Minaksi temple. These six festivals last between ten and twelve days. For each festival a flag is raised on the main flagstaff in Siva’s temple for the entire duration of the festival. The only exception is when Ati Mulaikkottu is celebrated. Ati Mulaikkottu is a festival celebrated only for Minaksi, which means that the flag is raised in the goddess’s temple (Fuller 17).
Minaksi and Siva’s marriage is celebrated each year in the month of Citra (April-May) (Hudson 33). The god and goddess wedding is a symbol of the joint power that they hold over the city of Madurai. Minaksi and Siva are mounted on a golden bull, and carried though the city on a carved temple chariot (Brockman 327). Shortly after the festival of Siva and Minaksi’s wedding there is a festival for the journey of Visnu. Even though these are two different celebrations, in the minds of many devotees these two festivals are not separate and distinct; instead they form a single festival cittirai peruvila (Husdon 35).
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Brockman, Norbert C. (2011) Encyclopedia of Sacred Places. ABC-CLIO.
Dowson, John (1979) A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology. London: Routledge& Kegan Paul.
Fuller, C.J (1984) Servants of the Goddess. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Harman, William P. (1989) The Sacred Marriage of a Hindu Goddess. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Hudson, Dennis D. (2010) Krishna’s Mandala: Bhagavata Religion and Beyond. Oxford University Press.
Hillary Rodrigues, Hinduism – the eBook (2007). Published by Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.
Stevens, Michael (2006) The Sri Minaksi Sundaresvara Temple. www.madurai.com
Related Research Topics for Further Investigation
City of Madurai
Lord Sundaresvara Madurai
The Cittirai Peruvila Festival
Siddhi Vinayaka’s Shrine
Palliyarai Pujai Worship
Ati Mulaikkottu Festival
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
Article written by Lauryn Dzioba (Spring 2012), who is solely responsible for its content.