Madurai Mināxi Temple Gopura Pyramids

Madurai Mināxi Temple Gopura Pyramids.
Tamil Nadu, India

TA2022HR, 31 x 24 inch
Photographer: Anonymous, Circa 1870’s

Four magnificent gateway pyramidal towers called gopura in Sanskrit are visible in this vintage photo. Each structure in the shape of a pyramid is covered with thousands of stone figures of deities and symbolic animals painted brightly. The pyramids are topped with a line kalasha (sacred vessel). Note how the bases of the gopura are built with a skirt at the bottom raised above street level. This is to prevent any dirt or dirty water from the street coming inside the sacred temple buildings, during street cleaning. A total of six major gopura are found in the large temple complex dating from the 16th century which formed the heart of the old city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu.

The complex is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular enclosures with high walls in between as seen in the photo. Nestling under the wall to the left is a goshala (cowshed) where cows are kept partly to supply milk used for the temple rituals.

The temple enclosure has four main entrances with the inner quadrangles radiating out from the centre like the petals of a lotus. The temple has been described in early texts as a lotus blossoming from the navel of God. According to the Sanskrit lore, the sacred self-manifested shrine (Shayambhu-lingam) discovered by Lord Indra at Kadamba-vanam, was later enshrined by him in Madurai.

The temple is dedicated to Goddess Mināxi Devi (also called Meenakshi) identified as the sister of Lord Vishnu, and also known as Shri Rājmātangishwari. Minaxi resides at the heart of this temple with her consort Lord Sundareshwara or Lord Shiva. Contrary to the usual practice in Shiva temples, it is permissible to worship Devi Mināxi first and then Lord Sundareshwara. Madurai is considered the city of the Gods. This vintage photo captures the sheer size and magnificence of this huge temple complex.

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