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  • Shelley Dark

16. Madurai

The Taj Hotel is high on a hill overlooking the small town of Madurai, population 3 million. The main building was the residence of the chief officer of a British textile company from 1890. Its elevation makes it slightly cooler than the city below.

There are many peacocks in the ground, which cry mournfully through the day.

Madurai is pronounced by our guide for the day as MAR-DRY. It's a major agricultural centre, producing rice, coconut, sugar cane, and funnily, and clothing such as men's shirts and cotton saris. It also exports jasmine all over the world. And it's supposedly a party city, a city which never sleeps.

Today we are visiting the remanants of the Nayak palace, and the king who built it ruled in 1636. He tolerated all religions in the hope of avoiding conflict. His palace is in the Indo-Saracen style. There are the pillars of christian architecture, the arches and dome of the Muslims, and depictions of the Hindu gods and goddesses everywhere. It was designed by an Italian architect. The British redesigned and renovated it in the 18th century.

A huge arched gateway leads into a huge courtyard where the king gave audience. Each night there was a light and sound show.

It's a very grand building.

With amazing ceilings.

The domes are painted beautifully. I love this white one.

The temple of Minakshi takes its name from another of Shiva's wives. Who was called that after the Tamil word for fish. Because she had fish-shaped or almond eyes. Which I think must have been a plus. She is actually another avatar of Parvati. I'm a little confused about avatars, icons, representations and incarnations. But remember. Don't look for logic.

Fish drawn with chalk on the floor.

A graphic fish representation on the floor. I'm struck at how difficult it would be to do this freehand.

Back to her story. The king Malayadhwaja Pandiyan couldn't have children. So Shiva sent down a girl-child incarnation of Parvati to him. She was 3 years old, and had three breasts. This distressed her parents. They were told not to worry. One day when she saw her future husband, the third breast would fall off. In the meantime she grew up, became a mighty ruler on the death of her father, and advanced right to the base of the Himalayas where Shiva lived. When she saw him she fell desperately in love. And you guessed it. Back to two breast bands.

That's Shiva and Minakshi on the right. Vishnu on the left is Minakshi's brother. He missed the wedding because he had to go through robber territory on the way, so disguised himself as a robber. That gave him all sorts of problems with security people as well! Missing the marriage made him really furious!

The temple has an absolutely stunning colourful ceiling. None of the circles are identical.

Often temples have a tank where worshippers bathe. This particular one is called the golden lotus pond.

I'm adding white powder to what has become an unrecognisable statue of Ganesh. You can't even see his elephant head.

These musicians have been playing music VERY loudly.

Our guide says that a whole monolith of granite has been sliced in situ 'like a loaf of bread'. The slices were brought to this temple, erected as pillars, and then each was carved. No one is the same.

We see beautiful paintings behind glass.

Tiny intricately carved ivory figurines are behind glass, almost covered in cobwebs.

Across from the temple, the bazaar is beckoning. Inside it is extremely hot. Shops line the narrow corridors. Fabrics, toys, costume jewellery, spices. Tailors at their sewing machines sewing while you wait. My money is still in the bus, but I don't really mind. I'm happy to be photographing.

This vendor is jolly and happy to have his photograph taken.

This girl is watching me take photos. I ask if I may take her photo. She nods. Her parents nearby are thrilled and help by telling her where to stand. It's a squash with people pushing past, going about their business. What she's wearing is called a niquab. It stop me from seeing her whole expression, but I know she's smiling. And I heard her laughing softly.

Tomorrow we go to Thekaddy. We are staying at a spice plantation. Something totally new. I don't know how the wifi will be, so keep your fingers crossed.

I'm in haste because the bus is leaving soon so please forgive any typos. Until next we meet buddies, and I want to tell you what I've learned about the caste system....

I'll leave you with a cache of combs.

shelley dark, writer 

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