The Specialities of Madurai

Madurai is a city popularly known as ‘Thoonga Nagaram’ – which means a city that never sleeps. With Chennai completing its 375th birthday, the two thousand five hundred year old, Madurai often referred to as Athens of the East - smiled gleefully. Madurai which served as the capital city during the reign of the ‘Pandya Kings’, is dotted with rich culture, heritage and of course, recorded history from the pre-Christ era. Madurai has been a seat of Tamil literature [Sangam] and reference to the city and its people is found even in ancient Tamil literature. There are a few Tamil epics which have been spun around Madurai.

The whole city is known for its people with brisk strides, hard work, typical way of speaking Tamil with a touch of their native dialect - courteous and expressive. This city also called the city of temples, has stood the tests of time. Madurai is known for its authentic and mouth-watering delicacies, which cannot be found elsewhere – rather for the day round hot platter is why the city is fondly referred as ‘thoonga nagaram’. Each individual takes pride in the fact that he/she hails from Madurai. There are a few specialities or rather significant aspects which remain the very essence of Madurai.

Meenakshi amman temple

This land of temples, has exquisite and magnificent temples which are a true testimony of piety and architectural wonder. The very set up of the town is brilliant. It is designed in the shape of a lotus, with the centre being the world famous Meenakshi Amman temple. One can see the towering ‘Gopurams’ [or Dwars or four entrances in the cardinal directions] from any corner of the city. This temple radiates spirituality and continues to be a hallowed spot for the locals as well as devotees across the globe.

Every street has a temple, few of the important ones are Koodal Azhagar temple, Thiruppuramkundram, and many more. The whole city resonates of the stories of “Thiruvilayadal” – Plays by God. Lord Shiva is the hero of these Thiruvilayadals where most of the descriptions are of Madurai or Maduraiites. The Lord has descended to be part of his devotees, walked the streets and breathed the air here, for this places continues to celebrate Saivism (or Shiva worship) with great adulation. The bank of the Vaigai river along is where this majestic city stands, and is mentioned in one of the magnificent literary compositions ‘Silappadigaram’. It is this same bank once treaded by ‘Kannagi’ – a heroine of a lifetime for the Tamils is said to have staged her finale at Madurai. The very thought of such wise and spiritual souls who once walked the same expanse, transcends a great amount of radiance and pride.

jasmine flowers

Madurai’s long lasting romance with Jasmine: The importance of this flower can be traced to the early Sangam period, when King Pari gave his chariot as a support for the jasmine climber, since he couldn’t see such a beautiful plant lying on the ground without lusture. It is this flower, which gave the town the epithet “Jasmine Capital of India”. In 1970s even the Indian Airlines flight to Chennai was called the ‘Malli’ special, as jasmine is known in Tamil. Madurai alone produces about 9,500 tonnes of jasmine. The soil and weather condition makes the ‘jasmine of Madurai’ unique. The fragrance of the flower remains intact for 36 hours. The petals are thick and the capacity to retain moisture delays early withering. This divine flower is an intrinsic part of the city and its people.

jigarthanda

Jigarthanda, the native drink of Madurai, we can see the name being a clear testimony to the Mughal influence. It is a Hindi word, which means ‘one which cools the heart’. The key ingredients to make this drink include, Milk, Sea Algae, and Nannari Sherbat - few shop keepers substitute the Sea Algae with Almond Pisin, (an edible gum derived from almond tree). This concoction is served chill, and supposed to cool the body during summers. You can get a tall glass of this drink - which is pleasantly flavoured and has a chewy texture, for about Rs. 15 - 20, while a special one, with a dollop of ice cream costs thereabouts of Rs. 30 - 40. Paruthi Pal is another drink, which has many health benefits and is made out of cotton seeds, coconut, jaggery and raw rice. These are easily available in even street-corner shops and one can generally spot them on a pushcart, and costs about Rs. 8 to10.

fluffy idlies of Madurai

As the evening progresses one can see the noisy side of the city come to life, there is extreme hustle bustle. Tables and chairs find their way out of the eating joints. One does not have to walk around in search of a spot to satiate the hunger pangs, it is dotted all over the streets be it on push carts, pavement shops, small restaurants, in essence, food galore!! The clanging noise made while making the ‘Kothu Barota’, the fragrance of the steaming fluffy idlis, the white idiyappams, the hissing sound of the Sizzling Dosas, are all inviting. Madurai cuisine has a balance of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, few of the must try delicacies include, Murungai Saru, Ma Poosani Kootu, Kudal Kari Roast, Mutton Sukka. The famous Chicken 65 is said to have originated from this very city. They also specialise in few Chettinad-style dishes, which is more than ‘worth a try’. For all those with sweet tooth, the Iruttu Kadai Thirunelveli Halwa which is transported to Madurai all the way from Thirunelveli is a must indulge delicacy....just can’t afford to miss it !!!

sungudi sarees

Chungudi or Sungudi Sarees: Madurai is said to have been a commercial establishment and centre for trade from years bygone. It can be said that they were one of the earliest cities to have traded with other countries like Rome and Greece. This city is known for its textile industry. The chungudi and sungudi sarees have patterns inspired by geometrical prints termed as ‘Kolam’. These sarees involve two contrast colours. The tie and dye technique involved owes it to the Saurashtrian artisans who settled down in Madurai. The Sungudi sarees are also called as ‘Eco-friendly’ sarees, because of the dye used, is extracted from leaves. Since they are made out of pure cotton, it is just perfect for the summers. Don’t forget to pick one of them when you visit the place.....

wooden handicrafts

Handicraft

A wide range of artefacts made out of eco-friendly products are famous and exported too. Handbags made out of Cybrus Rotantus, wooden articles made out of coconut shell can be picked up. One can see banana coir exquisitely turned into toys, pots and bags etc. The wooden toys and wooden carvings are exceptionally good and worth every penny. If you are interested visit the Poompuhar Showroom, Mangammal Chatram Buildings, No:21, West Veli Street, which is run by the Department of Tourism. You can also try your hand on brass articles too.

Chennai may be the capital of Tamil Nadu, but Madurai claims to be the very soul of it. It has a unique place not just in the map of Tamil Nadu but in the heart of each ‘Tamilian’. A multi-faceted city so glorious and grand, be there and experience its splendour.....

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