Painting of the goddess Meenakshi, depicted crowned, two-armed and with a green parrot perching on her right hand, circa 1820.
|Other names||Meenaatchi, Tadadakai|
|Affiliation||Devi, Parvati, Tripurasundari|
Meenakshi (also known as Meenatchi and Tadadakai), is a Hindu goddess and tutelary deity of Madurai who is considered an avatar of the Goddess Parvati. She is the divine consort of Sundareswarar, a form of Shiva. She finds mention in literatures as the princess or queen of the ancient Pandya kingdom who elevates to godhood. The goddess is also extolled by Adi Shankara as Shri Vidya.
"Meenakshi" is a Sanskrit term meaning "fish-eyed", derived from the words mina ("fish") and akshi ("eyes"). She was earlier known by the Tamil name Tadadakai ("fish-eyed one"), mentioned in early historical account as a fierce, unmarried and meat-eating goddess which was later sanskritised as Meenakshi. She is also known by the Tamil name "Angayarkanni" or "Ankayarkannammai" (literally, "the mother with the beautiful fish eyes"). According to another theory, the name of the goddess literally means "rule of the fish", derived from the Tamil words meen (fish) and aatchi (rule).
Various meanings of this appellation have been suggested, including that she was originally a goddess of the fisher-folk, that her eyes are "large and brilliant" like that of a fish, or that she has "long and slender" eyes shaped like the body of a fish. Another interpretation is that the name is based on the belief that the fish never close their eyes: the goddess similarly never stops watching over her devotees. Yet another interpretation states that the name is based on the ancient belief that the fish feed their young by merely looking at them; the goddess supposedly supports here devotees by merely glancing at them.
Several great hymns on the goddess were composed in the early modern period by many saints and scholars, including the famous Neelakanta Dikshitar. The stotram Meenakshi Pancharatnam (Five Jewels of Meenakshi), composed by Adi Sankaracharya (8th century AD), is an incantation to her. Meenakshi does not directly appear in the stotram Lalita Sahasranama, though there is a reference to her in the line Vakthra lakshmi parivaha chalan meenabha lochana (She who has auspiciousness and glory of Lakshmi and has beautiful eyes which look like fish in the pond of her face).
One Tamil poem/song (Tamilpillai) portrays Meenakshi as the intersection of domesticity and divinity and as a global icon for all who deal with "impossible" children or husbands:
The great Shiva with the metel flower / Wanders through the courtyard of space / Destroying your work again and again / And then he comes before you. // You never get angry. / Every day you just pick up the vessels.
The 13th century Tamil text Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam, mentions king Malayadhwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai who performed a yajna seeking a son for succession. Instead a daughter is born who is already 3 year old and has three breasts. Shiva intervenes and says that the parents should treat her like a son, and when she meets her husband, she will lose the third breast. They follow the advice. The girl grows up, the king crowns her as the successor and when she meets Shiva, his words come true, she takes her true form of Meenakshi. According to Harman, this may reflect the matrilineal traditions in South India and the regional belief that "penultimate [spiritual] powers rest with the women", gods listen to their spouse, and that the fate of kingdoms rest with the women. According to Susan Bayly, the reverence for Meenakshi is a part of the Hindu goddess tradition that integrates with the Dravidian Hindu society where the "woman is the lynchpin of the system" of social relationships. Her eyes are fabled to bring life to the unborn.
The temple complex at Madurai, Tamil Nadu in India is dedicated to Meenakshi as the primary deity. It is also referred to as Meenakshi Amman or Minakshi-Sundareshwara Temple. Meenakshi's shrine is next to that of her consort Sundareswar, a form of Shiva.
Though the temple has historic roots, most of the present campus structure was rebuilt after the 14th century CE, further repaired, renovated and expanded in the 17th century by Thirumalai Nayak. In early 14th century, the armies of Delhi Sultanate led by Muslim Commander Malik Kafur plundered the temple, looted it of its valuables and destroyed the Madurai temple town along with many other temple towns of South India. The contemporary temple is the result of rebuilding efforts started by the Vijayanagara Empire rulers who rebuilt the core and reopened the temple. In the 16th century, the temple complex was further expanded and fortified. The restored complex houses 14 gopurams (gateway towers), each above 45 metres (148 ft) in height. The complex has numerous sculpted pillared halls such as Ayirakkal (1,000 pillar hall), Kilikoondu-mandapam, Golu-mandapam and Pudu-mandapam. Its shrines are dedicated to Hindu deities and Shaivism scholars, with the vimanas above the garbhagrihas (sanctums) of Meenakshi and Sundaresvara gilded with gold.
The temple is a major pilgrimage destination within the Shaivism tradition, dedicated to Meenakshi Devi and Shiva. However, the temple includes Vishnu in many narratives, sculptures and rituals as he is considered to be Meenakshi's brother. This has made this temple and Madurai as the "southern Mathura", one included in Vaishnava texts. The large temple complex is the most prominent landmark in Madurai and attracts tens of thousands visitors a day. The temple attracts over a million pilgrims and visitors during the annual 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, celebrated with much festivities and a ratha (chariot) procession during the Tamil month of Chittirai (overlaps with April–May in Georgian calendar, Chaitra in North India).
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