Meenakshi (IAST mīnākṣī, often written Meenakshi in English; also Angayarkanni) is an Avatar of the Hindu Goddess Parvati - and consort of Shiva - who is worshipped mainly by South Indians. She is also one of the few Hindu female deities to have a major temple devoted to her - the far famed Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. She is considered as a form of Goddess Lalitha Tripurasundari, one of the Dasa Maha Vidhyas.
The word Meenakshi (eyes shaped like a fish, i.e., almond eyes) is derived from the Tamil word meen (fish) and the Sanskrit word akshi, or akshayam (eyes). In chaste Tamil, devoid of Sanskrit influence, her name is Angayarkanni, from the Tamil words angayar (of fish) and kann (eyes). Since the Ancient Tamil Kingdom of Pandya emblem was a fish and their capital was the city of Madurai, the goddess of Madurai became known as Meenakshi.
Once Indra killed a demon, even though the demon had not harmed anyone. This act brought a curse upon Indra that forced him to become a wanderer. As he wandered, Indra found himself lost, and nobody would tell him the way to redeem him from his sin. After much wandering Indra was freed from his suffering through the power of a Shivalingam in a forest, and so he built a small temple at that site.
It so happened that at that time in South India there was a Pandyan king called Malayadhwaja Pandiyan ruling a small city by the name Manavur, which was quite near to this Shivalinga. He was the son of Kulashekara Pandyan. He came to know about the Shivalinga and decided to build a huge temple for Shiva in the forest Kadambavanam (vanam means forest). He also developed the region into a fine princely state called Madurai.
The king was childless and sought an heir for the kingdom. Shiva granted him his prayers through an Ayonija child (one born not from the womb). This child was three years old and actually the incarnation of goddess Parvati the consort of Shiva. She was born with fish-shaped eyes and an extra breast . It was said that the extra breast would disappear when she met her future husband. She was named Meenakshi, (meaning fish eyed) from the words meen (meaning fish) and akṣhi (meaning eyes). Meenakshi also means "the one who has eyes like that of a fish". Fishes are said to feed their younger ones with their eyes, similarly goddess looks after her devotees. Just by her sight our miseries disappear.
She grew up to be a Shiva-Shakti personification. After the death of the king, she ruled the kingdom with skillful administration.
In one of her expeditions she went to the Himalayas and there, on seeing Shiva, her extra breast disappeared. Many of the gods and goddesses came to witness their marriage.
At the wedding celebrations the gods refused to have the served food unless Shiva performed a majestic dance for everybody gathered at the place. At this there was the dance of Chidambaram, the cosmic dance in front of his wife Meenakshi. It epitomised and merged all life force and beauty into one whole. In the end Meenakshi was merged with the shivalingam and became the representation of life and beauty.
There is another legend that talks about why the North Tower (called as "Mottai Gopuram") does not have that many sculptures. Bhootaganas were supposed to finish the construction of the temple towers during the night. Legend says that bhootaganas completed all three towers but while in the middle of building the north tower sunrise happened halting the completion of the north tower.
Silapadikaram, an ancient post sangam Tamil literature, describes the Goddess as ThadAdagai Pratiyar a warrior Goddess, with a crescent moon on her matted hair, with two arms the left holding a lotus and the right holding a sword. She is described as having the right side in crimson colour and the left in dark colour - ArdhanAri form. Meenakshi does not directly occur in the Lalita Sahasranama, though there is a reference to it in chalan meenabha lochana. Her eyes are fabled to bring life to the unborn.
The stotram Meenakshi Pancha Ratnam (five jewels of Meenakshi) , composed by Sri Adi Sankaracharya is an incantation to her. There are several other great hymns on the goddess, composed in the later centuries by many saints and scholars including the famous Neelakanta Dikshitar.
A Tamil poem shows the goddess Meenakshi as a girl washing crockery and pots (which consist of all the worlds). This is a daily task, because her husband Shiva repeatedly messes up the universe, which Meenakshi must once more sort out and clean.
- Shiva wanders through the courtyard of space
- destroying your work again and again,
- and then comes before you dancing.
- You never get angry.
- Every day, you just pick up the vessels.
In thirty words, Meenakshi becomes a global icon for all who deal with 'impossible' children (or husbands). Themes and activities of early childhood run through the poems. God in the little child is worshipped and protected amidst the toys in the kitchen and back yard.
- Richman, Paula (1997). Extraordinary Child: Poems from a South Asian devotional genre. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
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