What makes Madurai Unique in the World: Oswald J.Couldrey

temple big



Research Article: Written by London swaminathan

Date: 21 September 2015

Post No: 2178

Time uploaded in London :– 20-15

(Thanks  for the pictures) 

Please read my post “The Wonder that is Madurai Meenakshi Temple” posted by me here on 14th October 2011.

Following is excerpt from South Indian Hours by Oswald J.Couldrey, Year 1924

“Madura is a city in the far south, and very old. You will find her name recorded in Ptolemy’s Greek, MODOURA, which better represents the Tamil pronunciation than does the English form. Her ancient Pandya kings, who grew early rich upon the local pearl fisheries, and are mentioned in Asoka’s Edicts, were connected by the Greeks with King Pandion, by themselves and neighbours with the five legendary Pandavas, the heroes of the Mahabharata. Of that remote civilization there are now probably few material remains. The monuments of Madura chiefly refer to the seventeenth century Naiks, those powerful viceroys of the great Southern Hindu Empire of Vijayanagar, who rivalled and outlasted the splendour of their suzerain.

But what makes Madura almost unique among the cities of the world, wherein the past can be studied, is the fact that her antiquity generally, though having its roots far back in an almost Babylonish past, is also of the twentieth century. I speaks of no stagnation. Art and religion here were alive and growing with a vigour and direction imparted long ago. The life seen here today is sister to the life of ancient Shinar, a younger sister, and grown up in time.

The glory and potential crown of Madura is the great double temple (but they stand within the same enclosure) of Siva and Minakshi. You hear more of the goddess, the Fish-Eyed, though her husband’s lodging is larger; and I suspect that she represents an older local cult, espoused later by the religion of the Brahmins. There are in India many temples far older, many holier than this, some more cunningly designed and adorned; few larger, grander and more intricate, none more crowded, busy, eloquent of the living past. For size, you could put all the temples of Benares within the Madura precinct, and have room to spare, in extent, variety, and occupation, it resembles a city rather than a temple, and a city where you will not quickly learn your way about.

The good people of Madura, which is large and flourishing town, spend much of their time in temple, like Anglo-Indians at a club, or Greeks in their agora, and so fill the place themselves, without the help of pilgrims and sight seers, f whom, however, there is no lack. I have been to the Madura temple several times, and know well the lie of its courts and edifices; but to explain it is another matter, and I shall attempt only a general description.

The temple is, four square, like the heavenly Jerusalem, and girt with a high wall.in the middle of each side is the pylon or gopuram, but far taller than usual, and all crusted with idols; four towers that crown the city like the tiaras upon the fourfold brows of Brahma.


The great pile of the gate head is plastered thick with images, which stand se before its innumerable storied, lessening cells, like an enormous and splendid swarms of bees; all the mystic and many weaponed persons of the Siva pantheon, infinitely multiplied and repeated and reduced, and carried in rising ranks, and receding tiers, up to the horns and scrolls of the topmost roof.

There, and yonder, he appears as Nataraja, the dancer, his polyp arms spread round him like an aureole, as he weaves the mystic dance of the worlds, the universal and eternal dance of life, which is the pastime of god. Near him, with arms as many, and a whole brigade of heads, Skanda, the War God, Siva’s first born, rides upon his peacock, a fine image of the pomp and circumstance of Asian war. Nor is the figure of his brother Ganapati, round bellied, elephant faced, the people’s darling fetish, less conspicuous and frequent along the ranks of his pyramid of idols, and plastic pandemonium.

Immediately within, and all about the eastern gates of the god and goddess, there is a gloomy labyrinth of arcades and corridors, solemn indeed and lofty, but choked with shops and stalls of food and fruit and sweets, garlands, toys and various glittering knacks whose nature and use I have forgotten, save that they seemed to have little to do with the temple worship. But sculptured saints stood with joined hands among the confectionery, hoar dragons guarded the trash of the toy shops, and cheap cutlery from Birmingham.

From this imposing den of thieves we pass into the outer court, which is here confined and crowded with various porches of similar architecture, but elsewhere spreads, uneventful and empty, between the sanctuaries and outer wall. We are now directly before the temple of god; we find ourselves within the cloister of the Golden Lily Pool, which lies opposite her ancient shrine.

The pool and its colonnade, and especially the chain of porticos before Minakshi’s shrine, are always the most crowded and lively portions of the temple. The steps and water are constantly thronged with bathers and visited of housewives bearing brazen pitchers; the cloisters full of naked, sleek and shaven Brahmins, lounging, chatting, meditating, waiting to minister, for a fee, to the spiritual needs of the pilgrims. One chants a spell for a pair of rustics, which seems chiefly concerned with the business of informing God, not only of the name, parentage and present address (in a geography no longer recognisable) of the persons on whose behalf it is recited, but also of the particular point and minute of eternity, the hour and year, and aeon (he species the Kaliyuga, as we perhaps might say, the iron age) in which the service is performed and reward expected; a formula crude perhaps in some respects, but calculated to a degree not often found, I cannot help thinking, in our own liturgies, to make a simple fellow realise his own littleness, and the metaphysical mystery of the universe.

-images-city-134-Meenakshi temple

(His description continues for a few more pages; he describes Thousand Pillar Hall, Tirumalai Nayak Palace etc. and concludes with the following paragraph)

I am constrained to close upon a note of apprehension. You may buy little gods in the Madura bazaars, akin apparently to the temple sculpture, and steeped in odour of old sanctity. Too often nowadays they prove to be forgeries, new ware made rough, buried a while, dug up and kept for sale as old brass to the Americans. For these have discovered Madura before ourselves, who have lived there for a hundred years. Consequently, though there is still no city in South India, where you can to more advantage study the real religion of antiquity, there is none where you can more easily buy false god, or as some would say, gods doubly false (unless two wrongs should make a right) than in Madura, the city of Minakshi may it be long ere the dissolvent curiosity, or blasting disapproval of the West goes deeper”.

Year of Publication in London — 1924.

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1 Comment

  1. Well written by Oswald J.C

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