The north gopuram of the Meenakshi temple

The Meenakshi temple was rebuilt in the 16th century CE. The 47 meter high north gopuram was built in the second half of the 16th century by one of the Nayak kings. This tower was my first sight of the Meenakshi temple. The east gopuram is the closest entrance to the parking lot, but the crowds are thinner here. So we made our way to the entrance. We had to leave our footwear and phones and other electronics at a booth outside the temple, and proceed through a metal detector and a pat-down search. Everything was orderly and quick. When we came out again I looked carefully at the sculptures on the gopuram.

This gate was completed only in the 19th century CE. In the intervening three centuries it had come to be called mottai gopuram, meaning a roofless gate. I guess the four hundred odd sculptures which decorate this tower date from the 16th century. Apparently there is a twelve year cycle of maintenance and repair. The sculptures looked in fairly good shape. My first reaction on seeing these decorations was that the colour scheme was much more muted than in the modern temples that I’d seen. Could this mean that the unusual colour combinations that I’d seen elsewhere were a twentieth century style?

As we walked back towards the parking lot, I realized that the outer walls of the temple had decorations spaced regularly. This is a Shaiva temple; Meenakshi is the consort of Shiva. In a Vaishnav temple I would think that the figure in the photo above is a cowherd, associated with Krishna, who is an avatar of Vishnu. But in a Shaiva temple I’m not sure how I should interpret this fierce guy flanked by two cows. I ran into these problems of interpretation every now and then. It seems that a large fraction of the figures which decorate the temple refer to the usual pan-Indian mythology, but there is a significant part of these which deal with local stories. I would need help to understand those.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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