Treatise on Arts

It is often said that the old city of Madurai is laid out according to the principles of the Shilpa Shastra, a set of Sanskrit texts which together make up a treatise on the sixty four classical arts. In actual practice, it means that the streets are laid out in concentric squares surrounding the square ground plan of the Meenakshi temple. The primary axis of the city runs east-west, facing the Vaigai river to the east. We spent a couple of afternoons in the innermost layer of the old city. This is the Chittarai street, which runs around the temple wall.

The afternoons were hot, and sensible people kept indoors. In response, many of the shops were closed. You had to be a crazy photographer on a limited time-budget to look for street life at this time. The Family ducked into jewelry shops which line the street and emerged with occasional bargains to display. This area is known for jewelry, clothing, and bookshops. By and large the bookshops were closed.

I saw a large family waiting in the queue to get into the temple. A young boy broke away to go sit in the shade below one of the bookstores. The father was not very pleased, but the boy successfully convinced his father that he would sit in the shade until the rest of the family reached the head of the queue. This distraction gave me enough time to take a photo. After a while the boy’s younger sister joined him in the shade.

Most doors which were closed were locked up. The one which you see above was just tied shut. It didn’t have a signboard. Was it a business? If it was, then wasn’t the owner worried about the merchandise being stolen? I’m afraid this has turned out to be one of those things destined to remain an eternal mystery.

I liked the colour of this door, and since the lady selling jasmine flowers outside wore a matching sari, I had to take a photo. The Family bought some jasmine, and put it in our hotel room. The light smell stayed for the two days we spent there. I wonder whether she buys these at the Mattuthavani flower market.

One of the things you are advised to eat in Madurai is halwa. I wasn’t sure whether that is the Thirunalvelli halwa or the Nagapattinam halwa. These two old friends in the shop were so deep in conversation that they did not notice me taking a photo. I could have a halwa anywhere, but I would not get this photo again.

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.


  1. I love the blue and the reddish-purple doors. Always nice to get a bargain, isn’t it? 🙂 Thanks for suffering through the heat just for us and our door-viewing pleasure. Hee, hee.



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