The ancient East gate of Madurai’s Meenakshi temple

The marriage of Meenakshi

I’ve saved the oldest of the gates of the Meenakshi temple for the end. This is the east gate, built between 1216 and 1238 CE by the Pandya dynasty king Maravarman Sundara. It is less than 47 meters high, and has just over a thousand clay images depicting scenes from the Puranas. It is also special in that it stands over the main sanctum of Meenakshi.

By the time I reached this place my confusion over whether this is a Shaiva temple or Vaishnava was resolved. As I found out, in one telling Meenakshi is married to Shiva in his aspect of Sundaresan, but she is the sister of Vishnu. This is the story you can see in one of the photos in the gallery. Shiva is shown with the moon in his hair, as usual. Vishnu can be recognized by the fact that he carries the Sudarshan chakra in one of his hands.

I wondered whether I was imagining things, but these images seemed slightly different from those on the other gates. Compare the figures in the detail of the top rung of images with those from any of the other gates. The modelling of human features seems to be different. The lions are definitely different. Although the clay images must have been replaced many times, it is possible that a strict tradition governs them, so that they remain fairly true to the originals. If this is so, then these differences could be reflections of the difference in artistic styles that developed in the centuries which passes between the construction of the different gates.

I am not an expert, and this is not an academic paper. So I am free to speculate.


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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