Madurai, India - Meenakshi Temple

Madurai is a temple town, with scores of temples. But the only one for me was the Meenakshi temple. A significant temple, not merely for its sheer architectural magnificence, but also for the fact that my parents were so inspired by this gorgeous colorful abode of the Goddess Meenakshi (Parvati), they decided to name their first born after her

Meenakshi also means the eye of a fish which is beautiful indeed. But a vegetarian like me would never understand the true potential of this meaning:)

This spectacular temple Meenakshi is adorned with gopurams (dome like structures), huge gateways of space, pillared hallways and a Sanctum Sanctorum. The etching on stone within, the mastery of art and craft on its exterior leaves one breathless, wondering how on earth this marvel was created.

The surface is a pulsating mass of masonry, covered all over with figures of deities, their incarnations and semi-divine characters freely drawn and painted from the inexhaustible treasure-house of Hindu mythology. I could stand and stare for hours together absorbing the various tales. Or happily shoot pictures day after day for the innumerable discoveries the artistry of the temple affords.

The divine marriage of Goddess Meenakshi is the most important festival celebrated in the month of April/May every year for 12days. This wedding festival of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwar, for the onlooker is a feast of reverence and inspiration.

Since dawn the garland-makers get supremely busy, busloads of pilgrims roll in with their faces dusted with tamarind powder to keep cool, the hot morning certainly requires one to dig in ones heels and not lose one’s own cool.

At about 9.55am, the conch's are blown announcing the wedding inside the vast temple, to a guest list running into 1000’s of people. The temple courtyard is a vibrant sea of silk and cotton saris and garlanded hair with jasmine. Bare-chested men wave huge peacock fans, picking their way through the seated throng. The proceedings are shown on cctv’s in the courtyard while an ear-splitting commentary in Tamil details, at maximum volume, the history, myths and miracles of the day's events.

The stage is set, the deities arrive and at the most crucial moment the cctv konks out. A noisy response from the crowd quickly restores vision just as the priest ties the mangalsutra around the idol of the goddess and the celestial marriage is "consummated" behind a silken sheet. The women, orange strings at the ready, knot them around their necks, fervently wishing for marital happiness and peaceful homes during the coming year.

I feel hugely blessed to have witnessed this celestial wedding, and feel equally blessed knowing the Goddess is showering her blessings every second on her namesake:)