Madurai – What To See & What To Do!

what to do in madurai

Madurai is among the major cities in Tamil Nadu after capital city Chennai. Sometimes referred to as the Temple City, this city is said to “never sleep”. I have been here as a child and also during my college years. It is said that you can get food any time of the day in Madurai.

Famous for its Madurai Malli (jasmine flower) and Jigarthanda (a drink made with milk, something like a Falooda) among other things, Madurai has a charm that you will not miss so easily.

Here are a list of things we did when we spent a couple of days in the temple city of Madurai.

Madurai is among the major cities in Tamil Nadu after capital city Chennai. Sometimes referred to as the Temple City, this city is said to “never sleep” – Madurai is referred to as ThoongaNagaram (the city that never sleeps) in the colloquial language. I have been here as a child and also during my college years. It is said that you can get food any time of the day in Madurai.

Famous for its Madurai Malli (jasmine flower) and Jigarthanda (a drink made with milk, something like a Falooda) among other things, Madurai has a charm that you will not miss so easily. Madurai is also famous for the kumkum we get at the temple – it has a special fragrance that you can’t miss. They say the fragrance of the flower Thazhampoo (Pandanus flower) is incorporated in the kumkum.

Here are a list of things we did when we spent a couple of days in the temple city of Madurai.

Arrival at Madurai

You can reach Madurai by road or air or by rail. We arrived from Kodaikanal by road. Madurai is approximately 460km from Chennai. There are a lot of hotels near the station around which you have the important landmarks of Madurai. We stayed at Weshtern Hotel and it was pretty decent for the money we paid.

On the day of arrival, it was already evening so we decided to check out the Thirumalai Nayakker Palace, fondly referred to as Mahal in Madurai. This palace was built by Thirumalai Nayak in the 17th century. What you will see at present in the premises is only one-fourth of what it was earlier. If you have watched Indian (tamil) movies, you may have a vague memory of the large pillars that you can see in the palace. The present day Mahal seriously doesn’t live up to the glory of its past. You can see pigeons everywhere and these can really create havoc to any place.

madurai
Entrance

Light and sound show

If you are going in the evening, I would recommend you check out the light and sound show that lasts about 45 minutes and describes the story of the kings that ruled Madurai. I found it pretty interesting, honestly. You have the shows in Tamil as well as in English. We chose the English version.

Here are some details of the show and the timings of entry to the Mahal.

The Mahal is open during the day from 9 am until 5 pm. There is an entry fee of INR 50 for foreign tourists, INR 10 for locals (adults) and INR 5 for children above the age of 5. Camera charge – extra.

madurai
Timings

For the Light and Sound show:

English show timings: 6.45 pm to 7.30 pm; Entry fee: INR 50 for adults, INR 25 for students and children

Tamil show timings: 8 pm to 8.50 pm; Entry fee: INR 25 for adults, INR 10 for students and children

I recommend you attend the show before you explore the Mahal for its magnificence during the day. You will find explanations as to how the rulers started ruling the place, how the palace was built, how big or rather, enormous it was and what it is today. I am not leaving any details here, I leave it for you to explore and find out.!

Madurai Meenakshi temple:

Madurai Meenakshi Temple – one of the entrances

No one can miss this wonderful temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva in the form of Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar. It is said that this temple has been in existence since 6th century.

what to do in madurai
One of the gopurams and the Portamarai Kulam (Pond with Golden Lotus)

The temple was rebuilt after 14th century by Pandiya kings and later expanded by Thirumalai Nayak in the 17th century. The temple is famous for its Golden Lotus pond (Portamarai Kulam) as well as the 14 gopurams. Apart from this, we all have heard of the 1000-pillar mandapam (hall) or referred in local tongue as the Aayiramkaal Mandapam.

what to do in madurai
Aayiram Kaal Mandapam – Hall with 1000 pillars

When visiting the temple, make sure you pay your respects to the Goddess before you do so to Lord Shiva. After this you can visit the 1000 pillared hall.

what to do in madurai
Yali

You can also find some interesting sculptures in this hall. Check out the Yali – a celestial being.

Azhagar Kovil:

You may hear different names being used to address this temple – Kallazhagar, Koodal Azhagar or just Azhagar Koil.

what to do in madurai
Azhagar Temple

This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu who is the brother of Goddess Parvati and hands her in marriage to Lord Shiva. There are different stories attached to the origin of this temple, do ask your guide about it.

Tip – This temple is located about 22km from the city. My daughter had a bout of vomiting due to the bad roads. Keep bags handy.

Pazhamudir cholai:

One of the Arupadai veedu or Six Abodes of Lord Murugan (the other 5 are located in different places across Tamil Nadu) In this temple, Lord Murugan is seen with Valli and Deivanai. It is a pretty small temple so don’t expect much, there is not much rush as well. This temple is located in the Azhagar Hills, about 3 km from the Kallazhagar temple. The roads are slightly winding, watch out for the naughty monkeys that keep appearing on the roads. The temple is located in the forest area so you can’t really blame the monkeys for being there.

Vandiyur Mariamman Temple Theppakulam:

what to do in madurai
Vandiyur Mariyamman Temple

This temple is dedicated to Goddess Mariamman who is revered as the Goddess of Rain. The temple is about 3km from the city. You can see a huge pond called Vandiyur Mariamman Theppakulam and a 10-day festival is conducted every year.

what to do in madurai
Theppakulam

However, when we were visiting, there was absolutely no water in the pond and highly disappointing.

Gandhi Museum:

So we visited this museum during the day. Believe me, it was worth every minute I spent there. Being an Indian, many of us do not even care for history, we are not aware of how much effort our forefathers put in, in the form of blood and sweat to force the Britishers to leave India. I was literally moved to tears after I finished the 200 year Indian Independence struggle. I highly recommend this to everyone visiting Madurai.

Children will enjoy learning about our freedom struggle, they need to know it and this surely will instill in them the value of the free air we are breathing today.

Entry is free, the museum opens at 10 am, closes at 1 pm and opens again at 2pm and open until 5.45 pm every day. You can make a small donation that will help them maintain the museum, everyone needs to know our history. Please support them.

There is a government museum right next to the Gandhi museum that was open when we went, there was a coin showcase, participants showed us their collection of coins that are really vintage. You can also see other artifacts that were dug up in the region, apart from some history of Madurai. Entry fee is INR 5 for adults and INR 3 for kids. Do take change.

Mahal during the day:

We also visited the Thirumalai Nayak Mahal during the day just before closing. Now is a good time to enjoy and marvel at the intricate designs of the palace.

what to do in madurai
Thirumalai Nayak Mahal

You can relate to all that you would have heard the previous evening during the light and sound show. You can also see the state of the palace, thanks to the pigeons.

what to do in madurai
Some of the intricate designs on the ceiling

You can also have a look at the artifacts unearthed in this area by the archaeologists surveying this place.

what to do in Madurai
Artifacts

Lunch at Murugan Idly Shop

Being vegetarians, I did have a tough time in getting to eat pure veg meals since Madurai is a haven for those who are non-vegetarians (meat eaters).

what to do in madurai
Do try their Jigarthanda

Murugan Idly Shop serves fabulous idlies and a variety of chutneys and idli podi (also referred to as gun powder). Eating here is mandatory for vegetarians in the evenings. During the day, you can enjoy the limited meals served on banana leaf, tasty!

What else can you enjoy eating in Madurai?

  1. Jigarthanda (south indian Falooda)
  2. Mutton Kola Urundai (fried mutton balls)
  3. Kothu Parotta and KaraKozhambu (parotta or flaky indian bread with gravy)
  4. Prawn Biryani

Shopping at West Masi Street and Veli Street

There are a lot of shops and brands that have set shop in Madurai. Buy yourself a Sungudi saree (cotton, tie-dyed saree) or shop for silk sarees in different outlets. If you love flowers, do take home some Madurai Malli (jasmine). I personally do not like so I gave this a miss 🙂

Catch a movie at Vetri Theatre

We had some extra time on hand so we watched a movie at this theatre, slightly away from the city. Nicely renovated and quite good food options outside the hall. There are other malls that have movie halls like Vishal D Mall or

Visit Thiruparankundram

Now this is another of the Six Abodes of Murugan (Arupadaiveedu). The temple is about an hour away from Madurai city, owing to motion sickness and too much travel, we gave this a miss. The story goes that Lord Murugan slayed Surapadman, a demon and married Deivanai here.

what to do in madurai
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Tip: If you want to move around the city, you can either hire a cab with the help of the hotel you are staying at or use Ola App to book autos. The auto drivers are otherwise not very courteous. Bargain before you hire an auto rickshaw that you flag down on the road. Even if you use Ola, the auto driver may ask you to pay him a few more bucks in addition to the charges mentioned in the app. So be aware!

If you are taking the train, you can check out the AC Waiting room at the station – charges INR 10 per hour per head. 

The weather in Madurai can be pretty hot and sultry, so avoid visiting during summer.

Have you visited Madurai? What was your experience like? Did you visit any place that’s not on this list? Do tell me about it in the comments.

 

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