Starting off from Mumbai, I was looking forward to wandering around in temple towns of Tamil Nadu, being lost in the fragrance of the jasmine flowers, sandalwood incense, eating hot idllis on a banana leaf and drinking Kombakonam degree kaapi. Our first stop was at City of Madurai, famous for its Meenakshi Temple, famous for having been burnt down by a curse in a fictional account in the Tamil literature Silapathikaram , famous for its Jasmines and famous for its sungudi sarees, a hand-loom weave only available in this town. Word has it, that Dior,the house of perfumes, procure jasmines from Madurai for J’adore.
We landed in the evening at Madurai. After having checked in to the hotel, we decided it was time to explore the city, walk around a bit, and get a taste of the local cuisine.
The traditional south Indian time for drinking coffee was approaching which begins around 2 .00 pm. With a map in the hand, we stumbled out of the hotel, with the purpose of finding the Murugan Idlli Shoppe. A word of advice hotels, restaurants and cafes are often synonymous in this part of the world. Murugan Idli shoppe is a restaurant referred as hotel, famous for its steamed rice cakes called Idlis. It is served with three different chutneys and sambhar- a lentil based gravy. Idlis are my personal favourites. It is predominantly a breakfast dish, sometimes can be tucked in between meals as a quick snack too. Right, here we were ,at the Murugan Idli shope , with quite an anticipation and having worked up an appetite. Food is traditionally served on banana leaf in the southern part of India and has been practice since ancient times. It was a common practice to grow banana trees at home and which made them easily available. The used leaves were then used as a fodder for cows. Now thinking about it, I suppose it is the most eco friendly way of eating since the plate is bio degradable/ reused as a cattle feed and saves up water as there is no washing of plates. Much has changed since the advent of the technology and I would imagine eating on banana leaf is a novelty now. So here we were at the table and the banana leaf placed in front of us with a glass of water to sprinkle on the leaf and clean it.
Upon gulping down idli and vada with a hot kaapi, I heard my hubby utter what I have heard my father and grandfather say. “Devamrudham”. It simply means the food was as tasty as the Nectars for God. And I couldn’t agree with him more
We headed towards the temple square, to visit the Madurai Meenakshi temple. The whole town of Madurai was built around the temple in squares/quadrangles.We walked around the temple square, waiting for the temple to open up. The temple walls are painted with white and red stripes, it is a common practice in Tamil Nadu. The temple square is clean but crowded and bustling with activities. You can find a burst of colours and smell- colourful fragrant flower, saree shops with colourful displays, sweet and savouries shops with edible snacks displayed out.
We walked in to the temple leaving out slippers at the designated counter , through a security check similar to ones in airports, no cameras and tablets allowed, photography is prohibited inside the temple with a camera, but you can use your phone!!! But no photography of the inner sanctum even with phones, which is understandable. We wait in the queue to see the god in inner sanctum. The queue moves but very slowly, the crowd babbling and whispering, some are not very happy about being in the queue or the slow movement of the queue. I amused myself looking at the lovely architecture, frescoes and murals on the wall. The frescoes depicts the tales of gods, and the rulers, who have achieved great deeds. The temple is massive, one can wander around the temple for days in order to see all the carvings, sculptures and the grandeur. Finally when we reach the inner sanctum, we are allowed less then a minute to look at the deity and gently pushed out by the security guards . I suppose it is a measure for crowd control and for security of temple. There is something magnanimous about these temples, which leaves you in a stupor/silence.
After a nice cool fresh pomegranate juice we retire to our room for a good night s rest.
We visited the flower market and Thirumalai Naicker mahal on the last day of our trip. Thirumalai NaickerMahal was built in the late 17th century by the Nayaka Dynasty King by the name of Thirumalai, hence the palace acquired the name. Only part of the building has survived over the years, yet out of the residual structure one can get a glimpse of the grandeur and the craftsmanship of the architecture.