Madurai, Tamil Nadu - one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world !!

Meenakshi temple,
 The concept of city and town originated  long long ago. Where  and exactly when the first city came into being is a subject of debate.  Ever since man became civilized and had begun to live in a community in a permanent settlement,  where he could live comfortably the idea of coexistence  with other communities in a place called 'town' or 'village' has been very much there. Such small places over a period of time became big town and cities with the growth of population and areas backed  by proper planning  such  as potable water,  well-laid streets, drainage, shops, market etc. India is home to  many ancient cities that are older than 2000 years and are known to have been continuously inhabited by humans.

Madurai, now third largest city in the state of Tamil Nadu, is one of the most  ancient cities of  India with a  glorious  past,  ranking  along with  Varanasi, Pataliputra (Patna, Bihar).  Ujjaini, (Madhya  Pradesh) and others. It is well-known for  Meenakshi-Sundareswarar temple. Two of the six shrines  (Aarupadai Veedu) of Lord Subramaniya (Karthic/Murugan) are  located nearby at Thiruparam Kundram and at Pazhamuthir Solai. Meenkashi Thirukalyanam (celestial wedding of goddess) and Kallazagar (God Vishnu) getting into Vaigai river are two major religious festivals here that attract thousands of people far and wide. Located on the banks of Vaigai river, Madurai is one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world - more than 2200 years old. The following are the interesting facts that are worthy of mention:
 01. The recorded history of the city goes back to the 3rd century BCE. 

 02. The antiquity of this city was  mentioned by Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to India (his visit in  302 BC), followed by  Marcopolo and Ibn Batuta ( Moroccan Muslim traveler)
An old picture of Madurai temple.
in their travelogues. Kautilya, a minister of the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta Maurya, mentioned about Madurai.

 03. Like a phoenix bird, it raises to its glory even after a great destruction and this is the city which lives for past 2500 years.

 04. The city was  ruled by  various dynasties. Cholas (10th to 13th centuries)  and Pandyas. Latter came to power in 1223 AD and patronized the Tamil language and the kingdom prospered. Pandya dynasty came to an end during th reign of Kulasekara Pandian ((1268–1308 CE). Malik Kafur (April, 1311), Military Commander of Alauddin Khilji (Delhi Sultanate), interfered on Pandya king's request to solve the dispute over the successor to the throne and  in the wake, it ended in plunder and looting of Madurai and its temple.

 05. Vijayanagar Empire ended the Muslim rule and appointed Nayak as their governors. Nayaks became independent and started ruling the territories autonomously after death of Vijayanagara king in 1530 AD. This was followed by the Chanda Sahib (1740 – 1754 CE), Arcot  Nawob  of  Carnatic kingdom Muhammed Yusuf Khan (1725 – 1764 CE) in the mid part of 18th century.

 06. Later Madurai came under the East India company and  in 1781, British appointed George Procter to look after the city. He was the first collector of Madurai.

 07. It was first annexed  to  the Madras Presidency in 1801. Madurai became  a municipality in 1866 under the British Crown.

 08. A 2nd-century BCE Tamil-Brahmi inscription refers to the city as matiray, an Old Tamil word meaning a "walled city" derived from an older Dravidia source. The city is famous for its rich heritage and patronage  of  Tamil language through "Sangams," an exalted group of eminent scholars  in Tamil, one of the very few old languages in the world rich in literature

The Sangam literature Developed between 600 BCE and 300 CE in South India,
09. The name Madurai is believed to have been derived from Madhura (sweetness), emanating from the divine nectar showered on the city from the matted hair of Lord Shiva. Some  Tamil scholars believe Madurai may be a derivative of Marutham, a type of land common in that region. The great Tamil epic Silapathikaram is associated with this ancient city. Kannagi, wife of Kovalan, is a legendary Tamil Vaisya woman who forms the central character of the Tamil epic Silapathikaram (100-300 CE). The story relates how Kannagi took revenge on the Pandyan King of Madurai, who had wrongfully put her husband to death, by cursing the city.

10. It was in Madurai, in 1921, that Mahatma Gandhi, an apostle of non-violence and a prominent leader  of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India, first adopted the loin cloth as his mode of dress after seeing agricultural laborers wearing it, toiling hard on the  lands under scorching sun. Incidentally Madurai was his most favored destination during the freedom struggle. 

Gandhi Museum(Mangammal palace),

Tamil Nadu
11. His Madurai visit  completely changed the psyche of Gandhiji and enhanced his image drastically in the realm of politics and spiritually. Since his visit to Madurai for the first time, he had become more resolute to deal with the British who never wanted to let Indians rule their land on their own.

12. The Temple Entry Authorization and Indemnity Act passed by the government of Madras Presidency under C. Rajagopalachari (a lawyer and politician who became th last Governor general of India)
Map of Madurai showing center of the city and some important landmarks.
in 1939 removed restrictions prohibiting  Shanars and  Dalits from entering Hindu temples. The temple entry movement was first led into Madurai Meenakshi temple by freedom fighter and eminent lawyer A. Vaidyanatha Iyer (1890-1955), a close friend of Rajaji  on July 8, 1939  along  with his friend  P. Kakkan  (who later became a minister in Tamil Nadu in the 1960s). Vaidyanatha Iyer was the voice of the Dalits in that region for a long time and a  well-known social reformer.

 13. Meenakshi temple is one of the largest temples in India covering more than 14 acres of land. It is a temple of sculptural wonder and brilliant artistic expression. The streets are laid around the temple outwardly each carrying the names of some Tamil months.

 14. The city of Madurai has been constructed in the form of a lotus  around the temple.The city is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular streets around the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple complex temple. It was  Vishwanatha Nayak (1159–64 CE), the first Madurai Nayak king,   who  redesigned the city in accordance with the principles  of Shilpa  Shastras (Sanskrit: Å›ilpa Sasatra) - rules of architecture related to urban planning. Man streets bear the traditional names of Tamil months  Aadi, Chittirai, Avani-moola and Maasi streets, based on festivals. 

15. Among Nayaks, Thirumalai Nayak (1623-1659) was the most popular one. His contribution to Madurai was immense. The Raja Gopuram of the Meenakshi Temple, the Pudu Mandapam and the Thirumalai Nayakar's Palace are living examples of his passion for art. Thirumalai  Nayak  Mahal (built by  Thirumalai Nayak) and  Mangammal palace (that houses Gandhi museum) built by the Nayak dynasty  are major tourist attractions.
13th century old Kazimar Big Mosque and Maqbara, Madurai,
16. Madurai is home to Kazimar big mosque, one of the oldest mosques and the Kazis, who run the mosques,  have been continuously living on the same street for more than 700 years. 

The old city of Madurai is interwoven with ancient Tamil literature, tradition and culture of Tamil region and Hindu religion.