See the first part of this article – Madurai Meenakshi Temple – I
The surroundings of Sundareshwarar temple have a feel very different from that of Meenakshi temple. Open spaces and well lit veranda give way to long and dark passages with shafts of light peeping in from the corners. The main entrance leads me to a mantapa with a Nandi in its middle, facing the main deity. The pillars of the mantapa are covered with carvings of Shiva in his varied forms – Nataraja, Bhairava and Ardhanareeshwara. Continuing the temple’s love with garish metallic structures that disturb the harmony of its surroundings, in the middle of the mantapa is a gleaming yellow pillar that stands apart from its environment.
Devotees come and go in quick successions in the hall surrounding the mantapa, circumambulating the gods adorning the pillars of the edifice. A mural of Hanuman covered in kumkum and decorated with a hanging lamp sees visitors like no other. Wick lamps lit, flowers offered and a pradakshina made, they move on after applying kumkum on their foreheads, in a mood that is visibly contented. As I stand in a corner and watch people go by, their numbers in the hall keeps changing quickly between a few handful to many a dozen, but never disturbing the silence and calmness of the environs.
Along the corridors, the outer walls have been a subject of creativity of the artists. Unstructured, yet beautiful and colourful murals crowd the walls – there are warring people, priests, women churning butter, common people – representing life in the times of their creators. Inside, the sanctum is guarded by life-sized murals of elephants on each side of its door, with their trunks raised up. Flickering orange lamps burning along the door frame provide a brilliant, lively decor to the dark interior. The linga rests in the sanctum on a platform, under the shade of a serpent(adishesha?). The impressions of the modern days are visible here too, in the form of granite flooring that contradicts the beauty of dark stone structures surrounding it.
In front of the complex of Sundareshwarar shrine is a small market selling trinkets, arty materials, small statues and images of all kind of gods. The statues are painted in brightest possible yellow that can make the most willing buyer to reconsider. A door adjoining these shops leads to the gigantic thousand pillar hall, inside of which is crowded with thick stone pillars in every direction. The hall is now a museum that serves no purpose but of a store room for haphazardly installed statues that are in a desperate state, which only disturb the beauty of uniform array of pillars.
In the few days that I spent wandering the temple and its surroundings, the brightly lit Potramarai Kulam and its painted surroundings kept pulling me back to its environs. I cherished the morning hours sitting on the steps leading to the tank, spent watching the pigeons flying in and out of the water, admiring the view of the towers that aim for the sky, and sometimes lost, with the complex labyrinth of thoughts in mind melting away into nothingness in the calm moments.
As I moved on from Madurai and its temples, the scale of its structures and the intent of its creators remained as an enigma. Was it a wish to show-off their prosperity to their people and rest of the world? An icon of their moments of celebration? Or was it truly a show of their utmost belief and devotion of the supreme power? I am yet to understand.