Meenakshi Amman Temple is a historic Hindu temple located on the southern bank of the Vaigai River in the temple city of Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. It is dedicated to Parvati, known as Meenakshi, and her consort, Shiva, here named Sundareswarar. The temple forms the heart and lifeline of the 2500-year-old city of Madurai and is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, mentioned since antiquity in Tamil literature though the present structure was built between 1623 and 1655 CE. It houses 14 gopurams (gateway towers), ranging from 45-50m in height. The tallest is the southern tower, 51.9 meters (170 ft) high, and two golden sculptured vimanas, the shrines over the garb Agri has (sanctums) of the main deities. The temple attracts 15,000 visitors a day, around 25,000 on Fridays, and receives an annual revenue of sixty million INR. There are an estimated 33,000 sculptures in the temple. It was on the list of top 30 nominees for the “New Seven Wonders of the World”. The annual 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival, celebrated during April and May, attracts 1 million visitors.
The temple is the geographic and ritual center of the ancient city of Madurai
and one of the largest temple complexes in Tamil Nadu. The temple complex is divided into a number of concentric quadrangular enclosures contained by high masonry walls. It is one of the few temples in Tamil Nadu to have four entrances facing four directions. Vishwantha Nayaka allegedly redesigned the city of Madurai in accordance with the principles laid down by Shilpa Shastras (silpa sastra meaning rules of architecture) relevant to urban planning. The city was laid out in the shape of a square with a series of concentric streets culminating from the temple. These squares continue to retain their traditional names, Aadi, Chittirai, Avani-moola and Masi streets, corresponding to Tamil month names.
Ancient Tamil classics mention that the temple was the center of the city and the streets happened to be radiating out like lotus and its petals. The temple programs (outer precincts of a temple) and streets accommodate an elaborate festival calendar in which dramatic processions circumambulate the shrines at varying distances from the center. The vehicles used in processions are progressively more massive the further they travel from the center. The complex is in around 45 acres (180,000 m2)
The temple is surrounded by gopurams (gateway tower), There are ten gopurams the tallest of which, the famous southern tower, rises to over 170 ft (52 m) and was built in 1559. The oldest gopuram is the eastern one, built by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan during 1216-1238 Each gopuram is a multi-storeyed structure, covered with thousands of stone figures of animals, gods and demons painted in bright hues. The outer gopuram presents steeply pyramidal tower encrusted with plastic figures while the inner gopuram serves as the entrance to the inner enclosure of Sundareswarar shrine.