It’s my third visit to the town that houses one of the greatest temples ever. And yet I spent three days in Madurai like never before – exploring the city like a tourist, speaking with people like localities do and absorbing every inch of the place like there’s no tomorrow.
Discovering the joys of Mallipoo
From the time I remember, I have been an ardent fan of flowers. I remember going up to my roof after school and getting drenched in monsoons. Often those showers would be followed by long conversations with flowers that my parents grew. I can still recall those scenes with HD precision – a blabbering me, sparkling raindrops and swaying flowers. School finished, and soon enough adulting happened. My love for flowers remained intact. My favourite: Rose (of course), Orchids, Hibiscus, Lily, Tuberose, Magnolia…and Jasmine. I love Jasmine so much that I grow Jasmine in my balcony, drink Jasmine tea, order in Jasmine rice every time I crave Thai curry and wear Jasmine-scented perfume oil. Imagine my happiness when I discovered that Madurai is actually the city of Jasmine where the flower is cultivated in large quantities for local consumption and for exports outside India.
Most of the flower vendors sell Jasmine in and around Meenakshi temple area. For 20 bucks, you can get a short Jasmine garland that you can tie around your hair bun. 🙂
What’s common in Madurai or parts of South India is reserved for special occasions in North India. Oh yes, we also love Jasmine. Up here in North, we call it mogra. We enjoy wearing Jasmine flowers (mogra) around our hair buns and wrists too. It’s called Gajra in hindi. 🙂 In Madurai, it’s called Mallipoo. It didn’t take me too long to figure that out, and before my family could realise what I am upto, I was chasing old women screaming, “Mallipoo, amma”
The everlasting charms of the ancient town of Madurai
There are documented records that go on to prove that Madurai has existed since 3rd century BC. You can find these records in old paintings, letters of foreign travellers and in Kautilya’s Arthashastra.
The evening chants, the peaceful nights, Jasmine-scented early mornings and slow but active lives of the people define the town of Madurai in so many eclectic ways. This time, I wanted to stay longer in this place, may be 6 months. Six months of bliss – of temple darshans, evening walks and purchase of Mallipoo in early mornings. No zoom calls. No presentations. No arguments. And no discussions either! Just me, my thoughts, and my pen and paper.
Things to do in Madurai
1. Meenakshi Amman temple:
Well, the first one is obvious- visit Meenakshi Amman temple. If you don’t speak Tamil, let me give you some tips:
- Visit the temple early morning
- There are two temples in the premises: Meenakshi Amman & Lord Shiva. You got to buy two tickets of 50rs each to visit both temples. There’s of course a longer line for free darshan too.
In case you buy the ticket of 100 bucks, keep the torn halves with you to show to the ticket collector at the other temple
- Do not touch the bell. I know. I know. In North India, we ring the bells in temples. Apparently it’s not allowed in there. And they probably have instructions written about it, but if you don’t understand Tamil, you won’t know.
- Prepare to be pushed and shoved. Like all temples in the world, the queues in here also comprise people who push each other.
- Keep your focus on the main deity. You would probably get a second or two to catch a glimpse. Make the best use of it.
2. Buy souvenirs:
Outside the temple, you will see shops that would sell Brass items, paintings, wooden items, and a host of souvenirs that would keep Madurai alive in the drawing rooms of your houses, wherever those be.
3. Eat at Murugan idli:
Murugan idli is one of my favourite places to eat at. Them and Sarvana bhawan. The food served on a banana leaf tastes divine. The food itself is cooked fresh. Recommended: Idli, Ghee podi idli, dosai and filter coffee.
And don’t shy away from eating with your hands. The food actually tastes the best if you ditch the cutlery. Of course your hands must be clean and washed.
4. Shop at Pothys:
Opposite to Murugan Idli, you will see a huge mall-like shop called Pothys. This is a chain of textile shops, like Nallis. You can imagine all kinds of silks and cottons and buy the material, clothes here. If you are around, I recommend buying a silk saree for your mother, sister, in-laws, friends, beloved or yourself. And when you do that, buy some shirts and pants too, or dhoti-kurta or lungi. They really have everything available.
5. Drink Jigar-thanda:
Yeah, that’s the name of the drink. It’s supposed to cool you down during summers. A specialty of Madurai, it’s made from milk, almonds and agar agar.
Speaking of beverages, another popular drink of Tamil Nadu is cottonseed milk. Nutritious and tasty! Do give it a try.
6. Wear Mallipoo:
If you are a regular of Lifeonweekends, do this for me. 🙂 Buy a garland/ short part of a garland of Mallipoo and wear it on you. Or keep it next to you, in your room or vehicle. You would love it, I guarantee that.
A town like Madurai can’t be explored in three days or three trips. It would take much long to describe the place. Temples, palace, food, clothes, flowers, Tamil language – every bit of Madurai has stories with connections to India’s freedom fights, history and mythology. You would have to uncover these stories layer by layer. And for that, you need patience, interest and a will to travel.
Stay tuned for the next story on Life on Weekends, coming Sunday!