According to legend, the sacred Suyambulingam discovered by the king of Gods indira at Kadambavanam, was later enshrined by him in Madurai. The fact that the Lord is seen on the vehicle of Indira in this temple is said to be proof for this.
Many historical evidences of the temple have been found dating back from early A.D. The temple was almost completely destroyed in the year 1310 following the invasion of the Islamic conqueror Malikkapur.As kings who were followers of Islam were noted for their intolerance towards other religions, the invaders destroyed most of the ancient sculptures of the temple.
Thirugnanasambandar the Hindu Saint has mentioned the temple in his songs which go back to early 7th century. The Lord has been described as Alavai Iraivan in his songs.The temple was restored to its pristine glory in the late 14th century when the Hindu Kings came back to power in Madurai.This can also be termed as a new beginning of a new era in the history of the temple, when it was almost rebuilt. The King Thirumalai Naicker played an important role in the construction of the new form of the temple according to records.
The presiding Lord of this sacred shrine was in the times of yore known as Chockanathar, and Chockalinga Perumal.
Now the deity is known as Sundareswarar, Meenakshi Sundarar, Somasundarar, Kalyana Sundarar, Shanbaga Sundarar, Attavai Shevagan, Chockalingam, Adiyarku Nallan, Adhiraveesi, Vilayaduvan, Abhideka Chockar, Azhagiya Chockar, Kadambavana Chockar, Puzhugu Neidhu Chockar, Kadambavaneswarar, Karpoora Chockar, Madureswarar, Irayanar, Peralavayar and other names.
There are about 44 stone inscriptions on the walls of the corridors of the Sundareswarar shrine and that of Meenakshi Amma shrine.
These inscriptions contain details of lands donated to the temple, the rituals for worship, the list of articles used for performing food offerings, the religious status of the people in ancient days, government procedures and social habits
The temple which has five entrances, covers an area 847 feet (254.1 meters) long and 792 feet (237.6 meters) wide in the North South direction, the circumference of the Adi Veedhi which is the path within the great walls is 830 feet (249 meters) on the east west and , measuring 730 feet (219 meters) from North South direction.
If the devotees bathe in the waters of this pond of Golden Lotus on Amavasya (new moon) day, the first day of the month, days of eclipse and other auspicious days and worship the Lord, they will be blessed with all their aspirations for success.
Halls & Sculptures
This mandapam which is the eastern entrance of the Amman Sannithi is said to have been constructed by the queens Uruthirapathiammal and Tholiammal (1623-1659) who were the wives of Thirumalainaicker.
The eight forms of Goddess Sakthi the consort of Lord Shiva, Kaumari, Rowthiri, Vaishnavi, Mahalakshmi, Yangnarubini, Shyamala, Maheswari and Manonmani have been sculptured into the pillars of the mandapam individually.
There are drawings depicting the life of Meenakshi Amman on the roof of the mandapam.
There are statues of Vallaba Vinayagar and Murugan at the entrance of this mandapam.
Meenakshi Naicker Mandapam
This mandapam which is seen next to the Ashta Sakthi mandapam was constructed by Meenakshi Naicker belonging to the Naicker clan in the year 1708.
There are sculptures depicting Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Shiva who took the form of a hunter and huntress to rid a Brahmin of his sin.
The twelve Sun signs of zodiac have been depicted in a square shape structure on top of the mandapam.
This mandapam is 160 feet in length and has pillars that have been arranged in six rows.
Muthupillai Mandapam or Iruttumandapam
It was constructed by Kadanthai Mudaliar in 1613.
There are statues of Pitchanar, Munivars or saints of the Tharukavanam and wives of the saints.
Mythology has it that Lord Shiva took the form of Pitchanar to preach to the Munivars of Tharukavanam.
The statues of Munivar, Mohini and Kadanthai Mudaliar are seen at the southern side of the mandapam.
Since 1966, the thousand pillars hall is also doubling as the museum of the temple. Among those items of artistic elegance and cultural excellence are:
Paintings explaining the quintesscence of the ancient arts of archtecture, sculpture, painting, music, dance and other forms of aesthetic importance.
Antique panchaloka (five metal) idols.
Collection of rare photographs.
Rare antique items.
Articles of Saiva and Vaishnava religions.
Carvings in tusks and antique items.
Paintings from the Nayakka period depicting the 64 miracles performed by Lord Sokkanathar.
This mandapam is now being renovated and modernised using latest techniques.
The saying that one needs thousand eyes to view the hall of thousand pillars is not without truth.
Swamy Sannidhi(sanctum sanctrom) – Dhakshinamoorthy,Lingothpavar,Durga Mandapams:
On the walls of the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord are the Dhakshinamoorthy Mandam with a pinnacle, the Lingothpavar mandapam has sculptures of Maal and Ayan unable to find the feet and crown of the Lord and the Durga mandapam.
These mandapams were built by Kambavarayar.
The celestial wedding hall:
The sacred wedding hall to the south of Veeravasantharayar mandapam was built by Vijayaranga Sokkanatha Nayakkar (1706 – 1732). His sculpture is etched on a pillar.
The ceiling of the sacred wedding hall are covered with teak planks with exquisite art work. The 64 miracles of Lord Sivaperuman have also been painted on the dome of the mandapam. There are also paintings depicting the twin worlds and fourteen worlds.
Earlier the celestial wedding of the Lord and Goddess used to be solemnized in this mandapam. Now the wedding takes place at the new wedding hall where the North Aadi street and West Aadi street meet. After the wedding, the Lord and Goddess would proceed to the old wedding hall to bless the devotees.
A scene from the wedding of the celestial couple form the backdrop of the wedding dais in the mandapam. Sculptures of the Meenakshi and Sokkanathar are found at Kambathadi mandapam and new mandapam.. Paintings of the celestial weddings adorn the walls of entrance to Amman Sannidhi and the western wall of the parrot cage mandapam.
The golden chariot of the temple is kept in this mandapam. During the festivals the Lord and Godess would be taken out in procession from this mandapam. The golden chariot procession also starts from this mandapam.
Mangayarkarasi mandapam and sculpture:
This mandapam is situated opposite the old wedding hall.
In view of the kumbabishekam. this mandapam was renovated according to the present style between 1960-63.
This mandapam houses statues of Arikesari, Maravarman, his consort Mangayarkarasiyar, Minister Kulachirayar and Thirugnanasambar in poses worshipping Lord Sivaperuman.
Situated opposite the old wedding hall, this mandapam was built in 1795 by Marudhappa Servaikarar.
Situated near the Servaikarar mandapam, this mandapam was built by Muthuramayyar.
One of the pillars in this mandapam bears the statue of Muthramayyar.
Kasiviswanathar and Visalakshi Amman shrines are situated in this mandapam.
In a pillar opposite there is a statue of Sarabeswarar.
It is in the mandapam opposite this hall, that the sacred task of Annadhan is distributed everyday. About 250 persons are fed free every day.
Nagara mandapam situated opposite the Amman sanctum in East Chitra street was built in the year 1635 by Achutharayan, minister of Rani Mangammal.
This mandapam was built for the purpose of sounding the Nagara drum toannounce important events and festivals to the devotees. Even though many shops are situated in the premises, the practice of beating the Nagara drum continues.
The New Mandapam, situated opposite the East Rajagopuram was built by King Thirumalai Naicker with the work starting in 1626 and ending in 1645.
The dimensions of this mandapam known as Vasantha mandapam and Thirumalai Naickerr Choultry are: length – 333 feet (100 meters), width 105 feet (31.5 meters) and height 25 feet (7.5 meters).
On both sides of this mandapam have been carved the statues of ten famous kings of Naicker dynasty. These statues which range from King Viswantha Naicker to Thrimalai Naicker had been chiseled in a life like manner.
On the pillars surrounding the mandapam, along the first six rows on the eastern side are carved figures of equestrian heroes, yalis, Ekapathamoorthy and that of Gajasankarar. In the adjacent inteior are sculptures of Thadagapirattiar, her tours (dikvijayam), Lord Shiva facing her, feeding of piglets, moon, sun, tiger feeding fawns and two dwarapalakars.
On the six pillars next to the western entrance to the mandapam, there are sculptures of Thiripurasankarar, four heroes on horses, Ravana trying to lift Mount Kailash and others.
In the interior of the mandapam, there are scenes of Meenakshi celestial wedding, Indra, Bramha, Sankaranarayanan, Arthanareeswarar, Oorthandavar, Kali, feeding the granite elephant with sugarcane and other sculptures.
On the pillars are 25 poses of Lord Shiva,
According to the work Thiruppani Maalai all the sculptures in the mandapam were executed by Sumandira Moorthy Asari.
Since the sculptures were new at the time the mandapam was built, it was called Pudhu Mandapam(New Mandapam). There are interesting episodes of events that took place while the sculptures were being carved.
Theradi Mandapams(the Mandapam at the foot of chariot shed):
Theradi Mandapams are situated along the East Masi street.
During the Chitra Festival, the procession deities Meenakshi and Sundareswarar arrive at this mandapam on the day of car festival before being taken out in procession. in their chariots.
The shed housing the car of Amman was built by Pappu Chettiar. Now the cars of Amman and the Lord have been renovated with modern technology.
The shed of the Lord was built in the year 1795 by Anandazhvan Ayyan.