Living London, Loving Chennai

Thursday, October 06, 2005

TN Cities - Madurai

Madurai, Koodal Nagar or The city that never sleeps (Thoonga Nagaram), considered by some as world's biggest village is one of the oldest cities in the world. Its history is as ancient as Rome, Athens or Varanasi, if not more. References to Madurai and its riches are available from our Puranic texts to Megasthenes (Alexander's time) and various Tamil sangam poems. It is at once a religious place, a historic place that was a capital of a big empire and a (relatively) modern city that jostles for limelight with other contemporary cities. It is only the third largest city in Tamilnadu but is the first city of Tamil culture, history, literature and people. There is no other TN city that has half as much character and vitality as Madurai.

Madurai, situated on the banks of usually dry Vaigai river, has a population of more than 1.2 million people. It is the unofficial political capital of TamilNadu and the primary urban center for south TN. Connected to Chennai (460 Kms) by NH 45 and Bangalore (450 Kms) by NH 7, it is a major railway junction in Southern Railway for which it is a divisional headquarters. National Highways connect it to Kochi / Rameshwaram (NH 49) and Kutralam / Kollam (NH 210). It also has an airport with connections to Chennai and Mumbai and the third busiest in TN.

The whole city is centred around the Meenakshi temple, a gigantic temple with 12 gopurams and receives over 10,000 visitors a day. Much of the city's commerce is carried out in the well planned, but too congested roads and bylanes around the temple (and some within the temple compound). The temple which is always busy with some activity or the other receives lots of foreign visitors and assorted touts. More information on the temple itself can be had from here.

Economically, the biggest grouse of people is that the city lacks industries. The only remaining textile mill, Madura Coats has also closed down and likely to become a shopping centre / apartment complex. With just Fenner India, a few TVS factories (Srichakra tyres etc) and some small scale factories in Kappalur Indutrial estate, the city is far behind Coimbatore / Trichy or even Thoothukudi and Hosur. A new beginning has been made by Honeywell housing a development center here but the city still is far behind Kovai in attracting the eyeballs of IT industry.
It is also a major Jasmine export centre and floriculture looks a promising area of growth. Commercially, it is a major regional trading, commercial, shopping and administrative centre for south TN and it has retained its place in those aspects.

Madurai has been an important education center even before Kovai. Madurai Kamaraj University is the second oldest in TN. Madurai Medical college, American college and Thiagarajar engineering college are some of the other famous colleges in Madurai. It also boasts of a law college and several private colleges.

Madurai is the biggest tourist city of Tamilnadu, except for Chennai which gets the numbers mainly because of connectivity. Apart from the Meenakshi temple, the city is home to several other equally large / famous temples. Koodal Azhagar temple and Kallazhagar temple are important for the vaishnavites. Pazhamudhircholai and Tirupparangundram are two of the 6 sacred abodes of Lord Murugan. The Tamil month of Chitrai (April / May) sees the biggest religious festival in Madurai attracting lakhs of devotees. Apart from this , some festival or other is always going on in one of the various temples. There is also a float festival in Mariamman Teppakulam, on the eastern edge of the city. Sorrounding Madurai are several hillocks with interesting names line Yanaikkal (Elephant hill) , Simmakkal (Lion Hill) that have rock cut caves and sculptures of Jains from 7th century AD. Thirumalai Naicker mahal (17th century), the palace of Tirumalai Naicker, probably the man who is most responsible for development of modern Madurai is another tourist attraction and it has a sound and light show in the evenings.
The Jallikattu (bull fighting),the most important martial art of Tamils, organised around Pongal festival time is celebrated throughout the region but is most famous in Alanganallur near Madurai.

The city for long has had the looks of a town or overgrown village, while has not yet become totally modern like other similar sized cities, has started to have the trappings of a large urban centre. In my recent visit, I could see the increasing traffic jams, apartments everywhere and a relatively large urban sprawl. With the bypass road becoming a city thoroughfare, the new Inner Ring road seems to take the pride of place in Madurai. The city, which notoriously had 4/5 bus stands located all around the place, finally managed to get an integrated bus stand in Mattuthavani - an equally interestingly named place.

What Madurai needs is cleaner, less dusty atmosphere and less hassle from the tout menace. This should have been a place that gets more tourists than Paris or Rome, but the infrastructure is not enough to support even the meager tourist arivals today. Good professional tour guides and lots of more hotels in all proce ranges are a must. This and good air connectivity including international links will help it in becoming a major player in the service industry. On Industrialisation, I dont see much happening in this sector. Sethu-Samudram project may give some boost to the industry here or it may goto Thoothukudi itself. Apart from a few ITES companies, there is hardly likely to be much industrial growth in the near future. The city has grown haphazardly and continuing to grow in the same veins. Urbanisation is happening rapidly on the NH 7 towards Kanyakumari and likely to spread further towards Virudhunagar. With the high court and bus stand, the Melur side is also seeing good developments. Madurai
needs a development authority to plan the growth properly and ensure that the city sees more milleniums keeping its tradition intact without losing the advantages of modernism.


Blogger Jean-Claude said...


Nice to see comment from you.I have just now visited your blog.It is really great.Nice photos.

I will be adding photos in my blog in near future.
Its really good of you to add information about other cities of Tamil Nadu.I will get you all possible information about Cuddalore to make it easy for you to bring up a post on Cuddalore.But I need few days time to do that.

I think I will be having lots of holidays next week.I will do it then.

Keep visiting my blog.I will be updating it at regural intervals.You can directly contact me using through mail (mechantgarcon6262 [at] yahoo [dot] com)

Happy blogging!!

9:39 PM  
Blogger SLN said...


Thanks for the comments. I very much appreciate the offer to provide Cuddalore information. Keep up the good work you are doing there.


9:52 AM  
Blogger ashok said...

hi slakhs,
u've putup a very good info on madurai...
there's something I want clarrified...U mention "yanaikkal" and "simmakkal" as hillocks around madurai. To my knowledge these are landmarks within the city on the main road along the Vaigai river. The hillocks around madurai are "yanamalai" , "pasumalai" and "nagamalai"...

keepup the good work...cheers!

5:14 PM  
Blogger vineshkumar said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:07 PM  

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