Histroy:

Madurai is one of the oldest cities of India, with a history dating all the way back to the Sangam period of the pre Christian era. The glory of Madurai returned in a diminished form in the earlier part of this millennium; it later on came under the rule of the Vijayanagar kingdom after its ransack by the ravaging armies of Delhi (Malik Kafur). During the 16th and 18th centuries, Madurai was ruled by the Nayak Emperors, the foremost of whom was Tirumalai Nayakar.

The Sangam period poet Nakkeerar is associated with some of the Tiruvilayaadal episodes of Sundareswarar - that are enacted as a part of temple festival traditions even today.The Sangam age or the Golden age of Tamil literature – produced masterpieces way back in the Pre christian era and in early 1st millennium . Madurai was the seat of the Tamil Sangam or Academy of learning. The entire city of Madurai, is built around the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple – the temple par excellence. Concentric rectangular streets surround the temple, symbolizing the structure of the cosmos.

As early as the 3rd century BC, Megasthanes visited Madurai. Later many people from Rome and Greece visited Madurai and established trade with the Pandya kings. Madurai flourished till 10th century AD when it was captured by Cholas the arch rivals of the Pandyas.

The Cholas ruled Madurai from 920 AD till the beginning of the 13th century. In 1223 AD Pandyas regained their kingdom and once again become prosperous. Pandian Kings patronised Tamil language in a great way. During their period, many master-pieces were created. "Silapathikaram", the great epic in Tamil was written based on the story of Kannagi who burnt Madurai as a result of the injustice caused to her husband Kovalan. In April 1311, Malik Kafur, the general of Alauddin Khilji who was then the ruler of Delhi, reached Madurai and raided and robbed the city for precious stones, jewels, and other rare treasures. This led to the subsequent raids by other Muslim Sultans. In 1323, the Pandya kingdom including Madurai became a province of the Delhi empire, under the Tughlaks.

The 1371, the Vijayanagar dynasty of Hampi captured Madurai and it became part of the Vijayanagar empire. Kings of this dynasty were in habit of leaving the captured land to governors called Nayaks. This was done for the efficient management of their empire. The Nayaks paid fixed amount annually to the Vijayanagar empire. After the death of Krishna Deva Raya (King of Vijayanagar empire) in 1530 AD, the Nayaks became independent and ruled the territories under their control. Among Nayaks, Thirumalai Nayak (1623-1659) was very popular, even now he is popular among people, since, it was he who contributed to the creation of many magnificent structures in and around Madurai. The Raja Gopuram of the Meenakshi Amman Temple, The Pudu Mandapam and The Thirumalai Nayakar's Palace are living monuments to his artistic fervor. Madurai started slipping into the hands of the British's East India Company. In 1781, British appointed their representatives to look after Madurai. George Procter was the first collector of Madurai.

Now after India's independence, Madurai is one of the major districts of Tamilnadu State. Later on Madurai district was bifurcated into two districts namely Madurai and Dindugul Districts. In Madurai District, there are 15 State Assembly constituencies and two parliament constituencies. The history of Madurai will not be complete without mentioning the name of RaniMangammal, the woman of great skill and sagacity. History does not provide many instances of ruling queens in Tamil Nadu. Though it was considered that women were not suited to succeed the throne of a kingdom, Rani Mangammmal, however shines in almost solitary eminence as an able and powerful ruler in Tamil Nadu.

Madurai is famous for its temples.The Aappudaiyaar Koyil Tevara Stalam and the Koodalazhagar Divya Desam are the most important temples one should rarely miss to go. In the vicinity of Madurai is Tirupparamkunram, one of the 6 padai veedu shrines of Murugan (glorified in Madurai Sangam Nakeerar’s Tirumurugaatruppadai). Also in the vicinity of Madurai is Alagar Koyil, one of the prominent Divya Desam shrines of the Sri Vaishnavite faith.

Cilapathikaram - Silapathigaram -  Ilanko Adigal:

Cilapathikaram, the story of Jewelled Anklets, is rooted in the ordinary lives of the early Tamils of the Pandyan Kingdom in the first century A.D. and is regarded by many as the national epic of the Tamil people.

Professor A.L. Basham writing in ' The Wonder that was India"' comments that Cilapathikaram has '' a grim force and splendour unparalled elsewhere in Indian literature - it is imbued with both the ferocity of the early Tamils and their stern respect for justice, and incidentally, it throws light on early Tamil political ideas.'' Today, some quarters may regard Kannagi as a suicide killer and a terrorist.

That which follows is taken from the excellent translation by Professor A.L.Basham:

''Kovalan, the son of a wealthy merchant in Kavirippattinam, married Kannagi, the lovely daughter of another merchant. For some time they lived together happily, until, at a festival at the royal court, Kovalan met the dancer Madavi and fell in love with her. He bought her favours and in his infatuation forgot Kannagi and his home. 

Gradually he spent all his wealth on the dancer. At last he was penniless, and returned repentantly to his uncomplaining wife. Their only fortune was a precious pair of anklets, which she gave to him willingly. With these as their capital they decided to go to the great city of Madurai, where Kovalan hoped to recoup his fortunes by trade."

"On their arrival at Madurai they found shelter in a cottage, and Kovalan went to the market to sell one of Kannagi's anklets. But the queen of Nedunjeliyan, king of the Pandyas, had just been robbed of a similar anklet by a wicked court jeweller.

 The jeweller happened to see Kovalan with Kannagi's anklet, and immediately seized it and informed the King. Guards were sent to apprehend Kovalan, who was then killed on the King's orders. When the news was brought to Kannagi , she went out into the town, with her eyes ablaze with anger, carrying the remaining anklet in her hand as proof of her husband's innocence.

(Kannagi in Madurai Court)

At last the patron goddess of the city interceded with Kannagi, and she agreed to withdraw her curse, and the fire abated. Weak with loss of blood from her self-amputated breast, Kannagi struggled to a hill outside the city, where after a few days she died, and was reunited with Kovalan in Heaven. Meanwhile the news of her death spread throughout the Tamil Land. She was deified, temples were raised and festivals held in her honour, and she became the patron goddess of wifely loyalty and chastity....



 

 

 

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