My Madurai, the City of Meenakshi
think of Madurai often. Madurai is an ancient city mentioned in the old
scriptures of India. The city is built around the Temple dedicated to the
a princess of Madurai married to Shiva in a wedding celebrated every year
in the Chittirai Tiruvizha Festival. From ancient times pilgrims have come
to Madurai to pray at the Temple or the many other shrines in the city or
the surrounding hills. Like Kyoto, the city is filled with these spiritual.
Madurai is also the seat of ancient Tamil
culture with a long tradition of arts and literature patronage by the Pandyan
kings who ruled the city for much of its history. During the Sangam period
poetry contests were held in the Temple’s pond as offerings to the
Goddess. The engineering of the city also amazes me from the planning of
roads originating around the Temple to the building of the Temple itself.
(link to picture)
Then there’s my Madurai, Madurai town
as it was known in the 30s and 40s when I was growing up. It was a busy
place with pilgrims arriving at night, farmers walking in from neighboring
villages for market day and travelers passing through by train and bus.
Even today I hear it being mentioned as the city that is always awake.
The train station was an important connective
junction where passengers arrived to connect to the Trivandrum Express
or the Madras line. It was always crowded. Next to the train station was
Regal Talkies, the only movie theater that showed English movies meaning
those from both Hollywood and Britain. Here also was Victoria Hall where
important public meeting were held in Madurai. All the famous political
leaders of the day including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru came to
speak there. In this complex was the Madurai Men’s Club where the
civic leaders of Madurai met, played tennis and socialized. There was also
a nice Nursery there which sold plants and trees. The central Bus Stand
was not too far off. Traveling by train and bus were the main way of getting
to other places unless you had your own car as there was no air service
in those days.
Madurai was one of the first towns to have
an efficient local bus service, run by TVS & Sons. T. V. Sundaram Iyenger
started his bus service known for its punctuality and employee courteousness.
Near the station was Mangamma Chathram or chowltry, built by a Queen for
the weary traveler who did not have much money but needed to rest. In the
olden days, it was free for people to stay for a day or two though in later
days a small fee was required, still cheaper than staying in a hotel.
My family lived across from Regal Talkies
next to the United Christian (UC) High School. It was a bustling time with
people coming and going, relatives visiting and my father’s legal
clients arriving for consultations. Like the British show "Upstairs,
Downstairs" there were cooks, maids, clerks and various servants.
My paternal aunt, whom I was close to, lived with us and was very active
in social service and was a city magistrate for a while.
of the favorite excursions for my sister and me was a visit to Thirumalai
Nayakkar Mahal, where my father, an Advocate, would go to represent
his client. Built as a mansion for his wife by King Thirumalai Naicker,
it was at that time the Madurai Sessions Court, our main interest was in
the court canteen famous for its snacks. When I was born, my father was
Additional Public Prosecutor for Madurai and Ramnad Districts. Later on
he went into private practice doing civil and criminal defense.
During this time, the Independence Struggle
was blossoming and many of the leading lawyers in Madurai joined the Congress
Party to fight against British rule. Their wives donated their jewelry
to Gandhiji for the cause and started preaching to the common people about
the Congress Party and what they were doing to free us. Under British rule
Indians could never reach the top levels of government jobs reserved for
those of European descent. Therefore a generation of Indians studied law
or medicine to develop independent careers outside of this system. In Madurai
this class of professionals used their education and position to help India