Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
|Language||Tamil, English, Sourashtra|
|Importance||Second largest city of Tamil Nadu|
|Temperature (° C)|
Madurai (மதுரை in Tamil) is situated on the banks of river Vaigai in Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state. It is the second largest city of Tamil Nadu and has a population in excess of 1.1 million. It is well known for the Meenakshi temple situated at the heart of the town which attracts tourists as well as pilgrims. Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil era more than 2500 years old, and has been an important commercial centre even as early as 550 AD. Madurai was the capital city of the Pandya kings of South India.
The Pandya King Kulasekaran built a temple, which would later be known as the Meenakshi Temple, and created a lotus shaped city around the temple. Legend has it that on the day the city was to be named, as Lord Shiva blessed the land and its people, divine nectar was showered on the city from his matted locks. This city was henceforth known as Madhurapuri, meaning "The Land of Divine Nectar". According to a different theory, the name Madurai is actually a transformation of the Tamil word "Marudhai" (மருதை), which means a fertile agricultural land with alluvial soil. Many natives continue to refer to the city as Marudhai. The city has been called the "Athens of the East" because of its great architecture and meticulous planning, comparable to that of the Greek capital.
Madurai is Tamil Nadu's oldest city and one of India's oldest cities, with a history dating back to the Sangam period of the pre-Christian era. It was home to the ancient Tamil Sangam (The Academy of Tamil Learning), the literary conclave that produced the first Tamil epic Silappathikaaram and other masterpieces of Tamil literature. Megasthenes, the ancient Greek diplomat and envoy to India in 3rd century BC, had written in glowing terms about it in Indica, his celebrated account on India. But Madurai was to reach its heights of glory in the hands of the Cholas, and finally the Pandyas in the 13th century. After all, the Pandyas were the ones that made the city their capital, and built the Meenakshi Temple, which has always been the greatest attraction of the city. The city flourished under Pandya rule when it was a major trading hub with trading contacts with Greece, Rome, and Middle Eastern countries.
It was a fall from eternal glory to deep abyss for Madurai when the Tamil Kingdoms disintegrated, and its wealth was plundered by the ravaging armies of Delhi's Muslim Rulers. In 1311, it was raided by Malik Kafur, the general of Alauddin Khilji of Delhi. In 1371, the Muslim rule of Madurai was put to an end by the Vijayanagar Rulers who annexed the city to their Kingdom. The Vijayanagar Rulers had the practice of appointing Governors to administer their distant territories. The Governors appointed to rule Madurai were called Nayaks (or Naiks), and it was during their rule that the city regained some of its past glory. When the Vijayanagar empire collapsed in 1565, the Nayaks proclaimed themselves rulers of the territories they governed.
The Nayak Rulers, Thirumalai Nayak , in particular, gave a good boost to the architectural legacy of the city by creating new structures and expanding the existing landmarks in and around the city. The Raja Gopuram (The Main Tower) of the Meenakshi Temple, Puthu Mandapam (The New Mansion) and the Thirumalai Nayak Palace are living examples of his unparalleled contribution to the city's architecture.
On Thirumalai Nayak's death in 1659, the kingdom began to break up. His successors were weak rulers and invasions of Madurai recommenced. Shivaji Bhonsle, the great Maratha Ruler, invaded the south; and so did Chikka Deva Raya of Mysore and other Muslim Rulers, resulting in chaos and instability all around. The one redeeming feature of this period of confusion and anarchy was the regency of Rani Mangammal, who stood up against these invasions. Though her rule lasted no more than two decades, she will forever be cherished by the people of Madurai for the prudence, determination and courage she exhibited during a particularly troublesome period, with very little support from outside.
Madurai soon started slipping into the hands of the British East India Company. By 1801, the whole of Madurai district, which then was made up of Dindigul, Palani, Kodaikkanal, Ramanathapuram and Sivagangai was brought under the control of British East India Company.
In the post-Independence era, Madurai District, headquartered at Madurai City, was one of the largest districts of Tamil Nadu. It was also the administrative headquarters of the neighboring Ramanathapuram District. However, in 1984, the then huge Madurai district was bifurcated into Madurai and Dindigul Districts for administrative convenience. Again, in 1997, it was bifurcated into Madurai and Theni Districts. Like all other districts of India, it is administered by a District Collector, a person from the Indian Administrative Service.
The Madurai Corporation has an elected Mayor and several Councillors, each representing a ward. Madurai district has 15 representatives in Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly and two Members in the Lok Sabha, the House of Representatives of the Indian Parliament.
The population of Madurai City is about 1.1 million. There are 976 females per 1,000 males. The literacy rate stands at 79%, well above the national average.
Tamil is the lingua franca of Madurai and is understood by almost everyone. Tamil spoken in Madurai is relatively pure, and devoid of influences from other languages, in direct contrast with Madras Tamil. Other languages such as Sourashtra, Telugu and Hindi are spoken in pockets of the city. English is also widely spoken and understood.
People and Culture
The people of Madurai are amicable, hospitable, and deeply respect and value their tradition. They lead a relaxed and casual lifestyle, and are not seen as very ambitious. Their mindset is conservative and old-fashioned to the extent that most do not see much point in girls' receiving higher education. They like to get their daughters married at the appropriate age, and count on their sons to support them in their old age. This is one reason among others why Madurai is seen by some more as a developed village rather than a city. Conservatism is also evident in clothing; Western outfits have not found much acceptance amongst women as they are considered too revealing. Though Salwar Kameez, a North-Indian ethnic wear for women, has made deep inroads into the city's populace, most Tradition-lovers still prefer Saree (or Sari), a traditional Indian wear to it.
Maduraiites like to entertain themselves by watching movies and visiting amusement parks. The city has plenty of either, with the Movie Halls numbering about 50—a large number for a city Madurai's size. In the recent past, many Movie Halls have either closed down due to Tamil Cinema's continuing poor performance and lack of patronage, or are turning to dubbed English and Hindi movies.
City Architecture and Planning
The City of Madurai, was originally built around the Meenakshi temple   . Rectangular streets named after the Tamil months of Aadi, Chithirai and Maasi surround the temple, symbolizing the structure of the cosmos. Though there are numerous other temples in Madurai, which is why it is known as the "Temple City", the Meenakshi temple's architectural splendor outdoes all of them. The Temple Complex in itself is breathtaking, given the fort-like walls pierced with lofty Gopurams (Towers), over an area of 640,000 square feet. The gopurams are adorned with figures of Hindu Gods, animals and mythological creatures. Upon entering the temple, one gets to view the spectacular "Potraamaraikkulam", meaning the Golden Lotus Pond, surrounded by corridors depicting murals from the "Thiruvilaiyaadal Puraanam". The "Ayirangaal Mandapam" (Thousand Pillared Hall) is another exhibit of impressive craftsmanship whose pillars feature sculptural work beyond comparison.
Madurai has many other famous temples. Some of them are: Thirupparankundram, Pazhamuthircholai, two of the six temple shrines of Lord Murugan (son of Lord Shiva according to Tamil Mythology); Alagarkovil, a prominent Vaishnavaite shrine; and, Aappudaiyaar temple and Koodalazhagar temple.
Present-day Madurai is a sprawling Metropolis, extending on both sides of the Vaigai. The parts of the city adjoining the temple are bustling commercial hubs where one can find everything from basic necessities to top-of-the-line electronic gadgets. As a result, they are congested and offer little scope for further expansion. However, across the river, is where one would find the chic, modern and young face of Madurai with its well-planned, spacious roads and structures with plenty of room for expansion and development. The Madurai Collectorate, Government Offices, schools, colleges and companies are located in this part of the city.
Madurai is a major center of higher learning that houses some of India's oldest institutions. The American and Madura Colleges are two such institutions that are living tributes to a century-old legacy. The city has a Medical College, Madurai Medical College (MMC), an Agricultural College and a Law College. The Madurai Kamaraj University situated in Madurai was set up in 1966 with 18 schools, which in turn is made up of 72 departments. It pioneered the concept of Distance Education, and its Directorate of Distance Education currently boasts of a student strength of about 130,000. The city also has its share of Engineering Colleges, Polytechnics, Paramedical and Nursing Colleges.
Madurai's economy is chiefly agrarian. Textiles and tourism contribute significantly to the local economy. Madurai is famous for "Sungudi ", a fine-count, zari-bordered, fabric painted cotton saree. However, in the past few years, overt dependence on monsoons, and international competition and cheaper imports have dented the performance of agriculture and textile sectors respectively.
Madurai has a thriving flower industry, Jasmine in particular. The cultivation of jasmine is done at the foothills of Kodaikanal near Madurai, with its red soil which retains water. The flowers are in good demand in other parts of India like Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kolkata and Hyderabad. They are also exported to Middle East and Singapore where they are mostly used in perfumes.
Madurai has long been a laggard in industrial development as compared to other parts of Tamil Nadu and India. The only major industries that are in Madurai are TVS, manufacturer of automobile and automobile parts; Fenner, manufacturer of solid woven PVC conveyor belting; and Madura Coats , manufacturer of textiles.
The State and Federal Governments, acknowledging the fact that there has been little industrial development in Madurai district, have adopted a multi-pronged approach to give a much-needed fillip to industrial growth.
The Government has set up industrial estates in different parts of the city to push industrial growth in identified key areas, thus building entrepreneurs and creating new jobs. The following industrial estates are currently operational:
- SIDCO Industrial Estate, K.Pudur
- SIDCO Industrial Estate, Kappalur
- Hoisery Estate, Urangaanpatti
- Electrical and Electronics Industrial Estate, Kappalur
- Automobile Industrial Estate, Kappalur
To reduce unemployment and to promote equitable growth of small-scale industries in all areas, District Industries Centers (DIC) were formed through out the country. DIC's primary objective is to provide aspiring and budding entrepreneurs all necessary assistance. In Madurai, it was formed in 1979. DIC conducts workshops periodically to motivate students of Engineering Colleges, Polytechnics and Industrial Training Institutes and how they can put their entrepreneurial skills to work. DIC also organizes programs to promote entrepreneurship among women.
Unlike many other historical cities that have been reduced to small towns, hamlets and ruins in the modern age, Madurai still remains a "city" and a major regional hub of commerce. However, it is a concerning fact that it has failed to achieve the progress it should have and its city ranking has sunk in the past few decades. Though it is still Tamil Nadu's second largest city, its preeminent status is fast vanishing and is losing out to other cities like Trichy, and more recently, Coimbatore. Not only has it failed to attract new domestic and foreign investments, but it has also failed to capitalize on its inherent strengths. Government sponsored initiatives to promote entrepreneurship and build local champions have only enjoyed limited success.
Though there is no dearth of talent in Madurai, thanks to the Engineering and Science colleges in the city, it has not been able to retain the pool of qualified professionals. During the years following the Information Technology boom that swept across the country, the city saw an exodus of professionals to other urban centers like Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai which offered them better job prospects. This continues to this day, and will continue unless there is some significant industrial development in the next few years.
Lack of Initiatives
Many squarely blame the state government for limiting industrial development to northern Tamil Nadu, Chennai and its adjacent districts in particular, and cite this as the reason southern Tamil Nadu is industrially underdeveloped. One Tamil political party suggested even bifurcating the state on this grounds. While this claim may not be totally invalid, the main reason Madurai is industrially underdeveloped lies in the fact that there is a definite lack of initiative and poor self-esteem amongst the local populace. The elite and professionals who ought to guide their fellow citizens into the new economy shrug away from their responsibilities, and worse, move to other cities looking for greener pastures and settle down there.
The Road Ahead
Madurai has an impressive infrastructure for a city its size and has plenty of room for expansion. Madurai has a small airport with connectivity to Chennai and Mumbai. An aiport expansion and modernization plan is on the cards. The city has a robust public transportation system, and a well-developed intra- and inter-state bus and railway systems. A major tourist attraction, it has a good network of international and domestic hotel chains. Some of them are: Best Western Germanus, Madura Park Inn International, Taj Garden Retreat, Royal Court, Madurai Ashok, Tamil Nadu, Sangam and Pandyan.
Though the old city and the parts adjoining the Meenakshi Temple are congested, the later developed parts of the city, across the Vaigai, present an altogether different picture, with roads almost on par with international standards. The city's prospective growth corridors are: Melur Road, Alagarkovil Road, TPK Road, Dindigul Road, Natham Roads, and the recently laid out Ring Road.
After many years of stagnation and lacklustre industrial growth, there have been signs of progress in the past few years. Dupont India, a wholly owned subsidiary of E. I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company Inc., USA, has set up its facility in Madurai to manufacture Tynex toothbrush bristles and Teflon non-stick coating.
Madurai has also made a blip on the Information Technology Radar. Honeywell, the first major multinational player to realize the city's tremendous potential, has established its Technology Solutions Lab (HTSL)  here. The company is planning to expand its Madurai center. Although the city is home to numerous small to mid-size IT and BPO units, with the notable exception of Honeywell, up until the past few years, its biggest failure had been its inability to attract IT majors and MNCs. The city's lobbying organizations like MADITSSIA seem to have taken notice, and of late, have been aggressively marketing to promote the city as the next major IT destination and BPO hub  highlighting the city's better infrastructure and ample talent churned out by the city's engineering colleges.
According to a recent task force report released by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Madurai district has the potential to become a "manufacturing hub" and can be promoted as a knowledge gateway and tourism corridor of southern Tamil Nadu  .
Notable people born in Madurai
- Carnatic singer M S Subbulakshmi
- Mathematician Augustus De Morgan
- Carnatic singer Madurai Mani Iyer
- Bharatanatyam dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale
- Official government website of Madurai District
- Offical website of corporation of Madurai
- Madurai District Industries page
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