Shiva and Parvati -- the embodiment of love and desire that can exist between man and woman, have had thousands of temples built for them, with one of the most beautiful, largest and grandest being the Meenakshi Temple at Madurai. The 17 Century temple, a city within itself, has several fascinating rituals and festivals as well as stunning architecture which has been carefully documented in the film, “Divine Marriage”, by art historian Benoy K. Behl that will be showcased at the India Habitat Centre here this coming Sunday.
There are two shrines in this great temple, one of the great, noble and courageous Shiva and the other of Parvati as Meenakshi, the beautiful fish-eyed one.
Every evening, the deity of Shiva is taken, with great pomp and grandeur to the shrine of Parvati where he will spend the night with her. This divine couple is left undisturbed for the night and are woken up only the next morning by the sweet chanting of divine songs or bhajans, and then Shiva is taken away.
This ritual in some other temples have another factor -- Parvati's nose ring is taken off, to prevent it from scratching or hurting Shiva.
The shrine where the divine couple spend their nights are a great favourite with earthly couples on their honeymoon.
“The abstract concepts of the formless eternal, Nirguna or Arupa, are difficult for the mind to grasp. Therefore deities are made in order that people are able to relate to them. Shiva is a personification of qualities within us. We look upon Shiva we mediate upon him to awaken those qualities within us. Qualities of nobility, qualities of courage with which we must face the demons of our ignorance. Families are made around the deities so that people are able to relate to the deities in a more human way and relate to them even through their own emotions,” said Mr. Behl.
The magnificent temple with her grand entranceways and intricate sculptors was built during the reign of the Nayaka King, Tirumalai Nayaka, a devotee of Lord Shiva.
“The vast temple has eight impressive gateways, one rising to almost 200 feet. These gateways or “gopurams” are covered with several hundreds of sculptures. Temple authorities estimate that there are thirty-three million sculptures in the Meenakshi complex,” added Mr. Behl
In the Nayaka period, large tanks were made within the temple complexes, where the devotees washed their hands and feet. The film also shows how people spend time relaxing within this temple compound. Besides being a place to meditate and gain knowledge, the temple had grown to accommodate all aspects of life. “Thus, the temple also serves to remind us of the divinity which pervades all moments of our existence,” said Mr. Behl.
The film also documents the 16 Century, “Hall of a Thousand Pillars”, which has almost one thousand sculpted columns which have been carved out of a single slab of granite.