Travel

A piece of history in the lap of the Vaigai

Gone with time This is how the Maiyya Mandapam stood in the lap of Vaigai

Gone with time This is how the Maiyya Mandapam stood in the lap of Vaigai   | Photo Credit: GunaAmuthan

The city’s denizens recall memories of the centuries-old Maiyya Mandapam, a popular landmark in the centre of the Vaigai, which is now pulled down to be rebuilt

“During the Chithirai festival, the night preceding Kallazhagar’s entry into the Vaigai, we would wade through the new waters of the river, reach the centre, climb the stone steps of the Maiyya Mandapam and sit there for hours chatting with friends and family,” recalls a nostalgic K Pandiselvi. “We would be there till dawn when the procession of Azhagar would reach the river,” the 50-year-old adds.

A piece of history in the lap of the Vaigai

Among the many unique things that define the Vaigai river, is the Maiyya Mandapam, a charming edifice sitting prettily in the centre of the river bed, between Sellur on the north bank and Simmakkal on the south bank. The sixteen-pillared mandapam, built during the 15th Century, was for long the hangout for many living along the banks of Vaigai, until it became dilapidated in the recent years.

“As the granite slabs on the roof gave away and bushy undergrowth took over the structure, gradually, people stopped spending the evenings at the mandapam and it became a den for anti-social activities,” says M Venthan, a resident of Thaikkal Street, who used to hangout at the mandapam. Subsequently, the landmark sipped into oblivion and now it has been pulled down to be rebuilt as part of the Vaigai river-front development project.

A piece of history in the lap of the Vaigai

“Originally, it was constructed for the purpose of Theerthavari, a festival held during the Tamil month of Vaikasi, when deities from the Meenakshi Temple would be brought there and people would gather to sprinkle water on the deities. It was a summer water festival,” says C Santhalingam, a retired Archaeological Officer. “In a literary reference, we get to know that the mandapam was built by the Vanathirayars, sub-ordinate administrators of the Nayak rulers. However there’s no inscription in the mandapam.”

A piece of history in the lap of the Vaigai

“Though it was not a structure of great architectural excellence or beauty, it was a unique feature of Vaigai,” says Santhalingam. “You may find mandapams in the centre of lakes, teppams and still water bodies, but a mandapam in the middle of a river is rare. Since Vaigai was always a seasonal river, people had access to the mandapam for most parts of the year. Even when there was flowing water in the river, one could see men fishing sitting on the steps of the structure.”

A piece of history in the lap of the Vaigai

“During the floods in 1994, only the roof of the mandapam was visible, while the entire structure went underwater. I can never forget the vision of the mandapam sink, as vast sheets of water gushed across the Vaigai. I watched it from atop the AV bridge,” recalls 65-year-old S Paramasivam, a resident of Sellur.

“It was a delight to watch the mandapam surrounded by water. Especially on full-moon nights, the mandapam in the middle of shimmering waters would make for a surreal picture,” says S Aravind, a street photographer. “In the title-cards of movies made in Madurai, a picture of the Maiyya Mandapam can be seen invariably, alongside pictures of Meenakshi Temple and the Naicker Mahal. It was one among the city’s characteristic landmarks,” says Guna Amuthan, another shutterbug.

Though the edifice is now a rubble of stones on the bone-dry bed of the Vaigai, memories of the Maiyya Mandapam will remain fresh in the minds of the people for years to come.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 2:20:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/memories-of-a-centuries-old-landmark-in-the-centre-of-the-vaigai-in-madurai/article28102225.ece

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