Proponents say shrine has turned into a commercial hub; shops preventing devotees and art enthusiasts from appreciating the beauty of stone carvings and paintings
In the wake of the fire that broke out at the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple on Friday night, Sahitya Akademi Award winner Su. Venkatesan and archaeologist C. Santhalingam have called for relocating the shops operating on the temple premises.
Mr. Venkatesan, who chronicled nearly 600 years of Madurai’s history in his award-winning novel Kaaval Kottam, said, “There was a justification [in the past] for keeping the shops in Pudumandapam and other areas [in the temple’s vicinity], as the temple was surrounded by thatched houses [back then]. Now, concrete buildings have replaced the old houses, and there is no need to keep the shops inside the temple.”
Stating that petty shops have had a long history of operating on the temple premises, dating back to 1890, he said, “When Pandithurai Thevar, who established the Tamil Sangam in Madurai, was looking for a copy of Tirukkural, he could get it only from the shops inside the temple. It was the absence of the book in shops elsewhere in Madurai that made him establish the Tamil Sangam.”
He said the Pudhumandapam and the eastern part of the temple, where the fire broke out, were both treasure houses, adding that shifting the shops to other places was the need of the hour.
“The Pudhumandapam houses the statues of seven kings who ruled Madurai. As far as the devotees are concerned, they visit the sanctum sanctorum to pray. For art enthusiasts, each portion of the mandapams offers great visuals. The presence of the shops prevents them from appreciating the beauty of the stone carvings and the paintings there,” he said.
Damage to pillars
C. Santhalingam, former archaeological officer of the Tirumalai Naicker Mahal, feared that the fire may have caused irreparable damage to the granite pillars of the temple.
“In ancient days, haystacks and other inflammable substances were burnt on the surfaces of rocks to break them. The fire caused breaches on the rock’s surface and it was broken into pieces easily with the help of a chisel,” said Mr. Santhalingam.
“The Meenakshi temple has turned into a hub of commercial activities. We need space for devotees to move freely,” Mr. Santhalingam said.