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An image of the goddess Meenakshi.

Meenakshi: The Warrior Goddess Who Could Not Be Defeated by Any Man …Until She Met Shiva

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Meenakshi is a goddess in the Hindu pantheon who is worshipped mainly in the southern part of India. This goddess is believed to be an avatar of the goddess Parvati, the wife of Shiva. The most important temple dedicated to this goddess is the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India. In this temple, Meenakshi is worshipped together with her husband, Shiva, in his form as Sundareswara.

The Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai

The Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai ( CC by SA 2.0 )

Meenakshi’s Arrival Answers the Prayers of The King and His Wife

Meenakshi’s strong association with the city of Madurai is related to the myth of her coming into being. Between the 4 th century BC and the 17 th century AD, one of the dominant powers in the southern part of India was the Pandyan Dynasty. For a great part of their rule, Madurai served as their capital. One of the Pandyan kings was the legendary Malayadwaja Pandya, who appears as a supporter of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. According to legend, the king and his wife, Kanchanamala, were not able to have children. The king prayed to various gods to grant him a child, and eventually his prayers were answered by Shiva, though in a rather unexpected manner.

Meenakshi is strongly connected with the city of Madurai, pictured.

Meenakshi is strongly connected with the city of Madurai, pictured. ( CC by SA 4.0 )

Eyes of a Fish

The queen did not become pregnant, as was perhaps expected. As the king was making a sacrifice in the hope of getting a child, a three year old girl came out from the sacrificial fire. This child had three breasts, and it was foretold that the extra breast would disappear when she met a man worthy to be her husband. In addition, the girl’s eyes were shaped like fish, and hence she was given the name Meenakshi. In the Tamil language, ‘meen’ means ‘fish’, whilst ‘akshi’ means ‘eyes’.

A Warrior Goddess

Meenakshi grew up learning the martial arts, and became a fine warrior who excelled particularly in archery and sword-fighting. When Meenakshi reached the age of 21, her father decided to invite all the neighboring kings and princes to Madurai, in the hope of getting his daughter married. This was due to the prevailing custom of the Pandyans that women were not allowed to ascend to the throne on their own. Therefore, the king was hoping to find a suitable husband who would rule the kingdom jointly with his daughter after his death.

The goddess Meenakshi

The goddess Meenakshi ( public domain )

Undefeated in Combat

Meenakshi’s suitors brought precious gifts with them, which they hoped would impress the princess. This did not work, however, as Meenakshi proclaimed that she would only marry the man who could beat her in combat. Therefore, she challenged each of the suitors to a duel in archery and sword-fighting. As expected, none of the suitors could defeat the princess. Thus, Meenakshi remained single, and her father eventually relented, allowing her to ascend the throne in her own right.

When her father died, Meenakshi became the new ruler of the Pandyan Dynasty. She then traveled northwards to conduct military campaigns, defeating all the opponents she met on the way. Eventually, she arrives at Mount Kailash, where she meets her equal in battle, Sundareswara, who is actually the god Shiva. Meenakshi’s third breast disappears, as prophesized, and the couple return to Madurai to be married.

Lord Shiva weds Goddess Meenakshi. Lord Vishnu hands over his sister.

Lord Shiva weds Goddess Meenakshi. Lord Vishnu hands over his sister. ( public domain )

Meenakshi’s Kingdom

As Madurai was the capital of Meenakshi’s kingdom, it also became the center of her worship. This is most evident in the Meenakshi Amman Temple. According to popular belief, the temple was originally built 2500 years ago by survivors of Kumari Kandam, the Indian equivalent of Atlantis. In the historical records, however, the existence of this temple is first mentioned during the 7 th century AD. The temple was ransacked by Muslim invaders during the 14 th century, and was only rebuilt about two and a half centuries later. This is the structure that visitors are able to see today when they visit Madurai.

Details of the spectacular Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai

Details of the spectacular Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai ( Natesh Ramasamy / flickr )

Meenakshi is certainly one of the more fascinating goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. According to one writer, Meenakshi may serve as an inspiration for young girls and women. The story of this goddess shows that females need not be bound by gender norms. Instead, they, like the goddess, may aspire to take on roles associated with males, and even excel in such roles.

Top image: An image of the goddess Meenakshi. ( My God Pictures )

By Wu Mingren

References

Arni, S., 2017. The three-breasted warrior princess. [Online]
Available at: http://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/on-how-madurai-meenakshis-story-inspires-children/article17608201.ece

CulturalIndia.net, 2017. Meenakshi Temple. [Online]
Available at: http://www.culturalindia.net/indian-temples/meenakshi-temple.html

lewblank, 2017. Meenakshi Amman Temple. [Online]
Available at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/meenakshi-amman-temples

ma.nithyananda.org, 2012. Meenakshi Devi, the Fish-Eyed Cosmic Mother. [Online]
Available at: http://ma.nithyananda.org/dfoienr20938l4kfdifd/history/meenakshi-the-fish-eyed-cosmic-mother/

Pattanaik, D., 2016. The Goddess Meenakshi of Madurai. [Online]
Available at: http://devdutt.com/articles/indian-mythology/shakta/the-goddess-meenakshi-of-madurai.html

Phenomenal Place, 2011. Madurai Meenakshi - The First Warrior Queen of India. [Online]
Available at: http://www.phenomenalplace.com/2012/12/madurai-meenakshi-first-warrior-queen.html

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