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Madurai used to be the place to have a bit of fun with some temple bulls, but as of January 2016 the famous bull baiting of the "Jallikattu" Festival was banned, much to the locals disgust. This vibrant and ancient city also known as "the city that never sleeps" or "the Athens of the East", sits on the Vaigai River in the state of Tamil Nadu. 14 colorful gateway towers of the Meenakshi Amman Temple dominate the city, that is a major pilgrimage site. From the 3rd Century BC until the independence of India, Madurai has come under the rule of numerous regimes: the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Sultanate, the Vijayanager Empire, the Nayaks, the Carnatic Kingdom and the Chanda Sahib. During the years of 1801 to 1947, it served as a British Colony. Over this time it was a thriving commercial city that was rich in gemstones and spices for trading.
The city is shaped like a lotus with the Meenakshi Amman Temple (dedicated to Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva) in its heart. Boasting 33,000 sculptures, the temple is the perfect example of Dravidian architecture. You can spend literally hours getting lost (maybe days if you have no sense of direction) in the winding alleyways and somewhat grimy backstreets of this stunning city. You should take time to gaze at the 17th Century pillars of the entrance to the Puthu Mandapam before you enter this cavernous space overflowing with stalls of handicrafts, art works and jewelry. The Tirumaiai Nayak Palace, built in 1636 by King Thirumalai Nayak with a bit of help from an Italian architect, is in Indo-Sarcenic style. Not much is left intact, but it is the second biggest attraction in the city. The oldest Roman Catholic Church in India, St Mary's, has 2 bell towers and a design blending European and Continental styles. For the museum buff there is the Gandhi Memorial Museum in the Tamukkum Summer Palace displaying numerous items once belonging to Gandhi himself.
The must do item on the agenda, out of sheer quirky curiosity, is to go to the Banana Market where over 16 varieties arrive in branches to be unloaded off the carts every day. It is a sight to behold, as the huge branches are carried into the market on the shoulders of wiry local workers.
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