Madurai in Tamil Nadu, unlike Bombay or Goa or Delhi, is a purely Indian city. It was not a port colony of the British or Portuguese. There is little trace of any Muslim or Aryan influence. It is Tamil through and through, with a golden age dating back to 300 BC.
Nor is Madurai a city of museums. Museums imply relics and archaeology and lost culture. There are no artifacts here because the culture was never “lost” and rediscovered. No, in Madurai today you can encounter the same religious festivals, similar products being sold on the streets, the same smells and foods that the Greeks encountered when they visited here. Madurai, contemporary with the oracle of Delphi, is still consulting that oracle on a daily basis, so to speak. This is actually blowing my mind.
The Meenakshi Temple, although covered in a fresh coat of paint and rebuilt in the 1600’s, serves the same purpose that is has since the Greek era. But this isn’t the only fascinating thing about it. This is no austere place of worship; this temple is covered in dolls. Brightly painted, layered up pyramid-style towards the sky, these figures represent the astounding pantheon of Hindu gods and the effect is exuberant to say the least.
Madurai is certainly filled with pollution and rickshaws and modern goods. There’s no escaping that fact. But to continue an unbroken chain of culture, in spite of invasions and changes of governance, is quite a feat.