“Madurai is a strikingly fascinating and complex city. During my cycle ride to school every morning I was awed by Madurai’s complexities. I saw new and amazing pieces of its puzzle every day. Through South India Term Abroad, I had the wonderful opportunity to see South India from an insider’s perspective. This was truly a gift, and I will never lose the invaluable insight it gave me.” – SITA Student 2010
Explore the temples, narrow bustling lanes, cultural performances and festivals of this ancient city.
Madurai is an ancient, yet thriving city that bombards the senses with a continuous stream of fascinating sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. Madurai offers an unending opportunity for newcomers to delve into south Indian culture. Madurai flourishes around its central heart – the Meenakshi Amman Koyil – a temple dedicated to Madurai’s patron goddess, the beautiful “Fish-Eyed” mother. The riotously colorful towers of the Meenakshi Temple soar into the sky with gorgeously crafted sculptural work reflecting the ancient mythological history of the surrounding area and its deities. The exquisite temple is a site of continual devotion and is a holy center visited by pilgrims from all over India. The streets which radiate out from the temple are filled with Madurai’s vibrant life. Vendors selling fragrant jasmine flower garlands, deity pictures, plastic trinkets, glass bangles, exotic fruits and vegetables – to name a few – line the streets. Madurai is home to thousands of other Hindu temples of all sizes, Muslim mosques, Christian churches, and Jain communities.
While Madurai is a large city, the people of Madurai preserve their ancient traditions and proud Tamil linguistic and cultural heritage — visible in day-to-day lifestyle, dress, diet, worship, and social interactions. Nevertheless, new ways of being are incorporated in an ever-evolving, complex Tamil culture. More young people seem to wear jeans and use smart phones every day, while traditionally tattooed women with gauged earlobes swinging heavy gold jewelry hawk locally grown produce from baskets deftly balanced on their heads.
Amidst all the beauty of traditional forms of art, dance, music, linguistic history, and religion, what shines as Madurai’s most endearing feature is the people themselves. Hospitality is a Tamil value not to be matched by any other place! The people of Madurai will welcome you into their homes, their culture, and their lives. Living with a local host family is a fantastic way to quickly learn about and become immersed in Tamil life. It is a particularly wonderful way to enjoy delicious South Indian cuisine.
You will come to find that much of what you may have learned previously about India – regarding varieties of food, language, music, film, and beyond – doesn’t apply to Madurai. That is because representations of India available in the US tend to reflect North Indian culture. Information about the unique cultures and languages of South India are available to some of SITA’s member school students through faculty expertise, but in general is much less available. That is one of the many reasons why living in Madurai, with the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of Tamil Nadu, is an unmatched experience to increase your own understanding of Inida, the world, and yourself. Every day will bring new experiences, questions, surprises, challenges, and joys. It is a place you can’t quite imagine until you have lived there.