The Madurai Nayaks were Telugu rulers from around 1529 until 1736, of a region comprising most of modern-day Tamil Nadu, India, with Madurai as their capital. The Nayak reign was an era noted for its achievement in arts, cultural and administrative reforms, revitalization of temples previously ransacked by the Delhi Sultans, and inauguration of a unique architectural style.
The dynasty consisted of 13 rulers, of whom 9 were kings, 2 were queens, and 2 were joint-kings. The most notable of these were the king, Tirumala Nayaka, and the queen, Rani Mangammal. After the Nayak dynasty took over Madurai, it raised the Madurai country to a high level of administration and cultural life. (Ref.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madurai_Nayak_dynasty)
Tirumala Nayaka was the most powerful and best-known member of his dynasty, who ruled Madurai for thirty-six eventful years. Before Tirumala Nayaka came to power, the court of Madurai was being held at Trichy for some ten to twelve years. Tirumala Nayaka would have continued to rule from Trichy but for a dream. Tirumala Nayaka was suffering from Catarrah which the royal physicians were unable to cure. While he was once marching towards Madurai, Tirumala Nayaka’s sickness worsened and he halted near Dindigul. When he slept in his tent, God Sundareshwara and Goddess Meenakshi appeared to him in a dream, and mentioned that they would cure him if he would make Madurai his capital.
As soon as he awoke from his dream just before dawn, Tirumala Nayaka called for the Brahmans (learned scholars) and others in attendance, who advised him to obey the will of God. Tirumala Nayaka then not only vowed to make Madurai his capital but also to expend 5 lakh pons (100,000 pounds) in sacred works. Immediately thereafter, he felt the disease leave him. An overjoyed Tirumala Nayaka thereafter determined to devote his life to the worship and service of the Gods of Madura and supposedly adopted the Shaiva (worship of Paramasiva) faith.
Rani Mangammal, the regent queen of the Nayak Rule reigned from 1689– 1704 C.E. Born in Madurai, she was the regent queen on behalf of her grandson. She was a popular administrator and is still widely remembered as a maker of roads and avenues, and a builder of temples, tanks and choultries with many of her public works still in use. She is also known for her diplomatic and political skills and successful military campaigns. The capital of Madurai Kingdom during her times was Tiruchirapalli.
Rangakrishna Muthu Virappa Nayak (1682—1689), Mangammal’s son succeeded Chokkanatha, aged fifteen. He tried to retrieve the diminished fortunes of the kingdom and made a name for himself by courageously ignoring Aurangzeb. But Rengakrishna died in 1689, when his queen was pregnant. After she gave birth to a son, Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha, she committed sati, despite strong remonstrance by her mother-in-law Mangammal. So Mangammal was forced to become regent on behalf of her infant grandson Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha, who was crowned when he was three months old in 1689 and ruled till 1705, with an able administrative council headed by Dalavoy (Governor General) Narasappiah. She was able to maintain the prestige of Madurai and regain for it much of the position it had held during the days of Thirumalai Nayak.
Many irrigation channels were repaired, new roads were constructed, and avenue trees were planted. The highway from Cape Comorin was originally built during the time of Mangammal and it was known as Mangammal Salai. She built many public works, notably the Choultries for pilgrims, of which the Mangammal Chataram (Choultry) in Madurai near the railway station is a standing monument. Popular belief ascribes to her every fine old avenue constructed in Madurai and Tirunelveli and other smaller towns in Tamil Nadu.
Her own original palace (Tamukkam or Summer Palace) in Madurai hosted royal entertainments such as elephant fights. She also provided comfort to highway travelers and pedestrians by planting trees, building inns and supplies of water. In 1701 she made large grants for a public feeding institute. Mangammal donated considerable jewels, palanquins to the Madurai Meenakshiamman Temple and similar endowments to numerous temples in her Kingdom. (Ref.: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangammal)
Architectural contributions of The Nayaks
The Nayaks made great contributions to the architectural style during this period. Their contributions being the elaborate mandapas of the “hundred-pillared” and “thousand-pillared” types, the high gopurams (temple towers) with stucco statues on the surface and the long corridors.
The main temples representing this style in and around the Madurai region are:
- The Ranganatha temple at Srirangam – noted for its increase in the number of enclosures;
- The temple at Rameswaram – noted for its long corridors;
- Meenakshi Temple at Madurai – Noted for the great splendour its “thousand-pillared” mandapam, and the thanga thamari kulam (“Golden Lotus Water Pool”).