One of South India’s great temple towns, Madurai, is synonymous with the celebrated Meenakshi Temple. Situated on the banks of River Vaigai, Madurai has a rich cultural heritage passed on from the great Tamil era more than 2500 years old. Madurai was an important cultural and commercial centre even as early as 550 AD — it was the capital city for the great Pandya kings. It is the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu.
The city attracts a large number of tourists from within the country and abroad. As high as 7,000,000 tourists visit Madurai every year, out of which foreigners number 4,500,000. I am certainly honoured to have spent the most part of my life there.
Whenever I go to the Meenakshi Amman temple or to the Gandhi Museum, or any other tourist spot for that matter, I see always see a bunch of excited tourists with guide maps in one hand, digicam in the other, with a smile on their faces and excitement in the eyes. No matter where the tourists are from, ladies invariably wear sarees and jasmine flowers, while the gents wear dhotis to respect the tradition of this place. In this current situation where Indians prefer foreign tradition and pick spots to spend their vacation, seeing those people come to Madurai is certainly an honour and pride.
Though I get all elated to be a part of this amazing heritage, there is one part of me that is cursing the authorities very severely. Would you prefer differential treatment at your own house, that too for dumb reasons? That is exactly what’s going on here.
While standing in queue for Darshan, if you look like a wealthy, born-with-a-silver-spoon kind of person with jewels in every possible part of your body, then you get to see the Lord from the front row. But if look like an ordinary, I-belong-to-this-place person, then you will certainly not get more than a minute to pray. Isn’t this atrocious? Give a few hundred bucks extra; you can even get those specially-blessed garlands and holy ash. That is not all. The entry fee for any tourist place depends of the location you are from, probably the lowest rate to people from Tamil Nadu, a bit higher for other state tourist and few more hundreds for foreigners. Had these extra bucks been utilized in development of these areas, then I would have certainly appreciated it. But, like any other form of revenue in India, they are only going to the pockets of the already-rich.
The cleanliness of the city is also getting degraded by huge leaps. The boundary wall of the very divine Gandhi Museum is studded with pan spits and cigarette bud marks. Who is to be blamed for this? When foreigners visit this place to get tranquillity, why aren’t the locals realizing the importance? The look on the faces of these tourists when they find a local urinating or defacating is indeed, humiliating. I am not insisting the people to go on to do community service of cleaning the city and picking up the wastes. It is more than enough if each person just puts the waste in appropriate places. That itself is a huge contribution.
However, if no action is taken to improve surroundings and this current situation continues, Madurai will not only lose tourists, but only lose the charm that has been preserved for all these centuries.