There is no paucity of reasons when it comes to the things that make Madurai so spectacularly unique. Least of all is its street names. Though this ancient city is about two millennia old, its streets are still in great condition and are still where they were laid hundreds of years ago.
It’s believed that most of the streets were laid down by the Pandya kings in the last millennium; and that’s not all as the city itself was planned beautifully in terms of architecture, buildings and roads that the residents appreciate even to this day!
What make the streets in Madurai so unique are the interesting names that they bear. The street names are a direct reflection of the traditions of the city and the people that live in it. Aside from the street names, the layout of the streets itself is amazing. With the magnificent Meenakshi temple forming the heart of the city, the streets are laid out in concentric squares, with the first square being inside the temple complex; it is named ‘Aadhi Veethi’. As can be expected, this street is not for commercial use, and meant only for spiritual purposes. It’s a popular belief that those who walk a complete length of the Aadhi Veethi can be pardoned of their sins. The subsequent squares of streets are the Chithirai Street, Masi Street and the Avani Moola Street. These square-shaped streets can keep an unsuspecting person crossing the same spot over and over again unless he gets wise and cuts through one of the narrow lanes that connect one square-shaped street to another.
The streets were also named after the occupation of the people who lived on those streets; so the street on which artists lived was named as ‘Chithrakar Theru’ and the streets on which blacksmiths lived was named as ‘Kollanpattarai Theru’. The streets on which the musicians lived were named accordingly as ‘Mettukara Theru’, meaning street of music composers!
Apart from this form of nomenclature, the streets were also named after regional flowers, historical events and national leaders. A classic example is the ‘Barathiyaar Ula Veethi’; this street was so named because the nationally acclaimed poet Barathiyar used to walk on this particular street on his way to a nearby school where he used to teach in his earlier days.
Then there are these streets that are named after the businesses conducted there; an example would be the ‘Valayal Kaara Theru’ Street, where as expected, the main trade was in selling bangles. Similarly, the streets where gold merchants were to be found were known as ‘Nagaikadai Theru’, or street of jewellery shops.
Viewing these concentric square streets from the air is really awesome and a visit to Madurai should definitely be accompanied by an exploration of its unique streets!