Madurai is the administrative headquarters of Madurai District in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the third largest city in Tamil Nadu. Located on the banks of River Vaigai, it has been a major settlement for two millennia and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Madurai is closely associated with the Tamil language, as all three primary congregations of Tamil scholars, the Third Tamil Sangams, were held in the city between 1780 BCE and the 3rd century CE. The recorded history of the city goes back to the 3rd century BCE, being mentioned by Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to India, and Kautilya, a minister of the Mauryan emperor Chandragupta Maurya. The city is believed to be of significant antiquity and has been ruled, at different times, by the Early Pandyas, Medieval Cholas, Later Cholas, Later Pandyas, Madurai Sultanate, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Chanda Sahib, Carnatic kingdom, and the British. The city has a number of historical monuments, with the Meenakshi Amman Temple and Tirumalai Nayak Palace being the most prominent. Madurai is an important industrial and educational hub in South Tamil Nadu. The city is home to various automobile, rubber, chemical and granite manufacturing industries. It has developed as a second-tier city for information technology (IT), and some software companies have opened offices in Madurai. Madurai has important government educational institutes like the Madurai Medical College, Homeopathic Medical College, Madurai Law College, Agricultural College and Research Institute. Madurai city is administered by a municipal corporation established in 1971 as per the Municipal Corporation Act. Madurai is the second corporation in Tamil Nadu next to Chennai corporation. The city covers an area of 147.99 km2 and had a population of 1,017,865 in 2011. The provisional population totals of the 2011 census indicate the population of the city as 10,16,885. The city is also the seat of a bench of the Madras High Court, one of only a few courts outside the state capitals of India.
Madurai has been inhabited since at least the 3rd century BCE. Megasthenes may have visited Madurai during the 3rd century BCE, with the city referred as "Methora" in his accounts. The view is contested by some scholars who believe "Methora" refers to the north Indian city of Mathura, as it was a large and established city in the Mauryan Empire. The city is also mentioned in Kautilya's (370–283 BCE) Arthashastra. Sangam literature like Maturaikkāñci records the importance of Madurai as a capital city to the Panydan dynasty. Madurai is mentioned in the works of Roman historians Pliny the Younger (61 – c. 112 CE), Ptolemy (c. 90 – c. CE 168), those of the Greek geographer Strabo(64/63 BCE – c. 24 CE), and also in Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.
After the Sangam age, most of present day Tamil Nadu, including Madurai, came under the rule of the Kalabhras dynasty, which was ousted by the Pandyas around 590 CE. The Pandyas were outsted from Madurai by the Chola dynasty during the early 9th century. The city remained under the control of the Cholas until the early 13th century, when the second Pandyan empire was established with Madurai as its capital. After the death of Kulasekara Pandian (1268–1308 CE), Madurai came under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate. The Madurai Sultanate then seceded from Delhi and functioned as an independent kingdom until its gradual annexation by the Vijayanagar Empire in 1378 CE. Madurai became independent from Vijayanagar in 1559 CE under the Nayaks. Nayak rule ended in 1736 CE and Madurai was repeatedly captured several times by Chanda Sahib (1740 – 1754 CE), Arcot Nawab and Muhammed Yusuf Khan (1725 – 1764 CE) in the middle of 18th century.
In 1801, Madurai came under the direct control of the British East India Company and was annexed to the Madras Presidency. The British government made donations to the Meenakshi temple and participated in the Hindu festivals during the early part of their rule. The city evolved as a political and industrial complex through the 19th and 20th centuries to become a district headquarters of a larger Madurai district. In 1837, the fortifications around the temple were demolished by the British. The moat was drained and the debris was used to construct new streets – Veli, Marat and Perumaal Mesthiri streets. The city was constituted as a municipality in 1866 CE. The British government faced initial hiccups during the earlier period of the establishment of municipality in land ceiling and tax collection in Madurai and Dindigul districts under the direct administration of the officers of the government. The city, along with the district, was resurveyed between 1880 and 1885 CE and subsequently, five municipalities were constituted in the two districts and six taluk boards were set up for local administration. Police stations were established in Madurai city, housing the headquarters of the District Superintendent.
It was in Madurai, in 1921, that Mahatma Gandhi, pre-eminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India, first adopted the loin cloth as his mode of dress after seeing agricultural labourers wearing it. Leaders of the independence movement in Madurai included N. M. R. Subbaraman and Mohammad Ismail Sahib. The Temple Entry Authorization and Indemnity Act passed by the government of Madras Presidency under C. Rajagopalachari in 1939 removed restrictions prohibiting Shanars and Dalits from entering Hindu temples. The temple entry movement was first led in Madurai Meenakshi temple by independence activist A. Vaidyanatha Iyer in 1939.