The enormous temple complex is dedicated to Shiva, known here as Sundareshvara and his consort Parvati or Meenakshi. The original temple was built by Kulasekara Pandya, but the entire credit for making the temple as splendid as it is today goes to the Nayaks. The Nayaks ruled Madurai from the 16th to the 18th century and left a majestic imprint of their rule in the Meenakshi - Sundareswarar Temple.
It is said that the temple was plundered in the 14th century by the Muslim raider Malik Kafur who looted the temple of its valuables. Restoration was undertaken by the Nayak ruler Vishwanatha Nayakar around the 16th century. It was Vishwanatha Nayak who rebuilt the temple in accordance to shilp shastra.
The temple complex is within a high-walled enclosure, at the core of which are the two sanctums for Meenakshi and Sundareshwara, surrounded by a number of smaller shrines and grand pillared halls. Especially impressive are the 12 gopuras. Their soaring towers rise from solid granite bases, and are covered with stucco figures of dieties, mythical animals and monsters painted in vivid colours.