The city is referred by various names like "Madurai", "Koodal", "Naanmadakoodal" and "Thirualavai". The word Madurai is derived from Madhura (sweetness) arising out of the divine nectar showered on the city by the Hindu god Shiva from his matted hair. Another theory is that Madurai is the derivative of the word Marutham, which refers to the type of landscape of the Sangam age. There is a town in the neighbouring Dindigul district called Vada Madurai (North Madurai) and another in Sivagangai district called Manamadurai. The different names by which the city has been referred to historically are listed in the 7th century poem Thiruvilayaadal puraanam written by Paranjothi Munivar.
Koodal means an assembly or congregration of scholarly people referring to the three Tamil Sangams held in Madurai. Naanmadakoodal, meaning the junction of four towers, refers to the four major temples for which Madurai was known for. Tevaram, the 7th–8th century Tamil compositions on Shiva by the three prominent Nayanars (Saivites) namely Appar, Sundarar and Thirugnanasambandar address the city as Thirualavai.
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