Madurai has been a major settlement for two millennia and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world with a recorded history from 3rd century BC. Megasthenes visited Madurai during 3rd century BC, with the city referred as "Methora" in his accounts. The view is contested by some scholars as they 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 BC) Arthashastra. Sangam literature like Maturaikkāñci, records the importance of Madurai as a capital city to the Panydan dynasty. Madurai finds mention in the works of Roman historians Pliny the Younger (61 – ca. 112 CE), Ptolemy (ca. 90 – ca. CE 168), those of the Greek geographer Strabo(64/63 BCE – ca. 24 CE). and also in the 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, who were 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 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 functioned as an independent kingdom till 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 was devolved as a political and industrial complex through the 19th and 20th centuries to become a district headquarters of a larger Madurai district. With the effect of urbanisation, the temple no longer retained the unitary form, but continued to remain the centre for Hindus. In 1837, under the order of the then collector John Blackburn, the fortifications around the temple were demolished to accommodate the growing population of the city. The moat was drained and the debris was used to construct the new streets – Veli, Marat and Perumaal Mesthiri streets. The city was constituted as a municipality in 1866 CE. The British government faced initial hiccups in land ceiling and tax collection in Madurai and Dindigul districts under the direct administration of the officers of the government. The district at large was resurveyed between 1880 and 1885 CE and settled between 1885 and 1893 CE. The survey showed an under assessment of around 8 per cent in the old survey. Five municipalities were constituted in these two districts and six taluk boards were derived for local administration. Police stations were established with Madurai city as the headquarters of the District Superintendent.
It was in Madurai, in 1921, that Gandhi, pre-eminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India, adopted loin cloth for the first time as his mode of dress after seeing agricultural labourers wearing it. The independence movement in Madurai was led by leaders such as N. M. R. Subbaraman and Mohammad Ismail Sahib.
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