The most popular residents of the revered Meenakshi temple in Madurai have now found a new home — the open sky. The temple authorities have set free over 60 parrots that have been an integral part of the 1,200-year-old temple. The birds were set free following requests from animal welfare organisations and state forest department officials. The temple has traditionally been rearing parrots, as the statue of the goddess in the temple holds a golden parrot in her hand. Devotees, as a mark of reverence, started donating parrots to the temple about a century ago.
Recently, an aviary was also set up in one wing of the massive temple, and named the Kili Koondu Mandapam. While the astrologers in the temple used the birds for fortune-telling, the birds themselves were quite a crowd-puller for their unusual talent of reciting slokas and shrieking out the name of the resident deity. According to priest Chonandaram, who spoke to TOI from the temple complex, "The tradition of keeping parrots has been continuing for the past 100 years. It was painful to see them fly away. But the birds, known for their tremendous energy, who could copy whatever you told them, would be happier now, than living in cages. We have with us only one pair of parrot now, in order to maintain the tradition."