Tamil Nadu has 33,000 temples to be precise. It comes as no shock because it is a land of high religious significance and spirituality. It also has a rich cultural history as mentioned in the Sangam literature (South Indian’s ancient literature). All of these features have allowed Tamil Nadu to build some of the most astonishing temples.
Some of these temples even date back to the 1st century while some are even mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures. The state’s temples are famous globally and if you are planning a temple visit to Tamil Nadu, here are the top six that you cannot miss.
1. Meenakshi Temple
It has been nominated as one among the 30 options for the new seven wonders of the world. That in itself speaks volumes about the kind of temple it is.
Situated in Madurai, Meenakshi Temple is visited by people across the globe. In a land where most of the grandest temples are dedicated to gods, this one temple is dedicated to Parvati, a powerful goddess and Shiv’s consort. It is one of the largest and oldest temples in India and maybe in the world as well.
According to Hindu mythology, this temple was found by Indra, the leader of gods. A naturally formed Shiv lingam in the temple could also be a reason for the importance given to it. Anyhow, the temple was looted by the Mughals during their reign, and it was restored in the 16th century to its present glory. It is estimated that during the annual festival of Meenakshi Temple, approximately 1 million people visit it.
The temple complex is massive having four entrances. There are several gopurams, shrines and towers in the complex, each having intricate carvings of divine beings and animals. The Meenakshi shrine is the most important among all the others. Inside this shrine, there is an idol of Meenakshi which is cut out of a single emerald. The grandeur and architecture of this temple make this one of its kind in the world and its a must-visit indeed.
2. Rameshwaram Temple
The Rameshwaram Temple is located in the small city of Rameshwaram. The complex is gigantic, and it’s made up of white sandstone. It is built in the typical architectural style that most temples in South India are built. The temple also has a small river near it with clear water.
Just like all the other temples, this temple also has many legends. But the reason that it has acquired the position of a holy Dham is that of one of Vishnu’s famous incarnation, Lord Ram. After killing Ravan, Lord Ram and his wife Sita stopped at Rameshwaram, right at the place where the temple stands today. Since Ravan was a Brahmin and killing a Brahmin is the greatest sin in Hindu religion, Lord Ram decided to ask for penance to Lord Shiv. He asked Hanuman to bring an idol of Shiv from Mount Kailash, and Sita herself made a Shiv Ling. Both the Shiv Lingams are in the temple today. It is because of Lord Ram’s descent here that this place became holy.
3. Brihadeeshwarar Temple
This magnificent temple in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu has been a place of absolute fascination and awe among tourists and scientists.
This temple is unique for many reasons. The first reason, which is the most amazing and strange at the same time is that this is the only temple in the world that is completely built out of granite. Now you have to keep in mind that this temple is one of the largest in the world and one of its towers has a height of 216 ft (tallest in the world). To achieve such a tremendous feat at that time, given the fact that the temple turned 1000 years old in 2010, is almost impossible. It is a hard task even today with all the advanced machines. Also, there was no granite quarry within a 100 km radius of this temple. This has left historians and scientists baffled as to how they could then build such an opulent structure.
This large temple is dedicated to Lord Shiv, just like many other temples in the state. It was also declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architectural marvel of the temple is just awe-inspiring. When a temple gives you so many reasons to visit it, why would you not?
4. The Ruined Temples of Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram translating to the land of Mahabali is situated on a strip of land between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake. It is one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sights. According to legend, this town was named after King Mahabali who was known throughout the country for his generous and kind nature.
Today, Mahabalipuram stands as a testimony to the absolutely excellent architectural skills of India even during the 7th and 8th centuries. Because of its ideal location, this town was the most famous seaport for trading since the 1st century and continued to be so even during the reign of the Pallava dynasty.
It consists of a large number of massive temples built in the shape of chariots, cave sanctuaries and most popularly, shore temples. More than a thousand Shiv sculptures can be found in this historic temple town. From the coast of this town, ancient Chinese coins dating back to the 4th century were found. This shows the level of global trade that took place here.
Mahabalipuram’s power is mentioned even in Sangam literature. Many poets write that ships laden with wealth and gems used to arrive regularly at its shore. During the time of the famous sailor Marco Polo, this town was also identified as the town of Seven Pagodas. This is because it had seven large shore temples at that period out of which the only one is remaining now. The many temples found here have stood the test of time proudly, and it goes on to show the kind of power India possessed in the world at that period.
5. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple
Believed to be one of the 108 holy abodes of Lord Vishnu, this temple is very popular, especially among the Hindus. If its religious significance wasn’t enough, then its architecture makes up for that. Just like many other temples in Tamil Nadu, this one also displays the perfection of the Dravidian architecture. The intricate carvings, distinctive structural style and applications of various colours make this temple stand out.
The temple is spread over a large area of 150 acres. But unlike other temples in Tamil Nadu where the entire area is dedicated solely to the functions of the temple and nothing else, this temple allows human settlement and township within its compound as well.
The temple is dated back to the 10th century, but the Mughals plundered it, just like they destroyed other temples. It was during the 14th century that the Vijayanagara and Nayaka rulers restored it. The thousand pillared hall within the temple complex is one of its kind in the country.
If art is your passion, then you can definitely appreciate the temple’s marvellous sculptures and carvings.
6. Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram
This incredible Shiv temple is carved out of sandstone. It dates back to the Pallava dynasty (700 AD). Given the age of the temple, it is termed to be the first structural temple of South India. At a time when temples were carved out of wood or rocks, this temple was made out of fine sandstones.
This is not the only fact that makes Kailasanathar Temple incredible. It is situated amidst lush greenery sprawling across a vast area. Apart from the fact that there is a massive statue of Nandi in front of the temple, the main shrine is surrounded by 58 sub-shrines.
The beauty of this temple lies in its simplicity and its depictions of Lord Shiv with his consort Parvati. There are also fantastic wall carvings of Lord Shiv’s many manifestations and many forms.
A strange but interesting thing about this temple is that within the main shrine, there is a small tunnel-like passage. It was actually cut out while making the temple and it’s so small that you can only crawl through it. It starts from the left and emerges from the right side. It is a popular belief among the devotees of this temple that going into the passage and coming out from the other side is a process that will help them to attain moksha (a release from the cycle of reincarnation, thus being one with the universe and God).