India is a country known for its ancient historic landmarks, rich culture and interesting religious beliefs. A lot of its beauty comes from the wealth of its old architecture, many of which are part ofUNESCO’s Heritage sites. This especially applies for the various Hindu and Jain Temples located here, some of which can be dated as far back as the 10th century. They attract tourists from all over the world, and are a must-see for people interested in culture, history and architecture.
Here are some of the temples you must visit next time you’re in India
1. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam
The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, India, is a temple dedicated to Lord Ranganatha. It dates back to the 10th century, and is the largest functioning Hindu Temple in the world, covering an area of 150 acres, with 21 gopurams (colorful pyramid entrances), the tallest of which is 200 ft tall. Millions of visitors come to admire the lovely, graphic architecture, with colorful carvings adorning the tiered structure of the gopurams. Visit during December-January in the Tamil month of Margazhi and witness the 21-day annual festival that takes place here.
2. The Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab
The Harmandir Sahib, commonly known as The Golden Temple, is a beautiful symbol of freedom and religious independence for the Sikhs. It is build by the sacred lake beside which Buddha himself is said to have meditated, as well as the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak. It was built in the 1500s, along with its home city of Amritsar, as is a breathtaking site with its white marble decorated with gilded gold and jewels.
3. Brihadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur
Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, is a UNESCO World Heritage site which is famous for its exquisite architecture and religious significance. The towering, tiered structure was constructed in the Chola Dynasty and its granite walls are decorated with intricate carvings which all history and art enthusiast will enjoy. The slightly blackened building feels like a walk through history itself, with a haunting appeal to it, and is a surely a must-visit site.
4. Ekambaranathar Temple, Kanchipuram
The city of Kanchipuram in the Tamil Nadu province of India is known as The City of a 1000 Temples, and all of these are exquisitely designed historic masterpieces. The Largest of these is the Ekambaranathar Temple. Its Gopuram is one of the tallest in India at 59 m. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and its massive towering structure is definitely worth a visit. Especially outstanding is the Aayiram Kaal Mandapam, or the “hallway with a thousand pillars”, built by the Vijayanagar Kings.
5. Sanchi Stupa
How about some peace and love on your trip to India? Take a trip to the village of Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh, and you can see countless Buddhist structures dating as far back as the 3rd century. The most significant of these is the Sanchi Stupa, or Great Stupa, a Buddhist religious structure in the shape of a dome containing relics of Buddha. This ancient temple was built by Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century and now stands as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its 4 intricate entrances, called Toranas, are truly a sight to behold, each representing the emotions of love, peace, courage and trust.
6. Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai
The Meenakshi Amman Temple located in the holy city of Madurai is a significant Hindu Temple dedicated to Sundareswar, a form of Lord Shiva, and Meenakshi, a form of goddess Parvati. It is a huge complex with 14 towers beautifully decorated with artistic and colorfully painted carvings of human and animal figures which give them an almost sculptural look. It also contains 2 gopurams which are dedicated to the main deities. It was built in the 17th century as it stands today, but it has been mentioned in Tamil history for centuries.
7. Khajuraho Temple Complex
The Khajuraho Temples were built during the Chandela Dynasty, and are known for their beautifully carved erotic sculptures which adorn the temple walls. These are more like a 3D version of the Kama sutra, and many travel here to behold the artistic significance and beauty of these temples. The western and southern group of temples is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Shiva, while the eastern show influences of Jainism. Visit during the Khajuraho Festival and you can witness many dance performances in this historic place.
8. Jain Temple, Ranakpur
The Jain Temple at the village of Ranakpur between Udaipur and Jodhpur in the province of Rajasthan is a magnificent 15th century structure dedicated to Lord Adinatha. It is a popular pilgrimage sites and is one of the 5 sacred places of the Jains. This beautiful structure was in the running for the new 7 wonders of the world. It is completely supported by 1400 beautifully crafted pillars, and the entire structure was made out of light colored marble. It is also interesting that it is lit solely by sunlight.
9. Virupaksha Temple
This formidable structure lies in the city of Hampi in India. It was first built as a small shrine in the 7th century, and grew into a large complex under the reign of the Vijayanagara rulers. Its towering gopuram measures 50 m in height today. It is said that the temple has been functional ever since it was built uninterrupted, which means it is one of the oldest functioning Hindu temples in India. This historic temple looks magnificent backed by bare mountains, making it a must visit site for tourists.
10. Shore Temple, Mahabalipuram
The shore temple overlooks the Bay of Bengal, as its name suggests. It is located in the village of Mahabalipuram in the state of Tamil Nada, India. This magnificent structure was built with blocks of granite in the 8th century AD. It is one of the oldest structural temples in South India and is an important UNESCO Heritage Site. It was built in the Pallava Dynasty when the city was an important trading port.
Such a short list does not do justice to the wealth of religious, cultural and historic landmarks that India contains, but definitely gives you an idea of what all is in store. If you’re into art, architecture and history, a bit of temple-hopping is a must on a trip to the subcontinent.