Devotion to religion, architecture or archaeology – whatever your driving force, the temples of South India fulfil all demands
1. Meenakshi Temple
The beauty of the Meenakshi temple lies in the whole experience. There’s an intimidating hall of ‘thousand pillars (actually just 985), a calming lotus pond, murals with an explosion of story and colour, and panels that depict the adventures of gods and goddesses. The evening aarti is well organised drawing in crowds and revenue (rumoured to be more than Rs 60 crore per annum). If you wish to feel the sanctity and serenity of this temple, you should visit the temple at the opening hour in the morning and evening. This can be possible if you book into any of the hotels in Madurai, India. Book in advance to get the best deal.
2. Brihadeeswarar Temple
Built around 1,000 AD, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most beautiful and best examples of ancient architecture and art in India. Rajaraja Chola dreamt he was demanded by the gods to build it and went all out – the temple tower is among the tallest at 66 metres, and the bulb-like apex is all of one stone that measures around eight tons. It’s dedicated to Shiva and the murals depicting his exploits and stories are detailed even today, and rumoured to have laid the grounds for Tanjore paintings. Do not belittle this temple by spending just an hour from your busy schedule. Instead,book into any of the comfortable Tanjore Hotels and plan to visit the temple for an entire day, observing its beauty and sanctity.
3. Tirumala Venkateswara Temple
This is one of India’s most famous temples, it’s over 2,000 years old, so understandably there’s a bit of a queue to get into the inner sanctum. However, once in, there’s a delicious and equally famous laddoo as prasad at the end of it. Don’t let the idea of a long wait daunt you. Centuries of devotees and pure faith have infused the temple with an unreal sense of calm, despite the hectic hustling. Once outside, you can stand in another line – this time to get your head tonsured as a donation to Lord Venkateswara (an incarnation of Vishnu) – and the hair will find its way to a high quality wig (hair export is a massive trade) you can eventually pick up from Paris. If you plan to visit Tirupati as a part of some hectic journey, it may not be quite feasible. Instead, book into any of the Tirupati Hotels and rest for the night. You will have the energy in the morning to stand in a queue for the darshan of Tirupati Balaji.
4. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple
When it comes to temples in South India, sometimes bigger is better. The Sri Ranganathaswamy temple is the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world, and among the largest religious sites, set in an area of 156 acres on an island on the Kaveri river. The structure is stunning by itself filled with intricate and imposing sculptures. The deity is that of Lord Ranganatha, a reclining form of Vishnu, and the temple is considered to be an incredibly sacred site of pilgrimage for Vaishnavites. If you wish to do a thorough visit of Ranganathaswamy temple, you must book into any of the Trichy Hotels in the vicinity. This will help you rest after a long and insightful visit to the Ranganathaswamy temple.
5. Chamundeshwari Temple
A number of myths surround this beautiful temple nestled among the Chamundi Hills. That the doors are made of silver and gold. That human sacrifices were once made here. The goddess that the temple is dedicated to, Chamudeswari, is a form of the fiery goddess Shakti, so a bit of exaggeration seems right on form. The 1,000 steps that lead to the temple sitting 3,000 metres high are a true test of faith, one that’s well rewarded at least by the view, once you reach the top. Book beforehand for a stay in Mysore Hotels. Leave early to get a clear view of Chamundi Hills and the intricately carved Chamundeshwari Temple.
6. The ISKCON Temple
Image Source: iskcondesiretree.com
As the headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, this ISKCON temple in this city is a pretty magnificent presence, especially when it feeds Krishna Prasad to 1,000 devotees a day. The main deity here is Krishna, but also flanked by Gaura-Nitai, Jagannatha Baladeva-Subhadra, and Radha Madana-Mohana. One of the temple’s programmes is called Bhakti Vruksha, which encourages members of ISKCON to improve their mental and spiritual wellbeing, through bhakti yoga. Surf the list of Hyderabad Hotels close to ISKCON and plan your stay. Meditate and refresh your mind in this serene environment.
7. Ramanathaswamy Temple
When Ram came back from Sri Lanka having destroyed Ravan, he was keen to make sure his sins from war be absolved. So he had a Jyothirlinga temple built to ask for forgiveness from Shiva. While Hanuman was dispatched to bring an imposing Vishwalingam from Kailash, Sita made a smaller one to make do meanwhile. Once the Vishwalingam was established, tradition demanded it be worshipped first, something that’s still followed today. Built on an island, the views outside the temple of blue waters are just as gorgeous as the colourful murals inside. Every artist deserves at least one visit to Rameshwaram. Book into any of the Rameshwaram Hotels for a couple of days to appreciate the artistic beauty of this place.
8. Sri Krishna Temple
The many deities and avatars of Hindu mythology can be confusing. The 34,000 (approx.) odd temples spread across South India might actually make matters worse. The Sri Krishna Temple at Guruvayur, as the name suggests, is dedicated to Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu. However the site itself is more Vishnu specific, called Bhooloka Vaikuntum or Vishnu’s home on Earth. Either way, its stories draw you in – the deity is rumoured to be more than 5,000 years old and made of black antimony, a metal that is supposed to have medicinal qualities. When ritualistically bathed every morning, devotees rush for a sip of the bath water as a blessing with curative properties.Stay in any of the Guruvayoor Hotels for the night. Get fresh and have a bath before heading to the temple premises.
9. Thillai Nataraja Temple
Image Source: wikimedia.org
It’s not difficult to see how bharatnatyam was born in this temple. It’s dedicated to a very specific form of Shiva, Lord Nataraja to be precise, the god of dance. The Thillai Nataraja temple celebrates Ananda Thandavam or ‘the dance of delight’ and his many poses form the basis of the classical dance form of bharatnatyam. As a holy site, the temple gains importance because it’s said to be the home of Shiva on Earth, and the town itself is representative of one of the five elements that make up the universe, ether. So why not stay back in any of the Chidambaram Hotels in the vicinity. Dedicate a day to observe the unseen facets of this unique temple.
10. Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple’s biggest claim to fame, besides being a massive pilgrimage site for Vishnu devotees, is its riches. In June 2011, some if its deep and secret vaults were opened to reveal gold worth almost Rs 1.2 lakh crores. Two of its six vaults are yet to be opened and valued. Needless to say, this is the richest temple in the country. It’s an ancient space, with historians unsure when the deity was consecrated (rumour says 5,000 years ago). The statue itself is beautiful – that of Vishnu or Padmanabhaswamy in the anantha-sayanam posture(sleeping on the thousand headed snake Adisesha). The snake motif is echoed on the doors of the ancient vaults, almost as curses and warnings against their opening.Book into any of the nearby Trivandrum Hotels. Plan your stay such that you get enough time to observe the beauty of Padmanabhaswamy Temple.
Best time to Visit:
It stays pretty hot through the year, but October to December is incredibly pleasant and a perfect time to do a South India temple trail. Diwali or Deepavali is the biggest festival so sites do tend to get crowded around then, albeit the temples themselves look gorgeous.
Indian temples are among the richest religious institutions in the world, and a majority of them are from the South. Silk Route’s Gold Trail tour takes you on a visit to temple vaults for a glimpse of all the glitter that is really gold.