Tamil Nadu, with its old towering Dravidian masterpieces with vividly painted sculptures on their gopurams, leads when it comes to temples in South India (towers). The backbone of Tamil culture is its temples, which showcase some of India’s most exemplary temple architecture.
The most exquisite South Indian temples can be found here. Look around because many of these locations have more than one temple.
1. Madurai, Tamil Nadu
If you only see one South Indian temple, make it this one. The Meenakshi temple, located in ancient Madurai, Tamil Nadu, is the most spectacular and famous temple in South India. The temple structure is vast, with 4,500 pillars and 12 towers spread across 15 acres. The numerous sculptures are the most impressive. Each year in April, Madurai has the 12-day Chithirai Festival, which includes a reenacted heavenly wedding of the temple’s god and goddess.
2. Thanjavur (Tanjore), Tamil Nadu
With Chola ruler Raja Raja I at the helm, Thanjavur became the bastion of Tamil culture in the 11th century. In Thanjavur, the strong Cholas built around 70 temples, the most notable of which is the Brihadeswara temple (known as the Big Temple). This temple is among three UNESCO World Heritage Sites known as Great Living Chola Temples. In 2010, it celebrated 1,000 years of existence, making it one of India’s oldest Shiva temples. Its dome, made entirely of stone, rises to more than 60 meters, and the corridor around the sanctum is covered with Chola frescoes.
3. Kumbakonam and GangaikondaCholapuram, Tamil Nadu
The other two UNESCO-listed Great Living Chola Temples are located approximately an hour northeast of Thanjavur, Gangaikonda Cholapuram, and Kumbakonam. The royal temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram was constructed not long after Thanjavur’s Big Temple was completed in the 11th century, when Rajendra Chola I transferred the Chola capital there in honor of the victory. Its idea is similar to that of the Big Temple, although on a smaller scale, including a massive stone Nandi (bull). The 12th-century Airavatesvara temple in Darasuram, just west of Kumbakonam, is notable for its art and beautiful stone carvings. Kumbakonam has plenty of temples and is a great destination to go temple hopping! If you only have time to see a few, the Sarangapani temple (dedicated to Lord Vishnu) is the most magnificent, with a shrine shaped like a horse-drawn chariot.
3. Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu
The Arunachaleswar temple is located near Tiruvannamalai, about four hours southwest of Chennai, at the base of the sacred Mount Arunachala. There are nine towers and three inner courtyards in this vast temple complex. This holy town exudes a powerful spiritual atmosphere, particularly around the meditation caves found throughout the mountain. The element of fire is adored there by Lord Shiva. Every full moon, pilgrims throng the village to walk around the mountain. Along the way, there are numerous temples and sadhus (Hindu holy men). On the full moon between November and December, during the Karthikai Deepam Festival, a massive fire is ignited on top of the mountain and burns for days.
4. Belur, Karnataka
Belur is home to the magnificent 12th century Chennakeshava temple, built by the governing Hoysala dynasty to remember their triumph over the Cholas, and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It took 103 years to build and features some of India’s most well-known sculptures. Many more Hoysala Empire temples can be seen at Belur, as the Hoysala Empire’s capital was there before the Mughal attack destroyed it in the 14th century.
5. Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh
Lord Venkateswara (Lord Vishnuenormous )’s temple complex is above Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh’s southern region. Those who are physically capable can climb the 4,000 steps to the temple, which takes 2 to 4 hours. Otherwise, using the bus is more convenient. The gold-plated dome of the temple indicates that it is one of India’s most visited and wealthiest. Over the years, numerous monarchs and kings have patronized it. After their marriage in 2007, Bollywood stars Abhishek Bachchan, and Aishwarya Rai worshiped at the shrine. Remember that visiting Tirupati Temple has several problems, including large crowds, making it only suitable for dedicated pilgrims.
6. Aihole, Karnataka
Aihole, the historic Chalukya capital not far from Pattadakal, boasts around 100 temples. They were built much earlier than the ones at Pattadakal, and their designs are regarded as experimental rather than perfected. The main attraction is the Durga Temple Complex. It features 12 Hindu temples that date from the sixth to eighth centuries. Another feature is the 6th-century Ravana Phadi cave temple, located uphill from the Durga Temple Complex. It is regarded as the first monument of the Badami Chalukyas, with massive sculptural panels. You can make a side excursion from Hampi to Pattadakal and Aihole.