India is a vast land.
A land immense diversity defined by its history, culture, art, ideas, languages, beliefs, landscapes, plants, animals and people.
If you were wondering what to see in India or how long would you need to explore this diverse land, it would probably take you a lifetime. As they rightly say, India changes every 500 meters. And this change is a distinct identity of the land.
Most visitors explore India mostly through its historical sites, which also make for great tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal in Agra, or the Red Fort in New Delhi, the Sanchi Stupa in Madhya Pradesh or the many forts of the Rajput kinds in Rajasthan. As you go down south, the most notable attractions are the temples of South India.
When it comes to religion and worship, Indians have always gone the extra mile in creating wonders for these places of worship or temples as we commonly call them.
These temples built by the Dravidian kings who ruled the southern lands of India for centuries reflect their unique architectural styles, deity worship and the many rituals that form an integral part of the culture of the communities and the worshippers of the deity. In the early 13th century and onwards, many of these temples were destroyed by invaders and conquerors and looted of their wealth. They were then rebuilt and renovated by the later kings to restore their glory.
7 Temples That You Must Explore in South India
Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
Situated by the banks of river Vaigai, the Meenakshi temple is a historic Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Meenakshi and her consort Sundareshwar. (a form of Goddess Parvati & Lord Shiva). The temple complex is situated at the center of the ancient temple city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu also mentioned in the Tamil Sangam Literature. The Meenakshi Temple is the only South Indian temple dedicated to the female deity while the rest of the temples worship the different forms of Lord Shiva.
The highlight of this temple is the 14 magnificent Gopurams which are richly sculptured and decorated depicting animals, demons, and god of Hindu tradition. An average of 25000 people visit this temple on a daily basis and is indeed one of the finest temples in South India.
Sri Venkateshwara Temple, Tirumala
The Venkateshwara Temple in Tirumala, more popularly known as the Tirupati temple or the Tirupati Balaji temple is one of the most prominent pilgrim spots amongst Indians. Situated in Tirumala at Tirupati, in the Chitoor District in Andhra Pradesh, this temple is dedicated to Sri Venkateshwara, a form of Lord Vishnu. The Venkateshwara temple is located on seven hills, representing the sevens hoods of Adisesha.
Legend has it that Lord Vishnu in his Venkateshwara avatar (also known by the names Balaji, Govinda, and Srinivasa) came to save mankind from the troubles and trials of Kali Yuga.
Hence the temple is also called Kaliyuga Vaikuntha.
This is one of the most important temples in South India and a must-visit for locals and tourists alike. Many visit the temple with the belief of getting their wishes granted after all Lord Venkateshwar is also described as the great bestower of boons.
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, Tamil Nadu is the largest temple complex in India and the third-largest Hindu temple in the world. Also known as the Thiruvarangam temple, it is a Hindu temple dedicated to Ranganatha, a reclining form of Lord Vishnu. It is foremost of the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Vishnu.
The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is highly illustrious Vaishnava temple, celebrated through literature and holding an integral place in history.
With its large complex, the temple has many mandapas and 21 Gopurams depicting tales of the Hindu Gods and deities with colorful figurines.
The celebration of the festival of Vaikunth Ekadashi is a key event at the Thiruvarangam temple. Ekadashi is the 11th day of each fortnight and the Vaikunth Ekadashi is considered the holiest of them all. It is celebrated with song, dance, prayer, and procession over a span of 20 days. You can check the details and Srirangam temple timings for a better understanding of the schedule.
Brihadeeshwara Temple, Thanjavur
The Brihadeeshwara Temple is a Hindu temple located in Thanjavur, about 300 kilometers from the capital city of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Also known as the Rajarajeshwara temple, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple has Shiva Linga in the inner sanctum and the complex includes sculptures of the various forms of Lord Shiva including Nataraj, Shiva-alingan murti, Ardhanarishvara, Harihara.
The city of Thanjavur used to be a socio-economic hub during the Chola rule, where art was revered and celebrated with much aplomb. The Brihadeeshwara temple is the significance of the same, built by King Raja Raja Chola I over a 1000 years ago. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Sree Padmanabhaswamy, Thiruvananthapuram
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple is situated in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. It is dedicated to Adi Narayan. This is another temple that is highly celebrated in the Tamil Sangam Literature, mentioned in several Hindu Texts including the Padma Purana and the Mahabharat.
The Padmanabhaswamy Temple is considered to be the wealthiest place of worship and was referred to as the ‘Golden Temple’ due to the amount of wealth it accumulated in Sangam Literature.
Over the years, the Cheras, Pandyas, Pallavas, Cholas have contributed to the wealth of the temple. However, the Travancore Royal Family started regularly maintaining and donating to the temple and hold a key role in its administration even today.
The Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, a mixture of Kerala and Tamil architecture styles is a must-visit while exploring the temples of South India.
Guruvayur Temple, Trichur
The Guruvayur Temple in Trichur, Kerala is a temple dedicated to Sree Guruvayoorappan (a four-armed form of Vishnu) also known as Shree Krishna. The central icon of the temple is the idol of Lord Krishna with four arms holding a conch, the discus, the mace and a lotus with a Holy Basil (Tulsi) garland.
The Guruvayur Temple is also referred to as the ‘Dwarka of the South’ and is considered to be Bhoolovaikunth (the Holy abode of Lord Vishnu)
The temple is one of the most important pilgrim centers of Hindus in Kerala and has massive celebrations on festivities such as Ulsavam, Vishu, Vaishka.
The temple known for its splendid architecture, surrounded by the beauty of God’s own country has other interesting attractions such as Elephants, Krishnanattam performances, Tulabharam ceremony, etc.
A must visit to explore the culture, beliefs, and traditions in South India.
Arulmigu Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameshwaram
The Arulmigu Temple is situated on the island of Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu and is dedicated to God Shiva. It is believed that the Shiva Lingam at this temple was established and worshipped by Lord Ram (the seventh Vishnu Avatar) to absolve him of the sins of war and killing against Ravan. The temple is also known to be one of the twelve Jyotirlingam temples.
Today, it is an important pilgrimage site for the Shaivites, Vaishnavaites, and Smarthas. In fact, it is considered as one of the Chardham (four divine sites) alongside Badrinath, Puri, and Dwarka.
The island of Rameshwaram, where the temple is situated is surrounded by 64 water bodies, also known as tirthas of which 24 are important and bathing in them is an important part of the pilgrimage.
The Arulmigu Temple in Rameshwaram also boasts of one of the most beautiful temple corridors and fine architecture and holds much historic and religious importance amongst worshippers. A must-do on your South India temple trail.
The temples of South India have for centuries continued to be chief examples of their architecture, culture, traditions, and rituals which people have been following over the centuries. Even centuries later, the much-revered traditions and rituals, chanting of religious texts are continually conducted in the temples.
Over a million visitors, people of all faiths and nationalities visit these temples every year. After all, what better way to explore and experience the culture of South India which is so rich and beautiful!