The Indian landscape is adorned by holy temples where people throng in large numbers to seek solace and benediction from their venerated deities. The incessant tolling of temple bells, chanting of sacred hymns and prayers of a multitude of devotees- India’s innumerable temples reverberate with these sounds, day in and day out. The different styles of architecture across geographic boundaries add to their charm. What is it that makes each Indian temple different from the other? Let us delve into the topic and find out more about ten of the holiest temples in our country, the heritage which we have proudly inherited from our illustrious forefathers.
#10- Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
At Number ten on this list is the Meenakshi Temple at Madurai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Dedicated to the divine consort of Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, who has assumed the name- Minakshi, i.e., ‘fish-eyed’, the history of this temple dates back to time immemorial. The credit for the magnificent edifice which this temple represents today goes to the Nayak Dynasty of Madurai, which, through the patronage of its powerful rulers built the temple as it is, today. Sprawled over an area of 45 acres, it is one of the biggest temples in India. The hallmark of this complex is an array of ten Gopurams or ‘Gateway Arches’, the tallest of which rises to an imposing 52 metres.
In addition to these, there are several ‘Halls’ or ‘Mandapams’ in the periphery of the main sanctum . These Mandapams are decorated with exquisite sculptures. The most significant of these halls is the ‘Hall of Thousand Pillars’ which contains 985 carved pillars.
‘Meenakshi Thirukalyanam’ or the divine wedding of Shiva-Parvati held annually in this temple is a sight to behold and millions of devotees come down to Madurai to witness this grand spectacle. The Meenakshi Amman Temple truly represents the heritage associated with the globally renowned Dravidian culture and unique architecture. A must-visit for a culture aficionado!
#9-Somnath Temple, Veraval, Gujarat
Considered one of the 12 ‘Jyotirlings’ of Lord Shiva, Somnath Temple in Gujarat stands tall with pride today, having resiliently withstood the repeated onslaught of Afghan plunderers. It is believed that the Moon God built the first structure of the Somnath Temple entirely in Gold before it was reconstructed by Maitraka kings of Vallabhi in Gujarat. The present structure is the seventh one, which was constructed in the 1950s under the able guidance of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and K.M. Munshi.
Millions of Shaivites pay obeisance to Lord Shiva at Somnath each year. Commenting on the Somnath temple during its installation, India’s first president Shri Rajendra Prasad commented thus, “”The Somnath temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction”.
#8- Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Trivandrum
One of the chosen abodes or ‘Parsuram Kshetras’ of Lord Vishnu, the Padmanabhaswamy temple dates back to the 8th century and represents a rich blend of history and divinity. Here, Lord Vishnu rests on a gigantic hooded serpent ‘Anantha’ and hence the city has come to be known as ‘Thiru-Anantha-Puram’ or ‘Thiruvanathapuram’.
Billed to be the richest temple in India in terms of stored riches, It represents the confluence of Kerala and Dravidian styles of architecture. The interiors of the temple are adorned with exquisite paintings and murals. Infact, a corridor with 365 granite pillars with beautiful carvings is the hallmark of this temple’s architecture.
‘Laksha Deepam’ or the lighting of a hundred thousand oil lamps in the periphery of the temple, is one of the most famous rituals of this famous temple, which is done every six years. Padmanabhaswamy Temple is a regular fixture on the itinerary of anyone who wishes to visit ‘God’s Own Country’, but be sure to follow the strict dress code! No relaxations!
#7- Ayyappan Temple, Sabarimala, Kerala
Legend has it that Lord Rama and his brother Lakshmana met a tribal devotee Sabari, who offered them her choicest fruits after tasting them- Hence, the name ‘Sabarimala’. Ensconced in the lap of nature, the Ayyappan temple in Sabarimala is located on a hillock and is surrounded by dense forests and mountains, each of which has a temple on it.
The temple can be reached after a long and arduous trek. The destination of the supremely devoted, Sabarimala shrine in Kerala is the Biggest Annual Pilgrimage in the world with an estimated annual footfall of 100 million. This pilgrimage is open to all men, but is forbidden for women in the age group of 10-50. So, next time, be sure to go that extra mile at Sabarimala!
#6- Vaishno Devi Shrine, Jammu
Like the Sabarimala temple, the Vaishno Devi temple also boasts of a long history of pilgrimage for ardent Hindu devotees. The Hindu Goddess ‘Durga’ manifests herself as ‘Vaishno Devi’ here. The faithful devotees traverse a difficult path of twelve kilometers uphill to reach the shrine, perched on the Trikuta hills, just for a glimpse of their beloved Mata Vaishno Devi.
The devotees’ belief that Mata Vaishno Devi shall redress their grievances and cure the ills which plague them, sustains them on this difficult pilgrimage. So, how about planning your next visit to this shrine? In case the prospect of a twelve kilometer walk is menacing, you can avail of the helicopter and palanquin services. Anytime!
#5- Tirumala Temple, Tirupati
They say that the first impression is the last impression. Accordingly, ask someone who has visited the Tirumala shrine about its grandeur, and he or she goes gaga about it. Blessed with unmatched opulence cast in Gold, literally, the Tirumala temple records the highest annual footfall among all places of worship in the world.
Lord Venkateswara, an incarnation of Vishnu is worshipped here. The temple owes much of its invaluable and priceless decorations to the south Indian empires like the Cholas, Pallavas and principally, the rulers of the Vijaynagar kingdom. The entire roof of the inner shrine is gold plated and thus, of immense value.
The Brahmotsavam festival which is held in September each year, attracts the maximum number of devotees for its sheer size and splendour. This is a temple, which shall leave you spellbound!
#4- Badrinath Temple, Uttarakhand
At number four, comes the first addition on the list of the ‘Char Dhams’ or centres of Hindu Pilgrimage, that is, the Badrinath temple situated amidst the towering mountains of Uttarakhand. Situated on the banks of the holy Alakananda river, this is a major attraction for Vaishnavas or the worshippers of Lord Vishnu who manifests himself in the form of Badrinath. According to Hindu mythology, it was Lord Adi Shankara who himself discovered the idol of Badrinath, the same idol which is worshipped in this temple now.
Notwithstanding the severe climatic conditions of the Garhwal Himalayas, millions of devotees throng this temple each year. ‘Mata Murti Ka Mela’ is the most famous festival which commemorates the descent of river Ganges onto earth. All nature lovers and devotees out there, pack your bags for the ‘pilgrimage-with-a-difference’, that is, divinity juxtaposed with scenic beauty!
#3- Dwarkadhish Temple, Dwarka, Gujarat
Another significant addition to the Char Dham circuit, the Dwarkadhish temple is one of the holiest places of worship for all Hindus. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna, had his seat of power in Dwarka and ruled from here. It is believed to have been originally built by Vajranabh, the grandson of Lord Krishna, after his death. It was subsequently rebuilt in the 15th-16th century into its present form.
The imposing temple was constructed with limestone, which was strengthened progressively, with the course of time. The exteriors display exquisite sculptures and carvings. On the other hand, the interiors are strikingly simple in contrast. The summit of the main temple, in fact, rises to a height of over 100 feet.
The Dwarkadhish temple, on the banks of the Arabian sea is visited by millions of devotees each year, who marvel at its architecture and history. In fact, Dwarka was no less than Lord Krishna’s own capital!
#2- Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu
The island town of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu is the inheritor of a rich legacy stemming from its mythological significance. This is the site of one of the twelve Jyotirlings in India. One of the holiest sites for the worship of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, it is believed that Lord Rama took a holy dip here in penance for killing the demon King Ravana. The Ramanathaswamy temple, in its present form was built and expanded by the Pandya Kings of Tamil Nadu.
The hallmark of this temple is the corridor of thousand pillars, which is the longest corridor in any temple. People consider it sacred to take a dip in the sea. The scenic beauty of the Bay of Bengal and the Rameswaram beach are added incentives for any pilgrim!
#1- Jagannath Temple, Puri, Odisha
The Jagannath Temple at Puri belongs to a class of its own. One of the oldest and tallest temples in India, the history of the present structure dates back to the 12th century, when it was built by Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva, the ruler of the Ganga dynasty. Lord Vishnu is worshipped here as ‘Jagannath’ or ‘Lord of the Universe’. The Kalinga style of Architecture is prominent here and the main Temple is richly carved on its exteriors with numerous sculptures adorning it. There are also several auxiliary temples dedicated to other deities in the sprawling temple complex.
The Jagannath Temple is a witness to the evolution of the globally renowned Jagannath Culture which is deep rooted in the people of Odisha. Festivities go on throughout the year, with the annual ‘Rath Yatra’ being the most famous and well-attended of them all. Lakhs of devotees throng the grand road of Puri as the Holi trinity of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra are carried in royally decorated chariots to the abode of their aunt Gundicha, a few kilometers away. It is a fitting tribute to the greatness of this temple that anyone who seeks to embark on a Char Dham Yatra actually starts it with a pilgrimage to Puri or Sri Skshetra.