A tour of the famous temples has dimensions beyond faith, for many it ends up in the discovery of a little part of them that revels in the feeling we call India. It is about those moments we awe at the skill of craftsmen who created timeless architectural wonders and a captivating journey into a historical world. It is an experience with a different kind of horizon.
For a majority of us, a skyscraper is an icon of the modern world. In South India, people were building multi-storey temple gateways centuries before the world peeped above their ground floor. Think about it!
We all appreciate different things. Some travellers visit temples to connect with India’s spiritual/religious side. Others appreciate heritage and poetry on stone. The culture around the temples & festivals are the biggest draws for a few. Doing justice to all aspects in write-up spanning South India seems daunting. What we have attempted to do here is highlight a few famed temples and point you in the right direction to get more details along the way. We also share some tips for your visit and suggest some well-planned south India temple tour packages.
Here is our pick of South India’s most spectacular temples
If you see only one south Indian temple, the Meenakshi Temple should be it for the brilliant structure it is. The ancient city of Madurai is some 2600 years old and laid out on the banks of river Vaigai with the Meenakshi temple in the centre. With almost 985 beautifully sculptured pillars that support the temple and 2 sanctums, this temple makes us wonder how skilled the craftsmen would have been to build this masterpiece.
Imagine the giddy heights of 165 feet tall towers (Gopurams) built with colourful images of Hindu gods in a temple complex of the size of 25 football pitches. Still, you will be lucky to find a place to stand!
Every mandapam or pavilion has an interesting history worth discovering and the bustle of ash-smeared swamis in corridors performing pujas and vedic chantings will leave you enchanted. The religious life at the temple mixes with lots of colours, smells and sounds of the magnificent indoor market with tailors, merchants and weddings making for a rich cultural exposure.
Madurai is easily accessible from both Munnar and Thekkady in Kerala. The city has its own domestic airport and is well connected road and rail with all major cities in South India.
Entry to the famous temple of Sri Venkateswara (Lord Vishnu) has to be earned. The Tirupati Balaji temple is scenically located on the seventh peak of Venkatadri hill with eye catching Dravidian style architecture and a gold plated dome. Some pilgrims venture to climb the 4,000 steps up the hill following a 15 km walking trail to reach the temple. Otherwise, it's easier to go by your private vehicle.
The temple is the most-visited place of worship in the world (30 million pilgrims annually!) and a perfect place to connect with India’s spiritual side
The laddu prasad at the temple has got Geographical Indication tag. With thousands of devotees visiting the temple on an average day, it is advisable to take Tirupati balaji temple darshan tickets in advance.
The temple is reachable by road from Chennai (140km) and Bangalore (290 km). Don’t forget to do a local temple tour which is part of the temple ritual. Plan an independent Tirupati darshan package or along with a south India temple tour.
Guruvayoor, known as “Bhuloka Vaikunda”, the abode of Lord Vishnu on Earth is a famed Shri Krishna Temple in South India. The temple is around 1000 years old and the deity is said to be more than 5000 years old. The temple is of very traditional nature with strict dress codes and entry only to Hindus. Another attraction of the temple is the mural paintings on the walls which have a story to tell.
Guruvayoor is one of the most important places of worship for Hindus of Kerala and is often referred to as "Bhuloka Vaikunta" which translates to the "Holy Abode of Vishnu on Earth".
Elephants are an integral part of the temple with the annual festival here beginning with an elephant race. Along with the darshan you can also plan a trip to Punnathoor Kotta, a fort used to house 64 elephants belonging to Guruvayoor temple. You can also glimpse the traditional Kerala household architecture at the fort.
Located in Thrissur (Kerala), it is hardly a couple of hours from Kochi. Janmashtami (August), Vishu (April) and the 10 day annual festival (Feb-March) are the most important days of worship at Guruvayoor
Jainism, the third great religion to rise in the subcontinent, advocates a life of strict vegetarianism, ahimsa (non-violence) and self-control. Shravanabelagola which means ‘Monk of the White pond’ is among the most important tirthas (pilgrim sites) of Jainism.
Followers of the Jain faith head to this sedate town to pay their respects at the world’s largest monolithic statue depicting Bahubali, son of the first Jain tirthankara (guru)
Atop the rocky outcrop of the Vindhyagiri Hills, reached by a scramble over 615 rock-cut steps, stands the 17.5 m tall naked deity Gomateshvara (Bahubali). The temple pavilion affords a majestic view of the landscape, temple tanks and the plains below.
Shravanabelagola is 146 km from Bangalore, 57 km from Hassan and 83 km from Mysore. The fabulously colourful Mastakabhisheka festival happens once in 12 years. The statue is bathed in a cascade of curds, milk, sandalwood paste, coins and gems.
Are you are looking for a well-planned itinerary with great coverage of the famous temples of South India? The tour featured here might be of interest to you.
The sanctity of the 12th century Ramanathaswamy temple can be gauged from the fact that is it the only Jyothirlinga in South India and that it is one of the four dhams (holy hindu sites) in India. The temple also reveals a mingling of faiths where Lord Rama worshipped Lord Shiva. The region has a special space in Hindu mythology too as it was from here Lord Rama build a bridge across the sea to rescue Sita from Sri Lanka. Rameshwaram is amongst the foremost pilgrimage sites in the country.
The awe-inspiring for worshippers and travellers alike, the Ramananthaswamy temple features the largest temple corridor in India with 1200 odd intricately designed granite pillars
Your journey here starts with a ritual bath at the Agni Theertham (100 m away) and entry through the eastern gate. Pilgrims bath with water from the 22 holy wells with each well water having different taste and therapeutic properties. There is also a short cut in the eastern gateway with water collected from all pools. After visiting this stunning temple complex, the lost lands of Dhanshkodi and Adam’s bridge are must visits.
Located at the tip of the Indian Peninsula, it is connected to the mainland by one of the longest bridges in India. A trip here can be easily planned from Madurai (170 km) or Kanyakumari (310 km) as part of a temple tour.
Tiruvannamalai is the spiritual hub of South India centred around the Arunachaleshwara Temple where Lord Shiva is worshiped as an Agni lingam (Fire). In the background, the mystical Mount Arunachala or Annamalai glints in the rays of the rising sun. It is considered as holy as the temple that lies at its base. The basic structure of the 10-hectare large temple complex is traced back to the Chola dynasty in the 9th century.
From above the temples appears like a circuit board of interlocking courtyards flanked by whitewashed gopurams resembling Mayan pyramids. We suspect this view was always intended by these innovative temple-builders for the benefit of gods looking down from the heavens!
The temple is spectacular at ground level and even more impressive from the slope of the mount where it appears like a three-dimensional architect’s plan. Tiru's reputation for strong spiritual energies has produced numerous ashrams of enlightened gurus. It is one of the Pancha Bhoota Sthalams.
The town of Tiruvannamalai is around 200km from Chennai and well connected by road and train. It connection to Bangalore is through NH 66 (Bangalore -Pondy Highway), 40 km from Gingee and 106 km from Pondicherry (2 hrs). Regular buses ply from Chennai Bus stand, the journey takes around 5 to 6 hours.
There are more than 3000 temples, shrines and palaces scattered over the valley of hampi but the undisputed highlight is the 16th century Vittala temple. The musical pillars designed to replicate 81 different Indian instruments and the stunning carvings of deities are a crowd puller. An ornate stone chariot (which was once moving) stands waiting in the courtyard to transport Vishnu to the heavens. You can even imagine community life in the temple as you discover elaborate marriage hall and prayer hall structures.
When a city of half a million vanished into history, we were left with some awe-inspiring temples and India's most evocative collection of ancient ruins from the pinnacle of the Vijayanagara civilization.
Another artistic high point of the empire is the Virupaksha temple which remains as hampi’s only working temple. The temple dedicated to Shiva attracts with its 50 m tall 15th century gateway tower and Lakshmi the temple elephant who will bless you in exchange for a coin! But we think the most memorable of all will be experiencing sunrise from the dramatic views overlooking the site at Matanga Hill.
The nearest railhead from Hampi is Hospet that is at a distance of 13 km. Travellers can hire taxi or cab to reach the place comfortably. Hospet is well connected to major cities and towns like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Goa etc.
The temple of Lord Padmanabha Swamy lends a distinct spiritual and royal air to the city of Thiruvananthapuram as the presiding deity of the royal family. The temple’s religious relevance can be gauged from its mention in puranic texts and also as one of the 108 sacred Vishnu temples in India. The temple uniquely incorporates architectural styles from Tamilnadu and Kerala with pillared corridors, its golden mandap and large collection of mural paintings.
Padmanabhaswamy temple is the richest Hindu shrine in the world in terms of assets and is by far the wealthiest place of worship of any kind in the recorded history of the world.
Lord Vishnu is seen here in ‘Ananthasayanam’, a rare reclining posture on a hooded serpant. The main idol is 18 feet long and can be viewed through three different doors. The temple houses the largest collection of palm leaf manuscripts and its riches still stands proudly shielded safely with the strong faith of countless devotees.
The temple is located in the heart of Thiruvananthapuram, capital city of Kerala.
This temple tour takes you on a journey to some of South India's most revered shrines
Destination: Madurai, Rameshwaram, Guruvayoor & Thiruvanathapuram
Time: Any time of the year
Duration: 7 Nights & 8 Days
This tour is not only a pilgrimage but also an insight into the engineering and architectural excellence that was achieved centuries ago and has withstood the test of time
Are you planning a visit some of these famous temples? Check out our customisable tour package designed on the South India circuit.
Kollur is a perfect combination of divinity and nature’s green cover. Situated on the banks of the Souparnika River and base of the Kudajadri hills this temple attracts millions of pilgrims every year. The deity is said to acquire the forms of Shakti, Sarasvati and Mahalakshmi and is one of the most important temples in South India.
The goddess at Kollur is believed to bless children with talent and knowledge
The peak of the Kudajadri hills is also visited by pilgrims. Another attraction of this temple is its large and beautiful Deepa Sthambha (a pillar to hold lamps) which is specially lit during navarathri. The temple in its current form was established by Adi Sankaracharya 1200 years ago.
Kollur is close to Mangalore (135km) and Udupi. Accomodation can be arranged at Kollur or Kundapur. Navarathri is celebrated in Kollur with great pomp and fanfare.
On the hill overlooking the Bay of Bengal, the Mamallapuram town is home to heritage temples and rock-cut sanctuaries that inflame our imagination. Dated back to the 7th century the most noted temples here are the beautiful Shore temple, the intricately carved Mahisasuramardhini cave temple and the stone chariot temples. Many of these mandapas have their roots in Buddhist/Jain faiths that later inspired Chola architecture.
These UNESCO world heritage temples have braved an angry sea and erosive salt air for over 1200 years. The external carvings on the temples are now just impressionist suggestions of what they once were.
Among the temples, the shore temple built during late 7th century is a shining example of Pallava legacy. We enter from the west towards low-walled enclosures bordered with stone-carved nandi figures to enter the main temple. The temple has two Shiva shrines and a reclining Vishnu sandwiched in between. Shiva the destroyer faces the dangers of the sea while Vishnu the preserver overlooks the town. The evenings give the temple an unmistakable aura.
Mahabalipuram is about an hour away from Chennai. While here besides the temples visit historic monuments like Krishna’s butter ball (defies gravity), Tiger cave and Arjuna’s Penance (stone wall carvings).
A looking into some of the other unique temples of South India
Temples in Kerala like Guruvayoor, Tirupathi and Padmanabha swamy temple follow strict dress codes and give access only to Hindus. You can purchase the traditional dress (like mundu) required for entry from the temple premises itself.
Expect crowds and darshan may take a couple of hours of waiting in queues depending on the temple closing patterns and special poojas of the day.
Hope you found this article useful. For any help planning temple tours and designing customised temple darshan packages do get in contact with our team.
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