India is the cradle of Hinduism. The vast majority of Indians are Hindu, but India also has many Buddhists, Jaina, Muslims, Christians, Bahai and Sikh. Due to the large number of religious movements, you will see a variety of different temples and places of worship in India. Tourists can therefore visit a variety of temples, each in a different distinctive architectural style. India is thus interesting not only for travelers interested in religion and culture, but also for architecture lovers. In this article Travel Owl presents you 12 of the most amazing temples in India.
12. Padmanabhaswamy – Richest temple in the world
The Vishnu temple in the capital of Kerala Trivandrum or Thiruvananthapuram is considered one of the most significant pilgrimage sites for Vishnu in all of India. The name of the city also refers to the temple: Thiruvananthapuram means “City of Lord Anantha”, i.e. Vishnu. In the temple, Vishnu is depicted in his sleeping position on the infinite snake and a lotus grows from his navel, hence the name: “Padmanabha” means “lotus navel”. The Hindu temple was mentioned in early Sangam texts from the 4th century BC and appears in many Purana texts. Padmanabhaswamy has always been considered a particularly rich Hindu temple, partly because it was assigned to the royal family of Travancore. In 2011, an ancient door was opened in the catacombs behind which was found an ancient treasure, this is considered the largest treasure ever found. The estimated value is over 22 billion dollars, no kidding! To this day, the government and the royal dynasty argue over who owns the treasure.
11. Arulmigu Annamalaiyar Tirukoil, Arunachaleshwara
At the holy mountain Arunachala a mythological story happened ages ago, which makes it a place of power for the fire element. We will summarize it briefly: Brahma and Vishnu were having a dispute about which of them was more powerful, when suddenly a pillar of fire appeared in their midst. They set out in both directions to find the end of the pillar, unfortunately in vain. Brahma then lied to Vishnu and said he had found the end. Then Shiva manifested out of the pillar and made it clear that Brahma was lying. So the pillar was Shiva and so the mountain is also considered to be Shiva. The great saint Sri Ramana Maharshi was at home on the mountain, so today the place is especially associated with the energy of Ramana in addition to Shiva. The Hindu temple Arunachaleshwara is about 10 hectares in size and pompously built, many pilgrims come here every day. It is the second largest fully active Hindu temple in India. In the temple area there are many small and large shrines and places where you can sit down for meditation. If you visit South India, you should definitely include Mount Arunachala in your itinerary!
10. Ramanathaswamy Temple
The most famous building of Ramanathaswamy is the temple. It is one of the showpieces of Dravidian architecture. The most outstanding feature is the magnificent corridors with massive columns supporting fine sculptures. It is these sculptures that attract the attention of every visitor. They are unique in their execution. One of these corridors is 1,220 meters long; this is the longest corridor of its kind in India. Legend knows that Rama blessed this place where he worshipped Lord Shiva after the Sri Lanka War. Rama, it is said, sent his most devoted disciple, Hanuman (the monkey god), to Mount Kailas to fetch a lingam.
But Hanuman was late, the hour of Shiva’s worship approaching. To avoid incurring the god’s wrath, Rama’s wife Sita stepped in. She big a lingam, which was then called Ramanatha. When Hanuman returned home with the desired lingam, Rama consoled the monkey god that the lingam from Mount Kaila should find its place next to the Ramanatha. He further stipulated that the lingam of the monkey god should occupy the first place. The temple as it stands today was begun in the 12th century. Later, almost every ruler added another part. The tower above the entrance gate (Gopuram) is 53.6m high.
9. Mahabodhi Temple
The spiritual center of Bodhgaya, built next to the place where Buddha was enlightened and formulated his philosophy of life, is the magnificent Mahabodhi Temple, a World Heritage Site. It was built in the 6th century AD on the site where Emperor Ashoka had built a temple almost 800 years earlier. Razed to the ground by Muslim invaders in the 11th century, it was rebuilt and restored several times, the last time in 1882. The ornate temple, crowned by a 50m high pyramidal spire, contains a 2m high gilded statue of a seated Buddha. Amazingly, four of the original sculptured enclosure stones from the Sunga period (184-72 B.C.) have been preserved amidst the replicas.
The temple complex is a lively network of paths, gardens, shrines, memorials and a meditation park. Pilgrims and visitors from all walks of life and religions come here to pray or simply marvel. A fascinating way to start or end the day is to walk around the temple complex. In doing so, one meanders through monks from all over the world who want to experience the special aura of the sacred place.
8. Ranakpur Temple
The temple complex of Ranakpur, located almost 100 km north of Udaipur in a forested valley of the Aravali mountain range, is one of the most important examples of Jain architecture in India. The sanctuary was built in over 60 years in the 15th century; it was donated by a rich Jain merchant who was also Rana Kumbha’s minister.
The huge main temple for the first ford ruler Adinatha covers an area of 3716 m² and consists of 29 geometrically arranged halls with 1444 columns. The sanctuary was built according to a text (Vastu-Sara) written already in the 14th century by the architect and sculptor Depa. The central shrine with the four-faced (Chaumukha) marble cult image is preceded by three mandapas in each cardinal direction, the vestibule, the dance hall and the entrance hall, which were connected to each other by adding corner shrines to form a closed system. In addition, some mandapas are laid out in several stories and terraced inside because of the slope.
It is not by its size that the temple impresses, but by the multitude of skillfully assembled details, especially columns and dome, as well as the unique lighting through the partially open courtyard, which contribute to an otherworldly aura that even the visitor cannot escape. Ranakpur, together with the temples of Dilwara, embodies the pinnacle of Jain architecture, the perfect fusion of religious principles with aesthetic pretensions and understated elegance.
7. Akshardham Temple
The Akshardham Temple in Delhi is now in the Guinness Book of Records. The Swaminarayan Temple, also called the Akshardham Temple, was recently entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest Hindu temple complex. That the Akshardham Temple has been included in the most significant collection of records is a great honor for both the country and its people. This latest of the capital’s religious monuments is a true highlight and is already known worldwide. A visit to this contemporary architectural wonder is undoubtedly recommended if you have enough time with you. This temple complex was built by a Hindu association from Gujarat or their rich followers abroad and was inaugurated on November 7, 2005 by the Indian President Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The buildings are constructed of pink sandstone from Rajasthan, giving visitors a breathtaking sight. Highlights of the temple tour include a ten-minute boat ride that introduces visitors to India’s 10,000-year-old cultural heritage.
6. Kailasa Temple
The Kailasa Temple was built more than 1300 years ago by carving it out of a rock. It is the largest rock temple in India completely carved out of a natural rock outcrop and also one of the largest structures in the world.
The Kailasa Temple is located in the center of the Ellora Caves in the Indian state of Maharastra. The temple and residential cave complex includes 34 Buddhist, Hindu and Jain structures and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.
According to archaeologists, it takes decades to complete a temple of this type. In fact, however, the Kailasa temple is said to have been built in about 18 years. At least 200,000 tons of rock are said to have been removed with hammer and chisel before the temple’s characteristic facade could even be formed.
Inscriptions on the structure indicate that the temple was dedicated to the deity Shiva at the time. He is one of the main gods of Hinduism.
5. Lotus Temple
Like a vision, the truly audacious design by Iranian architect Fariburz Sabha rises between New Delhi and the Qutb Minar above immaculately green lawns interspersed with water basins. The House of Worship of the Bahai religion (about 4.5 million adherents worldwide, a quarter of them in India), the most spectacular example of recent sacred architecture, was consecrated on Christmas Day 1986 after seven years of construction and has since been the destination of about 3 million visitors a year. The incredibly low construction price of only 425,000 euros can be explained solely by the high personal commitment of all those involved. The 35-meter-high dome in the form of an opening lotus blossom grows out of nine water basins arranged around the building, which are used for air conditioning, among other things. It consists of 27 leaves made of concrete shells only 13cm thick.
4. Khajuraho Temples
However, the approximately 1000-year-old temples of Khajuraho continue to puzzle the experts, because even then Khajuraho was located away from all main traffic routes, which is why the temples were forgotten for so long. Moreover, the question arises as to where the rulers of the Chandella dynasty got so many workers in this remote place so that the numerous and elaborately designed temples could be built. It is also clearly visible that the artists of the time used a lot of imagination in the depiction of the figures or rather gave free rein to their imagination in the design. In any case, Khajuraho today is as famous for the liberal depictions on the temples as it is for the architecture of the entire complex itself. In fact, only Khajuraho was built in this way. Thus, the temples of Khajuraho are a special sight and probably represent the most interesting temple complex of all of northern India – just like the Taj Mahal, Khajuraho has become the internationally famous landmark of India.
3. Virupaksha Temple
What an unreal backdrop you’re entering! A surreal landscape of gneiss boulders surrounds us. Several dozen temples and temples are scattered around, remnants of the magnificent capital of the legendary Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar, which was destroyed by invading Muslim hordes in the 16th century.
The eye-catcher par excellence is the central Virupaksha temple. With its 42-meter-high gopuram, the gate tower to the temple district, it dominates the village of Hampi Bazaar. The foundation walls date back to the 7th century. And even after the destruction of Vijayanagar, the temple remained a sacred place. Day after day, crowds of pilgrims from all over South India roll through the temple complex to visit Lakshimi, the temple elephant. Anyone who places a rupee on his trunk receives his blessing.
2. Meenakshi Amman Temple
Without exaggeration, the Meenakshi Amman Kovil in Madurai is one of the most beautiful Hindu temples you will ever see, and you can imagine. The temple is dedicated to the green goddess Meenakshi, a form of Parvathi, the consort of Shiva, here in his form as Sundareshwarar. The goddess is also referred to by Shankara as “Shri Vidya”, the great wisdom-giving mother goddess. The city of Madurai is over 2000 years old and at the site of the Meenakshi kovil, which is about 1000 years old and covers about 5.7 hectares, the Goddess has probably “always” been worshipped. The oldest references to the hintu temple date back to the 6th century. The Sanskrit term Mīnākṣī means “fish-eyed one,” which was probably some kind of beauty ideal. The whole Hindu temple is like a huge mandala with very many shrines to various Hindu deities. The complex is enclosed by a wall with 3 entrances and there are 14 gopurams (temple towers).
1. Golden Temple
This temple is the highest sanctuary of the Sikh religion, a religious community that is especially widespread in India. They are mainly known as big bearded men with colorful turbans on their heads. Although they make up only about two percent of the total population, this religion is also very important in India.
The holiest temple of the Sikhs is very beautiful, a stunning golden building in the middle of an artificial pond, the “nectar pond”. Millions of Sikhs come here every year to ritually purify themselves.
After passing through the entrance gate, the view opens across the lake to the temple. The complex is truly a “wonder of the world”. Apart from the architectural beauty not only of the temple but of the whole complex, it is the “holy” atmosphere that moves.
Hundreds of volunteers wash, cook, bake delicious food for all the visitors to the temple. The food is hygienically perfect and should be tried in any case – just because of the atmosphere; you sit in a long dining room with the other pilgrims on the floor and are served until you are full. An unforgettable experience.
Also the museum on the second floor of this place of worship should not be missed; it gives a comprehensive insight into the religion of the Sikhs. In the evening, the lighting adds to it, making it all one of the most mystical places you’ve seen. A thousand and one nights!