Tamil Nadu is a stunning state, and it’s often overlooked by travellers planning an India trip. The temples of Tamil Nadu are perhaps the best in India, the atmosphere is very authentic and the food is downright fiery!
The Lonely Planet recommends a ‘top 5 temples’ list for Tamil Nadu in their 12th edition. Top of the list for those interested in temple culture and history is the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, followed by Arunachaleswar Temple in Tiruvannamalai, Brihadishwara Temple in Thanjavur, Rock Fort Temple in Trichy (Tiruchirappalli) and last but not least the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram. These are the temples that we would recommend for you to visit during your India holiday.
Many temples will have a resident temple elephant within to welcome and bless visitors for a small donation, so expect this during your India trip. Temple elephants are generally well cared for, bathed and groomed and on occasions beautifully dressed and decorated to take part in any local festivals and processions.
Sri Meenakshi Temple– This temple complex is a constant and sometimes overwhelming hive of activity. There are towering gateways (gopurums) that sprout above the urban skyline of Madurai and are covered from top to bottom in very colourful images of gods and all sorts of creatures. It’s a great place to visit during your India holiday.
Arunachaleswar Temple – One of the largest in India, this temple site is truly vast! One of the gopurums (unpainted in contrast to Madurai) is over 60 meters in height and there is a thousand pillared mandapa (pavilion) and a large tank inside the temple. So this site is very impressive in scale. Girivalam (or Mt Arunachala) stands over the town and is circumnavigated on foot by devotees at festival times, or alternatively by auto-rickshaw or bicycle. It’s a really unique India travel experience.
Brihadishwara Temple – This site has a World Heritage listing and one of the largest Nandi statues in India. Nandi, the bull, has allegedly been carved from one huge rock and weighs well over 20 tonnes. Another special feature here is a 13 storey, 66m high ‘Vimana’ (tower) that points its gilded top to the sky above the sanctum as well as a 4m high ‘lingham’.The lingam is an ancient Hindu symbol of Lord Shiva, held in reverence and worshipped from ancient times. The meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘lingam’ is ‘phallus’ and represents masculine creative energy and strength to the Hindus. It’s a pretty eye-opening India experience.
Rock Fort Temple – This temple sits atop a large rocky outcrop. It is its amazing location and joining the pilgrimage up the many steps to the top (437) for the view is the main reason for non-Hindus to visit this spot. Non-Hindus are not allowed into either temple (one halfway up and the other at the summit). At quiet times, and for a fee, occasionally this rule will be waived. If not just catch the breeze and cool off from the steep climb and admire the view. This is sure to be a highlight of your India trip.
Nataraja Temple – It may sound like more of the same and you may feel ‘templed-out’ by now, but this site offers another 1000 pillared pavilion, large tank, Nandi statue and a lovely Ganesh statue (elephant headed god) as well as a gold-roofed inner sanctum and finely carved gopurums. The local ceremonies are very atmospheric with temple bells clanging and worshippers lighting goblets of fire. Again there is restricted entry for non-Hindus, but it is possible to make donations and observe some rituals from a distance.
Tamil Nadu has a very special atmosphere that is totally unique, making it a really unforgettable pasrt of any India trip.