With a glorious past, beautiful temples, and a vibrant culture, Tamil Nadu has something unique to offer every visitor. Over the centuries, the state has seen a string of dynasties that came to rule the land. Each dynasty has left its mark in the state. A visit to Tamil Nadu is a must for all history lovers. It has a wealth of temple architecture incomparable perhaps in the entire world. We list out 11 places you must visit to see the great temples of Tamil Nadu.
Mahabalipuram- Rock-Cut Temples
Mahabalipuram was the second capital of the Pallava kings. You will find many sculptures and temples scattered around the village and its immediate surroundings. The Shore Temple here, dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, is in perfect symmetry. It was named thus as it overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It’s one of the most amazing world heritage sites as well as one of the oldest rock-cut temples in the country. It’s known for its beautiful craftsmanship, embellished motifs and complex carvings, which are truly captivating.
It has three temples – one large and two small. You will also find the Pancha Rathas or Five Rathas (chariots), which are an example of the massive Indian rock-cut architecture. They are named after the Pancha Pandavas, of Mahabharata fame. All of these are archaeological wonders that are not to be missed.
Kanchipuram- The tallest temple tower
Kanchipuram is famous not only for its silk saris but also for its temples. Ekambareswarar Temple in Kanchipuram is the largest temple in the town of Kanchipuram and one of the five Pancha Bootha Sthalams – representing the element Earth. It is one of the most ancient temples in India having been in existence since at least 600 AD. The temple is famous for its tall gopuram or tower, built by the Vijayanagar King, Krishnadevaraya. It is said to be the tallest temple tower in India. Kailasanatha temple built in the 7th century is the oldest and is considered as one of the most beautiful temples of Tamil Nadu.
Thiruvanamalai near Annamalai Hills
This temple town is famous for the Annamalai hills, with the temple towers of Arunchaleshvara Temple in the foreground. Arunchaleshvara temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, lies at the foot of Annamalai. The huge temple-complex is spread over 10 hectares, and is one of the largest in India. It has four gopurams. The eastern-tower is the tallest, with 11 storeys and a height of 66 metres. You can see pilgrims with oil lamps and offerings circling the foot of the hill on full moon nights.
Kumbakonam – Famous Chola temple
It is a city of temples and monasteries, mostly dedicated to Lord Vishnu or Lord Shiva. Within the municipal limits of Kumbakonam there are around 188 Hindu temples! The largest Vaishnava shrine in Kumbakonam is the Sarangapani temple. The oldest Shaiva shrine is the Adi Kumbeswarar Temple, which is believed to be constructed in the 7th century by the Cholas.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram – Brihadeshwara Temple
Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple, which is also known as Brihadeshwara Temple, is a Shiva temple located in Gangaikonda Cholapuram in Ariyalur district. It was built by the Chola dynasty in Dravidian architectural style. It is one of the largest temples of Tamil Nadu and reflects the power and prestige of the Chola Empire. This temple is quite similar to the one at Thanjavur in its architecture. They form part of the UNESCO World Heritage site called “The Great Living Chola Temples”.
Chidambaram – The iconic Nataraja temple
Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram is an epitome of Chola architecture. Its bronze statues and stone sculptures depicting various deities, which date back to the 12th century, are indeed marvelous. At this temple Lord Shiva is worshipped as Chidambaram, the iconic Nataraja form. It is one of the main temples of Saivites and one of the five Pancha Bootha Sthalams. The architecture and design of the temple are replete with philosophical meanings. The dance festival organised here every year attracts people from far and wide.
Thanjavur- The world heritage site
Brihadeswara Temple is a favorite with every tourist who visits Thanjavur. Built by the Cholas in 1010 AD, it is made out of granite. The UNESCO World Heritage site attracts huge crowds all year round. The temple tower of Brihadeswara Temple stands tall at 100 ft, and is the tallest in the world. It houses one of the largest lingams found anywhere in India. The huge statue of sacred bull, known as Nandi, carved out of a single rock at the entrance is a highlight of this temple.
You will find some of the most significant temples of Tamil Nadu in Tiruchirappalli. For worshippers of Lord Vishnu, Tiruchirappalli is an important place of pilgrimage. Sri Rangam Ranga Nathar Temple, dedicated to Lord Ranganatha, who is believed to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu, the Rock Fort Temple, and the Uchi Pillayar Temple, perched on top of an 83 meter high rock, are the most revered temples in Tiruchirappalli. To reach Uchi Pillayar Temple, you have to climb 437 steps. You will find a small shrine dedicated to Ganesh on top. You can also enjoy a panoramic view of the town from there.
Madurai- Meenakshi Temple
With 33,000 sculptures, Madurai Meenakshi Temple is an architectural delight. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that it is the most attractive temple ever built, and is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. Built in the 6th century BC, it has intricate and complicated temple designs, which makes it a feast to the senses. It was built by the early Dravidian kings and is the most visited tourist attraction in Madurai. The highlight of the temple is the 10-day Meenakshi Tirukalyanam festival held every year, during April and May. Around 1 million people are recorded to visit the temple during this time alone.
Rameshwaram – The divine Ramanathswami temple
Rameshwaram is one of the four divine sites in India as per Hindu mythology. It is considered as one of the holiest places in India. The magnificent temple of Ramanathaswami, dedicated to Lord Shiva, lies in the heart of the city. The longest corridor ever to be built in any temple of Tamil Nadu, or for that matter the whole of India, is here.
Kanyakumari – Bagavathi Amman Temple
Kanyakumari, which is frequented by tourists to watch sunrise and sunset over the ocean, is also a famous pilgrimage centre. Kanyakumari, which lies in the southern most point of India, is home to Bagavathi Amman Temple, dedicated to a consort of Shiva.
Temples of Tamil Nadu are stunning in their grandeur and rich in legend. If you are an admirer of classical architecture, you will certainly cherish your visit to these temple towns.
Manu Vipin, a journalist and a travel writer on behalf of Find My Temple. Find My Temple offers incomparable consultation about Tamilnadu temples, online pooja booking services, custom pilgrimage tour packages and other temple tours in Tamil Nadu.