India is home to many diverse cultures and religions. Characterized by different ideologies, traditions and rituals, the country has a place to worship in every corner. Although there are numerous religions in India, Hinduism is followed by majority of the population. India has around 80 percent or 97 crore Hindus and lakhs of Hindu temples. You will find temples with different styles and architecture all across the country. The intricate carvings and the massive structure will fill you with awe. People from all over the world visit these temples to find faith and attain spiritual enlightenment. Each temple has its unique story and history. From the long list of the most beautiful and interesting temples in India, we have selected the 10 most famous temples in the country.

1. VAISHNO DEVI TEMPLE, JAMMU AND KASHMIR

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Photograph courtesy: Pranay Rao/Creative Commons

Located on top of the Trikuta Mountains of Katra in the beautiful valley of Jammu and Kashmir, Vaishno Devi temple is a cave temple and one of the holiest pilgrim sites in India. The temple is also one of the most visited shrines in the country with nearly 10 million people visiting every year. Vaishno Devi is a form of Goddess Mahalakshmi and is also called Vaishnavi, Trikuta and Mata Rani. Devotees usually walk from Katra to the temple. The trek is about 12 km long. Instead of idols, the holy cave has three naturally formed rock heads, which are known as pindies. The pindies are said to be Vaishno Devi’s three forms — Maha Saraswati, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Kali.

It is said that Vaishno Devi decides who her visitors will be and calls them to her abode, which is open throughout the year. It is a common belief that only those devotees will be able to reach Vaishno Devi shrine who have been called by the goddess.

According to legends, Vaishno Devi decided to pray to Rama and meditate at the young age of nine. Eventually, she started considering Rama as her husband. At this time, her name was Trikuta. Rama came across Trikuta when he was in search of his wife Site, who was abducted by the King of Lanka, Ravana. Rama learnt that the girl had been meditating for several years and considers him as her husband. He explained to Trikuta that he is married to Sita and is devoted to his wife. However, Rama told Trikuta that he will return to earth in the form of Kalki in Kalyug and will marry her. Also, he named her Vaishnavi. As per another legend, Pandavas travelled to Trikuta Mountains before the battle of Kurukshetra to seek blessings from Vaishno Devi.

ALSO READ 9 Durga temples you must visit in India

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR VAISHNO DEVI TEMPLE

The temple trust offers free accommodation in dharamshalas where you can stay and get meals at discounted prices. You can also stay in Katra. There are many accommodation options from budget hotels like Hotel Nek (approx. Rs 1300, contact: 01991 233 861) to high end hotels like Fortune Inn Riviera (approx. Rs 6,000, contact: 0191 256 1415)

HOW TO REACH VAISHNO DEVI TEMPLE

There are various modes of transport to reach the Vaishno Devi temple including paalkhis or palanquins (Rs 5000 for round trip for six people) and ponies (approximately Rs 850). You can also avail the helicopter service to reach Sanjicchat, which is about 9 kilometers from Katra. The helicopter service will cost you approximately Rs 1170 for one way and Rs 2350 for a round trip. You can also hire a porter to carry your luggage or children below the age of six and it will cost you about Rs 700 for both ways. Entry to the temple is free and it remains open on all days throughout the year.

Address: Jammu and Kashmir

2. KASHI VISHWANATH TEMPLE, UTTAR PRADESH

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Located in the ancient city of Varanasi, Kashi Vishwanath temple is dedicated to Shiva. The temple is one of the holiest temples in India and the idol is one of the 12 jyotirlingas in the country. The other jyotirlinga are Grishneshwar at Aurangabad in Maharashtra, Rameshwar at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, Nageswar at Dwarka in Gujarat, Vaidyanath Jyotirlinga at Deoghar in Jharkhand, Triambakeshwar in Maharashtra, Bhimashankar in Maharashtra, Kedarnath in Uttarakhand,  Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh, Mahakaleswar at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh and Somnath in Gujarat.

The original Kashi Vishwanath temple was destroyed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and a mosque was built on the site.  In 1780, Rani Ahalyabai Holkar of Indore commissioned to construct the temple, which you can see today. The mosque built during the reign of Aurangzeb is also present next to the temple. Varanasi is also called Kashi and hence the name of the temple. The temple is situated on the western bank of the holy Ganga River. It is believed that by visiting Kashi Vishwanath temple and taking a dip in the holy water of the sacred Ganga River, human beings can liberate themselves from the burden of sins and attain moksha (salvation). Some others believe that the blessings received on visiting Kashi Vishwanath and seeing the jyotirlinga are equivalent to the merit or blessings earned from the darshan of the 11 other jyotirlingas scattered in different parts of the country. People follow a tradition of giving up at least one desire after visiting this temple. The pilgrimage to Kashi Vishwanath temple includes collecting water from the Ganges and taking it to Rameshwaram temple in Tamil Nadu to perform prayers there. While returning from Rameshwaram, devotees bring back sand from there.

Kashi Vishwanath finds a mention in Hindi scriptures and texts like Skanda Purana and many great men like Adi Shankaracharya, Gurunanak and Swami Vivekananda have visited this temple in the past. The temple is famous for its aarti, which is one of the most stirring experiences you can have on your trip. Another distinguishing feature of the temple is its 3 gold-covered domes and the 15.5-meter-high gold spire. The one ton of gold donated by the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh was used to cover two domes of the temple. The third dome was gold-plated with the help of the Ministry of Cultures and Religious affairs of UP Government.

ALSO SEE 15 mesmerizing photos of Varanasi!

The temple complex includes a small lane, which is known as the Vishwanatha Galli and has several smaller shrines. The temple also has a well called the Jnana Vapi (wisdom well). It is said that during the time of invasion, the main priest of the temple took the Shiv Linga and jumped into the well to protect it. The 60 cm tall linga is made of black stone and is presently placed on a silver altar in the sanctum. In 1828, a low roofed colonnade was constructed in the Jnana Vapi area with more than 40 pillars by the Maratha ruler Daulat Rao Scindia’s widow. The King of Nepal gifted a 7ft high statue of Nandi bull made of stone and it lies on the east side of the colonnade.

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR KASHI VISHWANATH TEMPLE

There are many hotels, from budget to luxury, near the Kashi Vishwanath temple. Some options are Hotel Alka (approx. Rs 2800, contact: 0542 239 8445), The Gateway Hotel Ganges Varanasi (approx Rs 3600, contact: 0542 250 3019) and Brij Rama Palace, which will cost you around Rs 15,000.

Temple address: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

3. KAMAKHYA DEVI TEMPLE, ASSAM

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Photograph Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Dedicated to goddess Kamakhaya, the Kamakhya temple is the most popular attraction of Assam and one of the most prominent temples in India. The temple is located on the Nilachal Hill in the city of Guwahati in Assam. It is an important pilgrimage site especially for tantric worshippers. The temple is among the 51 shakti pithas, which are divine places to goddess Shakti. According to legends, Sati’s father, Daksha, invited all gods except Shiva for a yagna. Nevertheless, Sati went to attend the yagna. There she was not given any respect and Daksha insulted Shiva. Unable to bear the insult towards Shiva, Sati immolated herself. On hearing about the incident, Shiva was enraged. He picked up Sati’s remains and performed the dance of destruction, tandav. Various body parts of Sati fell at many places across India and these places are now called Shakti pithas. Kamakhya temple is situated where her yoni fell. As per the Kalika Purana, the temple is located at the site where Sati used to spend time with Shiva.

The Kamakhya temple complex has several temples dedicated to ten mahavidyas, namely Kamala, Matangi, Bagalamukhi, Dhumavati, Chhinnamasta, Bhairavi, Bhuvaneshwari, Sodashi, Tara and Kali. The main temple inside the complex is Kamakhya temple, which dates back to the 8th century. Till the 17th century, the temple has been re-built many times. The temple does not have an idol of Kamakhya Devi, instead a yoni-like stone with a natural spring flowing over it is worshipped. The sacrificial form of worship is still followed in this temple. Devotees offer goats to the goddess.

The main festival in this temple is the Ambubachi mela. This annual festival is celebrated around mid-June. It celebrates goddess Kamakhya’s yearly menstruation period. According to legends, the goddess undergoes the yearly menstruation cycle during the monsoon. The mela is also called the Tantric fertility festival or Ameti. The festival attracts tantric worshippers from across the country. During the festival, the temple remains closed for a total of three days, after which the goddess is bathed. The temple doors are then reopened and a red colored cloth is distributed as Prasad. Devotees are allowed to worship the goddess on the fourth day.

BEST TIME TO VISIT THE KAMAKHYA DEVI TEMPLE

The Ambubachi mela in mid-June is the main festival of the temple that attracts thousands of visitors. Other events during which you could visit the temple are Durga Puja during Navaratri and the Manasha Puja.

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR KAMAKHYA DEVI TEMPLE

There are many accommodation options near the temple. From budget hotels like Hotel Priya Palace (approx Rs 1300, contact: 0361 246 6224) and Palacia Inn (Rs 850) to luxury hotels like Vivanta by Taj Guwahati (Rs 8400).

Address: Nilachal Hill, Guwahati, Assam

4. MAHABODHI TEMPLE, BIHAR

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Located in the district of Gaya in Bihar, Mahabodhi temple is a Buddhist temple and a UNESCO World Heritage site. For people following Biddhism, this temple is the most revered site as it is said to be the places where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. People from across the world visit the Mahabodhi temple.

The temple is one of the oldest brick structures from the Gupta period. It was built in 7th century but has undergone many restoration and repair works. The last restoration work was carried out by the Burmese King and Archeological Survey of India. The central tower of Mahabodhi temple is 55 meters tall and is surrounded by four smaller towers. The temple complex has delicately carved stone railings. There are two types of railings. The older railings date back to around 150BCE and are made using sandstone while the others are made of coarse granite and is said to be of the Gupta period. The temple has a huge statue of Buddha sitting in a cross-legged position. The statue is made of black stone and covered in gold. The shrine is similar to the Stupa originally built by King Ashoka.

ALSO SEE World Heritage Day: 5 lesser-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India that will take you back in time!

The most important feature of the temple is the Bodhi tree under which Gautam Buddha meditated and attained enlightenment. The trees that you see today inside the temple complex are believed to be descendents of the original Bodhi tree.

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR MAHABODHI TEMPLE

Some of the best places to stay near Mahabodhi temple are Hotel Saraogi (approx Rs. 550, contact: 0631 222 2575), Hotel Viraat Inn (approx Rs. 1200, contact: 075410 57106), Hotel Tathagat International (approx Rs.2500, contact: 0631 220 0107) and Hotel Buddha International (approx Rs 1600, contact: 0612 321 9321).

Address: Bodhgaya, Bihar

5. AKSHARDHAM, NEW DELHI

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Located in the New Delhi, Swaminarayan Akshardham complex or Akshardham is a Hindu temple dedicated to Swaminarayan. The temple is an example of India’s ancient architecture, tradition, culture and spirituality. Akshardham means the abode of God. It is a spiritual-cultural campus dedicated to learning, harmony and devotion. A visit to Akshardham is a journey through 10,000 years of glorious art of the country.

Akshardham was presented with a Guinness World Record certificate for being the largest comprehensive Hindu temple in the world. The temple was built by 11,000 artisans and thousands of Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) volunteers and was inaugurated on November 6, 2005 by late APJ Abdul Kalam. Rajasthani pink sandstone and white Italian Carrara marble were used to build the temple, which features 234 beautifully carved pillars, nine ornate domes, a spectacular Gajendra Pith (plinth of stone elephants) and 20,000 statues.

There are several exhibits inside the temple. The Sahajanand Darshan (Hall of Values) is the first hall that depicts ideals of non-violence, honesty and harmony. The robotics and dioramas features in this hall display events from Swaminarayan’s life. The hall also includes the world’s smallest animatronics robot in the form of Ghanshyam Maharaj, who is the child form of Swaminarayan. The boat ride or Sanskritu Vihar offers you an opportunity to see the country’s glorious heritage. The ride takes you through the achievements of India’s scientists and rishis. The temple also has a theater called the Nilkanth Darshan, which shows a 40-minute film. The film is about Swaminarayan’s seven-year pilgrimage. There is a 27 ft tall statue of Neelkanth Varni outside the theater. The garden inside the temple complex is also famous. It is called the Bharat Upvan or the Garden of India. The lush green garden is lined with bronze sculpture of national figure, freedom fighters and warriors. The musical fountain, also known as the Yagnapurush Kund, is another attraction. It is an amazing fusion of a vedic yagna kund and a musical fountain. It is the biggest step well in India with 2,870 steps. The Kund comes to life at night with the spectacular musical water fountain. The temple is a must-visit if you are in New Delhi.

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR AKSHARDHAM TEMPLE

Best places to stay near Akshardham temple includes J P Hotels & Resorts (approx. Rs 2800, contact 087459 94000), Mantra Amatlas (approx Rs. 3500, contact: 011 4966 4966) and The Hans (approx rs 4500, contact: 011 6615 0000)

6. SOMNATH TEMPLE, GUJARAT

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Located in Junagadh district in Gujarat, Somnath temple is one of the 12 jyotirlingas in India. Somnath means ‘Lord of Moon’. The temple is dedicated to Somnath, who was known as Shrilingeshwar in Dwapar yug, Shravanikeshwar in Treta Yug and as Bhairaveshwar in Sat Yug. It is an important religious and tourist site.

There are several stories about the temple’s origin. According to a legend, the Somnath temple was first built by the Moon God Som using gold after Shiva freed him of a curse given by his father-in-law, Daksha Prajapati. Somnath finds mention in the Hindu epic, Mahabharata and in the Puranas. According to a legend, Krishna was shot in the foot in the region. It is said that, the descendents of Krishna, the yadav community in the region fought amongst themselves and caused the downfall of the community. It is believed that the temple is also the place where the sacred Saraswati River meets the sea.

ALSO READ Do you know this unbelievable legend behind Gujarat’s Somnath Temple?

Throughout the history, Somnath temple has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. It was plundered by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1025 AD. The temple was last restored by the then Deputy PM of India Sardar Vallabnbhai Patel in 1947 after the integration of Junagadh. As a mark of honor for his contribution towards the restoration of the temple, a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel has been placed in front of the temple.

Built in Solanki style, the temple showcases the skills of one of the master masons of Gujarat, Sompur Salats.  The shikhara of the temple is 15 meters tall and has a flag pole, which is 8.2 meters in height. The temple also has a sabha mandap, nritya mandap and sanctum sanctorum. The kalash on top of the temple weighs about 10 tonnes. Somnath temple is built at the tip of the landmass in Gujarat. One of the attractions of the temple is the Sound and Light Show. Apart from the temple, Junagadh Gate, Somnath beach and Simnath Museum are also famous.

BEST TIME TO VISIT SOMNATH TEMPLE

The period between October and March is the best time to visit Somnath temple as the weather is cool during that time.

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR SOMNATH TEMPLE

This temple town has many options to stay. There is a VIP guest house and 18 guest houses, which provide mid-range accommodation, operated by the temple trust. There are several Sanskriti Bhavans and Dharamsalas too.

7. JAGANNATH TEMPLE, ODISHA

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Photograph Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Located in Puri, Jagannath temple was built in the 12 th century by Raja Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva to mark the shifting of his capital to central Odisha from south. The temple is dedicated to Krishna in the form of Jagannath. It is one of the Char Dhams or the four holiest places of India and is situated on the Nilgiri Hill. The temple is known for its annual Ratha Yatra, which attracts millions of Hindu devotees every year. It is said that the mahaprasad of the temple is prepared under the scrutiny of goddess Lakshmi and is considered divine.

The 65-meter high temple is surrounded by a 20-ft high wall. The complex, which is one of India’s magnificent structures, includes 120 temples. The main deity of the temple is Jagannath who sits in between the idols of Goddess Subhadra (sister) and Balabhadra (brother). Most of the idols inside the temple are made of wither stone or metal, but the idol of Jagannath is made using wood. The wooden figure is replaced every twelve or nineteen years by an exact replica made using sacred tree. The temple also has an 11-meter-tall, 16 sided monolith pillar known as Aruna Stambha, which was brought to Puri from the Sun Temple in the 18th century. The complex also has a pillared hall of dance, hall of offerings, shrine and a traditional porch.

Although the temple does not discriminate between various Hindu castes, non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple’s premises. They can view the temple from a vantage point, like the roof top of the Raghunandan Library, which is situated opposite the temple.

The temple is famous for its Rath Yatra, during which the idol of Jagannath along with Subhadra and Balabhadra are placed in huge chariots and brought out to the street. Thousands of people pull the sacred chariot. The main chariot is around 45 feet high. These rathas are constructed anew every year. It has wood-carved horses and charioteers. The chariots are decorated for the ratha yatra, which is held during the month of Asadha as per Hindu calendar or during the month of June or July.

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR JAGANNATH TEMPLE

There are several options to stay near the temple. Mahodadhi Palace (approx Rs.3100, contact: 06752 220 440), The Chariot Resort & Spa (Rs 2900) and Toshali Sands (approx Rs 3500, contact: 099370 03223) are some of the places you could checkout.

Address: Shri Jagannath Temple, Temple Rd, Grand Road, Sri Nahar, Puri, Odisha 7

8. TIRUPATI BALAJI TEMPLE, ANDHRA PRADESH

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Venkateshwara Swamy temple or Tirupati Balaji temple is one of the most visited temples in India with about 40 million visitors every year. The temple , which is also known as the ‘Temple of Seven Hills’, is located on the seventh peak of the Tirumala hills in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh and is dedicated to Venkateshwara, an incarnation of Vishnu. The temple was built under the reign of Krishnadeva Raya and has Dravidian architectural style. Tirupati Balaji temple is the second richest temple in India due to the amount of donation it receives from the devotees (Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple is the richest).

According to legends, Balaji sought a loan of one crore and 11.4 million gold coins from Kubera for his marriage with Padmavathi. Devotees from across the country visit the temple and the money donated is believed to be a payback for this loan. Around Rs 22.5 million is received by the temple in a day as donation! Apart from money, devotees offer gold. 3,000 kg of gold was deposited by the temple with SBI bank in April 2010.

ALSO SEE 3 easy ways to reach Tirupati Temple – abode to world’s richest God!

Another interesting ritual followed by the devotees is hair tonsuring. Many devotees shave their head, which is also known as ‘Mokku’ when they visit Tirupati Balaji temple as an offering to the god. As per a legend, a small part of Balaji’s head became bald after being hit on head by a shepherd. Neela Devi, a Gandharva princess, saw this and thought that there should not be any flaw on such an attractive face. So, she cut a portion of her hair and fixed it on Balaji’s head with her magical power. Touched by her sacrifice, Balaji promised she will receive all the hair donated by his devotees at his temple. Every day, more than a ton of hair is collected at the temple and it is sold to international buyers. The hair is used as hair extensions and in cosmetics.

The prasadam of the temple is another interesting part of the visit. The prasadam of this temple is a laddu, which has a Geographical indication tag. Only the temple organisation is allowed to make or sell Tirupati laddus.

BEST TIME TO VISIT TIRUPATI BALAJI TEMPLE

The best time to visit the temple is during its annual festival, Brahmotsavam, which is held in September. The celebration continues for nine days and it attracts devotees and tourists from across the country. Other festivals celebrated in the temple are Janmashtami and Ram Navami. During these festivals, the number of visitors can reach up to 5 lakh per day.

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR TIRUPATI BALAJI TEMPLE

Hotel Bliss, which will cost you about Rs 2400 (contact 0877 223 7773), Woodside Hotel (approx Rs. 850, contact: 085002 00156), Pai Viceroy Hotel (approx Rs. 2500, contact: 0877 227 5777) and Marasa Sarovar Premiere (approx Rs 3800) are some of the places to stay in Tirupati.

Address: S Mada St, Tirumala, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh

9. SIDDIVINAYAK TEMPLE, MAHARASHTRA

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Photograph Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Dedicated to Ganesha, Siddhivinayak temple is the most prominent temple in Maharashtra. The temple is located in Prabha Devi, Mumbai. Siddhivinayak sees maximum number of devotees on Tuesday. The temple is open on all days throughout the year. Siddhivinayak temple is one of the Ashtavinayak temples in Maharashtra. The other seven temples are located in different parts of the state. Siddhivinayak is also known as Navasala Pavanara Ganapati or Navasacha ganapati.

The temple was constructed in 1801 by Deubai and Vithu Patil. Earlier, the temple was not big and it had a small black stone idol of Ganesha. Now, the wooden doors of the temple have images of Ashtavinayaka and the inner roof of the shrine is gold plated. The sanctum sanctorum has a small mandapam where the idol of Siddhivinayak is placed. The most important feature of the idol is that the trunk of the god is on the right side. Almost all other idols of Ganesha have their trunks to the left. The idol of this temple has four hands holding prayer beads, a small axe, a lotus and a bowl of modaks. Riddhi and Siddhi, Ganesh’s consorts are placed on either sides of the idol. There is a statue of Mushak, Ganesha’s vahan or ride, inside the temple. It is believed that your wish will come true if you whisper it into the mushak’s ears. The temple is popular among Bollywood actors, who usually visit the temple before the release of their movie. Most recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook visited the temple during his visit to India.

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR SIDDHIVINAYAK TEMPLE

There are several options to stay in Mumbai near the Siddhivinayak temple. These are some of the hotels you could checkout: The Fern Residency, The Shalimar Hotel and The Orchid Mumbai.

Address: SK Bole Marg, Prabhadevi, Mumbai, Maharashtra

10. MEENAKSHI TEMPLE, TAMIL NADU

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Located on the banks of Vaigai River in Madurai, Meenakshi Amman temple or Meenakshi temple is dedicated to goddess Parvati in the form of Meenakshi and Shiva as Sundareshwar. This Hindu temple has the largest temple complex in Tamil Nadu.

The temple is built as per the Shilpa Shastra, the ancient Indian building manual. According to a legend, originally the temple was constructed in the 6th century by the survivors of Kumari Kandam, a mythical lost continent. As per Hindu scriptures, the shrine was built by god Indra to atone his misdeeds. The temple was looted in the 14th century by Malik Kafur, the Mughal Muslim Commander. After the temple was destroyed by the commander, only the shrines of Sundaresvara and Meenakshi were intact. The temple was rebuilt in the 16th century by Vishwanatha Nayakan, who was a Nayak ruler.

ALSO READ Top 5 temples of Tamil Nadu you simply cannot afford to miss

The temple complex has 33,000 sculptures and 14 gopurams or gateway towers. There are two golden sculptured vimanas. The structure has many halls. One of the most famous halls is the Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam or the hall of thousand pillars. It has two rows of pillars and 985 of them have mythological creatures carved on to them. The temple has Dravidian architectural style and is brightly colored. The complex also has the Golden Lotus tank, which is considered auspicious. According to a legend, Shiva created the tank and it is older than the temple.  One of the main features of the temple is the massive sculpture of Nataraja, the dancing form of Shiva. The statue is enclosed in big silver altar. Another feature is that the main idol of Meenakshi has a parrot in her right hand.

BEST TIME TO VISIT MEENAKSHI TEMPLE

Usually, the temple sees maximum visitors on Fridays. The temple is open on all days throughout the year. It is famous for its annual festival called Meenakshi Thirukalayanam, which is celebrated in the month of April. The festival attracts millions of visitors from across the country. It ends with the celestial marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareshwar. Navaratri and Shivaratri are other important festivals celebrated in the temple.

BEST PLACES TO STAY NEAR MEENAKSHI TEMPLE

Best places to stay near Meenakshi temple include Heritage Madurai (approx Rs 7800, contact: 0452 238 5455), Simap Residency (Rs 2300, contact: 0452 438 0088), Hotel Nambi (approx Rs. 1400, contact:  0452 234 7984) and The Gateway Hotel (approx Rs. 5900, contact: 0452 237 1601)

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