Also Read - Looking For a Spiritual Journey? Head to These Popular Indian Temples

Temples in south India stand out from their counterparts in the north because of their elaborate architecture. Towering over the plains, the gopurams of these temples of Tamil Nadu are fine examples of temple architecture of the subcontinent. With each temple jostling with the other for attention, we were left with an unenvious task of short-listing the five that you absolutely must visit. And so, without much ado, we bring you the top 5 temples of Tamil Nadu you simply cannot afford to miss. Also Read - India is Home to Many Temples; Here Are The 10 Most Famous You Can Visit

1. Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

Photograph: Shutterstock

There’s probably no argument that the most impressive of the temples in Tamil Nadu is the one dedicated to Meenakshi in Madurai. What makes the temple even more awesome (and we use the word very consciously here) is the fact that it was constructed some 3500 years ago. The complex of the temple is spread across 15 acres and the temple itself with its 4500 pillars and 12 towers is humongous, to put it mildly. The four main towers of the temple face in each of the four major directions — north, east, south, and west and the tallest one is almost 170 feet high. While the presiding deity of the temple is Meenakshi, the temple also houses another shrine dedicated to her husband, Shiva. Every April the temples host the Chithirai Festival that re-enacts the wedding of the two. Also Read - Beyond Pushkar: Did You Know of These 6 Brahma Temples in India?

2. Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram

Ramanathaswamy temple, Rameswaram

Photograph Courtesy: Pablo Necochea/Creative Commons

The stunning pillared hallway at the Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameswaram that lines its perimeter is generally believed to be the longest in India. Its outer set of corridors is 6.9 m in height and stretches for some 400 feet to the west, as many feet to the east and some 640 ft to the north and south. What makes the corridor even more awesome is the fact that it is held by over 1200 pillars, each of them being 30 ft tall and most have compositions carved on them. Rameswaram’s Ramanathaswamy Temple also boasts of 22 theerthams (or tanks) where devotees bathe before paying their respects to the presiding deity, Shiva. It is also home to Spatika lingam, one of the 12 jyotirlingas.

3. Brihadeswara Temple, Thanjavur (Tanjore)

Brihadeswara Temple, Thanjavur

Photograph: Shutterstock

Thanjavur owes a lot to the Chola Dynasty. It was under the Chola king Raja Raja I that the town became a bastion of Tamil culture. The Cholas constructed over 70 temples in the city and the most impressive of these temples is the Brihadeswara Temple. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Brihadeswara Temple turned a thousand years old in 2010 and symbolized the might of the dynasty. Dedicated to Shiva, this is also one of the oldest Shiva temples in the country. The temple that is built out of stone boasts of a dome that rises to almost 200 ft.

4. Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram

Thillai Nataraja Temple Chidambaram

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Spread over a massive 40 acres, the Thillai Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram is dedicated to Shiva and has influenced worship, architecture and sculpture for over 2,000 years. Of the nine gateways four (facing each of the major directions, north, east, south and west) have seven-storied gopurams. The one facing the east has 108 Bharathanatyam postures sculpted on it. Chidambaram’s Thillai Nataraja Temple also has five halls or sabhais, of which the Raja Sabhai has a thousand pillars that symbolize the yogic chakra of thousand pillared lotus Sahasraram.

5. Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Chennai

Kapaleeshwarar Temple Chennai

Photograph courtesy: April Rinne/Creative Commons

Kapaleeshwarar Temple is one of Chennai’s most famous tourist sites and of course the city’s most popular temple. This seventh-century masterpiece is located in Chennai’s Mylapore district and like all major temples in Tamil Nadu built in a certain era is bright, colorful and has a way of dwarfing you. The highlight of the Kapaleeshwarar Temple is, of course, its 120-feet tall gopuram and the temple itself is home to several shrines and halls that host numerous festivals throughout the year. While the original temple itself was constructed in the seventh century, it was largely destroyed by the Portuguese. It was then rebuilt in the 16th century and remains a shining gem in Chennai’s crown.