The southern part of India has a unique charm. The diverse beauty of south India has not been explored as much as the north India. The hill stations, temples, beaches and historical monuments make this region very special and interesting. South India is known for ancient temples and monuments built by different dynasties. From stone carvings of Krishnadevaraya to Chalukya style of architecture to the Vijayanagara architecture, these monuments are unique and breathtakingly beautiful. These magnificent architectural marvels are a must-see. South India is home to some of the most beautiful temples and the richest temples in India. These temples have different tales and hold religious significance. Tamil Nadu alone has around 33,000 temples. Here is a list of some of the best temples in South India.
1 Tirupati Balaji temple
Located in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, Tirupati Balaji temple or Venkateshwara Swamy temple is one of the richest and most visited temples in India. Around 40 million people visit this temple every year. The temple, which is dedicated to Venkateshwara, a manifestation of Vishnu, is also known as the ‘Temple of Seven Hills’ as it is situated on the seventh peak of the Tirumala hills. Built under the rule of Krishnadeva Raya, the temple has Dravidian style of architecture.
Venkateshwara Swamy temple is among the eight Vishnu Swayambhu Kshetras. The main deity is placed in the Garbha Griha, which is called Ananda Nilayam, and is in standing posture facing east. The idol of main deity has four hands. It also bears goddess Padmavathi on the left chest and goddess on the right. The temple has three entrances (Dwarams). The first entrance has a five storied, 50 feet tall temple tower (Gopuram) with seven kalasam. The second entrance, which is called Vendivakili, has a three storied gopuram with seven kalasam. The third entrance leads to the garbha griha and has two images of Dvarapalakas made of copper on either side of the door.
Two modern queue complex buildings have been added to the temple premises tp control the rush of pilgrim. The temple complex also has hair tonsure buildings, Venkamamba Annaprasadam complex where free meals are distributed and many lodging facilities.
Legend: There is an interesting story behind the temple. According to legends, Balaji took a loan of one crore and 11.4 million gold coins from Kubera. The loan was sought for his marriage with Padmavati. It is believed that the money donated by the devotees is a pay back of this loan. In a single day, the temple receives about Rs 22.5 million as donation! People also donate gold. In April 2010, the temple deposited 3,000 kg of gold with SBI bank.
One of the rituals followed by the pilgrims is hair tonsuring. Several devotees while they visit the temple shave their head, which is called ‘mokku’, as an offering to the deity. According to a legend, a shepherd hit Balaji on the head and that part of his head became bald. A gandharva princess, Neela Devi, saw this and was saddened. She thought that such a pretty face should not have any flaw. So, she cut a part of her hair and fixed it on the bald portion of Balaji’s head with her magical power. Balaji was touched by her sacrifice and promised her that the hair donated at his temple by his devotees will be received by her. Over a ton of hair is received at the temple everyday and this hair is purchased by international buyers. They use the hair in cosmetics and hair extensions.
Another interesting part of the visit to the Balaji temple is its prasadam, which is a laddu with a Geographical indication tag. Onlyu the organization of the temple is allowed to sell or make Tirupati Laddus.
You must visit this temple during it annual festival, Brahmotsavam. The festival is celebrated in the month of September and the celebration continues for nine days. This festival is a major crowd puller. The number of visitors increases to around five lakh per day during the festivals. Other important festivals celebrated in the temple are Ram Navami and Janmashtami.
Temple timings: All days 2:30 am to 1:30 am, Friday: 2:30 am to 10: 30 pm
Entry Fee: Special Entrance: Rs 20 per Person, VIP Darshan: Rs 100 per Person
Address: S Mada St, Tirumala, Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh
Dedicated to goddess Meenakshi or Parvati and her consort Shiva as Sundareshwar, Meenakshi Amman temple or Meenakshi temple is one of the most popular temples in Tamil Nadu. The temple is located on the southern banks of Vaigai River in Madurai. Meenakshi temple is the crowning jewel of South Indian temple architecture. The temple is also known as Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple and Meenakshi Amman Kovil. It has the biggest temple complex in the state. The temple receives approximately 15000 devotees every day and is one of the most visited temples in the state.
Meenakshi temple is constructed according to the Shilpa Shastra, which is an ancient Indian building manual. The temple has 14 gopurams or gateway towers, 33,000 sculptures and two golden sculptured vimanas. The temple complex has many halls and one of the most prominent halls is the hall of thousand pillars or the Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam. The pillars are in two rows and 985 of them have intricate carvings of mythological creatures. The complex also includes a Golden Lotus tank, which is said to be auspicious. According to a legend, the pond was created by Shiva and is older than the temple itself. The temple has bright colors and Dravidian architectural style.
The central shrine of the temple has three enclosures around it and each enclosure has four small towers. The Sundareshwar shrine is located at the center of the complex. The image of Meenakshi inside the Meenakshi shrine is made of emerald-hued black stone. The vimanas of both Meenakshi and Sundareshwar shrine are gold plated. Outside of the Sundareshwar shrine, there is a huge sculpture of Ganesha called the Mukuruny Vinayakar. It is believed that idol was found during the excavation process to create the Mariamman temple lake. The main idol of Meenakshi is holding a parrot in her right hand. Another important feature of the temple is the huge sculpture of Nataraja, the dancing form of Shiva.
Legend: According to a legend, the temple was originally built by the survivors of Kumari Kandam, a mythical lost continent, in the 6th century. According to Hindu scriptures, god Indra built the temple to atone his sins.
History: In the 14th century, the temple was plundered by Mughal Muslim Commander Malik Kafur. Only the Meenakshi and Sundaresvara shrines remained intact after it was destroyed by the commander. The temple was rebuilt by Nayak ruler, Vishwanatha Nayakan, in the 16 th century.
The best time to visit the temple is during it annual festival, Meenakshi Thirukalayanam, which falls in the month of April. Millions of devotees from across the country visit this temple during the festival, which concludes with the celestial marriage of Meenakshi and Sundareshwar. Fridays are usually the busiest days in the temple.
Temple timings: All days of the week, 5 am to 12:30 pm and 4 pm to 10:00 pm.
Entry Fee: For Indian Rs 5, for foreigners Rs 55 and VIP ticket Rs.500 per person
Address:Madurai, Tamil Nadu
3. Brihadeeswarar temple
Located in Thanjavur, the religion and art capital of South India, Brihadeshwara Temple is another famous temple in South India. Brihadeshwara Temple, which is also known as RajaRajeswara Temple Rajarajeswaram and Brihadeshwara Temple, is dedicated to Shiva and is one of the biggest temples in the nation. This grand temple along with Gangaikonda Cholapuram and Airavatesvara temple is called the ‘Great Living Chola Temple’. Brihadeshwara Temple is also the one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The temple was constructed by Raja Raja Chola I and is a perfect example of Dravidian architecture and the ideology of Chola Empire and Tamil civilization. The temple, which is over 1000 years old, is a proof of the power, artistic expertise and wealth of the Chola Empire. Fondly known as the ‘Big Temple’, Brihadeshwara temple is made using around 60,000 tones of granite. As per one of the inscriptions in the temple, the architect and engineer of this magnificent temple is Kunjara Mallan Raja Raja Perumthachan.
At 66 meters, the vimanam (temple tower) of this temple is the tallest in the world. The Kumbam (the structure on the top) is believed to be carved out of a single rock and weighs around 80 tonnes. The huge sculpture of the Nandi (sacred bull) at the entrance is again carved out of a single rock and its weight is about 20 tonnes. The height of the Lingam inside the temple is approximately 3.7 meters. One of the entrances has a five storied gopuram and the gopuram at the main entrance is 30 meters high. Brihadeeswarar temple is among the few temples in the country that has Ashta-dikpaalakas (Guardians of the directions) idols. Apart from the main deity, the temple has idols of Surya, Chandra and Dakshinamurthy. The walls of the temple are adorned with Frescos of Chola and it depicts Shiva in various actions. One of the striking features of these murals is that the Asura women are shown as beautiful ladies. Brihadeeswarar temple is the world’s first complete granite temple.
Temple timings: All days of the week from6am to 12 pm and 4pm to 9 pm.
Entry Fee: Nil
Address:Membalam Rd, Balaganapathy Nagar, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu
4. Airavateswara temple
Located in Darasuram close to Kumbakonam, Airavateswarar Temple is one of the temples in the list of the Great Living Chola temples. Built in the 12th century by Raja Raja II, the temple is dedicated to Shiva. Here Shiva is venerated as Airavateshwara because it is believed that he was worshipped by the celestial elephant Airavata here. Although Airavateswarar temple is smaller than the Brihadeesvara Temple, it has intricate stone carving and is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
The temple is known for its architecture and exquisite stone carvings. It is said that Airavateswarar Temple was constructed with nitya-vinoda, ‘perpetual entertainment’ in mind. The temple has 24 meter high vimana or tower. The front mandapa, which is called as Rajagambhiran tirumandapam in the inscriptions, is in the form of a horse-drawn chariot. This mandapa has highly ornate pillars. The sanctum of the temple does not have axial mandapas or a circumambulatory path. Another mandapa of the temple has four shrines. One of these shrines has Yama’s image. There are several beautifully carved buildings in the temple complex.
Legend: According to a legend, Airavata was cursed by from Sage Durvasa, due to which there was a change in the color. After bathing holy water of the tank in this temple, Airavata’s color was restored. It is said that the King of Death, Yama also worshipped Shiva at this temple. Yama was freed from a curse by the main deity of the temple, Airavatesvarar. The curse on Yama caused a burning sensation and he got rid of it by bathing in the sacred water of the temple. And hence, the sacred tank is called Yamateertham.
Temple timings: All days of the week from 6 am to 12 pm and 4pm to 8pm.
Entry Fee: Nil
Address: Gurunathan Pillai Colony, Darasuram, Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu
5. Guruvayur Shree Krishna temple
Dedicated to Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu), Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple is located in Guruvayur town, Thrissur, Kerala. For Hindus in Kerala, it is one of the most important temples. The temple is also often called as ‘Bhuloka Vaikunta’, which means the Vishnu’s holy abode on earth. The temple is also called ‘Dwarka of South India’. The main idol of Krishna in this temple is unique as it has four arms holding a lotus with a basil garland, the mace Kaumodaki, sudarshana Chakra and the conch Panchajanya. This same image was revealed to Devaki and Vasudeva, Krishna’s parents, during the time of the birth of Krishna.
The temple has a very exacting routine of worship that was told by Adi Shankara. The method of worship was later written in the tantric way by Cennas Narayanan Nambudiri. The routines of the puja are rigidly followed here. The Chief Priest does not consume any food or drink from morning till the completion of noon worships. The morning puja rituals include anointing the idol of Krishna in til oil. After that, herbal powder is sprinkled on the idol. This light brown powder imparts a beautiful hue to the idol and people flock to the temple at 3 am to witness this mesmerising sight.
The sanctum has a small idol of Krishna made of Black Antimony, a stone which is magnetic and is believed to have medicinal properties.
Legend: The temple has a pond called Rudratheertham on its northern side. According to legend, Vishnu was worshipped on the bank of this pond by Shiva (Rudra) and his family. Hence the pond is called Rudratheertham.
Note: Non-Hindus are not permitted to enter this temple.There is also a strict dress code that has to be followed if you wish to visit the Guruvayur Temple. Men have to wear mundu without a shirt, but you can use a small piece of cloth called veshthi to cover your body. Girls cannot wear trousers, short skirts or dresses to the temple. They can wear long skirts or saris and now girls also have an option of wearing salwar kameez.
Temple timings: All days of the week from 3 am to 1:30 pm and from 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm
Entry Fee: Nil
Address:Guruvayur Devaswom, Guruvayur, Thrissur Kerala
Located in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala, Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple or Ananthapadmanabhaswamy temple is one of the 108 holy abode or shrines in Vaishnavism. The temple is one of the most popular temples in the state. Dedicated to Vishnu, this iconic temple of Kerala is an intricate fusion of Dravidian architectural style and Kerala style of architecture. The most interesting feature of the temple is that Vishnu is in the ‘Anantha Shayanam’ posture, which is the yogic sleep on Sheshnaga. Padmanabhaswamy temple is a landmark of the town and the richest temple in the country. It is estimated that the temple has jewels and gold worth $ 22 billion stored in its underground vaults.
Padmanabhaswamy temple has high walls and a gopuram built in the 16 th century. The temple has many murals, intricate carvings and beautiful pillars. The seven storied gopuram of the temple is adorned with images of different types of nymphs, gods, demons and goddesses. The sanctum sanctorum has the idol of Vishnu reclining on the Adi Sesha or Sheshnaga, which has five hoods. Goddess Bhudevi and goddess Sridevi, Vishnu’s two consorts, are placed by his side. The temple sits next to a tank called Padma Theertha. The main idol of Vishnu is made using saligramam (fossilised shells), which were brought from the banks of Nepal’s Gandaki River. The deity is worshipped daily using flowers.
The best time to visit the temple is during Navaratri festival. The celebration continues for nine days. The Swathi music festival is organised during this festival every year. Another festival of the temple is Laksha Deepam, which translates to one lakh lamps. This festival is celebrated once in six years. For 56 days, Vedas anre recited and prayers are chanted and on the finals day, one lakh lamps are lit around the temple. The temple lit with so many lamps is a sight to behold. There are several shops outside the temple complex that sell sandalwood products and handicrafts.
Note: Only Hindus are allowed inside the temple.
Temple timings: All days of the week from 4am to 7:30 pm
Entry Fee: Nil
Address:W Nada, East Fort, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
Dedicated to Vittala, a manifestation of Vishnu, Vijaya Vittala temple is located north east of Hampi. Due to the exceptional craftsmanship and extravagant architecture, the temple is hampi’s most popular attraction. The grandeur and the elegance of the temple are indescribable. Built during the 15 th century AD, the temple was expanded many times by the ruling king.
The sprawling complex of the temple resembles a town with many gateways, halls, pillared pavilions and other structures. The temple complex includes a stone chariot, which is actually a shrine dedicated to Garuda, the eagle god and the vehicle of Vishnu. There are huge mandapas on either side of Gaurda shrine. These mandapas have pillars on all sides. The most famous and fascinating feature of the temple is the musical pillars. Each of these massive pillars is carved out of a single rock and produces a different musical tone. The British, in an effort to see what was producing the musical sound, destroyed the pillars. These were further damaged by unmindful tapping by overzealous visitors. The halls of the temple are adorned with stunning sculptures and carvings. The temple is a treat for architecture and history lovers.
Temple timings: All days of the week from 8:30 am to 5pm
Entry Fee: Nil
Address: Near Kalyan Mantapa, Hampi, Bellary, Karnataka
Located on the banks of Tungabhadra River, Virupaksha templs is among the group of monuments in Hampi that have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is a must visit for religious people and history lovers. It is one fog the most popular tourist attractions in Hampi. Virupaksha temple is dedicated to Shiva, who is also called Virupaksha. The temple is also known as Shri Lokeswara Maha Sila Prasada.
The temple was constructed during the reign of King Deva Raya II of the Vijayanagara Kingdom by a chieftain, Lakkana Dandesha. The expansion of the temple complex was carried out during the rule of Vijayanagara kings. The temple complex grew gradually with additional gateways, shrines, pillard halls, lamp posts and pillars. More complex and structures were added during the period of Chalukya and Hoysala kings to make the temple more grand and beautiful. The temple complex has 50 meters tall gopurams, pillared pavilion, courtyards, shrines and gateways. The nine storied gopuram faces west direction and the projection at the top that resembles a cow horn is the landmark of the structure. The gopuram leads to the main temple of Virupaksha. The second temple tower, which was constructed in 1510 AD and has three stories, is named after the king Krishadeva Raya The southern side of the temple has some erotic inscription, which are linked to fertility rituals. The entire temple complex is made using brick and mortar. The temple’s main complex has two huge courtyards. The complex also has a statue of Nandi, the sacred bull. There are also a ticket office, Kalyanamatapa, an ancient well and an administrative offive.
The temple is an important pilgrimage site. The most interesting feature of the temple is the inverted pinhole image of its tower seen on the inner wall. The temple’s elephant is called Lakshmi.
You can reach the temple via the chariot stree, Hampi Bazar. The annual temple festival held in the month of December and February is the best time to visit. There are several souvenir shops near the temple.
Temple timings: All days of the week from 9am to 1 pm and 5pm to 9pm
Entry Fee: Nil
Address: Bellary, Hampi, karnataka