Many of the famous temples in South India have often been considered by historians and architects as the finest devotional constructions ever to be made. What made these temples not lose their charm with the passage of time was the strong and dedicated devotional purpose for which they were built. Here are a few:
- Padmanabhaswamy Temple – Trivandrum
- Ramanathaswamy Temple – Rameswaram
- Ranganathaswamy Temple – Trichy
- Venkateswara Temple – Tirupati
- Chennakeshava Temple – Belur
- Arunachaleswarar Temple – Thiruvannamalai
- Brihadeeswarar Temple – Thanjavur
- Meenakshi Temple – Madurai
- Guruvayur Temple – Guruvayur
- Kailasanathar Temple – Kanchipuram
- Ekambareswarar Temple – Kanchipuram
- Sarangapani Temple – Kumbakonam
- Vadakkunnathan Temple – Thrissur
- Annapoorneshwari Temple – Horanadu
- Shore Temple – Mahabalipuram
- Sivagiri Temple – Varkala
- Mahabaleshwar Temple – Gokarna
- Parthasarathy Temple – Aranmula
- Bhutanatha Temple – Badami
- Murudeshwara Temple – Murdeshwar
- Murugan Temple – Tiruchendur
- Sabarimala Sastha Temple – Pathanamthitta
- Attukal Bhagavathy Temple – Trivandrum
- Thirunelli Temple – Wayanad
- Vaikom Mahadeva Temple – Varkala
- Thiruvalla Temple – Thiruvalla
- Aihole Durga Temple – Aihole
- Sri Krishna Temple – Udupi
- Veera Narayana Temple – Belavadi
Padmanabhaswamy Temple – Trivandrum
Dedicated to the avatar of Lord Vishnu, Padmanabhaya, this temple is one of the most popular shrines in India. This shrine is one of 108 Divya Desams (holy abodes of Vishnu) - principal centers of worship of the deity in Vaishnavism. The temple dates back to the 8th century CE and is built in the Chera style of architecture.
Ramanathaswamy Temple – Rameswaram
Built by Sethupathy Marava, the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Local legends state that Lord Rama was crossing the island after rescuing his wife Sita from the demon Ravana when he sanctified this place by worshipping and glorifying Lord Shiva. Furthermore, there are two “lingams” inside the shrine
1. Vishwalingam: Brought by Hanuman from Kailash
2. Ramalingam: Was built by Lord Rama while waiting for Hanuman to bring the Viswalingam
The centuries-long tradition of worshipping Vishwalingam first lies in the belief that Lord Rama instructed it to be so because it was brought by Hanuman from Kailash.
Ranganathaswamy Temple – Trichy
Constructed in the Dravidian architectural style, this Hindu temple is dedicated to Ranganatha, a form of the Supreme God, Maha Vishnu. The temple has 108 deities displaying different forms of Vishnu and its history dates back to the 3rd century B.C. as per some historians. However alternatives suggest that it was built later in the 9th century A.D. by the Ganges, the ruling dynasty based at Talakadu on the banks of the Kaveri.
Did you know that the idol of Sri Ranganatha lies on a golden serpent couch, which is believed to be a gift from one of the Chola Kings?
Venkateswara Temple – Tirupati
There are various legends that are associated with the history and construction of this temple. One such legend states that Lord Vishnu appeared in King Thondaiman’s dream and asked him to construct the temple. Later, the temple was expanded by kings and emperors like the Cholas, Vijayanagara and many others until the East India Company took over.
Tirupati Balaji holds the record of being the richest temple of India and the shrine receives over 22.5 million per day as offerings from devotees.
Chennakeshava Temple – Belur
Built in the early 12th century by the Hoysala ruler, Vishnuvardhana, the temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is believed that the construction of the temple is closely related to the military achievements of King Vishnuvardhana after his victory against the Cholas. The temple was built by the land’s best architects and artists to produce new designs and styles that would be the emblem of the Hoysala rule.
Arunachaleswarar Temple – Thiruvannamalai
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple is believed to be the eighth-largest Hindu temple in the world. Legends state that the lord has manifested himself as an element of fire in this temple. The temple also houses eight lingams known as Ashtalingam and each of these lingams signify different directions of the earth. It is believed that those who undertake the Girivalam, a religious ritual that includes these lingams, will be blessed with various benefits.
Brihadeeswarar Temple – Thanjavur
Built by RajaRaja Chola I, the temple houses the Natraj, the statue of Lord Shiva—in his dancing pose. The temple is the first all-granite temple in the world and it is believed that the emperor Rajaraja Cholan had the dream of establishing such a huge temple for Lord Shiva. One unique feature of the temple is that the temple casts no shadow on the ground when the sun is at its peak.
Meenakshi Temple – Madurai
The Meenakshi Temple has a very important mythological significance. It is believed that Lord Shiva took the form of Sundareswarar (the handsome one) and married Parvati (Meenakshi) at the current location of the Meenakshi Temple. The wedding ceremony is celebrated every year as ‘Chithirai Thiruvizha’ which is also known as ‘Tirukalyanam’ (the grand wedding). This supreme significance had paved the way for the temple to be nominated as one of the wonders of the world.
Guruvayur Temple – Guruvayur
Krishna, was in Dwaraka worshipping the idol carved by a sacred material called Pathalanjana Sila when he envisioned Dwaraka being swallowed by the sea. With the help of his friend Uddava, Guru, and Vayu, the idol was being moved to a safer place when they came across the present site of the temple. Being told that Lord Shiva worshipped Vishnu at this very place, they placed the idol on the ground, and a temple sprang up. The name Guruvayur ensued as Guru and Vayu transported the idol here
Kailasanathar Temple – Kanchipuram
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple has great historical significance. The temple’s construction is credited to the Pallava dynasty, who had established their kingdom with Kanchipuram as the capital city. The Pallavas had to regain their territory after the Chalukyas occupied Kanchipuram. They started to expand their capital city to ensure strength and therefore built many temples. However, Kailasanathar Temple is the only temple of this period which still exists today.
Ekambareswarar Temple – Kanchipuram
The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva who is also known as Ekambareswarar. He is symbolized by a lingam, with his idol known as Prithvi lingam. The sacred mango tree inside the temple is supposed to be 3000 years old and holds the legendary belief that Goddess Parvathi, who was once separated from her husband, came to Kancheepuram and made a Sivalingam out of the sand and installed it under a mango tree. The four branches of this tree represent the 4 Vedas and it bears 4 different types of mangoes in 4 different seasons.
Sarangapani Temple – Kumbakonam
The name Saranpani comes from the famous Hindu legend of Sarangapani, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Sarangapani performed penance by the banks of Potramarai tank to obtain Lakshmi, as his daughter. Lord Vishnu who was pleased by the penance granted the sage Lakshmi. Vishnu then descended to earth as Aravamudhan to ask for Lakshmi’s hand for marriage. The name Sarangapani ("one who has the bow in his hand") derives from the words Sarangam “ meaning bow of Vishnu” and pani meaning “hand”.
Vadakkunnathan Temple – Thrissur
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple is believed to be the first Shiva temple built by Lord Parasurama, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. According to some Puranas, Parashurama destroyed the Kshatriyas twenty-one times. In order to cleanse his bad karma, he performed a yajna and gave away all the lands he possessed. Wanting to perform Tapasya on new land, he requested Varuna (the lord of sea and air) to give up a new piece of land from the sea to him.
Annapoorneshwari Temple – Horanadu
Sri Annapoorneshwari is believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva. The history behind this temple lies in the Hindu mythology where Lord Shiva, angers Goddess Parvati by referring to everything that is materialistic as Maya (illusion), including food.
Enraged by this, Parvati decided to disappear and soon after, Earth became arid. Being a mother, she could not bear to see her children starve, and hence she returned to shower them with food. Without food, life would come to an abrupt end, and hence the importance.
Shore Temple – Mahabalipuram
Shore temple worships Lord Shiva. Legends believe that the temple was founded by Bali, Prahlad’s grandson. After Hiranyakasipu was killed by Lord Vishnu, Prahald became king and soon Bali was born and he founded Mahabalipuram. Some other myths say that Gods were jealous of the elegant monuments of Mahabalipuram, and as a result, they caused floods to occur, which submerged most parts of the city. However, the Tsunami in December 2004 exposed some of these submerged parts including the Shore Temple complex.
Sivagiri Temple – Varkala
Even if the temple does not have a mythological significance, its history holds enough magnitude. The temple is dedicated to Sree Narayana Guru who led the social revolution of breaking away with the rigid caste hierarchies that existed in Kerala. His philosophy of 'one caste, one religion and one God for man' attracted a large following among the lower castes. He installed idols in temples to prove that the authority to perform religious rites does not exclusively belong to the Hindus, especially the Brahmins.
Mahabaleshwar Temple – Gokarna
Legendary tales of Mahabaleshwar are one of a kind. It is believed that Ravana, King of Lanka, performed a penance, to please Lord Shiva in order to attain the original Atma Linga. The devotional worship pleased Shiva and he gave the Atma Linga to Ravana but with strict instructions to never place it on the ground.
Lord Ganesha, fearing that Ravana might use the power of the Linga to fulfill his evil intentions, disguised himself and managed to take the Linga from Ravana&rsquo's hand. Ganesha then put the Atma linga on the ground and despite the efforts to uproot it from the ground, Ravana failed and called the Linga Mahabala (strongest) and hence the name Mahabaleshwar.
Parthasarathy Temple – Aranmula
Dedicated to Krishna, the temple is connected with Mahabharata. The Pandavas upon arriving on the banks of Pamba, during their pilgrimage built one temple each for Krishna. Legend has it that Arjuna built the Parthasarathy temple, to atone the sin of having killed Karna on the battlefield, against the dharma of killing an unarmed enemy. The image of the temple was brought to the present temple site in a raft made of six pieces of bamboo, and hence the name "Aranmula" (six pieces of bamboo).
Bhutanatha Temple – Badami
Dedicated to the deity Bhutanatha, the group of Bhutanatha temples worships Lord Shiva as the God of Souls. The temple is known for its historical connections with the Chalukyas of Vatapi (Badami) and the Kalyani Chalukyas. But the historical significance does not end there. Along the timeline, this temple is known to be under the influence of the Jains followed by the Lingayats who installed the Shiva Linga in the shrine and Nandi, the guardian deity of Kailash in front of the Linga
Murudeshwara Temple – Murdeshwar
The legend of Murudeshwara dates back to the Ramayana. When the Atma Linga was placed by Ganesha in Mahabaleshwar, Ravana was exasperated by the deceive and in anger he broke and threw the box holding the Atma Linga and the cloth covering it, miles away from Mahabaleshwar. The cloth was thrown 32 miles south from the Atma Linga, to Mrideshwara which was later named Murudeshwar.
Shiva then came on earth and visited all the five places where the pieces were thrown and declared that these would be his Panchakshetras and those who worshipped lingas at those places would be free from all sins.
Murugan Temple – Tiruchendur
The locals say that Surapadma, an asura, captured heaven, earth, and hell by the powers granted to him by Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva then opened his third eye to create a son who would destroy the asura. Out of the third eye, came six fire sparks that transformed into six babies. These babies were then merged together to become Lord Murugan, with six faces and 12 arms. On the sixth day, in the battle between Lord Muruga and Surapadma, Lord Muruga's lance pierced Surapadma 's body and this war came to be known as Surasamharam, or Surapadman's destruction.
Sabarimala Sastha Temple – Pathanamthitta
The legend of this temple goes like this: The King and Queen of Pandalam were childless and on one of the king's hunting trips, he found a child by the river and adopted and named him Manikandan. When the boy was 12, the queen developed an illness that could only be cured by drinking a tigress’s milk. When everyone refused, the young boy volunteered. Not only did he bring the milk, but he himself returned to the palace while riding the tiger. The king realized that he was no ordinary child and the tale goes on to state that Manikandan renounced his title as the king and gave up all his wealth. The king then later built a shrine for his son that eventually became Sabarimala, and Manikkandan acquired a divine form and became Ayyappan.
Attukal Bhagavathy Temple – Trivandrum
Dedicated to Attukal Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Vishnumaya, the mythological tale of this temple lies on the morals of kindness. Karanavar, was by the Killi river when he saw a young girl trying to cross the river. Helping her through, the man was stunned by the girl being all alone and therefore he took her to his house where she was welcomed with utter kindness and warmth. However, after a while, the girl disappears and the following night Karanavar sees a dream where the girl reveals herself as an incarnation of Goddess Vishnumaya. The girl tells the man that she has drawn three lines at a particular spot in the grove and he should build a shrine there. The next morning, not only does he find the three lines, but also builds a shrine.
Thirunelli Temple – Wayanad
The Thirunelli temple worships Lord Vishnu and it is believed that the temple was built by Lord Brahma while he was traveling the universe. The legend goes like, Lord Brahma was attracted by the beauty of the now called Brahmagiri Hill. Descending down, he noticed an idol of Lord Vishnu. With the help of the other gods, Brahma installed the idol and called it Sahyamalak Kshetra. Furthermore, at Brahma’s request, Vishnu promised that the waters of the area would wash away all sins and therefore the spring and river near the temple is called Papanasini (washes away all sins)
Vaikom Mahadeva Temple – Varkala
The myth behind this temple revolves around Khara, a demon. Khara performed severe penance to please Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva who was pleased by his devotion granted him three idols. Khara carried two on his hands and one on his neck. It is believed that Khara may have gotten tired and therefore put the idols on the ground to rest. On waking up, he realized he could not pluck the idols off the ground and one of these idols is the one being worshipped at Vaikom.
Thiruvalla Temple – Thiruvalla
Thiruvalla Temple is known to be the oldest temple in the country. The temple has been established in 2998 BCE when the region was inhabited by a few tribal groups. As per local legends, the idol inside the temple was worshipped by Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Krishna themselves in 59 BCE making it a site of great religious and mythological significance.
Aihole Durga Temple – Aihole
This medieval Hindu temple is said to have been built in the late 7th century by the dynasty of the Chalukyas. It is believed that even though the temple today has the sculpture of Goddess Durga, the original dedication of the temple may have been for Lord Surya or maybe Lord Vishnu or Shiva since the temple has various representations of Vishnu and Shiva. Old pictures of the temple show walls built on the temple which is assumed to be a fortification probably of the Marathas. Durga means protector and therefore the name of the temple came to be known as the Durga Temple.
Sri Krishna Temple – Udupi
Built-in the 13th century, the local legends say that Kanakadasa, a worshipper of Lord Krishna was denied entry into the temple. The devotee who was determined to see god prayed hard from outside of the temple. Lord Krishna was impressed by his devotion and it is believed that Krishna created a small hole on the wall of the temple so that the devotee could get a glimpse of the lord. This spot from which Kanakadasa saw Krishna, is today called Kanakana Kindi, or the window of Kanaka, and is one of the major attractions for tourists.
Veera Narayana Temple – Belavadi
Built in the 12th century by Veera Ballala II, the temple is known to be the place where Bheema killed the demon Bakasura and protected the village and its people in Mahabharata. This temple is one of the best examples of Hoysala architecture and is said to be the largest of the Hoysala architecture in its time.