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A Guide to Hindu Temples

India is known to be one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a rich heritage, culture, and tradition. It is also home to religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Hinduism is the largest ethnic religion and the world’s third-largest religions with about 1 billion followers.

India has more than 2-million temples dedicated to hundreds of gods across the country. Some of the temples date back to thousands of years, while others are newly erected. Each temple is dedicated to a different deity. The Badrinath Temple and Brihadishvara Temple are just two of the most famous temples in the country.

Quick Facts

  • Most of the temples in India are dedicated to Hinduism.
  • In ancient and medieval India, Hindu temples served as the heart of important social, economic, artistic, and intellectual functions.
  • Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple is one of the ancient and largest temples of India.
  • The Bodhi tree in Mahabodhi Temple is believed to be the site where Buddha reached enlightenment.
  • The Akshardham Temple is considered to be one of the biggest and the most famous temple in Delhi.

Hindu temples

Temples can be found across India, from the hilly areas of the Himalayas to the mountains of Ladakh, and from the forgotten villages of Tamil Nadu to the caves of Maharashtra. You can even find them in the deserts of Rajasthan.

Forms and designs of Hindu temples

Hindu temples can take on two forms, either a house or a palace. A house-themed temple is a simple shelter which serves as a deity’s home, while a temple is a place where the devotee visits, similar to how one would visit a friend or relative.

According to ancient Sanskrit texts, the appropriate site for a temple is near water and gardens, where lotus and flowers bloom, and where animals can rest without the fear of injury or harm.

The design of a Hindu temple follows a geometrical design called Vastu-Purusha-Mandala. Mandala means circle, Purusha is a universal essence at the core of Hindu tradition, and Vastu means the dwelling structure.

A Hindu temple is a symbolic reconstruction of the universe and universal principles that make everything in its function. It reflects the core beliefs of the individual spiritual experience towards moksha, awareness of self, the discovery of higher truths, true nature of reality, and a consciousness that is liberated and content.

Functions of Hindu temples

In ancient and medieval India, Hindu temples served as the heart of important social, economic, artistic and intellectual functions. South Indian temples managed regional development function, such as irrigation projects, land reclamation, post-disaster relief, and recovery. These activities were paid for by donations collected from the devotees.

The donations received were from many different sources, ranging from kings, queens, officials in the kingdom, to merchants, priests, and shepherds. Temples also managed lands and would provide employment to the poorest. Some temples with a large treasury also served as banks.

Over time, Hindu temples became wealthy from grants and donations from royal patrons as well as private individuals. They became employers and patrons of economic activity and sponsored land reclamation and infrastructure improvements including building facilities such as water tanks, irrigation canals, and new roads.

Styles and arts of Hindu temples

Hindu temples incorporate different methods of construction and styles, some styles include cave temples and stepwell temples. Cave temples such as Chandrabhaga, Chalukya, and Ellora are carved from a single piece of rock as a complete temple or carved in a cave to look like the interior of a temple.

Stepwell temple compounds such as the Mata Bhavani, Ankol Mata, and Huccimallugudi, are commonly found in arid western parts of India such as Rajasthan and Gujarat. Hindu communities built a large walk-in well that served as the source of water in dry months and social meeting places.

These stepwells or vavs which they are sometimes called, are decorated with intricate art reliefs on the walls, with numerous idols and images of Hindu deities, water spirits, and erotic symbolism. They were named after Hindu deities such as Mata Bhavani's Stepwell, Ankol Mata Vav, and Sikotari Vav.

Best 9 temples to visit in India

These temples are located all across India. Some of them have been around for centuries while others were built recently.

There is a huge difference between South Indian and North Indian temples. The biggest difference is that South Indian temples are generally bigger than North Indian temples.

It is recommended for you to visit the temples with a guide. They can inform you about the history, religion, architecture styles and customs of the temples.

Temples Location Date of construction Features
Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple Madurai, Tamil Nadu 6th century Hall of 1,000 Pillars, a set of musical pillars, and Art Museum
Brihadishvara Temple Thanjavur 1010 CE The Shiv Lingam, towering Gopuram which is 200ft tall, and the top cupola which weighs 81 tons
Vitthala Temple Hampi 15th century Halls, shrines, and pavilions that are made of stone
Badrinath Temple Uttarakhand 7th century 3.3 feet-tall black stone idol of Lord Badrinarayan and idols of 15 other deities
Mahabodhi Temple Bodhgaya 6th century Bodhi tree, gold-painted statue of Buddha
Kedarnath Temple The Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini River 7th century Shiva Temple
Golden Temple Amritsar, Punjab 1604 Pure gold dome and the langar or community kitchen
Kashi Vishwanath Temple Varanasi 1780 Several small temples and shrines that are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Vinayaka, Kalabharavar, Dandapani, and other deities
Akshardham Temple Delhi 8 November 2000 The grand Akshardham Mandir, 9 splendid domes, 234 intricately-carved pillars, 20 pinnacles, and over 20,000 superbly sculpted figures

1. Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple, or commonly called Meenakshi Amman Temple, is one of the ancient and largest temples of India. The temple complex covers 14 acres and has 4,500 pillars and 14 towers.

The four main towers and entrances each face one of the four directions which are north, east, south, and west. The southern tower is 52 meters high, making it the tallest tower. Two shrines can be found inside, dedicated to the Goddess Meenakshi and her husband Lord Shiva.

The temple's main attraction is its stunning Hall of 1,000 Pillars. There is also a set of musical pillars, the holy golden lotus tank, and an art museum that are worth seeing.

Meenakshi Temple is primarily dedicated to Parvati, known as Meenakshi, and her spouse, Shiva.

The temple has about 50 priests, who conduct worship ceremonies six times a day. Every April, the famous Chithirai Festival is held, in which the reenactment of the wedding of Lord Shiva to Goddess Meenakshi is done.

Address: Madurai Main, Madurai, Tamil Nadu 625001, India

Opening time: 5 am to 10 pm

Tickets: No entry fee, 50 rupees to visit Art Museum

2. Brihadishvara Temple, Thanjavur

Brihadishvara Temple, also known as Rajesvara Peruvudaiyar or Brihadeeswarar, is one of the largest South Indian temples. It is over a thousand years old and is dedicated to Shiva. Brihadishvara Temple is part of the Great Living Chola Temples and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The walls around the temple are decorated with elaborate paintings depicting Shiva and important moments throughout the Raja Chola Empire. There is also the bull-shaped Nandhi that is, 12-foot-high, 19-foot-long, and 18-feet-wide sitting outside of the temple.

The temple houses the Shiv Lingam which is beautifully carved out of a single rock. The towering Gopuram which is 200ft tall and the top cupola which weighs 81 tons are the notable features of the temple.

Brihadishvara Temple is more than 1,000 years old and has withstood numerous earthquakes. You could easily spend a relaxing few hours exploring its spacious grounds.

Address: Membalam Rd, Balaganapathy Nagar, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu 613007, India

Opening time: 6 am to 8.30 pm

Tickets: No entry fee

3. Vitthala Temple, Hampi

The Vittala Temple or Vitthala Temple is considered to be one of the largest and the most famous structure in Hampi. It is built in the Dravidian style of architecture. The temple complex has many halls, shrines, and pavilions that are made of stone.

The temple dates back to the 15th century. It was built during the reign of King Devaraya II, one of the rulers of the Vijayanagara Empire. It is dedicated to Lord Vitthala, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. An idol of Vitthala-Vishnu was enshrined in the temple.

The highlight of Vittala temple is the stone chariot. It stands in the courtyard of the temple and is one of the three famous stone chariots in India. The stone chariot is actually a shrine that has been designed in the shape of an ornamental chariot. It is dedicated to Garuda and had an image of Garuda enshrined into the sanctum.

Address: Hampi, Karnataka 583239, India

Opening time: 8.30 am to 5 pm

Tickets: No entry fee

4. Badrinath Temple, Uttarakhand

Badrinath temple is one of the sacred Char Dham in Uttarakhand, along with the Kedarnath temple, Gangotri, and Yamunotri. It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is one of the holiest shrines of Hinduism.

The temple's 3.3 feet-tall black stone idol of Lord Badrinarayan sitting in a meditative pose is the temple’s main attraction. There are idols of 15 other deities within the temple premises including Uddhava, Garuda, Kuber, Lord Ganesh, Nara and Narayana, Shridevi and Bhudevi, and Goddess Lakshmi.

Just below the temple, there is a medicinal hot sulfur spring called the Tapt Kund which is believed to be infused with therapeutic properties.

The most prominent festival held at Badrinath Temple is the Mata Murti Ka Mela. It is celebrated during the month of June in which the people commemorate the descent of the River Ganges on mother earth. The festival will last for eight days.

Address: Badri to Mata Murti road, Badrinath, Uttarakhand 246422, India

Opening time: 6.30 am to 9 pm

Tickets: No entry fee

5. Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya

Mahabodhi Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is dedicated to Buddhism. The temple is the site where Buddha is believed to have gained enlightenment.

The main attraction is the Bodhi tree, under which Buddha sat to attain enlightenment. It lies directly behind the main shrine that houses a gold-painted statue of Buddha, made of black stone built by the Pala Kings of Bengal.

The tree is bordered by a square concrete wall. It is believed to be the fifth in its success as the original Bodhi tree was destroyed by natural disasters.

Monks from all over the world can be found sitting at the foot of an enormous carved Buddha statue, reading Holy Scriptures, and in deep meditation.

There is a charge for using cameras which is 100 rupees, and 300 rupees for video cameras.

Address: Bodh Gaya, Bihar 824231, India

Opening time: 5 am to 9 pm

Tickets: No entry fee

6. Kedarnath Temple, the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river

The Kedarnath Temple lies amidst the majestic snow-capped Garhwal Himalayan Ranges. It is one of the Char Dham in Uttarakhand and the most important Dham among Panch Kedar. This Hindu temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.

It is situated in a breathtaking location, near the source of the Mandakini River and at the height of 3,584 meters.

The main attraction here is the Shiva Temple which is a popular Hindu shrine and pilgrimage that attracts devotees from all over the world. The paved and steep path gives the pilgrims a fantastic view of the snowy-peaks, alpine meadows, and delightful forests of Rhododendrons.

The Vinayak Chaturthi is a festival celebrated primarily during the months of September and October. Believers of Lord Ganesh will make a visit to the temple and make it a point to worship the Lord and pray for happiness and prosperity in life.

Address: Kedarnath, Uttarakhand 246445, India

Opening time: 4 am to 9 pm

Tickets: No entry fee

7. Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab

The Golden Temple, otherwise known as the Harmandir Sahib, is considered the holiest shrine in Sikhism.

The temple was designed and built by the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan. The foundations were laid in 1588 by the popular Muslim Sufi Saint Miyan Mir and its construction was completed in 1604.

The temple looks particularly arresting at night when its imposing pure gold dome is illuminated. Another feature of the temple is the langar. This is the community kitchen that provides free food to pilgrims or anyone in need.

Diwali, Holi, Lohri or the Bonfire Harvest Festival, and Baisakhi which is the Punjab New Year and commemoration of the founding of the Sikh Religion Brotherhood in April are all celebrated around the temple with dancing, folk music, and fairs.

Address: Golden Temple Rd, Atta Mandi, Katra Ahluwalia, Amritsar, Punjab 143006, India

Opening time: 3 am to 10 pm

Tickets: No entry fee

8. Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi

Kashi Vishwanath Temple is one of the 12 holy Jyotirlingas and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple complex is quadrangular in shape with several small temples and shrines that are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Vinayaka, Kalabharavar, Dandapani, and other deities.

The River Ganga also flows beside the temple, which increases the spiritual value of the temple.

Mahashivaratri is one of the major festivals celebrated in this temple. It is celebrated on the 13th night and 14th day of the month Maagha, which falls on February or March. During this festival, the Linga of Lord Shiva is bathed with Ganga water applied with Chandan paste, and offerings such as flowers and fruits are given.

The road to the temple is slippery, so it is recommended for you to wear comfortable footwear. Cameras, mobile phones, and other gadgets are not allowed within the premises of the temple. You can place your personal items at the lockers provided outside the temple.

Address: Lahori Tola, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 221001, India

Opening time: 2.30 am to 11 pm

Tickets: No entry fee

9. Akshardham Temple, Delhi

The Akshardham Temple, or known as Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir, is considered to be one of the biggest and the most famous temple in Delhi. The temple is dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan.

The grand Akshardham Mandir, built of pink sandstone and white marble is the focal point of the temple. The temple also has 9 splendid domes, 234 intricately-carved pillars, 20 pinnacles, and over 20,000 superbly sculpted figures.

The festival Annakut Utsav is celebrated in this temple. This festival is celebrated right after Diwali, where around 2,550 of food items comprising of fruits, salads, pulses, and juices are offered to the deities of the temple.

Food from the outside is forbidden to be brought inside the temple. Also not allowed is the use of electronics, such as mobile phones, cameras, video cameras inside the premises of the temple.

Address: Noida Mor, Pandav Nagar, New Delhi, Delhi 110092, India

Opening time: 9.30 am to 6.30 pm

Tickets: 170 rupees

Tips for visiting temples

Here are some rules and etiquettes when visiting these temples:

  • Remove your footwear before entering the temple premises as it is a sign of respect, cleanliness, and humility.
  • It is advisable to wear conservative clothes while visiting a temple.
  • Eating is prohibited inside the temple’s premises.
  • According to Hindu belief, it is necessary to have a bath before going to the temple.
  • In some places, electronics are forbidden.
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