South India is home to some of the most celebrated works of art and architecture of the ancient and medieval eras. It is the hub of the oldest and most beautiful architectural marvels in the forms of ancient temples that are live examples of Dravidian-style architecture. Looking at the beautifully carved stone structures, one wonders how those giant expressive Gopuras transform the visitors in an awe-inspiring state. These 16 amazing and famous temples of South can be called the soul and spirit of Indian heritage.
A plethora of exquisite monuments and temples consisted of the southern part of India
They spread throughout the five states i.e Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. Attracting millions of scholars and tourists from all around the world every year, this ancient heritage definitely provides an interesting subject to research. As an avid traveler and as a history faculty for many years I had this privilege to read as well as explore these gems whenever possible. Today I would like to share the sixteen most famous temples of the south. I have visited some shrines while a few are still there on my bucket list.
Famous Temples of South India
1. Madurai Meenakshi Temple, Madurai | Famous Temples of South India
This had to be the first one on my list for the most obvious reasons. The childhood memories are attached to this temple. I still remember how awe-struck I was to see the most vibrant and exquisite temple carvings ever. It Stands tall about a kilometer south of the Vaigai River in Madurai city, Tamil Nadu. One of the oldest yet most attractive temples of India. It is about 460 kilometers (290 mi) southwest of Chennai, the state capital.
The temple has a great mythological and historical significance. It is believed that Lord Shiva assumed the form of Sundareswarar and married Parvati (Meenakshi) at the site where the temple is currently located. Renowned for its astonishing architecture, Meenakshi Temple was nominated as one of the wonders of the world, but couldn’t make it into the list of ‘Seven Wonders of the World’. However, the temple is definitely one of the ‘Wonders of India’.
Meenakshi Temple is especially famous for :
the huge sculpture of the Nataraja, which is built on a silver altar. The temple has a ‘Hall of Thousand Pillars and each pillar is carved with various sculptures. A pond called ‘Porthamarai Kulam’ or ‘The Golden Lotus Pond’ in its complex looks majestic.
The principal deity is Goddess Parvati ( Meenakshi) which is why it is one of the rare temples of South India where Lord Shiva is not the principal deity. Over the centuries, the temple has been a center of education of culture, literature, art, music, and dance.
Location: Madurai Main, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Timings: Morning am to evening 10 pm
Connectivity: The city of Madurai has a domestic airport and a railway station that is well connected to all the major metropolitan cities of India. 462 km between Chennai and Madurai by road, takes approx 8 hours. The temple has successfully recorded its place in the top 30 nominees list, among the seven wonders of the modern world.
2. Shree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Trivandrum
Padmanabhaswamy Temple is one of the grandest temples in South India in terms of architectural design. It was built with an intriguing fusion of Kerala style and the Dravidian style of architecture. Built in the 16th century, the temple treasure is a collection of valuable objects. That includes gold thrones, crowns, coins, statues and ornaments, diamonds etc. Padmanabhaswamy is the tutelary deity of the royal family of the Travancore.
The main deity is Lord Vishnu, known by unique names
These are inspired by the local dialects and area influence. Here in Thiruvananthapuram, he is called Padma-nabha-Swamy, which simply means “the lord from whose navel emerges the lotus.” The lotus is symbolic to the creation and the created universe.
Vishnu as the central icon worshiped in the temple gives a sense of a supreme being who is all-pervasive in space, reclining on the coils of infinite time (Ananta). And it is from this sense of vastness and infinity, this name of the serpent-servant of Vishnu, that the city Thiruvananthapuram (sacred endless city) gets its name.
The temple is a beautiful amalgamation of the Chera and the Tamilan style of architecture, featuring high walls, and a 16th-century gopura.
Location: It is situated in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
Connectivity is good, being a major port city in the state of Kerala, Trivandrum has a direct flight, rail, and road to all parts of India.
3. Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram | Famous Temples of South India
One of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India, this 17th-century temple is most sacred for Hindus. Crafted out of beige stones, located on Rameswaram Island in Tamil Nadu, the temple has the strikingly longest corridors in its interiors running between huge colonnades on platforms above five feet high. The outer corridors are claimed to be the longest in the world.
The presiding deity, the Lingam of Ramanathaswamy (Shiva), was established and worshiped by Rama before crossing his bridge to Lanka. Rama instructed that the Vishwa lingam should be worshipped first since it was brought by Hanuman – the tradition continues even today.
Morning timings are from 4:30 am to 1 pm and in the afternoon from 3 pm to 8:30 pm.
Connectivity: The nearest airport to Rameswaram is 163 km away in Madurai. The nearest railway station is Rameshwaram having daily trains running from Chennai, Thanjavur, Trichy, and Coimbatore.
4. Brihadeshwara Temple, Thanjavur
Widely known as one of the “Great Living Chola Temples” the temple “testifies the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting, and bronze casting. Locally known as Thanjai Periya Kovil, and also called Rajarajeswaram, is one of the most visited tourist attractions of Tamilnadu showcasing the fully blossomed Tamil architecture. This temple was the brainchild of King Raja Raja Chola, it’s design was executed by Kunjara Mallan Raja Rama Perunthachan.
Also called Dakshina (Meru of the south). Built between 1003 and 1010 AD, the temple is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Highlights of the temple are the famous idol of the dancing Shiva, other stone idols, and a large sculpture of Nandi. This magnificent temple was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1987.
The main deity is Shiva in the form of a huge Linga, his abstract aniconic representation.
Located in the city of Thanjavur, about 350 kilometers (220 mi) southwest of Chennai.
Connectivity: The city is connected to other major cities by the network of Indian Railways, Tamil Nadu bus services, and the National Highways extension. The nearest airport is Tiruchirappalli International Airport which is 55 kilometers (approx. 34 minutes) away.
5. Ranganathaswamy Temple – Srirangam
Next temple in our list of famous temples of South India is Ranganathaswamy Temple. Srirangam temple is known as one of the world’s largest functioning Hindu temples. It is also one of the most significant 108 main Vishnu temples or Divya Desams in India. The resting place of Lord Vishnu includes over 80 shrines of Goddesses like Laxmi and Saraswati across the vicinity.
The Srirangam temple is heavily influenced by Dravidian architecture and is enclosed by humongous rampart walls and gopurams. This temple has been glorified in early Tamil literature scriptures as an important Divya Desam to Lord Vishnu.
The Rajagopuram which is the tallest in Asia is 237 feet above the complex base. Along with that, visitors can explore seven prakarams that portray the seven chakras that run through our physical beings. The compound area has 39 grand pavilions inside it. Millions of people from across the world come to take in the scenic beauty of the temple and the blessings of Lord Ranganatha.
Built-in traditional Dravidian architecture in the 6th Century, the Srirangam temple is the most important among the 8 self-manifested shrines of Lord Vishnu. It is also believed be Other popular names of the temple include- Thiruvaranga Tirupati, Periyakoil, Bhoologa Vaikundam, Bhogamandabam. The temple is situated on an island formed by the twin rivers Kaveri and Coleroon and spreads over 156 acres of land.
Main deity: Lord Ranganatha
Location: Srirangam, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu
Timings: 9 am to 9 pm
Connectivity: Trichy has a domestic and an international airport. The city is also well connected to major metropolitan cities in India. By road, the nearest big city is Chennai at a distance of 335 km that can be covered in approx 6 hours.
6. Virupaksha Temple, Hampi | Famous Temples of South India
Virupaksha Temple is the 7th century Shiva temple is a magnificent center of pilgrimage in Hampi, is part of a group of monuments at Hampi recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Karnataka. Virupaksha Temple is the main center of pilgrimage at Hampi and had been considered the most sacred sanctuary over the centuries.
It was established under the empire of King Deva Raya II. The very origin of Hampi’s history as a sacred place revolves around the belief system that this temple has been running smoothly ever since its inception in the 7th century AD.
If it is to be believed then it can be seen as one of the oldest functioning temples in India. Ever since it has established, the Virupaksha temple has never stopped prospering. One of the most striking features of this temple is the usage of mathematical concepts to build and decorate it.
The temple has patterns in repetitions that showcase the concept of Fractals. The main shape of the temple is triangular. Looking up from the temple top, the patterns divide and repeat themselves, giving an illusion of a snowflake or some other natural wonders.
Virupaksha Temple complex is surrounded by three gopuras (towers). It usually attracts a huge number of tourists and visitors towards the temple during December. Virupaksha Temple complex also houses shrines of Bhuvaneshwari and Vidyaranya.
The presiding deity here is Virupaksheshwara or Pampapathi. His consort Pampa is believed to be the daughter of Bhrama and associated with the Tungabhadra River.
Location: the Ballari district of Hampi, the capital of the Vijayanagara empire, is on the banks of the Tungabhadra River, Karnataka.
Connectivity: The Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation runs daily buses from Bengaluru to Hospet. Taking a local bus from Hospet to Hampi is a good option.
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6.Venkateswara Temple, Tirupati
This is one temple that has a magical power that attracts you like a magnet. People of South India swear by the name of Lord. You can feel the extent of their devotion by finding every third shop in the name of Balaji. Visiting the temple itself brings so much soul satisfaction to the devotees. I was amazed to see Tirumala city and got lost in the spiritual ambiance of the place. Sri Venkateswara Swami Temple, commonly called Tirupati Balaji Temple, is nestled in the town of Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh.
It is believed to be constructed around 300AD. This temple is built in the Dravidian architectural style, moreover is one of the richest temples in the world in terms of donations received and wealth.
There are several legends associated with the manifestation of the Lord in Tirumala. According to one legend, the temple has a murti (deity) of Venkateswara, which it is believed shall remain here for the entire duration of the present Kalyug..
Location: Situated on the 7th hill, in a seven-hill range, and hence is also known by the name- the temple of seven hills.
The main deity is Venkateswara, an incarnation of Vishnu, who has appeared in this form to save mankind from the trials and troubles of Kali Yuga.
Connectivity: The sacred temple of Lord Sri Venkateswara Swamy in Tirumala hills is easily accessible by all modes of transport. After reaching Tirupati, one can easily travel to Tirumala by road or on foot.
The nearest airport to Tirumala -near Renigunta about 15 km from Tirupati. Upgraded to an international airport, has direct flights from all metro cities.
The nearest railway station is in Tirupati, which is about 26 km from Tirumala.
7. Ayyappa Temple, Sabarimala | Famous Temples of South India
If you are planning for your south India Temple tour, you must visit this temple in your list. The Sabarimala temple dedicated to Lord Ayyappa is the most prominent of the Sastha temples of South India. With over 100 million devotees visiting the temple every year, the temple witnesses one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world.
It is situated atop the Sabarimala hill in the Western Ghats. You feel spiritually awakened the moment you enter this Hindu pilgrimage center located in Pathanamthitta, Kerala. It can be called one of the famous mandir in South India.
The temple is located in the vicinity of Periyar Tiger Reserve which adds to the lush green surroundings of the temple. Around 50 million people visit this temple.
Main deity: Lord Ayyappan
Location: Sannidhanam, Sabarimala, Kerala
Timings: 4 am to 11 pm
How to get there: There is no railway station or airport in Pathanamthitta. However being an important pilgrimage, you can get here from the nearby airports at Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. The nearest railway stations are Ernakulam, Kottayam, and Chengannur. The nearest bus stop is at Pampa from where buses ply regularly.
8. Mahabaleshwar Temple – Gokarna
Let’s talk about another famous mandir in South India. Not many people go to Karnataka’s Gokarna for spiritual causes other than relaxing at the beaches. You can in fact explore the spiritual side of the town with the Mahabaleshwar temple. It is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and very popular for classical Dravidian architecture. The temple has vast legendary stories related to the history of Gods so if you want some classic stories, visit here.
Main deity: Lord Shiva
Location: Koti Teertha Rd, Kotiteertha, Dandebagh, Gokarna, Karnataka
Timings: 6 am to 12:30 pm; 5 pm to 8 pm
Connectivity: Gokarna has good road connectivity.The nearest railhead in Ankola, just 20 km away. You can deboard at this railway station and board a bus to directly reach there.
9. Shore Temple – Mahabalipuram
Next in line is the most ancient temple in Tamil Nadu, built in the 7th century. It is the astounding seaside pilgrimage site in Mahabalipuram. The temple is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has 3 major shrines in the temple, that are dedicated to Lord Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma. The best time to visit the temple would be during the Mahabalipuram Dance Festival held on the exterior of the temple complex.
Main deity: Lord Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma
Location: Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
Timings: 6 am to 6 pm
Connectivity: Nearest railway station and airport -Chennai airport and Chennai railway station. Plenty of buses move daily between the two cities which have a rough distance of 50 km.
9. Aihole and Pattadakal | Famous Temples of South India
The group of temples located in Aihole, Pattadakaland Badami are famous for being beautifully carved rock-cut Dravidian temples. The sites are believed to be the origin of Hindu cave temple architecture under the early Eastern Chalukya Dynasty. The first of the temples were constructed between the 6th and 8th centuries CE.
Aihole is known as the cradle of Hindu rock architecture and holds the famous Durga Temple and Lad Khan Temple. Pattadakal has a mix of Nagara and Dravidian style and is home to Sangameshvara Temple, Mallikarjuna Temple, Jagannath Temple, Jain Temple, etc.
10. Guruvayoor Temple, Guruvayur, Kerala
One of the most important temples of Kerala and one of the major pilgrimage destinations of South India is the Guruvayur Sree Krishna temple, located in the town of Guruvayur. The temple is dedicated to Shri Krishna, who is worshipped as Guruvayurappan, in the state of Kerala. This temple is most revered by the Malayalis and Tamilians.
This temple is often regarded as the most important place of worship for Hindus in Kerala. They consider it as the “Holy Abode of Vishnu on Earth”.The earliest scripted records declare the temple to be almost 5000 years old.
The presiding deity of the Guruvayur Temple is Guruvayurappan (Vishnu, worshipped in the form of his avatar Baal Krishna). With slanting tiled roofs and long stretching corridors and the structure mainly constructed out of wood, the temple stands in contrast with the Dravidian temple architecture and adheres to the Kerala temple style, which is more suited to the local climate.
Location: Guruvayur Devaswom, East Nada, Guruvayur, Kerala
Timings: Morning 3 am to 1:30 pm; Evening 4:30 pm to 9 pm
Connectivity: The closest airport – Kochi International Airport merely a 90-minute drive away giving the temple a good domestic as well as international. Nearest railway station – Guruvayur, which is connected to major railway stations in south India like Ernakulam, Chennai, and Coimbatore.
11. Thanumalayan Temple, Suchindram, Kanyakumari
Constructed in the 17th century, in the Suchindram district of Kanyakumari, is another popular pilgrimage site in south India. The present temple was built in the 17th century however some older parts of it date as far back as the 6th century CE.
It is dedicated to the trinity, Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. And thus, it holds great importance among the Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects. The temple has about 30 shrines in total, also called as Sthanumalayan Perumal Temple.
12. Ekambareswarar Temple, Kanchipuram | Famous Temples of South India
Ekambareswarar Temple is the largest out of all the famous Shiva temples in south India. It is one of the ‘PanchaBhootaStalam’, that is, five Shiva temples each representing five elements of life, and stands for element earth. The temple is located in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu with the present structure being attributed to 600 AD by the Pallava rulers. But the temple still displays works from all of these dynasties that ruled Kanchipuram.
The temple complex covers 25 acres, and is one of the largest in India. It houses four gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the southern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 58.5216 metres (192 ft), making it one of the tallest temple towers in India.
The temple has 12 festivities around the year, along with six players offered to the deity every day.
Main deity: Lord Shiva
Location: Ekambaranathar Sannathi St, Periya, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu
Timings: 6 am to 11 am; 5 pm to 8 pm
How to get there: Kanchipuram is 68 km away from Chennai, making it very easily accessible for people who wish to visit the temple of worship by flight. Apart from that, Kanchipuram has it’s very own bus terminal and railway station giving it access to all the major cities of India on its account of being very close to Chennai.
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13. Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple, Palani
Considered to be one of the most important pilgrimage sites of south India, this temple was constructed in the 9th century by the Cheran king CheramanPeruman. The temple, which is also known as ArulmiguKulazhandaivellayutha Swamy Temple (Thiruavinankudi), is third of the Six Abodes of Murugan (Aarupadai veedugal). It is located in the city of Palani earlier it was known as Thiruaavinankudi(as mentioned in the old Sangam literature Thirumurugatrupadai).
The main Deity: Dhandayuthapani Swamy (Murugan) Pandaranayakan
Location: 100 kilometres (62 mi) southeast of Coimbatore and northwest of Madurai in the foothills of the Palani Hills, Tamil Nadu, India
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14. Chennakeshava Temple – Belur
Next, in our list of the famous temples of South India is Chennakeshava Temple. Built-in the 12th century by King Vishnuvardhana, Chennakeshava Temple was a prim100 kilometres (62 mi) southeast of Coimbatore and northwest of Madurai in the foothills of the Palani Hills, Tamil Nadu, Indiae attraction of Belur, an early capital of the Hoysala Empire. This is amongst the most spectacular temples in South India, attracting pilgrims from across the country.
Chennakeshava Temple also commonly called as Keshava, Kesava, or Vijayanarayana Temple of Belur. 12th-century Hindu temple commissioned by King Vishnuvardhana in 1117 CE, on the banks of the Yagachi River in Belur therefore it is also called Velapura, an early Hoysala Empire capital. The temple was built over three generations and took 103 years to finish. It was damaged multiple times and plundered during wars, repeatedly rebuilt and repaired over its history. It is 35 km from Hassan city and about 200 km from Bengaluru.
Main deity: Lord Vishnu
Location: Temple Road, Belur, Karnataka
Timings: 9 am to 5:30 pm
How to get there: The closest airport to Belur is 114 km in Mangalore which is well connected to all major cities of India. The closest railway station to Belur is 26 km away in Sakleshpur, Karnataka. By road, daily buses are running from Mangalore, Chennai, and Coimbatore.
15. Vitthala Temple, Hampi
One among the several magnificent temples within the ancient city of Vijayanagara, Vitthala temple which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is famous for its detailed carvings, and unique architectural features. The musical pillars and the large monolithic stone chariot are especially popular among visitors.
16: Airavateswara Temple, Kumbakonam
Built in the 12th century, by King Rajaraja Chola II, in the city of Darasuarmin Kumbakonam, the temple is another exhibit of beautiful Dravidian temple architecture. Another UNESCO world heritage site, this temple is abode of Lord Shiva derived its name from Airavata, the white elephant of Indra, who was a Shiva worshipper and visited the temple according to temple legends.
The Airavatesvarar temple is one among a cluster of eighteen medieval era large Hindu temples in the Kumbakonam area, Thanjavur District.
Location: Located in the town of Darasuram near Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu,
How to reach ? Airavatesvara Temple is located just 5 kms outside the city of Kumbakonam. It can be reached easily in hired taxi- cabs, autos or state-run buses. Alternatively, you can drive down to the spot.
So, this was all about the famous temples of South India. If you love to explore the real heritage of India, then you must plan a visit to these architectural masterpieces. Stay tuned to SoulnspiritBlog.