The temples of South India have a highly distinctive architecture unique from those found in the rest of the country. The soaring gopurams of South India tower over communities and landscape, sometimes covering entire city quadrants.
The impressive architecture has seen less influence from outside culture than sister temples in the north, as have the lifestyle and customs of the people. Temples of the south have a character all their own, with deity-covered towers in rainbow colours swooping up towards the skies.
Tamil Nadu: The Shore Temple
The Shore Temple at Mamallapuram is a grand temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, dating back to the time of the Pallava Empire. This empire dominated India’s southeast for around seven hundred years, before finally being vanquished by the Cauvery Delta’s Chola dynasty. Pallava sculpture can be seen all over the Mamallapuram area, but it is at the Shore Temple that some of the origins of this distinctive architecture style can be best seen.
The temple was one of the earliest examples in India of construction work completed by masons, rather than carved into the pre-existing bedrock as had been traditional. A heightened sense of mystery comes from the impressionistic nature of some of the carvings today, having been subjected to more than 1,300 years of erosion and sea spray.
Also in Tamil Nadu is the Meenakshi Amman Temple, one of the largest of the Dravidian temples in South India. More information about this structure can be found in the infographic attachment to this post.
Sravanabelagola in Karnataka is a Jainism temple constructed around the largest monolithic statue in the world. The temple complex surrounds the giant 17.5-metre depiction of the son of the first guru of the Jain philosophy, Gomateshvara. Access to the temple is only possible though completing a gruelling trek over 615 precarious steps cut into the rock. However, once arrived at the temple complex offers not only opportunities for religious contemplation but also spectacular views across a vast landscape of palm trees, temple tanks and rocky outcrops. The Mastakabhisheka festival takes place every 12 years here, where the statue is bathed in a cascade of precious stones, coins, sandalwood paste, tikka powder, curds, butter and milk.
Andhra Pradesh: Venkateshwara Temple
Venkateshwara Temple in Andhra Pradesh sees an astonishing 40 million pilgrims visiting each year to make offerings to Sri Venkateshwara. This number is even more impressive when taking into account that pilgrims can only access the temple by braving a 15-kilometre walking trail followed by a 3,500-step ascent in tropical heat.
A maze of metal cages located at the summit see pilgrims queuing for many hours at peak times just to capture a glimpse of the gold-roofed shrine containing the venerated idol. Despite the difficulties with accessing the site, this is the most-visited temple in the entire world. There are occasional shuttle buses for the walking part of the trek for those that may struggle.
The Taj Mahal is quite rightly one of India’s most famous monuments, and you can read more about this extraordinary building in the embedded PDF.
However, anyone visiting India under the impression that the Taj Mahal is the only spectacular building to be seen is mistaken. Michael Kern has travelled throughout much of India and the surrounding area, with a particular interest in the Himalayan regions.
In the short video attachment, you will find some information about the best ways to access South India to begin a tour of these and many more spectacular temples.