The Indus Valley Civilization was one of the oldest in the world, and it was spread across the Indian subcontinent. Since then, worship and faith has played an important role in the lives of Indians. So has architecture, which was and still is a symbol of our belief in a supreme being. Over several centuries, many civilizations have been erased from the face of the earth and new ones have sprung up in their place. With each revolutionary change, art and architecture too has seen paradigm shifts. What is most extraordinary about India is the fact that with new rulers, the nation has readily embraced and incorporated the artistic styles of each dynasty. This is most evident in Indian temples that are so important for any believer. Elaborate design, imposing structures, intricate carvings, resplendent colors and luxurious materials—these temples have it all. Mark Twain once rightly said, “India has two million gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.” Let us take a look at thirteen such beautiful temples that have millions of stories to tell, and can transport us back in time.
1. Hoysaleswara temple, Halebidu, Karnataka
This temple in Halebidu was constructed in the 12th century by King Vishnuvardhana in honor of Lord Shiva. Intricate carvings on each and every wall, most of them of Shiva and Ganesha, define this temple’s beauty. Though it was ransacked in the 14th century, this awe-inspiring shrine still retains its beauty and old world charm.
2. Dilwara Temples, Mount Abu, Rajasthan
The five temples that make up this exotic creation are dedicated to the Jain Tirthankaras Rishabha, Neminatha, Parshvanatha, and Mahavira. Designed by Vastupal-Tejpal, the Dilwara Temples are known for their splendidly sculpted marble pillars and ceilings. Though opulent, the temples shine in their marked simplicity.
3. Pancha Ratna Temple, Bankura, West Bengal
Bishnupur, in the Bankura district of West Bengal is known for its terracotta temples that exude architectural magnificence. One such example is the Pancha Ratna Temple, which was commissioned by King Raghunath Singha in the year 1643. What makes this temple stand out amongst the multitude of religious shrines is its construction, which includes luxuriously carved walls delineating the tale of Lord Krishna.
4. Vittala Temple, Hampi, Karnataka
Hampi is one of the most frequented heritage sites in Karnataka. Amongst the group of temples housed in Hampi, the Vittala Temple sees the largest number of visitors each day. It is quite popular owing to its acoustically brilliant pillars. Mysteriously enough, though these pillars are hollow, they are capable of producing musical notes.
5. Brihadeshwara Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu itself is renowned for its unique temples, but Thanjavur tops the list with some of the most exquisitely engraved shrines. The construction of the Peruvudaiyar Kovil, more commonly known as the Brihadeshwara Temple, dates back to the 11th century. It was built during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I, who was a worshipper of Lord Shiva. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famed for being the largest temple in the country. What is surprising is that this granite structure never casts a shadow at any part of the day.
6. Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil
Madurai is another holy city famous for its plethora of breathtaking constructions. The Meenakshi Temple is one such example of the adroitness displayed by its craftsmen. This resplendent shrine, dedicated to Parvati and Lord Shiva, houses 985 pillars, each of which has unique engravings. Not only has it been constructed with finesse, it also employs the use of a variety of rich colors, and was nominated for the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’.
7. Lingaraj Temple, Bhubaneswar, Orissa
Orissa is often referred to as the ‘Temple City of India’, but the Sun Temple in Konark isn’t the only one to have awed people over centuries. The Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar is even more typical of the art and architecture during the rule of Kalinga dynasty. This place of worship is different from the rest because though usually Lingaraj refers to Lord Shiva, here it symbolizes even Lord Vishnu. Both deities together are known as Harihara. The only setback is that non-believers of Hinduism are prohibited from entering the premises, so they would have to settle for a view from outside.
8. Varadaraja Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu features here once again, this time because of the Varadaraja Perumal Temple located in the town of Kanchipuram. This town is called ‘The City of Thousand Temples’ and is known for being one of those seven places in the nation where one has the possibility of attaining Moksha. This house of prayer is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and along with Ekambareswarar Temple and the Kamakshi Amman Temple, is referred to as Mumurtivasam.
9. Khajuraho Temples, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
The Khajuraho Temples in Madhya Pradesh are collectively an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temples are dedicated to Hindu deities as well as Jain tirthankaras. Though these temples are renowned for their erotic engravings, most of them appear on the exterior of the temple. The places of worship themselves are more subtle in their depictions, though they are still considered spectacular by visitors. One of the largest of the 20 shrines, out of an original number of 75, is the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, which is typical example of construction with sandstone.
10. Unakoti, Tripura
This Shaivite place of worship has been cut out of rocks present on the Unakoti Hill in Tripura, and the end result is nothing short of brilliance. This temple has two kinds of sculptures, the ones that have been carved on rocks and those that have been etched on stones. What comes across as striking are the figures of Ganesha and Shiva.
11. Badami Cave Temple, Bagalkot District, Karnataka
The Badami Cave Temples are the finest specimens of Badami Chalukya architecture. Made of soft sandstone, four caves have been carved, with the first three being dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, and the last being a Jaina construction. All the temples incorporate Dravidian and Nagara elements of architecture.
12. Sun Temple, Modhera, Gujarat
Though the Sun Temple at Konark is quite well-known, it is the one at Modhera that clinches the deal when it comes to the dexterity with which it has been designed and built. This shrine was constructed by the Solanki king, Bhimdev, in the early 11th century in praise of Surya, the Sun-God.
13. 108 Shiva Temples, Kalna, West Bengal
Kalna is rightly famous as the ‘Temple Town’, since it has several beautiful terracotta temples. However, the most impressive amongst all of them is the 108 Shiva Temple Complexes. Its construction was requested by Maharaja Teja Chandra Bahadur in early 1800s. This complex has 108 shrines, illustrating scenes from the two Indian epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana. These 108 structures have been built in honor of Lord Shiva, as two circles, one inside the other.