10 Ancient Temples In India That Every Indian Must Visit

Article of the Month - Nov 2022

This article by Tanvi Mehta

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India is known as Bharat Bhoomi. It is the land of Vedic civilization that stands out for its rich tradition and culture. The consciousness of most Indians is filled with piety and genuine love for God. People with different faiths and religions such as Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc, live together in peace and harmony.  The majority of Indians follow the principles of Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma. It is believed that Sanatan Dharma is not just a religion based on a particular faith but is a scientific way of living life that teaches us how to love the Godhead. Temple is an important place for Hindus where they congregate and glorify the Lordship. There are lakhs of temples in India, some of which still stand erect for many centuries. The ancient temples are especially known and revered for their Svayambhu (self-manifested) deities and excellent architecture that attract many tourists throughout the year.

Let us explore ten unique ancient temples that every Indian must visit to have a blissful experience:

1. Jagannath Puri Temple - Odisha

Dedicated to Lord Jagannath, a form of Lord Vishnu or Krishna, this temple is located in the Puri city of Odisha state and is one of the four main pilgrimage sites (Char Dham). It is considered the place of Goddess Lakshmi, the eternal consort of Lord Vishnu, therefore, it is also known as “Shree Mandir”. The three principal Deities of Lord Jagannath, His brother Baladeva, and His sister Subhadra installed in the sanctum are carved from sacred Neem wood logs known as “Daru”. They are adorned with different ornaments and dresses daily. Situated on the shore of the Bay of Bengal, the temple sees lakhs of pilgrims coming from all over the world to pay their humble obeisance at the Lotus feet of the Lord. Lord Jagannath is the Lord of the Universe and once every year, He along with His siblings, comes out to the streets to give His mercy and blessings to His devotees irrespective of their caste, creed, and religion. Three chariots made out of wood are carved for all three Deities and are pulled through strong ropes by thousands and lakhs of devotees. This Chariot festival is known as Rath Yatra and is well-known throughout the world.


Subham9423, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The present temple structure dates back to the 12th century, though the mysticism associated with Lord Jagannath’s activities and pastimes in this temple completely overshadow the brilliant architecture. There are several unexplained mysteries of this magnificent temple that contradict the laws of modern science. The 200 feet tall building of the temple does not make any shadow on the floor at any time of the day. The flag on the top always flows in the opposite direction to the natural flow of wind. On the top of the Shikhar of the temple is positioned the Sudarshan Chakra made of eight metals or Ashta dhatu and it is believed that the mere sight of the Chakra is as potent as seeing the Lord Himself inside the temple. There is a special deity of the Lord known as Patita Pavana Jagannath facing the main entrance (Singha dwar) to the temple. Even though the temple authorities restrict the entrance of the non-Hindus inside the temple, those who have dedicated their lives to Lord Jagannath, especially foreign devotees, take the divine Darshans of the Neelachakra and Patita Pavan Jagannath from a far distance with tears of joy in their eyes, and when the Lord Himself decides to come out of the temple during Ratha Yatra, they participate and dance in ecstasy in front of the Lordships.

2. Radha Raman Temple - Vrindavan

Vrindavan is the land of Krishna (Krishna Bhoomi) and has many important temples and places where He performed His sweet pastimes with His loving devotees in Dwaparyug. Vrindavan Dham may externally appear as an ordinary town but the potency that it holds cannot be perceived through our material eyes, it can only be experienced by hearing and reading the scriptural texts that glorify this land of Vraj. Radha Raman temple is one of the 7 main ancient temples of Vrindavan where thousands of devotees from all over the world visit to take the divine blessings of Lord Krishna.

Radha Raman Temple in Vrindavan, Image from Facebook

The temple houses a very beautiful self-manifested deity of Radha Raman; Krishna in His attractive three-fold bending form which gives pleasure to Srimati Radharani. This historic temple was established over 500 years ago by Gopal Bhatta Goswami, coming in the line of Gaudiya Vaishnav Parampara. He is revered as one of the six Goswamis who followed the teachings and principles of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The deity manifested from a Saligram Sila that was worshiped by Gopal Bhatta Goswami with intense love and devotion. His other Saligram Silas are also worshiped in the temple. Radha Raman has mystic eyes and a brilliant smile on His face. He is elaborately decorated with new shining ornaments, beautiful flower garlands, and dresses daily. His magnificent form steals everyone’s heart away. One who develops attachment for His transcendental form achieves the highest form of bliss and the external features of this world no longer attract him. Every year, on the full-moon day in the month of Vaishakha (April/May), the deity is bathed with milk, honey, rose water, and several other items. This day commemorates the installation of the deity in the temple in the year 1542. The Samadhi of Gopal Bhatta Goswami is located near the appearance place of Radha Raman in the temple. The devotees offer their obeisance to his Samadhi and pray to receive his mercy to advance in their spiritual journey.

3. Vitthala Temple – Hampi

Vitthala or Shri Vijaya Vitthala Temple in Hampi, Karnataka, is well-known for its extraordinary architecture that dates back to the 15th century and was built during the rule of the Vijayanagara Empire. Located near the banks of the Tungabhadra River, it is a major attraction for many tourists from across the globe. This temple is regarded as the largest and the most visited ancient temple in Hampi. The artisans and sculptors of the Vijayanagara Era built the complex structure of the temple that features the Dravidian style of architecture which is splendid and gratifying to the eyes.

 

Vitthala Temple in Hampi, Image from Facebook

The temple is at present, in a partially ruined state. Earlier, the deity of Lord Vitthala, a form of Shri Krishna, was enshrined in the sanctum. However, now it is devoid of any deity. The highlights of this temple are the Stone Chariot inside the campus and the astounding pillars supporting the ceiling of the temple. As you enter through the eastern entrance tower, the first thing that draws your attention is a big structure made of stone. This is the Stone Chariot. There is an elevated shrine on the chariot made with giant granite blocks that once contained the deity of Garuda, the Vaahan or mount of Lord Vishnu, inside it. The shrine faces the sanctum of the massive Vitthala Temple and is carved with intriguing motifs. As you enter the Temple, you reach the main hall which is known as Maha Mantapa. Its ceiling is richly designed and is supported by intricately sculpted pillars that add to the beauty of the temple. There is a set of sixteen pillars in the center of the Maha Mantapa that forms a rectangular court. These ornate pillars feature beautiful sculptures of Narasimhadev and Yali.

Vitthala Temple is especially renowned for its 56 musical pillars that provide support to the Ranga Mantapa (another hall). These pillars are known as SAREGAMA pillars indicating that they emit different musical notes when tapped gently. The artisans expressed their artistry for the glorification of the Lord. Modern scientists are still investigating the logic behind musical notes emanating from stone pillars. This seems no more than a miracle. The craftsmanship and exceptional artistry of this majestic temple are indeed unmatched.

4. Brihadisvara Temple – Thanjavur

Located on the bank of the Kaveri River in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, the Brihadisvara Temple is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built under the rule of the Chola Emperor Rajaraja I between 1003 and 1010 CE. The presiding deity of this temple is Lord Shiva in the form of a huge linga. The word Brihadishvara is composed of two Sanskrit words “Brihat'' meaning great and “Ishvara'' meaning Lord. Thus, the name stands for “great lord”.

Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur. Image from Instagram

Though the temple was damaged in its history and some of its artwork is now missing, it still stands out among all the ancient temples of India. The Vimana tower of the temple is built with a single block of granite weighing 80 tonnes and is one of the tallest in India. The architecture of the temple is similar to the Chola style. It has a massive corridor and one of the largest Shiva Lingas in India, which occupies two storeys of the sanctum. The ornate Gopuram or the main entrance gate of the temple, around 30 meters high, overshadows even the main shrine. There are many small shrines around the main temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. These are dedicated to his consort Parvati Devi, his sons Murugan (Kartikeya) and Ganesha, Chandeshvara, and Nataraja. There is a Nandi Mandapam which has a deity of Nandi Bull (the mount of Lord Shiva), weighing about 25 tonnes, facing the sanctum of the main temple. The temple walls have numerous inscriptions in Tamil and Grantha scripts. The lighting of the temple is designed to enhance the natural color of the stone adorning all of the corners.

5. Jakhu Temple – Shimla

Located amidst the vibrant beauty of Himachal Pradesh; its lofty mountains, snow-capped Himalayas, and tall Deodar trees, Jakhu or Jakhoo Temple in Shimla is a must-visit for every Indian. It is an ancient temple dedicated to Pavan Putra Hanuman. It is associated with the story of the battle course of Ramayan.

Jhaku Temple in Shimla. Image from Facebook


During the battle, Lord Ram’s younger brother Lakshman Ji got injured by an arrow, due to which, He fell unconscious on the ground. He couldn’t be revived despite several efforts. A renowned priest told Lord Ram that only a particular Sanjeevani herb could bring Him back to consciousness and that it is found in the Himalayas and nowhere else. Lord Ram gave the service of getting Sanjeevani Booti to Hanuman Ji, which he accepted with humility. While going toward the Himalayas, he met a sage named Yaku on the hilltop. He sat there and asked everything about the herb. The mountain on which he sat could not bear the weight of Hanuman Ji, after which, he promised sage Yaku to meet him on his way back to Lanka. However, when returning from the Himalayas, he had to fight with a demon named “Kalnemi” which consumed a lot of his time. He had to return to Lanka as early as possible so he decided not to meet the sage and headed back to Lanka. The sage was disappointed by Hanuman Ji for breaking his promise. It is believed that when Lord Hanuman left the hilltop, a self-manifested deity of Lord Hanuman appeared there for the pleasure of sage Yaku who built this temple sage in the honor of Lord Hanuman. The footprints of the Lord can also be seen in the temple. This temple is located on Jakhu Hill, Shimla’s highest peak at a height of around 8000 feet above sea level. Presently, a 108 feet tall idol of Lord Hanuman stands in this temple. It was unveiled on 4th November 2010. Looking at it, you can feel the transcendental power of the dearest devotee of Lord Ram. To reach the temple, devotees walk up the trail, mesmerized by the green beauty of Shimla.

6. Varaha Temple – Khajuraho

The Varaha Temple at Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, enshrines a beautiful deity of Varaha Dev. Lord Vishnu appeared as Varaha Dev to save the planet Earth and defeat a demon named Hiranyaksha. The greedy demon flaunted his uncommon bodily features and caused the earth to spin out of orbit. As a result, it fell into the cosmic ocean. At this time, Lord Vishnu appeared in the form of a boar (Lord Varaha). He started searching for the earth by smell.  He dived into the ocean, split it, and saw the earth. Then He lifted it on His tusks and restored it to its place in the universe. Thereupon, He killed Hiranyaksha in the water, as a lion kills an elephant. Thus, the Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared in the form of a boar and maintained all the living entities residing on the planet Earth.

 

Varaha Temple in Khajuraho. Image from Facebook

The Varaha Temple is one of the oldest temples in Khajuraho that dates back to the 9th century. The structure of the main shrine is made entirely of sandstone and is supported by 14 plain pillars. Some beautiful motifs and patterns can be seen carved out perfectly on the external walls of the temple. There is a lotus flower carved beautifully on the ceiling of the temple. The Lotus flower is held by one of the four arms of Lord Vishnu. The deity of Varaha Dev inside the temple is also made of sandstone and is extremely large in size. Numerous figures can be seen on the entire body of Varaha Dev.

7. Brahma Temple – Pushkar

This is the most prominent temple which is dedicated to the creator of this world, Lord Brahma. It is situated near a sacred lake known as Pushkar lake or Brahma Sarovar, in the Pushkar city of Rajasthan state. The temple is visited after taking a sacred bath in this lake. Pushkar is often described in the Vedic scriptures as the only Brahma temple in the world. Annoyed by the attack of demons on his sons, Brahma Ji once decided to perform a Yajna (fire sacrifice) in the middle of the Sarovar. The sacrifice was supposed to be performed along with his consort, Savitri (Saraswati) Devi. Unfortunately, she could not be present at the designated time. Brahma Ji married Gayatri Devi and completed the Yajna sitting beside her. When Goddess Savitri arrived there, she got furious to see her Lord performing the sacrifice with his new wife. As a result, she cursed Lord Brahma that he would never be worshiped, but reduced the curse to be only worshiped in the land of Pushkar.

Brahma Temple in Pushkar, Image from Facebook

The current temple structure dates to the 14th century and is made of marble and stone slabs. The main entrance of the temple is approached through several steps. The top of the temple (Shikhara) is about 70 feet in height. You will find a Hamsa (swan or goose) motif as you enter through the main gate. Hamsa is the mount of Lord Brahma. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple contains the deity of Lord Brahma having four heads in a seated position. Goddess Gayatri sits to the left of Brahma Ji. The four arms of the Lord hold the rosary, the Pustaka (book; represents the Vedas), the Kusha grass, and the kamandalu (water pot). This deity was enshrined by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century inside the temple. Once a year, on the full-moon day of Kartik month (Kartik Poornima), thousands of pilgrims visit the temple and take bath in the holy Pushkar Sarovar, adjacent to the temple.

8. Sri Narasimhaswamy Temple – Ahobilam

This temple is one of the most famous temples in South India. Ahobilam town is located in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh state. This is the place where all the nine forms of Lord Narasimha, a form of Lord Vishnu, are worshiped; Ahobila Narasimha, Krodha Narasimha, Mallola Narasimha, Jwala Narasimha, Kshatravata Narasimha, Bhargava Narasimha, Karanja Narasimha, Yogananda Narasimha, and Pavana Narasimha. It is surrounded by several hills and has two temple houses – Lower Ahobilam (on the ground) and Upper Ahobilam (on the hills). This place is mentioned in various Puranas and this is where Narasimha Dev killed the demon Hiranyakashipu to save His five-year-old devotee Prahlad from the ghastly attacks of his demonic father.

Sri Narasimhaswamy Temple in Ahobilam, Image from Facebook

All nine temples dedicated to different forms of Narasimha Dev have exquisite stone art in the South Indian style. The walls of the temple feature beautiful sculptures of Lions, Jay-Vijay (doorkeepers of the abode of Lord Vishnu), Garuda Dev (the mount of Lord Vishnu), and Lord Narasimha. More than the attraction of the temple structure, devotees are attracted to the Deities of Narasimha Swamy. Externally His form may appear fierce, but behind that fierce face, He has an enormous amount of love for His devotees who are always surrendered unto His lotus feet. He does not like to see His devotees in danger. One who has taken the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord is always fearless. The stone pillar form where the Lord appeared in half-human and half-lion form to kill Hiranyakashipu is still present there. The name of this pillar is “Ugra Sthamba”. Many devotees from all over the world come here to take the blessings of Narasimhadev and pray for His causeless mercy upon them.

9. Guruvayur Temple – Kerala

In the Guruvayur Temple, the worship of Guruvayurappan, a form of Lord Krishna, takes place. This temple is located in the town of Guruvayur, in the state of Kerala, and is one of the most visited temples in South India. One interesting fact about this temple is that it is often referred to as Bhuloka Vaikuntha, meaning, the Abode of Lord Vishnu or Krishna on Earth. Many people visit here to experience the transcendental bliss of taking the darshans of Lord Krishna Himself. There are many stories associated with this temple. It is said that Lord Parashuram, an incarnation of Lord Krishna, commanded Guru (Brihaspati) and Vayu (God of Wind) to install the deity of Guruvayurappan here.

Guruvayur Temple in Kerala, Image from Facebook

The deity of Guruvayurappan inside the temple is worshiped as the form of Lord Krishna in His four-handed form; the way He appeared before His parents Vasudev and Devaki at the time of His birth. Guruvayurappan stands majestically carrying the Conchshell Panchajanya, the discus Sudarshan, the mace Kaumodaki, and the Lotus flower along with a garland of Tulsi in His four arms. The temple’s sub-deities are Ganapati, Ayyappan, and Bhagavati. There is a small pond or tank on the northern side of the temple. It is called “Rudrateertham”. It is believed that Lord Shiva took bath in this pond for thousands of years. Another name of Lord Shiva is Rudra, this is how the name of the pond came to be known as Rudrateertham. It is also said that Parikshit Maharaj, the grandson of Arjun, bathed in this pond and worshiped Guruvayurappan to get cured of the Leprosy disease. Strict worship procedure is followed in the temple according to the routine laid down by Adi Shankaracharya. Only Hindus are allowed to enter the temple. Strict dress codes have also been set for the visiting devotees by the temple authorities; men are to wear mundu around their waist without any dress covering their chest, and women are to wear a saree.

10. Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple – Srirangam

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is located in Srirangam, an island situated in Tiruchirapalli city of the Tamil Nadu state. The island is bounded by the Kaveri River on one side and its distributary Kollidam on the other side. The Sriranganatha Temple is the religious center of the Sri Vaishnav Sampradaya propagated by Ramanujacharya. It was looted and destroyed by the Mughals in the early 14th century but was rebuilt in the late 14th century, and soon became the hub of the Bhakti Movement.

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, Image from Facebook

The sanctum of the temple hosts a grand deity of Sri Ranganathaswamy. It is a form of Lord Vishnu reclining on the coils of Anantashesha or Sheshanag having multiple hoods giving protection to the Lord. His head rests on a small cylindrical pillow and His right-hand rests next to His head. According to Srimad Bhagavatam, millions and millions of universes are created through the pores of the transcendental body of Maha Vishnu. He rests on the ocean of milk and maintains the material Universe. The temple occupies an area of 155 acres with 81 shrines, 21 towers, and 39 pavilions making it the largest temple compound in India. It is constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture similar to most of the temples of South India. The walls of the Temple complex are decorated with beautiful paintings using natural dyes that depict ancient culture and tradition. It is a temple of immense significance for the acharyas and saints of all four Vaishnav Sampradayas.

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