Great Temples of Tamil Nadu

By some estimates Tamil Nadu has about 33,000 ancient temples, many of them over 600 to 800 years old. A majority of the great temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and his fierce aspect of Bhairava, closely followed by temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu. There are also a number of temples dedicated to Lord Murugan and Lord Hanuman, besides a number of Amman temples. Yahoo! reader CHANDRASEKARAN A (Flickr) shares this wonderful collection of photographs.

Chidambaram Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Chidambaram is one of the five Pancha Bootha Sthalas, each representing one of the five natural elements. Chidambaram represents akasha (ether). The other four temples in this category are Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara (water) in Trichy, Kanchi Ekambareswara (earth) in Kanchipuram, Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara (fire) in Thiruvannamalai and Kalahasti Nathar (wind) in Kalahasti. The tandava represented in Chidambaram is Ananda tandava, the cosmic dance of Lord Nataraja (Shiva). Another important aspect in Chidambaram is of the Five Sabhas. Chidambaram represents Por Sabai or Ponnambalam. The other Sabhas are at Thiruvalangadu (Rathina Sabai - ruby), Madurai (Velliambalam - silver), Tirunelveli (Thamira Sabai - copper), Kutralam (Chitra Sabai - painting). All the main Saivite Nayanars -- namely Thirugnana Sambandhar, Appar, Sundarar and Manicka Vasakar -- visited this holy shrine and it is said that they entered this temple from all the four cardinal directions, i.e. through the South, West, North and East Gopurams, denoting the four different margas or pathways. The gold-plated gopuram is the one of the main attractions of this temple. Chidambaram is supposed to be the oldest of Saivite temples and all Thirumurai concerts conclude with the words "Thiruchitrambalam".
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Chidambaram Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Chidambaram is one of the five Pancha Bootha Sthalas, each representing one of the five natural elements. Chidambaram represents akasha (ether). The other four temples in this category are Thiruvanaikaval Jambukeswara (water) in Trichy, Kanchi Ekambareswara (earth) in Kanchipuram, Thiruvannamalai Arunachaleswara (fire) in Thiruvannamalai and Kalahasti Nathar (wind) in Kalahasti. The tandava represented in Chidambaram is Ananda tandava, the cosmic dance of Lord Nataraja (Shiva). Another important aspect in Chidambaram is of the Five Sabhas. Chidambaram represents Por Sabai or Ponnambalam. The other Sabhas are at Thiruvalangadu (Rathina Sabai - ruby), Madurai (Velliambalam - silver), Tirunelveli (Thamira Sabai - copper), Kutralam (Chitra Sabai - painting). All the main Saivite Nayanars -- namely Thirugnana Sambandhar, Appar, Sundarar and Manicka Vasakar -- visited this holy shrine and it is said that they entered this temple from all the four cardinal directions, i.e. through the South, West, North and East Gopurams, denoting the four different margas or pathways. The gold-plated gopuram is the one of the main attractions of this temple. Chidambaram is supposed to be the oldest of Saivite temples and all Thirumurai concerts conclude with the words "Thiruchitrambalam".
Sri Ekambaranathar temple, a very ancient and sacred temple of worship, is also considered a big treasure of art and architecture, attracting a large number of pilgrims from over the world. The four reputed Tamil Saivite saints Thirugnana Sambandhar, Appar, Sundarar and Manikkavasagar, also known as the four divine saint-singers or Naalvar, have sung in praise of the glory of Lord Sri Ekambaranathar. This one of 275 paadal petra sthalams or Thirumurai temples. Ekambaranathar temple is also one of the Pancha (five) Bhootha Sthalams, and it represents Earth. The raja gopuram, measuring 59 metres, is one of the tallest in south India. The Ayiram kaal mandapam, a hall of a thousand pillars, is a special feature of the temple.
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Sri Ekambaranathar temple, a very ancient and sacred temple of worship, is also considered a big treasure of art and architecture, attracting a large number of pilgrims from over the world. The four reputed Tamil Saivite saints Thirugnana Sambandhar, Appar, Sundarar and Manikkavasagar, also known as the four divine saint-singers or Naalvar, have sung in praise of the glory of Lord Sri Ekambaranathar. This one of 275 paadal petra sthalams or Thirumurai temples. Ekambaranathar temple is also one of the Pancha (five) Bhootha Sthalams, and it represents Earth. The raja gopuram, measuring 59 metres, is one of the tallest in south India. The Ayiram kaal mandapam, a hall of a thousand pillars, is a special feature of the temple.
Arubathu Moovar Festival at Kapaleeswarar Temple, Chennai. <br>Situated in the heart of city of Chennai, Kapaleeswarar Temple is one of the 276 Paadal Petra Sthalams (temples that are revered in the verses of Saiva Nayanars of the 6th-9th century and considered the greatest Shiva temples of the continent) of Thirumurai. This glorious temple is closely associated with the child-saint Sambandar, one of the 63 Nayanars, who is believed to have performed a miracle by bringing back to life Angam Poompavai, daughter of a merchant Sivanesa Chettiar, who had died of snakebite. The presiding deities are Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal.<br><br>Arupathu Moovar festival, a part of Panguni Uthiram, is celebrated to honour the Saivite devotees, namely the sixty-three Nayanars. The procession takes the Nayanars in a palanquin decorated with ornaments and flowers. Appar, Sundarar, Thirugnana Sambandar are carried in a separate palanquin. Idols of Kapaleeshwarar and Karpagambal and other deities are decorated with fragrant flowers and are taken in procession.
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Arubathu Moovar Festival at Kapaleeswarar Temple, Chennai.
Situated in the heart of city of Chennai, Kapaleeswarar Temple is one of the 276 Paadal Petra Sthalams (temples that are revered in the verses of Saiva Nayanars of the 6th-9th century and considered the greatest Shiva temples of the continent) of Thirumurai. This glorious temple is closely associated with the child-saint Sambandar, one of the 63 Nayanars, who is believed to have performed a miracle by bringing back to life Angam Poompavai, daughter of a merchant Sivanesa Chettiar, who had died of snakebite. The presiding deities are Kapaleeswarar and Karpagambal.

Arupathu Moovar festival, a part of Panguni Uthiram, is celebrated to honour the Saivite devotees, namely the sixty-three Nayanars. The procession takes the Nayanars in a palanquin decorated with ornaments and flowers. Appar, Sundarar, Thirugnana Sambandar are carried in a separate palanquin. Idols of Kapaleeshwarar and Karpagambal and other deities are decorated with fragrant flowers and are taken in procession.
Detail of a carving at Darasuram Temple. The temple of Airavateswara in Darasuram is an architectural wonder. It was built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century. This one of four great temples built by the Chola dynasty. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and it is a storehouse of artwork. The main Mandapam is in the form of a chariot drawn by horses. The pillars of the mandapam are beautifully decorated with exquisite carvings. Well maintained by the Archaelogical Society of India and protected by UNESCO as world heritage site, the Darasuram temple is 3 km from Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu.
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Detail of a carving at Darasuram Temple. The temple of Airavateswara in Darasuram is an architectural wonder. It was built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12th century. This one of four great temples built by the Chola dynasty. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and it is a storehouse of artwork. The main Mandapam is in the form of a chariot drawn by horses. The pillars of the mandapam are beautifully decorated with exquisite carvings. Well maintained by the Archaelogical Society of India and protected by UNESCO as world heritage site, the Darasuram temple is 3 km from Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu.
Main mandapam at Darasuram Temple near Kumbakonam.
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Main mandapam at Darasuram Temple near Kumbakonam.
Anugraha Sandeswaramoorthi at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. This is the sculpture of Anugraha Sandeswara Moorthi (Lord Shiva) at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, a masterpece of Chola architectural splendour. It was built by Rajendra Chola, son of the great Rajaraja, from 1012-44. It is a replica of the Big Temple at Thanjavur but with still greater detail and perfection. This was the capital of the Cholas during the reign of Rajendra Chola. Visitors should not miss this beautiful sculpture near the north entrance, depicting Shiva and Parvathi garlanding the saint Sandeswara.
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Anugraha Sandeswaramoorthi at Gangaikonda Cholapuram. This is the sculpture of Anugraha Sandeswara Moorthi (Lord Shiva) at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, a masterpece of Chola architectural splendour. It was built by Rajendra Chola, son of the great Rajaraja, from 1012-44. It is a replica of the Big Temple at Thanjavur but with still greater detail and perfection. This was the capital of the Cholas during the reign of Rajendra Chola. Visitors should not miss this beautiful sculpture near the north entrance, depicting Shiva and Parvathi garlanding the saint Sandeswara.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram - a general view. The majestic and well maintained UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
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Gangaikonda Cholapuram - a general view. The majestic and well maintained UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
Gangai Konda Cholapuram, Kala samharamoorthi. Kalanthakar or Kala samharar -- the aspect of Shiva depicted as slaying the god of death -- is one of the Astanga Moorthams (64 forms) of Lord Siva. This beautiful artwork finds pride of place in one of the niches of Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple.
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Gangai Konda Cholapuram, Kala samharamoorthi. Kalanthakar or Kala samharar -- the aspect of Shiva depicted as slaying the god of death -- is one of the Astanga Moorthams (64 forms) of Lord Siva. This beautiful artwork finds pride of place in one of the niches of Gangai Konda Cholapuram temple.
Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Adalvallan. The sculpture of Adalvallan (Lord Nataraja) dancing along with Kali and Bhringimuni attended by ganas and Karaikkal Ammaiyar playing cymbals, is one of the masterpieces of Chola architectural excellence.
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Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Adalvallan. The sculpture of Adalvallan (Lord Nataraja) dancing along with Kali and Bhringimuni attended by ganas and Karaikkal Ammaiyar playing cymbals, is one of the masterpieces of Chola architectural excellence.
Nataraja at Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram. Dancing Shiva as Nataraja at Kailasanathar Temple, one of the earliest and most remarkable temples of the Pallava dynasty. It was built in the 7th century by the Pallava king Rajasimha. This temple is an excellent example of early Dravidian architecture.
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Nataraja at Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram. Dancing Shiva as Nataraja at Kailasanathar Temple, one of the earliest and most remarkable temples of the Pallava dynasty. It was built in the 7th century by the Pallava king Rajasimha. This temple is an excellent example of early Dravidian architecture.
Restored artwork at Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram. Kailasanathar Temple at Kanchipuram, one of the significant contributions of the Pallava dynasty, has various wonderful postures of Lord Nataraja. It was built in sandstone by the Pallava King Rajasimha in the 8th century. This temple is protected and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is said that Kailasanathar Temple was a great inspiration for Rajaraja Chola to build the Big Temple at Thanjavur.
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Restored artwork at Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram. Kailasanathar Temple at Kanchipuram, one of the significant contributions of the Pallava dynasty, has various wonderful postures of Lord Nataraja. It was built in sandstone by the Pallava King Rajasimha in the 8th century. This temple is protected and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is said that Kailasanathar Temple was a great inspiration for Rajaraja Chola to build the Big Temple at Thanjavur.
Dakshinamoorthy at Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram is an aspect of Lord Shiva that depicts him as the great teacher of yoga, music and the wisdom of the shastras.
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Dakshinamoorthy at Kailasanathar Temple, Kanchipuram is an aspect of Lord Shiva that depicts him as the great teacher of yoga, music and the wisdom of the shastras.
A general view of Kailasanathar temple.
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A general view of Kailasanathar temple.
Brahmotsavam at Parthasarathi Temple, Chennai. The Parthasarathi Temple is an 8th century Hindu Vaishnavite temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, located at Triplicane, Chennai. It is one among the 108 divyadesams or holy abodes of Lord Vishnu. The name 'Parthasarathi' in Sanskrit means 'charioteer of Arjuna', and Lord Krishna is worshipped in that role in this temple. This temple is the oldest structure in Chennai. During the month of Chithirai (April-May), the grand car festival of Brahmotsavam is celebrated and devotees recite Tamil Vedam and Nalayira Divya Prabandham, a collection of 4,000 Tamil verses composed by the 12 Alvars or Vaishnava poet-saints.
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Brahmotsavam at Parthasarathi Temple, Chennai. The Parthasarathi Temple is an 8th century Hindu Vaishnavite temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, located at Triplicane, Chennai. It is one among the 108 divyadesams or holy abodes of Lord Vishnu. The name 'Parthasarathi' in Sanskrit means 'charioteer of Arjuna', and Lord Krishna is worshipped in that role in this temple. This temple is the oldest structure in Chennai. During the month of Chithirai (April-May), the grand car festival of Brahmotsavam is celebrated and devotees recite Tamil Vedam and Nalayira Divya Prabandham, a collection of 4,000 Tamil verses composed by the 12 Alvars or Vaishnava poet-saints.
Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram. The Shore Temple (built in 700-728 AD) stands against the background of the Bay of Bengal. It belongs to a period when the constructional style of the Pallavas was at its peak in decorative beauty and intrinsic quality. Its pyramidal structure is 60 feet high and sits on a 50-feet square platform. There is a small temple in front, which was the original porch. It is made of finely cut local granite. One of the group of monuments at Mahabalipuram, it has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the oldest structural (versus rock-cut) stone temples of South India.
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Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram. The Shore Temple (built in 700-728 AD) stands against the background of the Bay of Bengal. It belongs to a period when the constructional style of the Pallavas was at its peak in decorative beauty and intrinsic quality. Its pyramidal structure is 60 feet high and sits on a 50-feet square platform. There is a small temple in front, which was the original porch. It is made of finely cut local granite. One of the group of monuments at Mahabalipuram, it has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the oldest structural (versus rock-cut) stone temples of South India.
Temple Tank at Sirgazhi Temple. Sirgazhi temple is one of the most important temples for Saivites as it is the birthplace of the Saiva saint Tirugnanasambandar, the foremost of the Saiva Nayanars, belonging to the 7th century. Thirugnanasambandar, as an infant, is believed to have been fed with the milk of wisdom by the divine mother Parvati on the banks of the temple tank. The child Sambandar started singing the anthology of Thevaram hymns from then on, commencing with "Todudaiya Seviyan". This is one of 275 Padal Petra Sthalams or Thirumurai temples. The temple has three vast courtyards with high walls of enclosure. There are two sets of seven tiered gopurams in the outer walls of the enclosure. The temple is about 25 km from the town of Kumbakonam.
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Temple Tank at Sirgazhi Temple. Sirgazhi temple is one of the most important temples for Saivites as it is the birthplace of the Saiva saint Tirugnanasambandar, the foremost of the Saiva Nayanars, belonging to the 7th century. Thirugnanasambandar, as an infant, is believed to have been fed with the milk of wisdom by the divine mother Parvati on the banks of the temple tank. The child Sambandar started singing the anthology of Thevaram hymns from then on, commencing with "Todudaiya Seviyan". This is one of 275 Padal Petra Sthalams or Thirumurai temples. The temple has three vast courtyards with high walls of enclosure. There are two sets of seven tiered gopurams in the outer walls of the enclosure. The temple is about 25 km from the town of Kumbakonam.
Side entrance at Thanjavur Big Temple. The Great Chola Temples of southern India are an exceptional testimony to the development of the architecture and the ideology of the Chola Empire and the Tamil civilization in southern India. They represent an outstanding creative achievement in the architectural conception of the pure form of the Dravida type of temple (characterized by a pyramidal tower). The great temple of Tanjore was built in a few years, from 1003 to 1010, during the reign of the great king Rajaraja (985-1014), the true founder of the Chola Empire, which spread throughout the whole of southern India, part of ancient Ceylon and the Maldive and Laccadive archipelagos.
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Side entrance at Thanjavur Big Temple. The Great Chola Temples of southern India are an exceptional testimony to the development of the architecture and the ideology of the Chola Empire and the Tamil civilization in southern India. They represent an outstanding creative achievement in the architectural conception of the pure form of the Dravida type of temple (characterized by a pyramidal tower). The great temple of Tanjore was built in a few years, from 1003 to 1010, during the reign of the great king Rajaraja (985-1014), the true founder of the Chola Empire, which spread throughout the whole of southern India, part of ancient Ceylon and the Maldive and Laccadive archipelagos.
Wall panel at the Thanjavur Big Temple. The Brahadeewarar temple at Thanjavur, called the Big Temple, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was built by the great Chola King Raja Raja I (985 -1012 A.D). It is an outstanding exmple of Chola architecture. Recognizing its unique architectural excellence, UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Monument as "Great Living Chola Temples". The temple structure is of granite. The 64.8 m vimanam (tower over the sanctum sanctorum) is testimony to the engineering skill of the Cholas. It is a jewel among of the four great Chola temples. The others are at Gangai Konda Cholapuram, Darasuram and Thirubhuvanam.
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Wall panel at the Thanjavur Big Temple. The Brahadeewarar temple at Thanjavur, called the Big Temple, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was built by the great Chola King Raja Raja I (985 -1012 A.D). It is an outstanding exmple of Chola architecture. Recognizing its unique architectural excellence, UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Monument as "Great Living Chola Temples". The temple structure is of granite. The 64.8 m vimanam (tower over the sanctum sanctorum) is testimony to the engineering skill of the Cholas. It is a jewel among of the four great Chola temples. The others are at Gangai Konda Cholapuram, Darasuram and Thirubhuvanam.
A temple relief depicting Appar bearing Sambandar's palanquin at Thirukadaiyur Temple, Tamil Nadu. This is one of the Ashta Veeratta sthalams -- the eight places where Lord Shiva materialized in his furious aspect -- and here Lord Shiva saved Markandeya from Yama, the god of death. This temple belongs to Dharmapuram Aadinam (Mutt). This temple deities are sung of by the Tamil trinity, i.e, Appar, Sundarar and Thirugnana Sambandar. The presiding deity is Amruthakadeswarar. His consort is Abhirami. Abhirami Andhathi was written here by Abhirami Bhattar. The temple is in line with the grand temple architecture of the Cholas and occupies a vast area of 11 acres with five Prakarams, imposing temple towers and large and spacious Mandapams. In the figural gopuram, the story of close association of Appar (bearing palanquin) and Thirugnana Sambandar (sitting in the palanquin) is well depicted. Thirukadaiyur is about 15 km from Karaikal.
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A temple relief depicting Appar bearing Sambandar's palanquin at Thirukadaiyur Temple, Tamil Nadu. This is one of the Ashta Veeratta sthalams -- the eight places where Lord Shiva materialized in his furious aspect -- and here Lord Shiva saved Markandeya from Yama, the god of death. This temple belongs to Dharmapuram Aadinam (Mutt). This temple deities are sung of by the Tamil trinity, i.e, Appar, Sundarar and Thirugnana Sambandar. The presiding deity is Amruthakadeswarar. His consort is Abhirami. Abhirami Andhathi was written here by Abhirami Bhattar. The temple is in line with the grand temple architecture of the Cholas and occupies a vast area of 11 acres with five Prakarams, imposing temple towers and large and spacious Mandapams. In the figural gopuram, the story of close association of Appar (bearing palanquin) and Thirugnana Sambandar (sitting in the palanquin) is well depicted. Thirukadaiyur is about 15 km from Karaikal.
Thirukazhukundram near Chengalpet, Tamil Nadu is an ancient Saivite temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the aspect of Vedagiriswarar. It is one among 275 Padal Petra Sthalams or Thirumurai temples. The main attraction here is the large temple located atop the mountain, which houses the deity of Lord Shiva as Vedagiriswarar. The temple at the foothills is dedicated to Thirupurasundari Amman, Parvathi, the consort. It is surrounded by four gopurams, which resemble the temple architecture of Thiruvannamalai Annamalaiyaar temple. Saiva saints Appar, Sundarar, Manickavasagar and Thirugnana Samandhar -- collectively known as 'Naalvar' -- came to this place and sang the praises of Lord Shiva. Until 1998, the mystical birds -- a pair of vultures -- used to appear every noon at Thirukazhukundram.
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Thirukazhukundram near Chengalpet, Tamil Nadu is an ancient Saivite temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the aspect of Vedagiriswarar. It is one among 275 Padal Petra Sthalams or Thirumurai temples. The main attraction here is the large temple located atop the mountain, which houses the deity of Lord Shiva as Vedagiriswarar. The temple at the foothills is dedicated to Thirupurasundari Amman, Parvathi, the consort. It is surrounded by four gopurams, which resemble the temple architecture of Thiruvannamalai Annamalaiyaar temple. Saiva saints Appar, Sundarar, Manickavasagar and Thirugnana Samandhar -- collectively known as 'Naalvar' -- came to this place and sang the praises of Lord Shiva. Until 1998, the mystical birds -- a pair of vultures -- used to appear every noon at Thirukazhukundram.
Thiruporur Murugan Temple, about 45 km from Chennai, is an ancient temple dating back to the Pallava period and dedicated to Lord Kandaswamy.
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Thiruporur Murugan Temple, about 45 km from Chennai, is an ancient temple dating back to the Pallava period and dedicated to Lord Kandaswamy.
Vaikuntha Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram was constructed shortly after the Kailasanathar temple was built. It was built by the Pallava king Nandivarman and was completed in the 7th century AD. There are three different levels of the main shrine. The sculptures of Lord Vishnu in the main shrine are quite massive in size and depict the Lord in sitting, standing and reclining postures. It is one of the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
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Vaikuntha Perumal Temple, Kanchipuram was constructed shortly after the Kailasanathar temple was built. It was built by the Pallava king Nandivarman and was completed in the 7th century AD. There are three different levels of the main shrine. The sculptures of Lord Vishnu in the main shrine are quite massive in size and depict the Lord in sitting, standing and reclining postures. It is one of the 108 Divya Desams dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

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