The temples of south India are not only places of religious importance but also exhibits the rich culture of India. Unlike temples of North and other parts of India, temples in the south are grand with more intricate details. Some of the temples have strict codes for entry, while others are liberal and allow everyone.
Most of the south Indian temples have square Gopuram with carving and sculptures on it. There are long corridors around the main sanctum and some of them have long rows of pillars. Most of the temples are made in the Dravidian style of architecture.
Most famous temples of South India
Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, Tamilnadu
This temple is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi, who is a form of Goddess Paravati. There are two sanctums inside the temple compound, one is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi and another one is for Lord Shiva, who is known as Lord Sundareshwarar. He is here in the form of Lingam but the temple’s main deity is Goddess Meenakshi and that’s why its also known as Meenakshi Amman temple.
The city of Madurai was developed around the temple. There was a rule that no building in the city can be made taller than the temple but now there are many tall buildings in Madurai. The main reason for this rule was to make sure that the temple can be seen from all parts of the city.
There are four entry gates for the temple compound but the eastern gate is considered the main gate. There are lockers at this gate for keeping valuables.
Meenakshi temple is famous for the multicolor statues of gods, goddesses, and various mythical creatures. The details and workmanship involved to make these statues are incredible.
Foreigners are allowed inside the temple complex from the eastern gate though they can’t enter inside the sanctum. They can watch the evening procession in which Lord Sundareshwarar is carried in a palanquin to the sanctum of Goddess Meenakshi. If you want to skip the queues than buy a VIP darshan ticket.
Temple remains open from 5.00 AM to 12.30 PM. It again opens for darshan from 4.00 PM to 9.30 PM. Early morning is the best time to visit because there are no queues at that time. There is no strict dress code but wear clothes that cover legs and shoulders.
Read more about Meenakshi temple and other places to visit in Madurai.
Sri Padmanabha Temple in Trivandrum, Kerala
This temple is also known as the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple. It is India’s richest temple and has assets worth 20 billion USD. The temple is situated in the busiest part of Trivandrum. There is a pond outside the temple, which is known as Padma Theertham.
The main “Gopuram” was made in 1566 but the temple exists here for centuries. There are two main gates but the eastern gate is considered more auspicious.
The presiding deity of the temple is Lord Vishnu, who is known as Sree Padmanabhaswamy in the local language. The statue is in reclining position over the five mouthed serpents “Sheshnag”. Goddess Bhudevi and Lakshmi are on both sides. It is considered that Lord Vishnu is in yogic sleep and meditating. The 365 granite pillars with carvings enhance the beauty of the temple corridors.
Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple was in news for the last few years due to its immense wealth. There are 8 chambers in the temple and out of which 3 of them were not opened since 1880. The estimated wealth of the temple is 20 billion USD and it is based on the 5 opened chambers.
According to historians the actual value of the gold and precious stone found in these vaults will be 10 times if its historic and cultural value is calculated. Moreover, it is believed that vault “B” is the biggest of all. According to a rough estimate, the value of the gold and precious stones in this is 720 USD billion.
There are several stories associated with the opening of vaults. It is believed that whoever tried to open this vault was attacked by serpents or died mysteriously.
Temple opens every morning from 3:30 am to 12.00 Noon. It opens again in the evening from 5.00 PM to 8:30 PM. Only practicing Hindus are allowed inside the temple. Mobile, camera, leather and other electronic items are not allowed inside the temple.
There is a strict dress code for visiting the temple. Men should wear “Mundu” (Dhoti) and remain bare chest, they can keep a cloth over the shoulders. Women should wear a saree or skirt blouse, and Indian salwar suits are not allowed. If you don’t have these garments then rent these from the shop outside the temple.
Read more about Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple and other places to visit in Trivandrum.
Guruvayur temple in Guruvayur, Kerala
The temple town of Guruvayur is located in Thrissur district of Kerala. The main presiding deity of the temple is Lord Guruvayurappan or Sri Krishna, who is a form of Lord Vishnu. This is one of the most visited temples of Kerala. According to an estimate, around 80% of Hindus in Kerala got married in this temple. Guruvayur temple is believed to be one of the most auspicious temples for getting married.
The main sanctum has the majestic form of Lord Vishnu, which was shown to Devaki and Vasudev before the birth of Krishna. The baby form of Krishna is worshipped in Guruvayur. The deity is offered the leaves of Tulsi/Holi basil. Every evening small oil lamps are lighted on the walls of the main sanctum and its a spectacular sight.
Temple has a community kitchen, which serves meals at 11.00 AM every day. Anyone can eat these meals.
Guruvayur temple remains open from 03.00 AM till 09.15 PM. In between, it remains closed from 01.30 PM to 04.30 PM. There is no special entry ticket to skip the queue to enter the temple. There is a separate queue for senior citizen and they are given direct entry inside the temple. Only Hindus are allowed inside the temple.
There is a strict dress code for the temple. Men should wear Mundu (Dhoti) and they can keep a cloth on the shoulder. They are not allowed to wear a shirt and T-shirts. Women are allowed to wear saree, long skirts or Indian salwar suits but leggings are not allowed.
Read more about Guruvayur temple and other places around it.
Rameshwaram Temple, Tamilnadu
This temple is situated on the Pamban island in Tamilnadu. Since the temple is on the seashore so it is also known as Shore temple. Rameshwaram is one out of 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. He is the presiding deity of the temple and is worshipped in the form of Lingam.
Temple is made in the Dravidian style of architecture and the main Gopuram can be seen from the distance. There are 22 wells inside the temple and taking a bath from the water of these wells is considered auspicious. Most people take a bath before taking the darshan. Rameshwaram temple has the longest corridors among all Hindu temples in India. The multicolor paintings on the roofs, walls, and pillars of these corridors are the main attraction for this temple.
Camera and mobile phones are not allowed inside the main sanctum. You can take pictures in other parts of the temple and beautiful corridors of the temple. There is a nominal ticket of 25 INR for the camera.
Temple remains open from 05:00 AM to 01:00 PM and 03.00 PM to 9.00 PM.
Rameshwaram shore temple is open for Indians as well as foreigners of all religions. You can also take a guide and he will take you to all important parts of the temple.
There is no strict dress code for visiting the temple but you are required to cover legs and shoulders. You are not allowed to do darshan in wet clothes. There are cabins inside the temple, where you can change clothes.
Kanchipuram temples in Tamilnadu
This temple is recommended by Penny Fernandes from Globe Trove. She is from Goa and living in Bangalore with her husband. Together they explore the world and share their experience on the blog.
We found ourselves visiting the Kanchipuram temples in India quite by accident. I had marked the city on the map as a place to stop because I had heard a lot about the famous Kanchipuram sarees and I wanted one. While we were driving towards the city, I found myself doing a bit of research and that was when I realized that the city had several gorgeous temples in it. Needless to say, our half an hour stop quickly expanded to much more.
While there are numerous temples in the city, we stopped at just a couple of them because we were short on time. It was easy enough to hire a local guide to accompany us in the car and explain the significance of each temple. Kanchi Kailasanathar temple is the oldest temple in the city and one that you should not miss.
The Ekambareshwarar temple, on the other hand, is probably the largest one. Each of these temples has a unique structure and layout. The fact that they date back a couple of centuries is another fascinating reason why you should visit them.
While the Kanchipuram temples were a stop on the way for us, I wish we could have spent longer in the city because there was so much more to explore. I guess that just gives us one more reason to head back.
Also, read about souvenir shopping in India.
Brihadeeswar Temple of Thanjavur, Tamilnadu
This one is recommended by Amrita & Agni, who are two happy-go-lucky husbands & wife storytelling team who love travel and adventure. They blog at Tale of 2 Backpackers.
Brihadeeswar Temple of Thanjavur, also known as the Big Temple is one of the architectural delights of medieval delight. Built by Raja Raja Chola I in 1010 AD is the symbol of the power and might of the Chola dynasty. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva as the King was a great devotee of Lord Shiva.
It is said that almost 60,000 tonnes of granite was used to build the temple. The main attraction of the temple is the 216-feet tall tower or Vimana and the Kumbam (the dome on top) built above the sanctum of the temple.
The temple tower is adorned with exquisitely carved stucco figurines. The figure of Nandi is said to be the second-largest structure of Nandi in India measuring 16-feet long and 13-feet high.
The temple complex has many other shrines that are later on added by various kings. There are a few strange facts related to this temple. It is believed that the shadow of the temple never falls on the ground at noon. The architecture of the temple is done so cleverly that the temple casts no shadow on the ground when the sun is at its peak.
The Brihadeeswar Temple is one of the finest examples of Dravidian architecture and is also referred to as the Great Living Chola Temples. No wonder it has been granted the UNESCO World Heritage Status.
The temple remains open from 6 AM to 12.30 PM and again from 4 PM to 8.30 PM. It is, however, better to visit in the morning to avoid the scorching sun. You will require almost an hour to explore the temple. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Wearing shorts is not allowed inside the temple.
Also, read about what to wear in India.
Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Chennai, Tamilnadu
This temple is recommended by Priya Vin. She is a Family travel writer & photographer, who is always trying to escape the Suburbs to cool places, nice hotels, and hot air balloon rides. You can find her trip, itineraries and travel stories at Outside Suburbia.
I grew up in Chennai and remember going to many temples with my grandparents and parents. One temple that I loved the most was the Kapaleeshwarar temple in Mylapore. We used to visit the temple complex, sit down at the steps listening to music or play then wander around in the little street-side shops and markets looking for trinkets.
Kapaleeshwarar Temple is one of the oldest temples in Chennai. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and built in the Dravidian style.
The architecture is beautiful and the temple very colorful. The temple complex consists of several mandapas or halls, and a waterbody just outside the temple walls. It is fascinating to look at the intricately sculptured deities on the temple mandapam.
There are separate temples for Lord Ganesha, Murugan, Shaniswer and goddess Parvathi. There are six daily Puja Services daily – Kala Santhi in the morning, Uchchikala at Mid-day Sayamkala in the evenings and Ardhajama, late at night.
The evening service will be special with Aarathi, waving of lights and sounds of bells. It is probably one of the most visited temples in the city but still very peaceful.
The temple was built in somewhere in the 7th century. While non-Hindus are not allowed inside the main shrine. If you are visiting as a tourist rather than as a devotee you can walk in the temple premises admiring the beauty of the temple from outside.
It is located in the middle of the city and easy to get to. You can take photos but only outside not inside the shrines.
Also, read how to travel by train in India and safety tips.
Annamalaiyar Temple in Thiruvannamalai, Tamilnadu
Wendy Werneth is an intrepid traveler, vegan foodie and animal lover. She is the creator of the award-winning blog The Nomadic Vegan and the author of the book Veggie Planet.
Annamalaiyar Temple in Tiruvannamalai, also known as Arunachaleswarar, is the largest temple in the world dedicated to Shiva, who is worshipped here in the form of fire. The temple’s most prominent architectural features are the four gateway towers known as gopurams.
The eastern one is the tallest, at 66 meters, and was built by King Krishnadevaraya in the 15th century. Many changes and additions have been made to the temple over the years, but the earliest structures were built by the Chola kings in the 9th century.
While Annamalaiyar Temple is mostly frequented by Indian devotees, foreigners are welcome to visit. Like at any Hindu temple, you should dress conservatively (no shorts or sleeveless tops). You’ll have to remove both your shoes and your socks at the entrance.
If you’re visiting in summer, I recommend coming in the early morning or late evening, as the paving stones become extremely hot in the middle of the day and can burn your feet.
Every full moon, about 500,000 people make the pilgrimage here to walk the 13-kilometer circumference of the hill in devotion to Shiva. And the Karthikai Deepam festival is celebrated on the night of the full moon during the month of Karthikai, which falls between November and December.
A fire is lit on the top of the Annamalai hill behind the temple. This represents Shiva, who according to legend appeared here as a column of fire to bring light back to the world after it had been plunged into darkness when Shiva’s wife Parvati playfully closed his eyes.
Also at the foot of the Annamalai hill is the Sri Ramanasramam ashram. This spiritual center attracts many foreigners, and in this area, you’ll find plenty of guesthouses and restaurants serving vegetarian and vegan Indian food.
Tiruvannamalai has been suffering from a major drought for the past six years, though, so from mid-May to the end of July many businesses close simply because there is no water.
Tiruvannamalai is conveniently located between Bangalore and Pondicherry and can be visited as a quick stop on a road trip in either direction.
Also, visit the French colony of Pondicherry and other places around it which is 115 Km from Kanchipuram.
Pattadakal Temple Complex, Karnataka
This temple is recommended by Mar Pages. She blogs about her travel experiences at Once in a Lifetime Journey.
I was unexpectedly impressed by this vast temple complex of Pattadakal, which is included as a UNESCO site, together with Aihol and the Badami Caves along the Malaprabha River.
The Pattadakal temple complex was built in the 8th century in the Chalukyan architectural style. It was known at the time for being innovative and the height of experimentation as the design combined both Northern and Southern Indian styles. It is also seen as being in a geographically holy place as it’s situated at the exact spot where the Malaprabha River turns north and extends to the spiritually marvelous Himalayas and Mount Kailash.
As its name suggests (Place of Coronation), Pattadakal was used by the Chalukyan Dynasty for celebrations and grand events. It did have a cache of names before its current one, most of them referring to the holy red soil surrounding the area.
The temples were built with red rock which gives it its unique look. Later on, Jain and Buddhist monuments were added to the mostly Hindu temples that are devoted to Shiva. There are a whopping 150 monuments in total. This is an impressive number and you will surely be taken aback, as I was when approaching the green and red area.
The temples are still functioning, so it is recommended to dress modestly for the devotees coming to pray. One tip I can suggest is to bring your tissues as there was none in the squat type toilets. There are also a few stalls selling some snacks and drinks outside the temple complex.
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Tiruchirappalli, Tamilnadu
This temple is recommended by Jon Algie. He is from New Zealand and blog about his travel experiences at Jon is Travelling.
Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, is home to many amazing temples. I explored a few of them on a recent trip and my favorite by far was the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple complex in Tiruchirappalli.
A visit to this temple starts with walking through one of the colorful outer towers. These towers/gates are key components of the Dravidian style of architecture and they’ll impress with their detail. You’ll slowly leave the bustle of the streets behind for the serenity of the temple complex, which features a grand array of towers (21 in all), shrines (81) and pavilions (39).
There is so much to explore, even for people who are there more for the architecture than actual religious purposes (and there are sections that Non-Hindus can’t access).
The highlight of my visit was climbing up to a small rooftop within the temple complex to see an awesome view of the towers looming over everything. These towers are colorful and extremely detailed.
The guy who took me up there then proceeded to bug me about taking a tour with him (I gave him some money for taking me to the roof), but that’s often the price you pay for getting views like this! Another highlight is the Hall of 1000 Pillars, which dates back to the 1300s.
The rest of the complex was built over various periods and there were references to a temple in this area as far back at the 1st – 4th Century AD.
There are hundreds of small and big temples in south India. These are some of the most popular and must-visit temples in the south of India.