Hindu temples, pilgrimage sites
Map of described Hindu shrines
Palayamkottai Gopalaswamy Temple, Tamil Nadu. One of the most impressive Hindu temples. Mlakshmanan, Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-3.0
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions - possibly the oldest one among contemporary religions. Sometimes it is disputed whether the diverse religious traditions of enormous and diverse India form this single religion. Some other Indian religions - such as Jainism - in many respects are close to Hinduism. Hindu temples belong to most impressive religious buildings in the world.
Hinduism evolved from more ancient religious practices in Northern India and exact date of origin can not be determined. Hinduism to great extent is based on Vedas composed circa 1500 - 800 BC. Ancient Hindu scripts were written in extinct Pāli and Sanskrit languages and nowadays these languages are used as lithurgical languages.
Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, Andhra Pradesh. Raj srikanth800, Wikimedia Commons, GNU FDL
Contemporary Hinduism evolved circa 4th century AD, as the importance of Buddhism in India decreased. In 2nd - 10th century AD there increased influence of India in Southeast Asia and here spread also Hinduism - magnificent Hindu monuments were created in Cambodia, Sumatra, Java and elsewhere. Nowadays Hinduism is confined almost solely to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and also on the distant Bali island.
Hindu temples can be categorised in two large groups - northern or Nagara style and southern or Dravida style. Main difference is in the form of the structure - tower crowning the sanctuary. Nagara style temples in general have beehive shape. Dravida style temples have more slender towers, consisting of progressively smaller stories. There is also intermediate - Vesara style, combining characteristics of both. This style seems to originate in Central India (Deccan) and has well spread outside India. It has been magnificently represented in such archaeological monuments as Angkor Wat (Cambodia, Angkor), Prambanan (Indonesia, Central Java). In India it is represented by still active Brihadeeswarar temple (Tamil Nadu).
In Southern India temples often have magnificent gate towers - gopurams. These towers often are literally packed with colorful statues and certainly belong to some of the most heavily garnished structures in world.
Outstanding Hindu temples and other monuments
Hinduism is ancient religion and part of its monuments nowadays belong to archaeological monuments. Here are listed those monuments, which have been in more or less uninterrupted use since their construction. Monuments arranged by area and age.
There are a lot more Hindu temples than most people can imagine and each of these temples is much revered up to this day and contains unique values. Author has done his best to select some of the most interesting ones but is fully aware that this list can not include all temples worth mentioning.
- Khajuraho Temple City - Madhya Pradesh. Large group of beautiful Hindu and Jain temples, famous for their erotic sculpture. Built in 950 - 1150 AD.
- Vaishno Devi - Jammu and Kashmir. One of most revered sites in Hinduism devoted to goddess Shakti. Visited by million pilgrims each year.
- Jagannath Temple in Puri - Orissa. One of most important Hindu temple complexes, built in 11th century. Fortified, contains 120 temples and shrines, most of them - magnificent and very diverse buildings.
- Konark Sun Temple - Orissa. Temple complex built from sandstone in 13th century. Exceptional structure of exquisite architecture, covered with beautiful stone carvings.
- Ellora Caves, Kailasanatha Temple - Maharashtra. One of highest achievements not only in Hindu architecture but in ancient structural engineering of the world. Group of rock-cut temples, including the glorious Kailasanatha Temple cut of whole rock. Built circa 550 - 1000 AD.
- Elephanta Caves - Maharashtra. Group of beautiful rock-cut temples, built circa 5th - 8th c AD. Great Cave includes famous sculpture of Trimurthi.
- Dwarakadheesh temple (Dwarkadhish temple) - Gujarat. One of main Krishna's temples, according to legend existing here since around 400 BC. Current temple built in 16th century, 51,8 metres high and very ornate.
- Tirumala Venkateswara Temple - Andhra Pradesh. One of most important Hindu temple complexes, founded in 4h century (?). Most visited religious site in India, with circa 6000 people as temple staff. Incredibly rich decorated temple complex behind wall.
- Chidambaram Temple - Tamil Nadu. One of holiest Shiva temples, representing akasha - aether. Ancient temple, it is known that it has been renovated in 5th century and also circa 1213.
- Badami Cave Temples - Karnataka. Group of beautiful rock-cut temples, made in 6th - 7th centuries AD. Located in the ancient capital of Early Chalukyas. Art of temples witnesses the search for distinct style.
- Aihole Temple City - Karnataka. Group of more than 125 7th century Hindu temples in varous styles. Considered to be a laboratory of architectural and artistic experiments where the glorious Chalukyan style was created.
- Mahabalipuram Temple City - Tamil Nadu. Group of 7th - 9th century Hindu temples. Most structures cut in live rock. Numerous unique architectural and artistic achievements witnessing the highly successful search for original Pallava style in arts.
- Pattadakal Temple City - Karnataka. Group of 8th century Hindu temples and other monuments, contains numerous important temples, including the beautiful Virupaksha Temple.
- Doddabasappa Temple - Karnataka. Impressive 12th century temple of unusual architecture - it is shaped as a 24-pointed star.
- Sri Meenakshi Amman temple - Tamil Nadu. Important temple, dedicated to god Shiva, built in 1600 AD, temple here first mentioned in 7th century. One of most ornate Hindu temple complexes, includes 14 beautiful and colourful Gopurams - ornate towers up to 51,9 metres high.
- Rameswaram Temple complex - Tamil Nadu. One of important pilgrimage sites, oldest buildings from 12th century. Contains a group of temples in rich Southern Indian style, including 1 219 metres long pillared corridor.
- Gangaikonda Brihadeeswarar temple - Tamil Nadu. The only remaining and usable structure in past capital of powerful Cholas. Ornate temple contains some of the most beautiful sculptures in South india.
- Airavatesvara Temple - Tamil Nadu. Beautiful temple from 12th century - although comparatively small but contains sculptures of extremely hig detail.
- Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple - Tamil Nadu. One of largest and grandiose religious complexes in world, largest in India, covers 63 hectares. Includes 72 metres high Gopuram - ornate tower.
- Pashupatinath Temple - Kathmandu. Largest and most sacred Shiva temple in the world. First temple here established in 5th century AD.
- Prambanan - Indonesia, Central Java. The largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. Built circa 850 AD, one of highest achievements of Indonesian architecture.
- Angkor Vat - Cambodia, Angkor. Considered to be the single largest religious complex in the world, built in the ancient capital of Khmers in early 12th century. Considered to be one of greatest achievements of humankind in architecture. Initially built as a Hindu monument, later converted into Buddhist temple complex.
- Mother Temple of Besakih - Indonesia, Bali. One of the most important Hindu temples in Bali, founded in 14th (?) century. Consists of 22 beautiful temples.