India never fails to capture one’s imagination. One of the oldest civilizations in the world, India has even led to the origins of some of the most prominent religions of the world, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Embedded with rich heritage, culture, and traditions, India has thousands of temples dedicated to hundreds of gods. These beautiful, serene places of worship stand tall as significant religious landmarks. These temples are ancient, intricately designed, and faithfully maintained. People from all over the world visit them to find faith and attain spiritual enlightenment. Each temple has a unique story and history. Take any of these guided tours, like I did, to have a spiritually fulfilling trip.
Here is a list of 10 must-visit temples from all over India that you need to explore on your next visit.
Akshardham Temple, Delhi – Broaden your mind and awaken your inner being with a visit to this exceptionally mesmerizing temple. Made up entirely of stones with no support from steel or concrete, it is a grand masterpiece of architecture and skill. The carved works consist of beautifully sculpted deities, musicians, dancers, flora and faunas which depict the traditional Hindu culture and the spirituality associated with it. The temple has a boat ride through the exhibition of the life of Swaminarayan, to whom this temple is dedicated.
Konark Sun Temple, Odisha – The name Konark comes from the combination of the Sanskrit words Kona (corner or angle) and Ark (the sun), in reference to the temple which was dedicated to the Sun God, Surya. The Konark Sun Temple is a beautiful 13th-century Hindu temple dedicated to the Sun God. The temple is known for its exquisite stone carvings spread all over the structure and is shaped like a giant chariot. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the best-known tourist destination in Odisha.
Virupaksha Temple, Hampi – Hampi is a dream destination in its own right and with the added attraction of visiting the remarkable Virupaksha Temple, it should figure on every traveler’s bucket list. Arguably the oldest functioning temple in the whole of India, Virupaksha, a temple dedicated to Hindu god, Lord Shiva, is acknowledged as one of the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO. The temple is an important site of pilgrimage for Hindus and contains a sacred sanctum, a Shiva lingam (a sacred stone), said to change color three times a day.
Tirupati Temple, Andhra Pradesh – Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple, famously known as Tirupati Balaji Temple, is dedicated to Lord Venkateswara (an incarnation of Vishnu). The temple town of Tirupati is one of the holiest and most visited pilgrim sites in all of India. Apart from the spectacular mountain-top temple, which features a vimana (the topmost part of the tower) made out of gold, Tirupati is also well-known for its natural beauty and the beautiful Dravidian style-inspired architecture. Here, it is believed that by tonsuring, devotees destroy their false pride, and imbibe humility amidst the presence of Lord Vishnu.
Brihadeeshvara Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu – Brihadeshwara Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a perfect example of the unrivaled supremacy of the Chola dynasty (amongst the longest-ruling dynasties in the history of southern India). This temple is yet another temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and its major attraction is the 216 feet tower above the sanctum. It houses one of the largest Shiva Lingas in India and also has an idol of Nataraja (dance form of Shiva). This temple is the world’s first-ever granite temple and amazingly its shadow never falls on the ground at noon.
Golden Temple, Amritsar – Dubbed as India’s Mecca, the Golden Temple in Amritsar is the most divine and sacred shrine for the Sikh community. The Golden Temple also holds the sacred Sikh scriptures. The sheer grandeur, scale, and spectacle of a blinding gold and white edifice sitting in the middle of a giant man-made lake, known as ‘Sarovar’, surrounded by teeming crowds are sure to overwhelm and dazzle. The water of the lake is believed to have sacred healing power. Also, the temple is a testimony to the benevolent nature of Sikhs as the benign tradition of ‘langar’ or free hot meals has been going on here since the 16th century.
Somnath Temple, Gujarat – Another temple found in Gujarat, Somnath temple is an ancient place of worship. So much so that historians have been unable to trace how long ago the first temple was established at this site. The word ‘Somnath’ literally means, “Protector of the Moon God”, and the temple was built in the honor of Lord Shiva. It is one of the most revered “Jyotirlingas” amongst the 12 existing jyotirlingas in India. The Somnath temple was built and rebuilt many times and has seen the wrath of war and dynasties. It has a Somnath museum, accompanied by a sound and light show to amuse the pilgrims.
Jagannath Temple, Puri – It took three generations worth of time and effort to build up the humongous walls of Puri’s famous Jagannath Temple. The temple is of utmost importance to Hindu devotees as it is one of the Char-Dham Pilgrimages. Millions of people visit Odisha to seek Lord Jagannath’s blessings. The temple is even famous for its annual Rath Yatra which is witnessed by millions as the three colossal chariots carry the deities. An interesting fact is that the English word ‘Juggernaut’ traces its origins to this annual parade.
Meenakshi Temple, Madurai – Witnessing the Meenakshi Temple for the first time is really an awe-inspiring ‘wow’ moment. The temple took its current, grandiose form in the 12-13th century, but it has been a place of worship for much longer than that. Located in the heart of Madurai, this sprawling temple is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi (an incarnation of Parvati). It is an architectural marvel with its wide hallways always packed with devotees and the three-story gopuram or entrance tower which is exceptionally iconic.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi – This famous temple is one of the most attractive places of worship in the holy city of Varanasi. Situated on the banks of the River Ganga, Kashi Vishwanath is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is also located right next to the Dashashwamedh Ghat, arguably the most significant Ghats in the area. The renowned Ganga Aarti takes place here every evening, which is a spectacle that is not to be missed.