Mahabalipuram shore temple is the most popular temple of Lord Shiva.

Tour the Grand Hindu Temples of Tamil Nadu, India

The southern state of Tamil Nadu in India has a lot to offer: from its fast-paced cities to its serene countryside, all connected together with mouth-watering cuisine bound to draw in any visitors to this vibrant state, it is no wonder that the feeling of authentic Tamil culture spreads to all of its inhabitants. A central feature of Tamil Nadu that cannot go unmentioned, however, is its magnificent Hindu temples, built on sacred sites dating back thousands of years. In fact, the state’s claim to fame lies in these marvelous temples themselves. But to fully explore the modern significance and grandeur of these temples, we must first begin with their rich history!

A map of India with the state borders outlined, and Tamil Nadu is colored in purple.
Location of the state of Tamil Nadu, India.

Built by Dynasties

The intricate and awe-inspiring architecture of these Hindu temples originated as mere rock-hewn cave structures, which blossomed under the rule of the Tamil dynasties.  Each empire added onto the multifaceted style and structure of the temples. The Pallava dynasty (4th century CE — 9th century CE) was one of the first to build such large temples, out of rock and stone material. 

The Chola dynasty (9th century CE — 12th century CE) followed the Pallavas, which added on unique features such as the instantly recognizable gopurams (towers) that act as the gateways to the temples. These gopurams are a sight to behold: the complicated and colorful carvings depict Hindu deities and scenes of dance, music, and culture, displaying the skilled work of artists and engineers that constructed these formidable structures.  A testament to their work lies in the fact that these towers still rise prominently out of the modern Tamil Nadu landscape.

Three brightly-colored towers of the Shri Ranganathaswamy Temple, two in the foreground and one in the background.
The gopuram of Shri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, via

The Pandyan empire (12th century CE — 14th century CE) soon followed in succession after the Cholas, expanding on the large gopuram towers and building high wall enclosures around the temple compound. More features appeared through the Vijayanagar and Nayak empires (1300 — 1650 CE), including decorative pillars, pillared halls, and walkways that circumvent the temple. What therefore emerged out of the political struggle of Tamil dynasties (learn more about the ancient Tamil royal dynasties here!) was a unique Dravidian architecture style, one firmly based on the Hindu religious tradition of honoring deities through lavish and intricate temple tributes.

Twelve Temples You Won’t Want to Miss

With a brief history of Tamil Nadu temples under our belt, we are now ready to embark on a tour through some of the more famous and unique temples that Tamil Nadu has to offer. Here are 12 temples that will take you around the state from the southern tip of Kanyakumari to the northern capital city of Chennai, and give you a truly spiritual welcome to the land of the Tamils!

A solid color shape of the state of Tamil Nadu, with numbers for each temple from one to 12, with a dashed black line indicating the route of this tour.
The route that takes you through the twelve temples in our tour, courtesy of Ashika Raghavan.

1) Kumari Bhagavathy Amman Temple (Kanyakumari)

The Kumari Bhagavathy Amman Temple is located in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu. Right next to the coast, it offers a beautiful view of the sea south of India. This location is viewed as a very spiritual one, because it is where three bodies of water — Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean — converge. The temple is a shrine built for the Goddess Devi Kanya Kumari, who is worshipped in the form of an adolescent girl — kanya kumari, meaning “a virgin teenage girl”. Because of this, the deity is also known as the Virgin Goddess. 

The Legend

The Kanyakumari Temple by the coast, with the ocean in the foreground.
The coast of Kanyakumari by the temple, via

Devi Kanya Kumari’s story dates as far back as 3,000 years, as it is mentioned in many ancient Sanskrit and Tamil scriptures. The legend goes as follows: 

There was a demon named Banasura terrorizing the gods and the revered saints and sages in the land. Since he was protected by the fact that only a virgin girl would be able to kill him, Banasura was unable to be destroyed by any of the gods. Therefore, the gods prayed to the Mother Goddess Parasakthi, who took the form of Kanya Kumari on earth to defeat Banasura. Once she became a teenager, the god Shiva fell in love with her and had their marriage arranged. However, to prevent her from getting married and no longer being the virgin who could defeat Banasura, the sage Narada tricked Shiva and their marriage did not take place. Kanya Kumari remained devoted to Shiva, so when Banasura came to steal her away into a forced marriage, she killed him and fulfilled the prophecy. In her honor, the Kumari Bhagavathy Amman Temple was built on the site and all those who come to bathe in the waters there are released from their sins, as Banasura was when he died at her hands.

Read the full legend and related legends of Kanya Kumari here!    

The Deity

In addition to being in the form of an adolescent girl, the deity of Devi Kanya Kumari also has a unique feature: its diamond nose ring. The jewellery piece is very bright and sparkling, and it is said to have distracted a sailor into thinking the nose ring was a lighthouse.  Following the bright light, he ultimately sailed his ship right into the rocks off the shore. Because of this danger, the eastern door to the temple, the direction which the deity faces, remains closed year-round. It is only opened five times throughout the year for special occasions or on new moon days of certain Tamil months.

Special Festivals

The roof of the Kumari Bahavathy Amman Temple, with the ocean in the background.
The aerial view of the Kumari Bhagavathy Amman Temple, via

There are several festivals and times of the year which are important celebrations at the Kumari

Bhagavathy Amman Temple. The most prominent one is the Vaisakhi Festival, taking place over the course of ten days in the month of May.  The deity of Kanya Kumari is taken out on a procession around the streets, and on a boat through the water. Other festivals include the full moon day of the May month, the 9-day Navarathri Festival celebrated throughout India, and the Kalabham Festival in the summer where the deity is covered in sandal paste.    

The mythology and history of the temple are significant for those praying to the Virgin Goddess for successful marriage or blessings from the divine Mother. Now that you have taken in the refreshing southern tip of India at Kanyakumari, you are ready for your next destination on this tour!

2) Arulmigu Subramaniaswamy Temple (Thiruchendur)

The white carved tower of the Arulmigu Subramaniaswamy Temple, with a blue spear shape on the front.
The magnificent white gopuram of the Arulmigu Subramaniaswamy Temple at Thiruchendur, via

Just up the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu from Kanyakumari is the city of Thiruchendur, home to the Arulmigu Subramaniaswamy Temple. Dedicated to the god Lord Muruga, the temple marks the site where he defeated the demon Surapadma after six days of battle. After his victory, Lord Muruga chose Thiruchendur to be the place where he would worship his father, the god Shiva.  This battle is celebrated through the Skanda (another name for Lord Muruga) Festival, which takes place in October-November every year.

A Coastal Location

Similar to Kanyakumari, the Thiruchendur temple is right next to the coast. In fact, the beach is just adjacent to the temple walkway and entrance. If you look over the outer wall, you can see people crowding on the sand, enjoying the sunny weather and the beach. The custom dictates that visitors to the temple must walk down to the water and wash their feet to purify themselves before entering the temple. Remember to partake in this ritual in your visit to the Arulmigu Subramaniaswamy Temple!

The golden deity of Lord Muruga, decorated with sandal paste and flower garlands.
The Murugan deity in the inner sanctum of the Thiruchendur temple, via

One of Six Temples

Thiruchendur is one of the six “abodes” of Lord Muruga, known collectively as the Arupadai Veedu in Tamil. All 6 temples are spread out across the state of Tamil Nadu, and can be visited in a sacred pilgrimage themselves. Each temple celebrates Lord Muruga in a different form, and has a special history/myth associated with the temple’s sacredness and dedication to this god. Another one of these six abodes, at Palani, is the fifth temple on this tour of twelve! Read more about the significance of these six abodes here.

3) Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple (Rameshwaram)

The Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple is the biggest temple in Rameshwaram, a small island off the Tamil Nadu coast. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, one of the major gods of Hinduism, it is a sacred pilgrimage site for all those who worship him. Staunch believers often visit Rameshwaram in conjunction with other important Shiva temples across India. Mentioned in the holy scriptures dating back thousands of years, Rameshwaram and the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple are a must-see in your temple tour of Tamil Nadu!

The Legend

A crowd of devotees parading with the deity on a procession around the temple, with the golden towers in the background.
The Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple crowded with devotees of Lord Shiva, via

The story behind the significance of this temple lies in the great epic of the Ramayana. In the epic, Lord Rama defeated the demon king of Sri Lanka, who stole his wife Sita. On his way back to his home kingdom in northern India after victory, Rama stopped in Rameshwaram to worship Lord Shiva. According to legend, Rama also built his bridge from India to Sri Lanka starting at Rameshwaram, because it is the closest point to reach Sri Lanka from India. Because of Rama’s devotion, Lord Shiva blessed him and infused himself as part of the lingam Rama was worshipping. (A lingam is an abstract form of Shiva used during prayer.) This is the lingam that is said to have remained on the site, and is now the main deity of the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple. Because of its spiritual nature, Rameshwaram is one of 12 sites of traditional linga shrines that are all over India.

Intricate Architecture  

A symmetrical and brightly-colored corridor of the Ramanathaswamy Temple, with pillars on both sides.
The architectural complexity of the pillars and corridors of the Ramanathaswamy Temple, via

The temple began as a small thatched hut, until the Tamil rulers contributed additions to it from the 12th

century CE onwards. Now, Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple spans over 15 acres of land — the ancient kingdoms finalized the current structure in the 17th century CE. It has all the features of the Dravidian temple architecture we have discussed: walls, pillars, walkways, and gopuram towers.  The outdoor pillars number up to 1212, standing at 30 feet tall. This temple also has the longest outdoor corridors in the world, totalling at 3850 feet long! The gopurams, needless to say, dazzle the viewer with their height and extravagance. A culmination of religion, tradition, and culture, Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple is unmissable for its architectural wonder alone.

4) Meenakshi Amman Temple (Madurai)

After exploring the beauties of the Tamil Nadu coastal temples, it’s time to move into the interior of the state! Our next stop after Rameshwaram is the city of Madurai. Known as the “Temple City”, it is the perfect location for the next temple on our tour: The Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple. The temple was built by the Pandyan king Kulashekarar Pandyan, and acted as the central structure and intellectual hub of ancient Madurai. Originally standing from the 1st century CE (considered one of the oldest temples in India!), it was rebuilt during the 16th century after being destroyed by invaders.

Wedding Festivities

A carving of Meenakshi and Lord Shiva in a stone pillar at the Meenakshi Amman Temple.
The scene of Meenakshi and Lord Shiva’s marriage carved into a temple pillar, via

The major festival associated with the Meenakshi Amman Temple is connected to the religious myth that marks its significance. The myth is as follows: The Goddess Parvati came to earth in the form of a young girl, born to the King and Queen of the Pandyan empire. She grew up to be a great ruler and conquered many great kings and gods. On her way to capture Lord Shiva’s abode, she met him and they fell in love. This recurring motif as Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati are the divine couple, that find each other and marry in all Hindu myths where they come down to earth in a human form. Meenakshi and Lord Shiva’s marriage took place in her hometown of Madurai, and it was a grand event. Therefore, the Meenakshi Amman Temple is dedicated to the couple.

The wedding of Meenakshi and Shiva is celebrated every year as the biggest festival at the Madurai temple. This celebration is known as Chithirai Thiruvizha, or Thirukalyanam (“the grand wedding”). Lasting the whole month of April with various events, the Chithirai Thiruvizha festival is a grand affair for a grand temple and history! You can read more about the story and the festival’s many sequential events here.

A Golden Lotus and a Thousand Pillars 

Two unique features of the Meenakshi Amman Temple cannot go unmentioned: the central holy pond called “Potramarai Kulam”, and the hall of a thousand pillars called “Ayirakkal Mandapam”.  The Potramarai Kulam has a golden lotus structure at its center, and is said to have been blessed by Lord Shiva to never contain marine life. Historically, devotees and visitors would have to dip their feet in the water to cleanse themselves before visiting the deities of the temple. However, the temple in recent years has closed the pond’s perimeter — even then, its large size and lotus are still a very prominent feature of the temple.

The many halls, or mandapams, of the temple were built as places of rest and contemplation for devotees. One striking hall of the Meenakshi Amman Temple is the “Ayirakkal Mandapam”. It is held up with 1,000 pillars, each with detailed carvings and images depicting Hindu mythological characters.

The pond with the golden lotus at the center of the temple, with the large temple towers in the background.
The “Potramarai Kulam” pond with the golden lotus, via

The Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple is a site where tradition and modernity mix: amongst the religious tradition and history, there are also vendors and store owners selling temple gift goods and other merchandise. Rising out of the bustling city of Madurai, this temple represents the true spirit of old and new combining together in Tamil Nadu! 

5) Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple (Palani)

Moving northwestward of Madurai, we reach the fifth temple on our tour, the Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple at Palani. Located in a mountainous and forested region of the state, this temple is another of the six “abodes” of Lord Muruga (in addition to temple #2 on this tour). Dedicated to the child form of Lord Muruga, it marks the site where the god settled after losing in a test of wits against his brother and leaving his family’s abode in Kailash out of anger. For this reason, the deity is in the form of a child. 

There is an interesting custom where the temple was historically closed during the afternoon and early in the evening so that the deity (a child) could get enough rest. The deity is also sung to sleep with a lullaby at night, in a tradition known as the Paḷḷi-Arai or “bedroom”.  

Imitating the Deity

The top of the golden tower at the Palani temple against a gray sky, with detailed carvings on the outside.
The golden gopuram at the Palani temple, via

The form of the deity is also depicted as without hair and in simple clothes, since he came to Palani as a

recluse leaving home. Devotees who are great believers in Lord Muruga travel great lengths to see the deity at Palani, as it is a very spiritual and important temple. To express their deep devotion and humility to the lord, an extremely common practice for worshippers is to participate in the practice of tonsure. This is when a devotee shaves part or all of the hair on their head. In imitation of the deity who himself is depicted as bald, visitors both young and old vow to shave their heads out of devotion. Their heads are covered in sandal paste afterwards, which also imitates the practice of applying sandal paste to the deity’s head every night.

Special Festivals

The Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple is not without its own special festivals! All the sacred days for Lord Muruga are celebrated every year. However, by far the biggest festival at Palani is the Thai-Poosam Festival, celebrating the full moon day of the month of Thai in the Tamil calendar. In this festival, devotees from all over India converge in masses at Palani. Many come, as is tradition, barefoot and walking to the temple. As they walk, devotees carry a structure of wood known as a kavadi, covered with flowers and other decorations. This is to commemorate the myth that the hill the temple sits on was brought on the shoulders of a demon to the Palani site. With the Thai-Poosam and the various other special festivals at Palani, you will definitely feel the spiritual significance of the temple radiating to all visitors!    

Going Up the Hill

Since the temple is located at the top of the Sivagiri hill, pilgrims must climb to the top to worship the deity. The original way up the hill was by foot on a staircase, or by elephant. Now, with the addition of modern technology, visitors can use a winch or rope car which operates up and down the hill during the day. The unique travel method to the temple offers a magnificent view of the surrounding landscape, as you travel high up in the air! The foothills of Palani and the Dindigul district spread out to the onlooker and showcase the beauty of the Tamil Nadu landscape.

A wide view of the Sivagiri Hill at Palani, showing the fields in the foreground and the temple at the very top.
The Sivagiri hill with Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple at the top, via

6) Namakkal Anjaneyar Temple (Namakkal)

Our tour continues towards Namakkal, another city of Tamil Nadu. Here stands the Namakkal Anjaneya Temple, a dedication to Lord Hanuman, also known as Anjaneya. This god is in the form of a monkey, worshipped as a loyal devotee and attendee to Lord Rama.

The brightly-colored entranceway to the Namakkal temple, with carvings of gods on the top and purple and orange pillars on the sides.
The entrance to the Namakkal Anjaneya Temple, via

The Legend

A Tamil Hindu temple is not complete without a legend surrounding its origin! The legend of the Namakkal Anjaneya Temple goes as follows:

Lord Anjaneya was in Nepal when he found a stone in the shape of Lord Vishnu, an abstract form called Saligrama. He carried the Saligrama southward, flying through the air, until he reached Namakkal and needed to bathe. Since the stone could not be placed on the ground, he found Goddess Lakshmi praying at the site, and gave it to her for safekeeping. However, since Lord Anjaneya did not return in time, the Divine Mother placed Saligrama on the ground, where it grew into the mountain we see today at the site. Therefore, the temple is dedicated to Anjaneyar, the Mother Lakshmi, and the god she was praying to: Sri Narasimha. All three deities have their own shrine within the temple.

A Towering Deity

The large statue of Lord Anjaneya, decorated in flower garlands and jewelry, with a priest in the foreground.
The entrance to the Namakkal Anjaneya Temple, via

The Lord Anjaneya statue at the Namakkal Anjaneyar Temple is the unique marker of this worship site. It

is a must-see when visiting Namakkal! Built out of a single slab of stone, the deity is covered in silk, jewels, and gold ornaments. The opulence of this temple is clearly seen by any devotee visiting. Moreover, the Anjaneyar deity is 18 feet tall — one of the largest of its kind. He is also depicted as holding a sword in his right hand, along with a garland made of Saligramas. Unlike other Tamil temples, the architecture of this temple does not have a roof over the deity’s head, exposing it to the open air.


If you visit this temple, you will be able to see not just the shrine of Lord Anjaneya, but also those of Mother Lakshmi and Shri Narasimha. The deities of Goddess Lakshmi and Shri Narasimha are brought together during a festival in the Panguni month of the Tamil calendar (March-April). Overall, this is a temple that stands out in both mythology and architecture, making it a crucial stop on our tour!

7) Ranganathaswamy Temple (Srirangam)

The large and vivid towers of the Ranganathaswamy Temple, with two towers in the foreground and a larger one in the background.
The stunning and colorful towers of the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, via

The temple at Srirangam in Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu, is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, known as Shri Ranganathaswamy at this site. For devotees of Lord Vishnu, this temple is considered the most important of the 108 Vishnu temples in India. 

Architectural Wonder

The ranking of this temple is reflected in its size as well — spanning 156 acres, it has a total of 21 intricate towers and aptly being #7 on our tour, has seven rings of enclosures. Each ring has a surrounding wall, and at the center of these 7 enclosures is the main deity, Shri Ranganathaswamy. To read more about each enclosure and what it contains, visit here! The enclosures contain several chariots used as transportation for the deity during festivals and processions.

The deity is covered with garlands and has a golden umbrella over its head, while people carry it on their shoulders and follow it on a procession.
The deity of Shri Ranganathaswamy being taken on procession during the festivals at the temple, via

An Abundance of Festivals

Befitting one of the main gods of Hinduism, there are many festivals dedicated to Lord Vishnu at

Srirangam. Of these, the main one is Ekadasi. It takes place for 21 days in the month of Margazhi in the Tamil calendar (December-January). In the culminating day of the festival, the deity of the Lord Ranganatha is decorated lavishly and taken through the temple in procession. Devotees gather in the grand hall, where throughout the day they chant the god’s praises in song, and fast without eating food. Lord Vishnu is treated as a king assuming his rightful throne in this festival, and the celebrations match the regal atmosphere surrounding the temple this time of year.

If you are looking for a magnificent and grand temple in Tamil Nadu, look no further than Srirangam’s Ranganathaswamy Temple!

8) Brihadeeswarar Temple (Thanjavur)

The distance from Srirangam to Thanjavur is approximately 62.9 km, a travel time of about 1 and a half hours by road. This is the same path that ancient architects took to bring granite from near Tiruchirapalli to Thanjavur — a material nowhere near the site of the temple! This granite was used to build the Brihadeeswarar Temple, also known as the “Big Temple”. Since it was constructed in 1010 CE, the year 2021 marks this temple as 1111 years old.  

Cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site

The granite corridor and tower of the Brihadeeswarar Temple, against a blue sky.
The beautiful and intricate architecture of the Brihadeeswarar Temple, via

The Brihadeeswarar Temple, with its ancient origins and architectural complexity, is recognized as a Cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site! Following the history of other Tamil Nadu temples, this Thanjavur temple was also built by one of the ancient Tamil empires: the Chola dynasty. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Brihadeeswarar Temple boasts a stone exterior that has weathered over time due to its age. However, this does not detract from its splendorous towers and walls that make it worthy of its UNESCO standing. 

An astonishing fact is that the main temple tower, known as the Vimana, is taller than all the gateway gopuram towers, uncommon to the structure of Dravidian temples. The Vimana, 66 meters tall (6 stories high) boasts an 80 ton granite capstone at the top, an architectural feat for the engineers (and the elephants) who had to transport it to the top of the hollow tower. What’s more surprising is that the bricks of the Vimana are all interlocking, with no binding material used to put it together. An architectural wonder indeed! 

The Deity’s Companion

In Hindu mythology, each god and goddess has an animal consort, used as a vehicle for them to travel around. Lord Shiva’s animal companion is the sacred bull named Nandi. Any Shiva temple has a Nandi sculpture preceding the main deity of Lord Shiva, and Brihadeeswarar temple is no exception. Therefore, at the entrance of the temple is a large sculpture of Nandi standing at 13 feet tall and 16 feet long. These enormous proportions are sure to catch the eye of any visitor to the temple!

A side view of the full Nandi sculpture, wearing white sheets and with a fence separating it from the visitors.
The Nandi sculpture at the entrance of the Brihadeeswarar Temple, via

The Brihadeeswarar Temple was used for not just religious purposes over the years, but also as a watchtower and fortifying base while it was conquered by many kingdoms and rulers. Because of this, the temple also has underground passages and a moat, making it an unmissable historical site on our tour of the Tamil Nadu temples. 

9) Thillai Nataraja Temple (Chidambaram)

Heading east once again in the direction of the coast, our next stop is the Thillai Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram. This Chidambaram temple is a sacred spot in India for Lord Shiva, the god of destruction. The name of the temple is based off of the thillai trees (species of mangrove) that are found in the area, and the Shiva deity in the form of Lord Nataraja, the god of cosmic dance. This cosmic dance ties back to the legend of the temple, and Shiva devotees worship Chidambaram as a site of deep spirituality and artistic beauty. 

The Dance of Bliss

The golden deity of Lord Nataraja, in the position of his cosmic dance, and decorated with circles of flower garlands.
The form of Lord Natarja performing his cosmic dance of eternal bliss, via

Lord Shiva is said to have performed his dance of eternal bliss, known as the Ananda Thaandavam, in this forested area of Chidambaram (previously known as Thillai). The story goes that Lord Shiva encountered sages in the forest who believed they could control the gods through magic and sacred chanting. In anger at Shiva’s presence, the sages conjured up a demon of arrogance to attack him. However, the Lord was unphased and performed the cosmic dance of eternal bliss on the demon’s back, making the sages realize that their magic cannot overcome the god in his true form. 

Lord Shiva also performed this Tandava dance at Chidambaram for the sages Patanjali and Vyaghrapada, as a blessing for their devotedness. This site of the cosmic dance is where the current temple now stands. At the temple, make sure you visit the Golden Hall, called Ponnambalam, which depicts the spot where this dance of bliss took place! You will also be able to see the Lord Nataraja deity, a unique image of the dancing form of the god which celebrates the power and beauty of performance.

An Elemental Temple

Another special attribute of the Thillai Nataraja Temple is that it is one of five temples (four of which are in Tamil Nadu) that portray Lord Shiva as a manifestation of the five natural elements: water, air, earth, fire, and space. These temples are collectively known as the Pancha Bootha temples, or “five elements” temples. Chidambaram is dedicated to the space element, and space is seen to show in Hinduism that Lord Shiva is beyond the human senses and grasp. Because of this, Chidambaram is the one temple where there is no physical deity of the Shiva lingam, but rather an empty space. Another of the Pancha Bootha temples, the fire lingam, is the next stop in our tour: the Arunachaleshwara Temple at Tiruvannamalai!  

The walls of the Chidambaram temple show carvings of all 108 dance postures of the ancient Sanskrit treatise on dance. These postures are the basis for the ancient and classical South Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam. The temple hosts an annual dance festival and is a celebration of the performance arts. If you are a lover of dance, art, and elemental beauty, then Chidambaram is the temple for you!

A collage of six different stone carvings of traditional dance postures on the stone walls of the Thillai Nataraja Temple.
The dance postures carved into the walls of the Thillai Nataraja Temple, collage by Ms Sarah Welch – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

10) Arunachaleshwara Temple (Tiruvannamalai)

The temple dedicated to the fire elemental nature of Lord Shiva is next on our tour! Legend says that Lord Shiva actually manifested himself as a pillar of fire at this location. Built in the 6th century, the various Tamil dynasties of Chola, Chera, and Pandya have renovated it over the course of history. 

Ancient History and Traditional Style

The white tall tower of the temple in the background, with a corridor on the left and a hall where visitors can rest on the right.
The magnificent and classical architecture of the Arunachaleshwara Temple at Tiruvannamalai, via

The Arunachaleshwara Temple is another example of the classic Dravidian architectural style. It has four gopuram towers at the cardinal directions of North, South, East, and West. These towers act as elaborate gateways welcoming visitors into the temple. Even though it is the tenth stop on this tour of Tamil Nadu temples, it definitely offers something unique that sets it apart from the rest. The Annamalai Hill marks the spot where Lord Shiva manifested as a pillar of fire, and the temple lies at the foot of this immense hill. Devotees of the god from all over the world flock to this site to pay their respects to this deity, and it is said to be a place of true enlightenment and soul salvation.   

Going Round the Hill 

The temple structures in the foreground, with the towers at the base of the large Annamalai hill at the center background.
The Annamalai Hill that devotees circle during the Girivalam, via

The most popular event at the Arunachaleshwara Temple is called the Girivalam, literally translating to “coming around the hill”. This is where devotees circle around the Annamalai Hill on the full moon of every month. The total distance is 14 km (8.7 miles), so definitely a walk to remember! Commonly, worshippers begin the Girivalam early in the morning.

The significance of the circling of this hill lies in the legend of how Lord Shiva gave half of himself to the Divine Goddess and his consort, after she circled the hill worshipping him. Together, they created the god Ardhanarishwara, half-man and half-woman. Following this legend, devotees also circle the Annamalai hill (traditionally barefoot), praying to Lord Shiva. There are eight lingams (abstract representations of Lord Shiva) in the Arunachaleshwara Temple, each facing a different direction. As devotees do the Girivalam, they believe that they are being blessed by these lingams.

11) Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple (Kanchipuram)

The city of Kanchipuram brings us fully into the northern part of the Tamil Nadu state. It is a city full of magnificent and wondrous temples! One that cannot be missed, however, is the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple. Dedicated to the Goddess Kamakshi, this temple is a spiritual center for the divine female energy. It is also considered the center, or “navel”, of the earth/eastern hemisphere. There are many legends associated with the deep significance of this temple, which you can read more about here

A printed image of the Kamakshi Amman deity, with flower garlands, hanging lamps, and the Sri Chakra in front along with worship materials such as fruit and bells.
The deity of Kamakshi Amman with the Sri Chakra in front, via

The Deity

The figure of Kamakshi Amman in the main sanctum of the temple is decorated with many elaborate designs, shown as holding flowers, sugarcane, and weapons in her multiple arms. The representation of the navel is also present within the temple, as there is a silver pillar with a hole in it (resembling a belly button on one’s torso). Because of this imagery, people associate this temple with the blessing of children. Therefore, those wishing for children will often come to this temple to pray for a child to be born to them.

A Saint’s Blessing

A very important and spiritual saint in Hinduism is Adi Sankaracharya. It is said that he installed the Sri Chakra, a carving that represents the sexual form of the Goddess herself. You can still find the Sri Chakra at the base of the Kamakshi Amman deity within the sanctum, and it has special worship practices dedicated to it. Adi Sankaracharya, also a writer and poet, is said to have written the famous Sanskrit text Soundarya Lahari in dedication to the Goddess here at the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple.

The towers of the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple, a gold one in the left background and a white one in the center foreground, along with the top of a golden corridor in the front.
The gold-covered gopuram towers of the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple, via

The capital city of the old Pallava dynasty, Kanchipuram has no shortage of temples for visitors to revel in. But the Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple is an explicit celebration of the goddess and feminine power in Hindu mythology. As we make our way to the current capital city of the state to wrap up our tour, we will be seeing another temple dedicated to the Divine Goddess.

12) Shri Ashtalakshmi Temple (Chennai)

From the southern tip of the state, we have finally made our way to the capital of Tamil Nadu — Chennai! Among the bustling streets and crowd of humanity, we find the Shri Ashtalakshmi Temple. In fact, we are starting and ending our tour by the water: the Shri Ashtalakshmi Temple lies on Elliot’s Beach, just as the Kumari Bhagavathy Amman Temple in Kanyakumari was on the coast. 

A Modern Construction

A ground floor view of the colorful painted tower of the temple, with people exiting and walking around the corner of it.
The colorful and modern exterior of the Sri Ashtalakshmi Temple in Chennai, via

So far, all the temples we have seen are thousands of years old, built either by the ancient Tamil dynasties or said to have emerged with no human creator. However, the Shri Ashtalakshmi Temple is different. It is a relatively modern construction — architects completed their work in the year 1976. The design of the temple is unique in and of itself. Vertically built, the sanctums are on different levels of the temple. Visitors climb upwards to see all the deities of the Goddess Lakshmi, displayed in full splendor. There are a total of 4 levels, and 9 sanctums.

Eight Forms of the Goddess

Goddess Lakshmi most popularly takes eight different manifestations. Together, these forms are known as Ashtalakshmi, or “eight Lakshmis”. This temple uniquely displays all eight forms of the goddess as separate deities, aptly giving it its name. These eight manifestations are as follows, along with what they represent:

  1.  Adi Lakshmi (“First Lakshmi”): the original and ancient form of the goddess
  2. Dhana Lakshmi (“Money Lakshmi”): goddess of wealth
  3. Dhanya Lakshmi (“Grain Lakshmi”): goddess of agricultural wealth
  4. Gaja Lakshmi (“Elephant Lakshmi”): goddess of animal wealth
  5. Santana Lakshmi (“Progeny Lakshmi”): goddess of offspring
  6. Dhairya Lakshmi (“Courage Lakshmi”): goddess of valour in battle
  7. Vijaya Lakshmi (“Victorious Lakshmi”): goddess of victory
  8. Vidya Lakshmi (“Knowledge Lakshmi”): goddess of knowledge in arts and sciences

People of all backgrounds and religions fill the city of Chennai. But you don’t have to look too hard to find that it is full of Hindu temples such as this final one in our tour. The temples are the spiritual backbone of Tamil Nadu that have carried the culture on for centuries. The architectural complexity of these structures leave viewers in awe, and one cannot help but wonder what deeper traditions and legends lie under their majestic exteriors.

A view of the Chennai temple from above, with surrounding trees and the ocean in the background.
An aerial view of the Chennai temple by the coast, via

You’ve Completed Your Tour…Now What?

Congratulations!  You’ve made your way through twelve major and unique temples of Tamil Nadu.  You can complete this tour in the opposite direction: starting in the capital city and making your way down to the southern tip of the country. But if this experience leaves you wanting more, do not fret — Tamil Nadu is the temple state, so there is no shortage of beautiful and spiritual sites to visit on your trip. These twelve temples provide a taste test into the rich flavors of this southern Indian state, full of history and culture. Wherever you go, you can feel the deep respect and value placed on religious tradition and culture of the Tamil community, and each temple provides a different and special experience for its visitors.

The mythology and stories behind each of these temples persist on to this day, and create a Tamil Nadu born out of the mixture of old tradition and new modernity. If you approach the temples of Tamil Nadu with open eyes and heart, you will be met with open arms in return! So now is the time to begin your exploration of religion, architecture, and culture of the Tamil Nadu temples, and the experience will open up more of the hidden beauties of Indian culture that have been preserved for centuries.

A close-up look at one side of a Hindu temple tower, each row with intricate colorful carvings of various figures from Hindu mythology.
Intricate carvings on a Tamil Nadu temple gopuram, via


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