Temples of Tamil Nadu: Where Spirituality Meets Art

Temples of Tamil Nadu: Where Spirituality Meets Art
Beautiful view of colorful gopura in the Hindu Kapaleeshwarar Temple,chennai, Tamil Nadu, South India Photo Credit: Shutterstock

We bring you a selection of some of the best temples you cannot miss while travelling around Tamil Nadu.

OT Staff
February 23 , 2023
11 Min Read

Dotting the vast expanse of Tamil Nadu are a large number of temples dating from ancient times. They are not only pilgrim centres but a way of life. Built by some of the most influential royal dynasties, viz. Pallava, Chola, Pandya, Nayaka and others, the temples of Tamil Nadu are fine examples of the Dravidian school of architecture. A modest estimate puts the number of extant temples in Tamil Nadu at approximately 33,000. We bring you a selection of some of the best temples you cannot miss while travelling around Tamil Nadu.

Kapaleeshwarar Temple, Chennai


Tucked away in the Mylapore neighbourhood of Chennai, this temple complex is known for its architectural excellence, especially the intricately carved and colourful gopurams. The temple, also known as Vedapuri (as the four Vedas are worshipped here), is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is associated with many legends and has also been mentioned in Tamil hymns like Thevaram.

Getting there: The Chennai airport is about 15 km away by road while the nearest bus and train stations are both 7km away.

Place to Stay: Beach Resort Complex, Mamallapuram

Kailasanathar Temple, Kancheepuram

There are many temples in this town, out of which the Pallava-era Kailasanathar temple, with its elaborate 8th-century architecture, is the most famous. Apart from the main temple, there are other shrines within the complex, including eight cave temples, statues of Nandi (the bull), etc. A 16-faced Shiva linga, carved from black granite, occupies the sanctum sanctorum.

Getting there: Kancheepuram, about 75km by road from Chennai- the nearest airport and transport hub.

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu, Kancheepuram 

Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram

The 12th-century Ramanathaswamy Temple is known for intricate architectural details, from long corridors to carved pillars, and a towering 38-meter gopuram. The primary deity is represented by a lingam. Another idol is in the form of a huge statue of Nandi, which is about 17.5 feet tall. Rameswaram is one of the four Vaishnav dhams of India and one of the 12 jyotirlingas worshipped across the country. The temple is related to the Indian epic, Ramayana. Following his victory over the demon king Ravana, Rama desired to worship Lord Shiva in order to make amends. He asked Hanuman to bring him a Linga from Kasi. Hanuman was delayed in getting back, so Sita created a Shivalinga out of the sand. It is thought that the Shiva Linga, known as Ramalingam, is worshipped at the Ramanathaswamy temple.

The temple's interior features long corridors that run between massive colonnades on platforms more than five feet high. Sandstone pillars, beams, and a ceiling form the second corridor. The intersection of the third corridor on the west and the paved path leading from the western gopuram to the Sethumadhava shrine forms a unique structure in the shape of a chess board, popularly known as Chokkattan Mandapam, where the Utsava deities are adorned and kept during the Vasanthotsavam (spring festival) and the 6th-day festival in Adi (July-August) and Masi (February-March).The third corridor is also said to be the longest in Asia with a 197-meter span from east to west and a 133-meter span from south to north, the third largest in the world.

Getting there: Crossing the Bay of Bengal by road and the Pamban Railway Bridge (India's first sea bridge), which connects the island temple town with Mandapam on the mainland, is part of the journey itself. Rameswaram is connected by road and rail with several important cities, such as Chennai, Madurai, etc. The nearest airport is Madurai.

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu, Rameswaram 

Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

One of the most venerated temples in India, the Sri Meenakshi Amman Temple is also known for its classic architectural beauty and influence on Tamil culture. It was completely destroyed in 1310 and restored to glory in the 14th century, with 14 temple towers ranging in height from 45 to 50 metres. Another notable feature is a 1,000-pillared hall with intricately sculpted pillars. There are musical pillars that generate sounds in various scales. The temple’s corridor walls are adorned with beautiful murals depicting narratives from the Thiruvilaiyadal puranam. Among the festivals celebrated here, the Chithirai Brahmotsavam is the biggest one with devotees attending the Thirukalyanam or the divine wedding which re-enacts the holy marriage of deities Meenakshi Devi and Lord Sundareswarar. Of special note is the mandapam hall which features eight forms of Goddess Sakthi. The hall also houses an exquisite collection of antiques, coins, carvings, rare photographs and idols.

Getting there: Madurai is well connected with the rest of the country by air, road and rail.

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu, Madurai, Unit 2 

Arulmigu Dhandayuthapani Swamy Temple, Palani

Considered as one of the six key temples dedicated to Lord Murugan (Karthikeya), this ancient temple lies on top of a hill in Palani. Visitors may either ascend the 670 steps or avail of the cable car. There are several stories about its origin. But, according to records, the temple was built between the second and the fifth centuries – the main temple was constructed by the Chera king, Cheraman Perumal, while the mandapams and gopurams were later added by rulers from the Chola and the Pandya dynasties. It is said that the idol enshrined here was made by Sage Bogar out of nine poisonous herbs (navapashanam) between 550 and 300 BC. The biggest festival organised here is Thaipusam (January-February).

Getting there: Coimbatore, about 100 km away by road, is the nearest airport while Palani is the nearest town with the railway station. A visit to the temple can be combined with a trip to Kodaikanal.

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu, Kodaikanal 

Bhagavathi Amman Temple, Kanniyakumari

This temple, situated on the ocean's edge, draws hundreds of tourists to the southern tip of India and has roots embedded in mythology. According to popular belief, the temple is dedicated to Goddess Kanniyakumari (the virgin goddess), an incarnation of Parvati, and is one of the Shaktipithas. The legend behind the temple talks about Banasura, the demon king, who once ruled over the Devas and meted out cruel punishments to them. The Devas performed a yagna, pleading with the gods to destroy Banasura. Goddess Parasakthi appeared to Kumari as a virgin girl and began her penance. Meanwhile, Lord Shiva fell in love with her and made plans to marry her at midnight on a specific day. Because Banusura could only be killed by a virgin, the divine sage Narada realised that their marriage would ruin the chances of destroying the demon. He met Lord Shiva on his way to Kanniyakumari from Suchindrum at Valukkamparai, 5 kilometres south of Suchindrum, in the form of a cock and mislead him by crowing and heralding the break of dawn. Shiva returned to his abode thinking that he had missed the auspicious time for the wedding. And the goddess decided to remain a virgin after that. Later, Banasura attempted to win the goddess, and she killed him with her Chakragudha. She resumed her penance and remained a virgin.

Getting there: The nearest airport is at Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), about 110km away by road. Kanniyakumari is connected by road and rail to the major cities of southern India.

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu, Kanniyakumari 

Arulmigu Subramanya Swami Temple, Tiruchendur

One of the important pilgrim centres of South India, this temple by the sea is one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga. It is interesting to note that nearly all the key temples dedicated to Lord Muruga are said to be perched on hilltops or elevated grounds. This is the only temple which is situated on the seashore. Dating back to the 17th century AD, the origin of the temple and its history have been mentioned in various Tamil religious texts and literature. Located about 40 km from Thoothukkudi, the nine-storied tier temple is marked by a lofty tower of 157 feet.

Getting there: Tuticorin airport in Thoothukudi is the nearest (40 km) to the town of Tiruchendur, which also has its own railway station. There are enough buses from Thirunelveli and other major cities of Tamil Nadu.

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu, Tiruchendur

Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam

This Vaishnavite temple, located on an islet formed by the twin rivers Cauvery and Kollidam River, is considered to be the foremost of the eight self-manifested shrines (Swayam Vyakata Kshetras ) of Lord Vishnu. It is known by various names, like Thiruvaranga Tirupati, Periyakoil, Bhoologa Vaikundam and Bhogamandabam. Its huge rampart walls house 21 towers. The main temple – surrounded by seven high walls (prakaras) marked by elaborately designed gopurams (21 in all) – is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. There are many other shrines scattered throughout the complex. The temple is also known for its inscriptions and frescoes. The temple observes many festivals around the year but the biggest draw is the annual 21-day festival during the month of Margazhi (December-January).

Getting there: Tiruchirapalli, with its air, road and rail connectivity is the most convenient transport hub.

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu, Trichy

Srivilliputhur Andal Temple, Virudhunagar

This temple is one of the 108 Divya desams dedicated to Lord Vishnu who is worshipped as Vadapathrasayi and his consort Lakshmi as Andal. Divya desams are sacred places mentioned in the pasurams (Tamil verses) of the Alwars, the twelve important devotees of Vishnu. The temple is divided into two parts – the Vadapathra Sayanar and the Andal shrine. It is known for the 11-tier Rajagopuram. It is said to be the tallest in Tamil Nadu and serves as the emblem of the Tamil Nadu government. Inside the temple are various sanctums, images of deities, sculptures, and paintings, some of which were commissioned by the Vijayanagar and Nayak kings. Among the yearly festivals held here, the Aadipooram festival (considered as the day of birth for Andal) is the most important. It is celebrated during the Tamil month of Adi (July – August) and draws the most crowds.

Getting there: Srivilliputhur is connected by a railhead and road. The nearest airport is in Madurai.

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu, Madurai, Unit 1 

Annamalaiyar Temple, Tiruvannamalai

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple is located at the base of the Arunachala hill in Thiruvannamalai. Considered to be one of the most important Shiva complexes in Tamil Nadu, several works of literature have mentioned it. Tamil saint Arunagirinathar is said to have composed Thiruppugazh (meaning "Holy Praise" or "Divine Glory") here. It is an important book of poems in Tamil in praise of Lord Murugan. One of the largest temple complexes in India, the layout consists of five prakarams, with each having a Nandi statue facing the temple. The fifth prakaram has four gopurams (gateway towers). Of these, the Rajagopuram is 217 feet tall with 11 tiers, making it the second tallest temple gopuram in South India. Among the yearly festivals held here, the one that draws the most crowds is the Karthigai Deepam festival. A festival of lights, it is held on a full-moon day of the Karthigai month (known as Karthigai Purnima) between November and December. Part of the draw is the huge beacon that is lit on the top of Arunachala hill. Seen from miles afar, it depicts the Shiva lingam of fire joining the sky.

Getting there: Thiruvannamalai is well connected by road. You can get direct buses from Bengaluru and Madurai. The nearest airport is Chennai. And the nearest railheads are Villupuram (76 km) and Katpadi (65 km).

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu Thiruvannamalai

Thillai Natarajar Temple, Chidambaram

Also known as the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple, it was built in the 10th century when Chidambaram served as the seat of the Chola kingdom. The Nataraj form of Lord Shiva was revered as the family deity of the Cholas, hence the temple is dedicated to Nataraja - Shiva in his form as the cosmic dancer. One of the highlights here is the bejewelled image of Nataraj. Considered one of the oldest surviving active temple complexes in South India, the temple also highlights Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and other threads of Hinduism. The connection between arts and spirituality is showcased in the architectural style of the temple. The carvings on the walls display the 108 karanas from the Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni, which are the foundation for the classical dance of Bharatanatyam. A sculpture of Shiva performing the Ananda Tandava (or "Dance of Delight") can be seen in the golden hall of the shrine Pon Ambalam. Four of the temple’s nine gateways have gopurams with intricate carvings, and the Raja Sabha here has 1,000 pillars.

Getting there: The nearest airport is Chennai, 250 km. Chidambaram is connected by train to most of the major cities. State and private buses ply here from many major cities. The nearest airport is.

Place to Stay: Hotel Tamil Nadu, Thirukkadaiyur

Note: Most temples remain closed in the afternoon. 



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