Explore India’s fascinating temples
See the artistry, experience the history and witness the faith inspired by India’s temples
Holy sites on your holiday
Religion is a huge part of life in India and has shaped the country’s history. During your holiday you’ll probably come across a good many of temple and while it’s easy to walk on by but stepping within can reveal a whole new world designed to inspire wonder which it would be a shame to miss.
AMRISTAR'S GOLDEN TEMPLE is one of the most sacred Sikh sites in the world and attracts large numbers of devotees. It is not exclusive however and people of all faiths are welcome to enter to see the famous gleaming temple reflected in the lake. Every visitor is also offered a meal of dhal and rotis which you eat sitting on the floor together.
SARNATH, near Varanasi, is the site of Lord Buddha’s first sermon almost 2500 years ago, a hugely significant location for Buddhists. The complex consists of temples, stupas, monasteries, a spiritual garden, archaeological museum and a Bodhi tree, a reputed offshoot from the tree in Bodhgaya under which Buddha gained enlightenment.
RANAKPUR TEMPLES are Jain temples justly renowned for their exquisite carvings. The main temple is constructed of white marble and contains 1444 pillars all bearing elaborate carvings of flowers, creatures and people and unique. Light enters from various points and changes the colour of the marble making it an even more breathtaking sight.
BELUR and HALEBIDU are 11th-century Hindu temples in Karnataka, superb examples of Hoysala architecture and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They are adorned with beautiful sculptures and carvings depicting scenes from Indian mythology and portraits of elegant dancing ladies and musicians which add a touching human dimension.
Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
This is the archetypal Hindu temple of southern Indian. A vast walled complex with no fewer than 14 gently tapering towers or gopurams, covered in rich carvings and decorated in bright reds, blues, greens and yellows. These mark doorways into the temple’s many pillared halls, shrines, gardens and a sacred pool. Take time to soak up the ambience and view the wonderful murals, statues and sculptures. You can easily spend a few hours here, there is so much to admire.
Old and new
The 8th century SHORE TEMPLE in Mahabalipuram is notable for being one of the oldest constructed (as opposed to rock-cut) temple complexes in South India. The main shrine, dedicated to Shiva, is topped by a tall stone pyramid called a shikhara and the whole enclosure is protected by a wall on which sit sacred Nandi bull sculptures, protecting the Shiva shrine. Legend has it that sailors used the shikhara to guide them to the port.
Opened in 1986, Delhi’s LOTUS TEMPLE is an eye-catching structure composed of 27 white marble angled ‘petals’ together resembling a lotus flower about to bloom. The interior is free of statues and adornments, typical of a Baha’i House of Worship, and solar lighting is used to accentuate the ceiling petals. Everyone is welcome to visit the temple, regardless of creed, and use the prayer hall for contemplation and worship.
Ruinous and erotic
BATESHWAR’S hundreds of sandstone temples were for centuries mere ruins, destroyed by natural causes or man according to your preferred theory. Many have been restored and you now see dozens of white-washed temples lining the bank of the scared Yamuna River, some displaying religious and secular reliefs. For three weeks each October and November the Bateshwar Fair attracts crowds of Hindu pilgrims as well as cattle traders.
KHAJURAHO’S temples are famous for their erotic sculptures which may seem surprising in a temple but their creators, the Chandela dynasty, believed that gratification of earthly desires was spiritually liberating. In fact, these account for less than 10% of the entire carvings, others devoted to aspects of Hinduism. Mysteriously the temples were abandoned shortly after construction and rediscovered only in the 19th century.
The Taj Mahal
Yes, this is rather cheeky addition as everyone knows the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum and not a temple, but…it has been argued that the beautiful building we see today was built on the site of an ancient Shiva shrine, so, albeit tenuously, it can be included here.
It’s hard, impossible even, for words to do it justice but the perfect symmetry, simple elegance of the Mughal design and play of the light on the white marble especially at sunrise and sunset all play their parts in making Shah Jahan’s tribute to beloved third wife one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.