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Around 15 km from Kanchipuram stands the rock-cut cave temple of Mamandur on the banks of River Palar. Built during the early years of the Pallava rule, the cave temple has been declared by the Archaeological Survey of India as a monument of national importance.
The temple’s main attraction is an inscription in the Tamil Brahmi script. Brahmi is the earliest Indian alphabetical script and has several regional variations, one of which is Tamil Brahmi. The inscription is said to have been laid down sometime between 300 BC and 300 CE.
Kanchipuram Monastery is the largest centre for Buddhism in Kanchipuram, and the earliest literary record of the region speaks of a local king commissioning the monastery in the 2nd century. Other evidence points to the site being active till the 14th century. Today, it is a peaceful place that allows visitors a glimpse of the history of the town while enjoying a few moments of quiet and serenity.
Many famous Buddhist monks once lived in the ancient city of Kanchipuram, which was an important Buddhist centre. Some of these centres are still present in the city. Sumati, Buddhaghosha, Jotipala, Acharya Dharmapala, Aniruddha, Deepankara Tero, Ananda Tero, Saddhamma Jotipala were some of the noted Buddhist monks who made Kanchipuram their home.
The main attraction in the quaint town of Uthiramerur is Vaikunta Perumal, an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. A lovely example of South India’s Dravidian style of architecture, the temple covers an area of about half an acre.
Here, Vishnu’s divine consort is worshipped as Anandavalli. The sanctum sanctorum houses an idol of Lord Vishnu with his companions, Sridevi and Bhudevi, on either side. The assembly hall is pillar-less, supported only by the roof. However, the most unique and impressive aspect of the temple is this: on its walls, inscriptions dating as far back as the 10th century were found that indicated to the strong political and administrative machinery, as well as a self-governance system of the Cholas. Now, the temple has been declared as a heritage monument and is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The main temple here is known as Vadaranyeshwar, dedicated to Lord Shiva, and is one of the 275 shaivaite sites in the state of Tamil Nadu. It is also one of the five majestic cosmic dance halls (Pancha Sabhai). This particular dance hall is known as Ratna Sabhai. According to legend, when the lord was performing a cosmic dance, his anklet fell down to earth and broke into five pieces, one of them being Thiruvalangadu. In fact, a bronze statue of Nataraj, lord of the dance, was unearthed here, which is now preserved in the art section of the Chennai Government Museum.
Many believe that the temple was built by the Chola dynasty in the 12th century, however, inscriptions have been found that point to the 5th century. The locals say that before you enter Vadaranyeshwar, you need to first pray at the Kali temple situated behind it.
Dedicated to Lord Subrahmanya (Muruga), the temple at Thiruthani is situated on a small hillock and is said to be one of the six abodes, or “padai veedu”, of Lord Muruga. Legend has it that Lord Muruga married one of his two consorts, Valli, here. He also stayed in Thiruthani after defeating the demon, Surapadman.
The temple can be reached by a series of 365 steps. There are four enclosures, along with a shrine dedicated to Aapat Sahaaya Vinayakar, who supposedly helped Lord Muruga in winning Valli's hand in marriage. The image of Lord Muruga himself is placed in the Rudraksha tower, and is seen wearing exquisite ornaments.
Dating back to the period of the Pallava rulers, the ancient temple of Thiruporur is one of the 33 most important temples of Lord Muruga. Its name translates to the place of the holy war. It faces east, sitting in the shadow of the Pranava Mountain.
Lord Muruga’s triumphs are represented in the positioning of the temple. According to the Puranas, Thiruporur is hailed as the Aghayamarg (skies) where the lord fought and won against demons.
Famous for the Ramanuja Swamy Temple, which is also known as the Adikesava Temple, Sriperumbudur lies on the outskirts of Kanchipuram. This must-visit temple has three images of saint Ramanuja that were made during the saint’s lifetime in Srirangam, his birthplace of Sriperumbudur and Melkote, in the neighbouring state of Karnataka.
In front of the shrine of Sri Ramanuja lies a resplendent golden mandap, which was built by the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore. Four kalasas, representing the four Vedas, have been built on this mandap. There are several idols that sit on the mandap, under the kalasas, which is why the mandap looks like a temple itself.
Located in the quaint village of Uthiramerur, and built in the 8th century by Pallava king Nandivarman (731-796), the Sri Vaikunta Perumal Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu who is worshipped as Vaikunta Perumal, along with his consort, Goddess Lakshmi, who is revered as Anandavalli. While originally built by the Pallavas, the temple was renovated in part by the Cholas at a later time.
This temple is considered as one of the 108 divya desam temples dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and has even been mentioned in the Divya Prabandha, the early medieval Tamil canon of the Azhwar saints, who lived between the 6th and 9th centuries AD.
An architectural marvel, the Ekambareswarar Temple is spread over a vast area of 40 acre. Its most striking feature is the main entrance or the raja gopuram that rises to an imposing height of 172 ft. Entering through this gate feels like stepping into a different era, such is the grandeur of the structure. A pillared hall sits in front of the sanctum, and there are idols of the 63 Nayanmars across the place. As you move further into the temple, you will come across two water tanks known as Shivaganga and Kampa Nadi. The main shrine showcases a Somaskanda panel, which features Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati and Skanda epic.
Built by the Pallava rulers, Ekambareswarar Temple has 1000 pillared halls and five prakarams or enclosures. With Lord Shiva as the presiding deity, who is worshipped here as prithvi (earth), the temple was later renovated by the Chola and Vijayanagara rulers. During the rule of Krishnadeva Raya, the gopuram (gateway tower) and the outer walls were constructed in 1509 AD. Just behind the sanctum stands a 3,500-year-old mango tree that still bears fruits. The temple is an important religious site of the Hindu sect of Saivism, as one of the temples of the Panch Bhoota Stalas, or the five elements. Lord Shiva is represented by his most famous symbol, the lingam, and this particular one is known as Prithvi Lingam. The lord’s divine consort Goddess Parvati is also worshipped here in the avatar of Gowridevi Amman.
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the lord of Mt Kailash, the Kailasanathar Temple is among the most important temples in town. The large temple complex has 60 smaller shrines, but one of the most unique aspects is the main idol of Lord Shiva, which has 16 stripes. The architecture of the temple is in traditional Pallava style of pillared halls, a vestibule and a pyramidal tower. There are 240 or so panels engraved into the temple walls that display Nagara and Pallava Grantha scripts; incidentally, some of the earliest works of calligraphy are also found at Kailasanathar Temple. It holds one of the earliest sculptures of Jyeshta Lakshmi (Moodevi) and Vaali as well. Showcasing Dravidian style of architecture, this place is ideal for meditation and reflection.
The construction of the Kailasanathar Temple began during the rule of Pallava king, Rajasimha (695 AD -722 AD) and was completed in the 8th century by Mahendravarman III, of the Pallava dynasty.
Built by the rulers of Vijayanagar, the Varadharaja Perumal Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is one of the divya desam temples, the 108 temples said to have been visited by the 12 poet saints or Alwars.
There are a number of other temples in the complex. The main temple has a 100-pillar hall, which has some beautiful exquisitely carved sculptures. The idol of Lord Athi Varadaraja Perumal, 40 ft long and made of athi wood, is seen in a reclining position. This statue is brought out only once every 40 years for darshan (sighting). The raja gopuram (main gateway) is a feast to the eyes, soaring to a height of 96 ft.
The name Kamakshi refers to Goddess Saraswati (goddess of education) and Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth), where 'ka' means Saraswati, 'ma' means Lakshmi and 'akshi' means eye. The imposing temple is dedicated to Goddess Kamakshi (considered as the ultimate form of Goddess Parvati).
The deity of this temple is unique in that instead of the traditional standing position, her idol is in the yogic position of padmasana. She is seen holding a sugarcane bow and five flowers in the two of her lower arms, and a pasha (lasso), and an ankusha (goad) in her two upper arms. The goddess is flanked by the holy trinity (Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma).