You can’t think about India without envisioning all those lavishly decorated temples that have stood proudly over the centuries, defying the ravages of time. Though some have succumbed to the merciless tooth of time, others are still attracting thousands of tourists who want to admire their extravagant design and artistic form.
As great places of worship, the temples have been of tremendous historical and cultural significance to the people of India who take pride in being endowed with such spectacular and elaborate establishments.
If India is your next destination, make sure to visit these 10 richest temples in order to witness their magnificence in person.
1. Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple, Kerala
The exact age of this temple can’t be determined with certainty but experts claim that it was established over 5 000 years ago, on the first day of Kali Yuga (the last of the four world cycles associated with the demon Kali). Not only is the most visited place of worship in the world but until recently, it had been one of the wealthiest in India before it was dethroned by the Venkateswara Temple. It is estimated that the annual amount of gold offered by visitors exceeds 3 000 kilograms.
The gopuram (the tower) is one of its most distinct and dazzling features and it’s located at the main entrance. It is 100 feet tall and embellished with ornate sculptures. There are 7 floors to the tower’s structure with a pair of opposite openings centered at each floor. If you happen to visit India in the summer during a two-day equinox, you will able to see the setting sun above the tower as it slowly begins to descend and pass exactly through each of the openings.
2. Tirumala Tirupati Venkateswara Temple, Andhra Pradesh
Tirumala at Tirupati in Chittoor is a district of Andhra Pradesh and it’s one of the most visited Hindu pilgrim spots on the planet. Built in the Dravidian style of architecture, the Venkateswara Temple has three entrances leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The main shrine Ananda Nilayam, is the most important part of the temple and the tower inside it is entirely plated with gold.
With 50 000 to 100 000 devotees visiting the temple daily and offering gold as a token of love for the god, the temple is estimated to be one of the richest temples in India, if not the richest. According to the temple’s officials, the temple earns around 1 200 crores (millions) of rupees per year while the temple’s bank deposits of gold weigh almost 5 tonnes. In addition to this, on-site ornaments and antiques are estimated to be worth hundreds of crores.
3. Golden Temple, Amritsar
Golden Temple is the term for Harmandar Sahib, a gurdwara in Amritsar and also one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Sikhism. Plated with gold, this temple is one of the most spectacularly lavish places of worship in India. The dome of the temple alone is gilded with almost 800 kilograms of pure gold.
The first layer of gold was applied to the construction two centuries after it was erected. Over the decades, additional layers were applied (manually each time) and the final restoration ended up spreading a whopping 24 layers of 24-carat gold across the temple’s surface. A huge marble walkway and the holy tank (Amrit Sarovar) surround the temple, adding even more beauty to the entire complex. Before entering the temple, visitors have to wash their feet in the holy water of the tank in order to wash away their sins.
4. Meenakshi Temple, Madurai
The Meenakshi Temple complex can be seen from anywhere in the city of Madurai. The temple is actively used and maintained regularly so that the thousands of colorful stone figurines can keep their vibrant colors. Not only does it receive over 15 000 devotees on a daily basis but it’s also one of the few religious monuments dedicated to a female deity. Meenakshi, the goddess of the temple and the incarnation of the Hindu goddess Parvati, embodies fertility and love.
The complex comprises four temples and fourteen towers united in a wonderful splash of color, each having four main entrances facing east, west, south, and north. Inside the temples, visitors can admire the intricately carved pillars depicting gods demons, and holy animals, the Golden Lily Tank for spiritual bathing in the southern tower, and an abundance of smaller shrines throughout the compound. However, the shrines are restricted to Hindus only.
5. Somnath Temple, Gujarat
Somnath is a famous pilgrimage and Hinduism destination in the westernmost state of India, Gujarat. It is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas (devotional representations) of Lord Shiva and said to be the temple built by the Moon God himself. Being on the coast of the Arabian sea, the temple was easy prey for crusaders and invaders who demolished it seven times over the centuries but the temple still remains one of the best examples of Chalukya architecture.
Ornate silver embellishments and intricate carvings adorn the exterior of the temple, topped with a golden 10-ton Kalash (dome). The interior of the temple is no less magnificent. Inside, there is a fascinating painted ceiling, carved pillars, and the central sanctum sanctorum adorned with gold.
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6. Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple, Delhi
As one of the largest Hindu complexes in India, Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple reflects thousands of years of Indian culture, history, and tradition. Stretching across 100 acres of land, it combines traditional stone art and architecture, ancient values and wisdom. Still, the most fascinating fact about this complex and its central temple is the amazing spirit of volunteerism of devotees who had spent 300 million hours constructing, building, carving, and embellishing the temple before it was finished 5 years later.
Today, visitors are welcome to admire the grandeur of its huge mandir and nine majestic domes. The exterior comprises carefully crafted statues of elephants and divine personalities of Indian culture. Marble and pink sandstone dominate the construction because they are thought to be the symbols of love and purity.
7. Vaishno Devi Temple, Jammu
Though not exactly a temple, Vaishno Devi holy sanctuary is said to be one of few that every Hindu devotee should visit at least once in a lifetime. The only way to reach this impressive cave temple is by a strenuous uphill walk through the woods and rocks of the mountain Trikuta. Geological studies of the caves indicate that they date a million years back in history.
Unlike all the other temples, there are no idols or statues here. The three natural rock formations are believed to be the symbols of the deity Vaishno Devi’s three forms – Maha Kali, Mata Saraswati, and Maha Lakshmi.
8. Udupi Sri Krishna Matha, Karnataka
Founded by Srila Madhvacharya, one of the greatest philosophers and religious reformers in the 13th century, the town of Udupi is also called the Kingdom of God and remains one of the leading places of pilgrimage among Indians. Today, Sri Krishna Matha in Udupi stands as one of the holiest temples in Southern India and the temple receives thousands of devotees every month.
However, the temple is most famous for its two distinct features. Lord Krishna, the main deity of the temple, is not visible in any form but instead, visitors can get a hint of him by standing in front of a large inner window Navagraha Kitiki, plated with silver and having nine holes to represent his incarnations. The other unique feature of the temple is the fact that unlike in other holy edifices, Lord Krishna’s idol is placed facing the west.
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9. Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi
The city of Kashi (Varanasi) is one of the oldest in India. In fact, there are references to Kashi in the ancient epic Ramayana and Mahabharata and the ancient Hindu scripture Skanda Puranda. It’s overlooking the Western bank of the holy river Ganges and along with Somnath Temple in Gujarat, it is one of the most visited Jyotirlingas.
The temple survived several demolishments in the face of conquerors and crusaders but it managed to withstand the tests of time. This architectural marvel consists of several shrines while the main shrine with a linga (Shiva’s representation in the form of light) placed in a silver altar. The temple is topped with three impressive golden domes while inside, visitors and devotees can see the Jnana Vapi well, believed to have been the final resting place of the temple’s head priest who jumped into the well to save the deity statue from the invaders.
10. Sri Ranganathaswamy, Srirangam
Dedicated to a reclining form of Lord Vishnu and situated on the island of Srirangam, this sacred temple is considered to be the first among the 108 Divya Desams. The reason why UNESCO allotted this temple to be one of the World Heritage Sites is the fact that this is more than a temple. In fact, the complex is actually a temple-town characterized by the Sapta-Prakaram formation where the central sanctum is surrounded by seven (sapta) concentric rectangular enclosures (prakarams). The tower at the entrance is entirely made of gold while the idol of Sri Ranganatha lies on the golden serpent couch.
The Royal Temple Tower rises (Rajagopuram) almost 300 ft in height and it’s the most impressive of the complex, comprising eleven intricately carved stories built in the Dravidian style of architecture. This 156-acre complex features a total of 21 gopurams, 50 shrines, 39 pavilions, and the Hall of 1000 Pillars, made of granite sculptures depicting rearing horses and their riders as they try to fend off rampant tigers.
Though there are almost 2 million temples in India, a dozen of them are blessed with such high traditional and cultural value that they are sometimes estimated to have a worth of more than $21 billion and $11 million annual income per each. No matter how much controversy this may cause, these temples still remain the most visited sites in India and stand proudly as some of the holiest sanctuaries of Indian culture.