Tamil Nadu is known as the land of temples, unsurprisingly so when you consider that every small town or village has at least one temple. Among the many thousands of temples that dot the landscape, a few stand out for their remarkably unique architecture and design. Let’s take a look at three such temples.
Thillai Nataraja Temple
Located in the town of Chidambaram, in the eastern part of Tamil Nadu, the Thillai Nataraja temple is famous for the Nataraja deity, which is an aspect of Shiva as the Lord of Dance. Referred to simply as the Chidambaram temple, this ancient shrine is said to have been established by Patanjali, the father of modern yoga and the author of the Yoga Sutras. The temple is also one of the Pancha Bhuta Sthalas, a group of five temples representing the five elements of earth, water, wind, fire and space. Four of these temples are situated in Tamil Nadu, and one in the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh.
The gopuram or tower at the entrance of the temple is decorated with sculptures of all the 108 body positions in Bharatanatyam, the ancient Indian dance form. The stonework is so fine that even the mudras and hasthas, or the hand positions adopted in dance are clearly visible!
The Dhyanalinga temple is located near the town of Coimbatore, at the foothills of the Velliangiri Mountains. The main deity is a granite linga that stands 13 feet, 9 inches high, and is one of the largest in India. In Sanskrit, the word dhyana means meditation, and linga means form. The Dhyanalinga temple is a space for meditativeness and silence, and does not involve any rituals.
The linga is housed within a pillar-less dome that is 76 feet in diameter and is constructed only of brick and mud, stabilized with natural additives. The architectural brilliance and the ambience of the space attract many thousands of pilgrims. Here also, one finds the influence of Patanjali, represented by a statue outside the temple.
Mamallapuram, located about 35 miles south of Tamil Nadu’s capital city Chennai, is over 1300 years old and was built by King Mahamalla on the sea shore. Huge rocks, carved into temples in the shape of chariots, present samples of a very different building technique. There are also several colossal rock sculptures which depict various stories from Indian mythology. The most striking temple is probably the Shore Temple, which lies so close to the sea that many of its sculptures have been eroded by the sea!
The Tamil Nadu State Tourism Department website has many details regarding travel and stay at these places.