Temple towers are generally the large entrance gates of Hindu temples in southern India. Also known as Gopurams, they are probably the most striking attraction of any temple. The taller and more colourful the Gopuram, the more spectacular it looks. Add to that the stunning sculptures and these Gopurams are absolute head turners. Though it is mostly the main entrance gates that take all the attention with its magnificent art works, some temples have multiple entrance gates which have equally impressive works on them. The gopurams which are often richly decorated in typical Dravidian architecture, have a passage and have many storeys that taper as it goes higher. The sculptures are mostly of Hindu gods, mythological characters and figurines. More the works or higher the gopuram, indicated that the kingdom was a prosperous one. Every dynasty and its king wanted to outdo the earlier one in this perspective, which resulted in spectacular architectural creations over centuries. Here is a list of my favourite temple towers from South India.
Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, Srirangam
Sprawling over 156 acres, Sri Ranganathaswamy temple is the largest functional Hindu temple in the world. Located on the river island of Srirangam, which is carved out of the rivers Cauvery and Kollidam, the temple is one of the prominent Vishnu temples in India. Ranganatha temple was first built in the 3rd century CE and was rebuilt over the next many centuries until 17th century CE. There are 7 decorated colourful gopurams to pass through to reach the sanctum sanctorum. The south facing Raja gopuram which is the main entrance gate stands tall at 239 feet, and is one of the tallest temple towers in Asia. Sri Ranganathar, a form of Vishnu in a reclining pose on a coiled serpent, is the main shrine here. A narrow stairs near Ranga Vilasa mandapam goes up to the roof and offers lovely aerial views of all the gopurams. Please check Srirangam temple timings before visiting the temple.
Ekambareshwarar temple, Kanchipuram
Sometimes referred as Ekambaranath temple, this was built in the 9th century by Chola dynasty and is one of the most popular Shiva temples in Kanchipuram. Spread over 40 acres, the temple’s main attraction is its glorious 11 storeyed magnificent Rajagopuram (entrance gate) with impressive carvings. The tower might lack the colours, which are synonymous with temples across Tamil Nadu, however, the 190 feet tower is still quite an amazing creation.
Murudeshwar temple, Murudeshwar
The 123 feet tall Shiva statue at Murudeshwar temple is the second tallest in the world, and the temple complex also houses a 20 storied gopuram. The impressive Raja gopuram or main temple tower was opened in 2008, making it the youngest in this list. Though it lacks the art works like others, at 237 feet it is quite an intimidating structure, nevertheless. The top floor of the gopuram which can be accessed by a lift offers breathtakingly beautiful vistas of Murudeshwar beach and the unending Arabian sea.
Thillai Nataraja Temple, Chidambaram
Dedicated to Shiva, Nartaraja temple was built during the Chola period in the 11th century CE. The temple which has Shiva in a dancing pose as its main deity, has extensive Chola sculptures and exquisite architecture across. The temple has four gopurams which are seven storeyed, have a height of 140 feet, and are adorned with some of the finest works with colourful exteriors and sculpted interiors. Intricate sculptures of gods and mythological figures embellish the colourful gopurams.
Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai
Meenakshi Amman or Meenakshi Sundareshwarar temple is one of the most popular temples in South India. The 7th century temple built by the Pandya dynasty is located in the heartland of Tamil Nadu. The four tall colourful entrance gates with extensive carvings are a major attraction of this temple. The tallest one stands 170 feet high. The temple is dedicated to Meenakshi and Sundareshwarar, which are forms of Parvati and Shiva, respectively.
Virupaksha Temple, Hampi
Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage site was at its prime in early 16th century during the Vijayanagara empire when it was ruled by King Krishnadeva Raya. It was ransacked in mid 16th century, and Hampi lay in a state of ruins and excavations until it got itself on the UNESCO list. What remains are the reminiscences of a glorious empire. Located by the Tungabhadra river, almost all the sites are spread across the sacred centre (mostly temples) and royal enclosure (palaces). The two most popular temples here are Virupaksha temple and Vittala temple. While Vittala temple is known for its famous stone chariot, Virupaksha which is a functional temple has a majestic entrance tower (gopura) with intricate works and is dedicated to Shiva. The 166 feet tall gopuram stands out amidst the boulders and is an elegant structure standing tall with the ruins scattered all around.
Arunachaleshwar Temple, Tiruvannamalai
Arunachaleshwar temple is dedicated to Shiva, and has a beautiful setting spread over 10 hectares, making it the second largest temple complex in India. The temple was first built by the Chola dynasty and later rebuilt and expanded during the rule of Vijayanagara empire. Though the gopurams are devoid of colours, they have numerous carvings of various mythological characters. At a height of 217 feet, the main entrance which faces east direction is the tallest of the four gopurams that the temple has.
P.S.: This post is in collaboration with Srirangapankajam.