Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest religions, and has over 900 million followers worldwide. Though most of the Hindus live in India there are substantial numbers present in Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
Temple construction in India started nearly 2000 years ago and marked the transition of Hinduism from the Vedic religion. The architecture of Hindu temples has evolved ever since resulting in a great variety of styles. They are usually dedicated to one primary Hindu deity and feature a murti (sacred image) of the deity. Although it is not mandatory for a Hindu to visit a Hindu temple regularly, they play a vital role in Hindu society and culture.
flickr/Peregrino Will Reign
Situated on a large rock, Tanah Lot is one of the most famous Hindu temples in Bali, and probably the most photographed. The Tanah Lot temple has been a part of Balinese mythology for centuries. The temple is one of 7 sea temples, each within eyesight of the next, to form a chain along the south-western coast of Bali.
The City of 1000 Temples, Kanchipuram is one of the oldest cities in South India, and known for its ancient Hindu temples and silk sarees. The city contains several big temples like the Varadharaja Perumal Temple for Lord Vishnu and the Ekambaranatha Temple which is one of the five forms of abodes of Lord Siva.
The Brihadishwara Temple, located in Thanjavur, India, was built by the Chola king Rajaraja I in the 11th century. The world’s first complete granite temple, Brihadishwara is a brilliant example of the Dravidian style of temple architecture. The temple tower is 66 meters (216 feet) high making it one of the tallest temples in the world.
The village of Khajuraho is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. It’s numerous Hindu and Jain temples are famous for their erotic sculpture. The temples were built over a span of 200 years, from 950 to 1150. A few of the temples are dedicated to the Jain pantheon and the rest to Hindu deities, to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and various Devi forms.
Although officially part of the Angkor Wat complex, Banteay Srei lies 25 km (15 miles) north-east of the main group of temples, enough to list it separately here. The Hindu temple was completed in 967 AD and is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still clearly visible today. Banteay Srei is the only major temple at Angkor not built for a king, instead it was constructed by one of king Rajendravarman’s counselors, Yajnyavahara.
Dedicated to Lord Ranganatha (a reclining form of Lord Vishnu), the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam, India is an important shrine that receives millions of visitors and pilgrims every year. With an area of 156 acres (6,31,000 m²), the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple is one of the largest religious complexes in the world. The oldest structure of the temple dates back to the 10th century.
The Virupaksha Temple in the city of Hampi in India started out as a small shrine and grew into a large complex under the Vijayanagara rulers. It is believed that this temple has been functioning uninterruptedly ever since the small shrine was built in the 7th century AD which makes it one of the oldest functioning Hindu temples in India. The largest entrance tower of the temple is 50 meters high.
Prambanan is the largest and most beautiful Hindu temple complex in Indonesia. Located about 18 km east of Yogyakarta, it is somewhat overshadowed by the even more awe-inspiring Borobudur situated just next door. The two sites are quite different in style though, with Prambanan being a collection of tall and pointed Hindu temples, instead of the single large Buddhist stupa of Borobudur.
Prambanan has three main temples dedicated to Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva and was built around 850AD by the Mataram Kingdom, rulers of central Java.
The Meenakshi Amman Temple is one of the most important Indian Hindu temples, located in the holy city of Madurai. The temple is dedicated to Sundareswar (form of Lord Shiva) and Meenakshi (form of Goddess Parvati). The complex houses 14 magnificent towers including two golden Gopurams for the main deities, that are elaborately sculptured and painted.
The temple is a significant symbol for the Tamil people, and has been mentioned for the last couple of millennia, though the present structure was built in the early 17th century.
Angkor is a vast temple complex in Cambodia featuring the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century AD. These include the famous Angkor Wat temple, the world’s largest single religious monument, and the Bayon temple (at Angkor Thom) with its multitude of massive stone faces. During it’s long history Angkor went through many changes in religion converting between Hinduism to Buddhism several times.