With India’s rich history and culture, it’s hardly a surprise that the temples here are among its most valuable assets. The combined heritage of religion, culture and tradition has given the country a plethora of architectural marvels, temples that are more than 1,000 years old. Once upon a time, these ancient temples in India were used as sites where dance, music and combative practises were honed. Today they remind us of our past and are examples of the architectural brilliance of craftsmen from ancient times. Here are some of the most beautiful ancient temples in India that uphold the country’s rich cultural heritage.
Here’s A List Of The Oldest Temples In India
1. The Temples Of Hampi, Karnataka
Located in the southern state of Karnataka, Hampi is world renowned for its historical ruins and heritage. Its Group of Monuments, that cover over 4,100 hectares (16 square miles) is also recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hampi was once the capital of the Vijayanagara empire in the 14th century, and today you can witness the ruins of more than 1,600 structures from the last great Hindu kingdom in South India that ruled here for over 200 years. Among the many ancient temples here at Hampi, don’t miss the Vittala temple—the stone chariot, the Virupaksha Temple and the elephant stables.
2. Dilwara Temples, Mount Abu, Rajasthan
These Jain temples built between the 11th and 13th century are located about 2.5 km from Mount Abu in Rajasthan. There are five temples in a single complex, each with a distinct identity, and dedicated to different Tirthankaras. Collectively known for the handiwork of intricate craftsmanship, each temple is unique in its architecture and cultural relevance.The stunning use of marble that can be seen in the exquisite detailing in the ceiling, doorways, and pillars are a reminder of the skill and splendour that went into building these marvelous temples. The five temples—Vimal Vasahi, Luna Vasahi, Pittalhar Temple, Parshvanatha Temple and Mahavir Swami Temple are considered among the most remarkable Jain pilgrimage sites in the world.
3. Konark Sun Temple, Odisha
Built in the 13th century by the kings of the Eastern Ganga dynasty, the Konark Sun Temple is situated in the small town of Konark in Puri, Orissa. This marvel of architecture is dedicated to the sun god, and the gigantic structure is meant to resemble the sun god’s chariot, with 12 pairs of elaborately carved stone wheels, dragged by seven horses. Today, the temple stands without the vimana, or the main sanctum, which once stood 229 feet tall. A wonderful example of Kalinga architecture, this ancient temple of India is made with Khondalite rocks and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4. Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh
Located on a hilltop at Sanchi in the Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh, the Sanchi Stupa was built between the 3rd century BC and 12th century AD. This ancient temple of India is supposed to be one of the oldest stone structures in India. It was built under the supervision of emperor Ashoka’s wife and daughter. It has a large hemispherical dome, surrounded by four gateways called Toranas. These four intricately designed gateways face four different directions, each symbolising love, trust, courage and peace.
The magnificence of this stone structure lies in its size— 16 metres high and 37 metres wide. It preserves the relics of the Buddha and has also garnered itself a place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
5. Jagatpita Brahma Mandir, Pushkar, Rajasthan
This Hindu temple located close to the Pushkar lake, considered sacred in Pushkar, Rajasthan, is not just one of the oldest temples in India, but is known as one of the oldest temples in the world. While the present structure dates back to the 14th century, the temple itself is said to be 2,000 years old. Dedicated to the god Brahma, the Jagatpita Brahma Temple is built of marble and stone with motifs of the hamsa, or swan. The temple sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha) holds the statue of Brahma seated in a cross legged position along with his second consort, the goddess Gayatri.
6. Tungnath Temple, Uttarakhand
Standing at a height of 3,680 metres (12,073 feet), the Tungnath temple is the highest Shiva temple in the world and amongst the most ancient temples in India. Thanks to its elevation, it is also the highest of the Panch Kedar temples, the others being Madhyamaheshwar, Kedarnath, Rudranath and Kalpeshwar. The temple is believed to have been built by the Pandavas to venerate Shiva and seek his pardon. This ancient temple is located in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand. It’s made of black rock and the construction style is similar to that of the temple in Kedarnath. While there are a dozen shrines of other gods surrounding the temple, it is quite small in size—only 10 people are allowed in at a time.
7. Mahabalipuram Temples, Tamil Nadu
Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mahabalipuram group of temples are a reflection of the rich cultural heritage of the seventh and eighth century of India. These ancient structures are located in the coastal resort town of Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, India, and were built by the Pallava kings in the 7th and 8th centuries. The temple town Mahabalipuram has approximately 40 monuments and Hindu temples, which are a mix of ratha-(chariot)shaped temples, mandapas (cave) temples, huge open-air rock reliefs, and the Shore temple, all dedicated to Shiva.
8. Kailasha Temple, Maharashtra
Located in cave 16 of the Ellora Caves in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, the Kailasa temple was built by King Krishna I in AD 760 to represent Mt Kailasa, Shiva’s Himalayan abode. This astonishing temple is known as one of India’s greatest monuments due to its massive size, amazing architecture, and mind-boggling detailed carvings. It was carved in perfect proportion from a single piece of basalt rock from Charanandri Hills by hand, using chisels, hammers and picks. It also might be the reason why it’s considered as an engineering marvel—a perfect spot for history and architecture lovers.
9. Ramanathaswamy Temple, Tamil Nadu
This temple, located on Rameswaram Island town in Tamil Nadu, is one of the four most holy pilgrimages (Char Dhams) of the Hindus. Dedicated to Shiva, the temple is one of 12 jyotirlingas (devotional representation of Lord Shiva), in India, and is visited by almost every Hindu devotee. The Ramanathaswamy temple is known for its intricate work, majestic towers and corridors. It boasts a 126-feet-tall eastern tower, a 78-feet-high western tower, and 22 theerthams or holy wells. Devotees bathe in the waters of these holy wells before entering the inner sanctum of the temple. It is believed that bathing here atones one of all sin. This very sacred temple has the longest corridor recorded among all the existing Hindu temples in India. It is believed that on his way back to Ayodhya after killing the demon Ravana and rescuing Sita, it was here that Rama stopped to worship Shiva.
10. Badami Cave Temples, Karnataka
The Badami cave temples are located in the Bagalkot district of North Karnataka in India, in the town called Badami. These cave temples lie about 88 miles (142 km) east of Belgavi and 87 miles (140 km) northwest of Hampi. They form a complex of temples that are considered an example of Indian rock-cut architecture, especially Badami Chalukya architecture. Badami or Vatapi (as the town was formerly called), used to be the capital of the Chalukyas between 540 AD and 757 AD. These temples are cut out of the sandstone that surrounds the Agastya lake. Of the four cave temples, three are dedicated to deities in the Hindu pantheon, while one is dedicated to Jainism. The first temple is dedicated to Nataraja, the second and third to Vishnu, and the fourth to Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. They are connected to each other through a flight of stairs.
Also read: 25 of the most famous caves in India
Have You Explored These Ancient Temples In India?
India is a melting pot of different religions, cultures and languages. Even geographically, India has several marks of faith spread all across its length and breadth. There are a number of old temples that have several centuries of devotion and history ingrained in their walls, granting them authenticity. If you’ve visited any of these ancient temples in India tell us all about your experiences in the comments section below.