On A Spiritual Trail: 8 Unique Indian Temples

From ancient rock-cut relics to incredible sculptures to a celebration of feminine divine power, here are eight remarkable temples that you should add to your bucket list
Kailasa Temple, Ellora, Maharashtra
Kailasa Temple, Ellora, MaharashtraPhotos: Shutterstock

India's temples are a stunning testament to the country's rich and vibrant history, showcasing a unique blend of art, architecture, and spirituality. With their intricate sculptures, exquisite carvings, and captivating histories, they represent one of the world's most impressive architectural traditions. To help you discover the country's diverse cultural heritage, we have compiled a thoughtfully curated list of temples that will leave you in awe. Immerse yourself in the mystical atmosphere of temples dedicated to the yoginis of tantra. Or marvel at the ancient engineering feats in one that follows the sun's path. Visit a seaside structure with the longest pillared corridor in the world­­—each temple offers a truly unforgettable immersive experience. Whether you are a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or a spiritual seeker, visiting these temples is a must for anyone who wishes to explore India's diverse cultural heritage.

Maluti Terracotta Temples, Jharkhand

The Maluti terracotta temples are located in the Dumka district of Jharkhand. Although they are less well-known than their counterparts in Bengal, the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) has declared Maluti one of the world's 12 vanishing cultural heritage sites. These temples display a unique characteristic as they are built in clusters and are interspersed with traditional mud huts of the villagers, making Maluti a rare example of a living "temple village." Out of the original 108 temples, only 72 remain today. The temples are named after Goddess Mauliksha, who is worshipped here as Singha Vahini Durga, or "the goddess riding the lion." She is said to be the elder sister of Goddess Tara. As per the Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD), these temples were built between the 17th and 19th centuries by the kings of the Baj Basanta dynasty, for who the goddess was their family deity.

Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameshwaram, Tamil Nadu

Located on Rameshwaram Island in Tamil Nadu, this temple is home to one of the 12 jyotirlingas in the country. The temple is renowned for its three enormous corridors. The first corridor, which dates back to the 12th century, is the oldest and has been refurbished over time, and it houses the main deity. The second corridor contains 108 Shiva lingas. The third corridor is the highlight, with an elevated platform supported by over 1,200 pillars. It stands at a height of almost 23 feet and is believed to be the longest pillared corridor in the world.

Chausath Yogini Temple, Mitaoli, Madhya Pradesh

The yogini temples of India are dedicated to the female masters of yoga in tantric practices. Known as yoginis, they are believed to embody the sacred feminine divine. Adorned with exquisite sculptures, the temples were all built in a circular style and were roofless. Constructed in the 11th century, the Chausath Yogini Temple is located on a hillock in Mitaoli near Gwalior. It takes a 100 steps to reach the temple, where visitors can enjoy an impressive view of the Narmada Valley. It is one of the few in reasonably good condition. The circular wall of the temple has 64 chambers, each dedicated to a yogini or bharavi. The temple has 101 pillars and is believed to be the inspiration behind the corridor design of the former Parliament House.

Masrur Temples
Masrur Temples

Masrur Temples, Kangra Valley

India is known for rock-cut temples, but the picturesque Masroor or Masrur rock-cut temples in Kangra Valley are not so well known. Archaeologists believe that they were constructed between the 8th and 10th centuries. Masoor temples are an exemplary instance of monolithic rock-cut temples in the sub-Himalayan region and the only example of a temple constructed with rock-cut architecture. These temples are elaborately carved from a single piece of sandstone and follow the Nagara architectural style, arranged in a square grid, with smaller temples surrounding the main one. The central temple houses the primary shrine, which is unique in that it faces Northeast, towards the Dhauladhar range of the snowy Himalayan peaks, rather than the east as most Hindu temples do. The complex has suffered damage over the centuries, and many of its sculptures and reliefs have been lost.

Modhera Sun Temple
Modhera Sun Temple

Modhera Sun Temple, Gujarat

Situated around 100km northwest of Ahmedabad, the Sun Temple in Modhera is a magnificent example of temple architecture. It follows the Maru-gurjara architecture style of the 11th century, which was prevalent in western India under the patronage of the Solanki dynasty. The temple's location on a mound facing east is such that the rising sun shines directly through the Sabhamandapa doors into the shrine during the March and September equinoxes. This represents a remarkable way of planning and understanding the sun's movement. It is best to visit the temple during the March and September equinoxes when you can witness the twice-a-year spectacle as the rays of the rising sun glide over the Surya Kund, pass through the arches of the Ranga Mandap, pierce the entrance to the main chamber or Guda Mandap, and illuminate the sanctum. The temple is also known for its intricate sculptures—the walls showcase several panels featuring Surya, ashtadikpalas, various forms of Gauri, dancing apsaras, musicians, and amorous sculptures.

Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati
Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati

Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati, Assam

Situated atop Nilachal Hill in Guwahati, the Kamakhya Temple is dedicated to Kamakhya, a Shakti tantric deity known as the Goddess of Desire. The temple is the oldest and most sacred of the 51 Shaktipeeths. According to legend, it is believed to be where the "Yoni" of Goddess Sati fell. The temple complex comprises several small shrines, each dedicated to different deities. The Garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) is the most revered among them, housing the yoni-shaped stone symbolising the goddess's creative power. The annual Ambubachi Mela, held at the temple, celebrates the divine feminine energy known as Shakti, with Kamakhya embodying this powerful force. Ambu means "water," and Bachi or Vasi means "flowing." Together, they signify the flowing of water, symbolising the goddess's menstrual flow. The highlight is the period of "Asadha," when the doors of the Kamakhya shrine were closed to the public. According to beliefs, this is when Goddess Kamakhya goes through her annual menstrual cycle.

Kailasa Temple, Ellora, Maharashtra

The Kailasa Temple, a part of the UNESCO heritage site of Ellora Caves, is believed to have been constructed by King Krishna I in AD 760 to represent Mt Kailasa, the Himalayan abode of Lord Shiva. What makes it different from the other temples at the site is that it was excavated downward from a basaltic slope, unlike the others, which were first delved horizontally into the rock face. The temple has four levels adorned with elaborately carved monoliths and halls with stairs, doorways, windows, and numerous sculptures. According to UNESCO, "If one considers only the work of excavating the rock, a monument such as the Kailasa Temple is a technological exploit without equal."

Buddhanath Temple, Odisha

The Buddhanath Temple dates back to the 12th century and is located in the coastal village of Garedi Panchana in Odisha. Devoted to Shiva, it was built by King Chodaganga Dev of the Somavanshi dynasty along the lines of tantric principles. Legend has it that if snakebite victims are brought to the temple premises, they do not die. The temple's architecture and construction are based on the Garedi Yantra, a well-known centre for tantric studies in the Prachi Valley. The presiding deity inside the Buddhanath Temple is not a Shivalinga but a yoni, representing the female origin of Shakti. The 13th Finance Commission has provided funds to restore the temple, and restoration work is being undertaken.

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