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Home to some of the most revered temples of the Hindu faith in the country, Tamil Nadu promises travellers a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual experience through its many shrines, gardens, and rivers, which invoke emotion and relish history. The vibrant and diverse cultural tapestry here is sure to transport you to the world of your dreams. By Manya Saini

Tamil Nadu is home to some of the country’s most treasured holy sites, promising a spiritual journey immersed in history, culture and mythology. The land of temples is home to more than 30,000 shrines filled with devotion and designs that are spectacular architectural feats. The exterior of the elaborately carved gopurams (the monumental entrance at Hindu temples) and mandapas (the interior pillars) – mesmerise visitors with scenes from an ancient past while commemorating the folk tales on the lives of many Gods and Goddesses like Vishnu, Shiva, and Muruga, among others.

These destinations, some of which are over a thousand years old, encompass unmatched ethereal grace and wonder. A pilgrimage through the state will be incomplete without featuring them in your travel itinerary.

1. Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram

 

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The holy island of Rameswaram, one of the char dham (four abodes) of Hinduism is located in the Gulf of Mannar, connected to the mainland through the Pamban Bridge. The pilgrimage sees thousands of devotees every day looking to find repentance for their sins. It is believed that at the time of his return from Lanka, Lord Rama prayed to Lord Shiva on the island, hoping to be absolved from the sin of slaying Ravana. This makes the Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple one of the country’s most revered sites of Hinduism.

The two idols, Vishwalingam and Ramalingam, housed in its main sanctum have a story of their own. It is believed that the former idol was brought from Kailash by Hanuman, while the latter was built by Sita. The island is dotted with shrines. Some of the other cherished sites include Gandamadana Parvtham, Panchmuga Hanuman Temple, and Satchi Hanuman Temple.

When to go: The ideal time to visit the temple town is between October to April.
How to go: The site is well connected by both train and airways, with the closest airport located in Madurai.
Where to stay: Some of the best places to book your stay in the temple town are Hyatt Place Rameswaram, Hotel Queen Palace and Daiwik Hotels.

2. Many gems of Thanjavur

 

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The city of Thanjavur houses renowned and historic shrines like the Brihadishvara Temple, Ramaswamy Temple, Brihadisvara Temple and the Velli Vinayakar Koil. The shrines are adorned with magnificent sculptures, murals, and carved ceilings and floors which mesmerise pilgrims. Devotees of all three Hindu traditions – Shivaism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism – come to these sites in search of divinity. The Peruvudaiyar Kovil temple, in particular, is famous for being the first to have commissioned the Nataraja idol in the 11th century.

When to go: The best time to visit the famed rice bowl of Tamil Nadu is between December to March for three to four days.
How to go: The closest airport to the town is Tiruchirapalli International Airport located about 57 kilometres away. It is also well connected by daily trains and buses from all major Indian cities.
Where to stay: The best places to book your stay are Hotel Gnaman, Ideal River View Resort and Oriental Towers.

3. Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

The life of people in Madurai revolves around its world-renowned and tremendously revered Meenakshi Temple. The shrine was built almost 2,000 years ago with locals considering the 65,000-square-metre complex a city of its own. The temple is named so as Goddess Meenakshi is also known as Parvati, the divine consort of Lord Shiva. The shrine of the deity is home to a priceless green emerald that was brought back from Sri Lanka in the 10th century. The inner sanctum has the stunning hall of 1,000 pillars, and its ceilings feature a staggering wheel of time. Every night, the priests here carry an image of Lord Shiva as Sundareswarar from his shrine to Meenakshi’s shrine, in an elaborate procession. The puja performed during this time takes place amid much fanfare with chanting, drums and smoke.

When to go: The best time to visit Madurai is between mid-April and May during the Chithai festival when millions of devotees pour in to experience its divine grace.
How to go: The city is well connected by plane, train, road and waterways. The most convenient means to reach is by a domestic flight arriving at Madurai Airport.
Where to stay: Book your accommodation at Hotel Sangam or The Gateway Hotel Pasumalai Madurai for a seamless service throughout your stay.

4. Navagraha Temples, Kumbakonam

 

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The Navagraha temples located in the Kumbakonam district of the state are a cluster of nine temples, each dedicated to a particular celestial body. In Hindu mythology, it is widely believed that planetary positions at the time of one’s birth predict the strength and weaknesses of an individual’s life. These shrines, then, are believed to be extraordinarily auspicious and welcome pilgrims looking for a shift in their destiny from across the country. The most visited Suriyanar Koil temple here is believed to bestow health, success and prosperity on the devotees, while the Chandran or Tingaloor Koil is said to relieve sorrow and stress.

When to go: From October to February is the best time to visit especially if you are looking to travel on foot around the area.
How to go: The nearest airport to the city is Tiruchirapalli. It is also well connected by train and road.
Where to stay: Book your stay at Indeco Hotels Swamimalai and Kyriad Prestige Mayapuri Amira to immerse yourself in the vibrant cultural-scape of the city.

5. Nagore Sharif Dargah Khadar Vali, Nagapattinam

 

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The Nagore Dargah is dedicated to the 16th-century spiritual leader, Sufi saint Meera Shahid Abdul Qadir Hajrath Shahul Hamid Badshah. Pilgrims from around the country visit the town to commemorate the saint’s death anniversary for the 14-day Kanduri festival. The 500-year-old Dargah is built in the distinct style of the southern Indian architecture resembling Hindu temples of the era. The locals of the coastal town consider Shifa Gunta, a pool in the inner precinct of the Dargah, to be holy. Ever since it laid its foundations, pilgrims have been taking a holy dip in it to absolve themselves.

When to go: The seaside Nagapattinam district has pleasant weather throughout the year. However, the best time to visit is between November to February.
How to go: The city is well connected by all major means of travel, with the closest airport being the Tiruchirappalli International Airport, and the nearest railway station located five kilometres away from the city centre.
Where to stay: Some of the best hotels in the area to book your stay are MGM Vallankanni Residency and Seagate Resorts.

Related: Tamil Nadu Has The World’s First-Ever All-Granite Temple And It’s 1,000 Years Old