Tamil Nadu in South India is famous for its Hindu temples, and it is easy to explore the temples independently. Major temples and Hindu pilgrimage destinations in South India include the Ramnathswamy temple in Rameshwaram and the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, the temples in Kanchipuram and the Shore Temple in Mamallapuram.
The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai
The Shri Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, in Tamil Nadu, is one of the most important and most stunning temples in South India. The 12 gopuras (towers) are decorated with a colorful display of gods and goddesses and the temple complex is huge. The temple and its surrounding areas are a chaos of pilgrims, beggars, tourists, pickpockets, salesmen, and touts, so the visit is far from a peaceful experience, but few Indian temples are.
The temple’s website has lots of information about the presiding deities, about the history of the temple, about the correct procedure for worship in the temple and about travel to Madurai.
Rameshwaram and the Ramnathswamy Temple
Rameshwaram is said to be where one of the most-loved Hindu Gods, Rama, built his bridge from mainland India to the island of Lanka (where his wife Sita was held captive by Lanka’s evil demon king Ravana. In the end Rama rescued Sita and returned home safely). The Ramnathswamy temple was built in the 17th century and is an important pilgrimage destination, and there are several other shrines in the area too. Trains and buses connect Madurai and Rameshwaram if you want to visit both temples. If you want to learn about Elephant Indian Art, check out this page.
Mamallapuram Shore Temple and Kanchipuram Temples
Mamallapuram, a short bus or taxi ride down from Chennai on the east coast of Tamil Nadu, is one of South India’s backpacker resorts and home to the famous Shore Temple. This 7th-century temple is a Unesco World Heritage site, and Mamallapuram (or Mahabalipuram) is also known for its stone carving. The beach here is not particularly nice but for some reason, the place still attracts a lot of foreigners. See also this post about Odisha Tribal Heritage and Ancient Art.
Nearby, an easy bus trip from Mamallapuram, the sacred city of Kanchipuram has several important temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. Kanchipuram is both a temple town and a silk-producing center, which means that it is difficult to get a rickshaw ride from one temple from another without being whisked off to random silk factories that pay drivers a commission for delivering unsuspecting tourists at their doorstep.
The temples here are stunning, although some will not let non-Hindus into parts of the temple where actual worship happens. In most cases, you can still walk around the temple complex. Most rickshaw drivers are happy to offer temple tours but when negotiating costs, ask if the tour is going to include any surprise silk shopping.