Important places to see in Tamil Nadu

The Land of the Tamils- Tamil Nadu, is a land with a vast heritage extends on the eastern part of the southern India. It is surrounded by the Bay of Bengal to its east, Arabian Sea, Kerala and Karnataka to its west and Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to its north. Let’s take a look at some of the important places to see in Tamil Nadu.

While the temples of the northern and western India were destroyed by invading vandals again and again, most of the southern temples remained safe from them. The huge temples of Tamil Nadu, as artistic as old, as sacred as historically eventful, inspire wonder and veneration.

Brief history of Tamil Nadu

Of the three great ruling dynasties of the south, the Cheras ruled a great part of Kerala. Parts of the modern Tamil Nadu were ruled by the Cholas and the Pandyas, Thanjavur and Tiruchirapalli areas being particularly identified with the former and Madurai and Tirunelveli being particularly identified with the Pandyas.

While the Cholas (their domain's name, Cholamandel, survives in Coromandel) first ruled from Uraiyur and then from Kaveripattinam, the Pandyas ruled from Madurai.
A third great dynasty of Tamil Nadu was the Pallava dynasty of Kanchi that came to prominence in the 4th century A.D.

Prosperous ports extended Tamil Nadu's commerce to distant countries.

The Kural by Thiruvalluvar, one of the greatest works of Indian literature, written about 2000 years ago, shows the maturity the Tamil language had achieved even in that remote past. Other old works like Ilango Adigal's Shilappadikaram bear fluent testimony to a highly developed and conscientious society that laid great emphasis on truth and justice.

Places to see in Mahabalipuram

Edward Lear, the celebrated father of limericks, felt bored and tired on his way to Mahabalipuram by boat. He reached there an annoyed man and what is worse, had to suffer a cyclone at night. He wondered if he ought not to go back to Chennai forthwith.

In the morning he had a glimpse of the monuments of Mahabalipuram. He wrote, "The grandeur and lovely beauty of these strange antiquities almost overpay the beastly bore of reaching them; the sculptures arc very astonishing; wonderful as specimens of such old date."

He stood and stared for a day more. This was in August of 1874. Mahabalipuram has since grown much more famous and has charmed many more skeptics.

Mahabalipuram, about 85 km from Chennai, was originally known as Mamallapuram , was founded by the Pallava king Mahendra Varman in the 7th century. It was an active port, but soon became equally famous for its sculpture. In course of time the port and prosperity of the place are gone, but the sculptures have become world-renowned.

It is convenient to survey Mahabalipuram in the following order of monuments: Arjuna's Penance; Varaha Mandapa; the Five Rathas, the Mahisasuramardini Cave; and the Shore Temple.

Arjuna's Penance

A huge rock has as though been transformed into a delicate canvas Gods, men, animals, and supernatural beings are all here. The Ganga, the river celestial, is emerging from the Himalaya.

Arjuna's penance is one of the motifs. He is seeking a boon from Lord Shiva. This 27 meter-long and 9 meter-high relief is the largest and the finest of its kind.

Varaha Mandapam

This is a small rock-cut mandapam—-but exquisitely beautiful. Vishnu as Varaha (the boar Incarnation) plunged into unfathomable waters and rescued the goddess of the earth.
The mandapam depicts another important theme too—-showing Vishnu in his Vamana (dwarf) Incarnation.

The Bhagavatham

This is the theme of the depiction on stone—Krishna protecting the community dear to him from Indra's wrath.

The Rathas
These highly significant monolithic monuments, carved from their tops to their bottoms out of a hill, are called Rat has because of their resemblance with temple chariots. But they are models of different temple styles that prevailed in the 7th century.

The five monuments are named after the Pandavas, but this is only a popular way of identifying them. They have nothing to do with the Pandavas.

Three more Rathas are found—-one near Arjuna's Penance and the other two outside the circle of monuments.

Many of the temples of Tamil Nadu, remarkable for their large Gopurams and Vimanas and multi-pillared halls and sculptured walls are the expansion of these conceptions in miniature.

The Shore Temple

This temple standing in a lone position touching the sea is a structure radically different from the Ratha-models.

Although called the Shore Temple, it is a complex of three temples, two Shiva shrines flanking the one of Vishnu.

Places to see in Kanchipuram

Kanchipuram, one of the sacred Muktikshetras (places that offer liberation) and famous since most ancient times, is situated 75 km south-west of Chennai.

Emperor Ashoka had built a Stupa here and that had been visited by Hiuen Tsang in 7th century A.D. He hails the city for its intellectual eminence and as a place where scholarship is highly valued. Dharmapala, the celebrated Buddhist scholar of Nalanda, was from Kanchi.

Kanchi was successively the capital of the Pallava, the Cholas, and the Rayas of Vijayanagar. During the 7th and the 8th centuries some of the best temples in the city were built by the Pallavas. Kings of several other dynasties also constructed numerous temples and Kanchipuram and its vicinity grew rich with more than a thousand temples. It is described as "the cradle of the Dravidian style of architecture."

It is considered to be one of the seven holy cities of India, the others being Hardwar, Ujjain, Varanasi, Mathura, Ayodhya, and Dwaraka.

The Hindus call it the Varanasi of the south. Both Shaivites and Vaishnavites flock here in their thousands. Kanchipuram is famous for its silk.

Ekambareswara Temple

Built at the western end of Kanchipuram by the Pallavas and later developed by the Cholas and the Vijayanagar dynasty, this shrine of Shiva is a huge structure. Its thousand-pillared hail is famous. The massive outer walls and the Gopuram were built by Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagar, in 1509.

Sri Kamakshi Amman Temple

Kanchipuram, the city, was originally designed as Sri Chakra —a highly significant mystic symbol—and the shrine of Mother Kamakshi (Parvati) formed its centre. This too is a highly impressive structure. The annual Car Festival on the 9th lunar day in February-March draws large crowds.

Sri Kalasanath Temple

Construction of this temple began by Rajasimha in the 7th century and was completed by his son Mahendravarman III. This incorporates all the traits native to the Pallava style—the pyramidal tower, a pillared hall and the vestibule, all enclosed by a wall surmounted by a parapet of cupolas.

Sri Vaikuntha Perumal Temple

Built by Nandivarman II in the 8th century, this temple dedicated to Vishnu presents a more mature Pallava style—its principal parts such as the cloisters, portico and sanctuary making an organic composition. The colonnade of lion pillars inside it represents the first phase of what developed into the grand thousand-pillared halls of later years.

Sri Varadaraja Temple

Sri Varadaraja Temple is a vast and impressive complex of structures dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is enclosed by high and enormous compound walls, built by the Vijayanagar rulers. Its hundred-pillared wall has exquisite sculptures among which are a huge chain carved out of a single stone.

Places to see in Thanjavur

Once the capital of the Cholas, Thanjavur (or Tanjore) is one of the cities famous for temples and is referred to as the centre of culture in the Kaveri delta.

An ambitious demon named Tanjam, at the moment of his death in the hands of Vishnu, desired that his memory be immortalized with the place of his residence. Hence the city is called after him.

Thanjavur is connected by rail and road with all the major cities and from Chennai its distance is about 350 km. The nearest airport is Tiruchirapalli, 55 km away.

Brihadeswara Temple

This great temple rising to a height of 58 meters and capped by a monolithic cupola with winged niches on four sides formed by a single granite rock weighing 80 tons, was built in the 10th century by Raja Chola I. It is described by many as the most majestic temple in the south.

The architecture of this temple marks a departure from tradition. Instead of its gopurams overshadowing the main shrine, the main shrine rises high over them.

The massive stone forming the cupola is said to have been led to its position by moving it along an upward passage for 6km! The deity is Lord Shiva.

Before the portals of the shrine is the image of Nandi, Shiva's carrier. This is the largest sculpture of its kind in the country. Superb frescos in the inner courtyard remind one of the paintings of Ajanta.

Thanjavur Fort and the Library

This fort built by the Maratha rulers has a palace built by King Vijaya Raghav. From one of the towers the ruler was offering obeisance to Lord Rangaswamy of Shrirangam.
Located in the palace is Saraswali Mahal Library, containing 30,000 rare manuscripts.

The palace also includes the San gita Mahal (Pavilion of Music), testifying to the sound acoustic sense and engineering skill of its builders.

A Church built by a Hindu King

Here is to be seen the Schwartz Church built by a Maratha ruler in 1799 as a token of respect for a Danish missionary, Rev. C.V. Schwartz.


11 km from Thanjavur is Tiruvayyaru, the birth place of Shri Thyagaraja, the great saint-composer. To honor his memory famous musicians gather here in January every year and a music festival is held spread over several days.

Places to see in Tiruchirapalli and Srirangam

56 km from Thanjavur and 401 km from Chennai is Tiruchirapalli. Earlier itt was called Trichinopoly and today it is called in short Trichy or Tiruchi.

Tiruchi is surrou'ided by the Kaveri, Coleroon, Uyyakondam, Korayar, and Kodamurutti. They also pass through the town.

The town is linked by air with Chennai; and by train and bus with all the major towns of the south.

As one crosses the new bridge over the Kaveri to enter the town, before him abruptly rises the Rock Fort, from the plains to a height of 83 metres. Srirangam, one of India's largest temples, is only 5 km away.

The Rock Fort, Tiruchi

A flight of steps leads to a path running round the rock. A second series leads to two large hundred-pillar halls. The one on the left is used twice a year for receiving the idol of Sri Thayumanavar, the presiding deity of the own.

More steps lead to a shrine of Ganesha. At a still higher location is the shrine of Sri Thayumanavar. The view from the rock of the surrounding is beautiful, though nothing much of the fort remains.

At the foot of the Rock Fort are a tank and a pavilion. Nearby is a house which had been the residence of Robert Clive, the pioneer of British Empire in India.


This huge temple was built between the 14th and 17th centuries. The Pandyas, the Vijayanagar kings, the Hoysala kings and the Nayaks——all have contributed to its building.

Vishnu is the deity. He is seen reclining in his undisturbed rest. He is worshipped as Ranganathaswami.

Seven gopuram's standing on a vast courtyard has to be crossed to arrive at the main shrine. The hail of the 4th gopuram has 940 pillars.

Famous kings of the past came to worship the deity of Srirangam. A Pandya monarch offered an elephant's weight of gold and jewels. In 1875 the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) visited the temple and offered a large gold cup which is still there. The temple's fabulous treasure included the famous Orloff diamond that adorned the sceptre of the Czar of Russia. A European soldier stole it from the temple in the 18th century.

Jambukeswaram Temple

This Shiva temple is 2 km to the east of Srirangam. The deity is represented by a symbol that remains submerged in water.

Other Attractions of Tamil Nadu


This pilgrim centre, 240 km south of Chennai (120 km from Thanjavur) is famous for the Nataraja Temple where Lord Shiva is seen as the Cosmic Dancer. The temple extends over an area of 40 acres and over the sanctum sanctorum it has a golden roof. The 108 postures of the Bharat Natyam Dance are shown by gopurams in detailed sculptures.

20 km away is an excellent picnic spot, Pichavaram. Cruises can be taken down the backwaters here—dotted with forests, a peculiar feature of this region.

69 km from Chennai and 15 km from Mahabalipuram, the temple is at the top of a 500-foot-high hill, 537 steps leading there. At noon everyday two falcons come flying from Varanasi as the priests claim—to accept offerings from the priest.

Vellore; 130 km from Chennai with its 13th century fort,

Tiruvannamalai 84 km from Vellore and 68 km from Villupuram which comes on the Chennai Pondicherry road with the famous Tejalingam temple and the Ashram of the revered sage Ramana Maharshi,

Pumpuhar; (40 km from Chidambarani) once a prosperous city of the Chola kings where excavation has started,

Kumbakonam; 68 km from Chidambaram and 313 km from Chennai with 18 temples,

Kortalam; (100 km from Madurai), well known for its water falls,

Tiruchendur famous for the Murugan temple,

Madhumalai Wild Life Reservation at a height of 3000 feet on the Ooty-Mysore National Highway,

Gingee, the ruins of a fort strewn over three hills, are among the other attractions of Tamil Nadu.


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