Day 5: The Real India

Temple Cities

Today you visited the temple city of Madurai.

There are at least 2,000 Hindu temples in India.

Many towns and cities have sprung up around a temple dedicated to one of Hinduism's over 300 million gods and goddesses. The local economy depends on income earned from religous pilgrims who might travel many days to offer sacrifices to their gods. Temples are often bustling with vendors selling flowers, rice, or animals that will be sacrificed as a ritual offering known as puja.

Today Chris visited Madurai, a city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Madurai is known as the oldest continually inhabited city in the Indian peninsula. Its cultural heritage has been traced back as far as 2,500 years - people from this city traded with the Romans and Greeks as early as 550 B.C.!

Madurai is also one of India's famous Temple Cities. At the center of Madurai is the Meenakshi Temple - it is dedicated to the god Shiva and the goddess Meenakshi (also called Parvati). Every April, Hindus celebrate the divine marriage of Meenakshi to Shiva. Many other Hindu gods are also worshipped at this temple.

It is believed that the current temple was built in 1600, but ancient Indian literature refers to the temple as early as the 7th century. The city of Madurai was built around the original temple with streets placed in the shape of a lotus flower. It is believed that the original temple was destroyed by Muslim invaders in the 1300s.

Today, the Meenakshi Temple covers about 45 acres and is surrounded by 12 towers, called gopurams. Four towers facing north, south, east, and west serve as the main entrances. The famous southern tower is over 170 feet (52 meters) high! Each gopura is covered in small colorful sculptures of Indian gods, called sudhai figures.

In today's video, you saw Chris looking out over the pond at the center of the temple. Hindu worshippers believe this pond is sacred and walk around the water's edge before entering the main shrine.

Famous Hindu temple cities

  • Varanasi - Millions of Hindu pilgrims come each year to Varanasi, considered the most sacred city of India. They flock to the ghats (steps) leading down to the Ganges River. Hindus believe the Ganges waters cleanse them of sins and that they are called to make a pilgrimage to the city of Varanasi at least once in their lifetime.
  • Kolkatta - The Kalighat Temple in the city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is dedicated to the goddess Kali. Animal sacrifice is common at this 200-year-old temple. Families bring offerings of goats or chickens, hoping for a blessing from the bloodthirsty goddess. In 1952, Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity opened a free hospice for the poor in an abandoned Hindu temple located next to the Kalighat Temple. The Kalighat Home for the Dying is still in operation today.
  • Badrinath - This Hindu holy town in the northern state of Uttarakhand is considered one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India. The city is tucked into the Himalayan mountain range, just a few miles from India's border with Tibet. The Badrinath Temple is dedicated to the god Vishnu. Pilgrims have visited this site since the ninth century.
  • Ayodhya - Located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Ayodhya is considered the birthplace of the Hindu god Lord Rama. This city was mentioned in the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana.

World's largest Hindu temple

The Akshardham Temple was named the world's largest Hindu temple in the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records.

This temple is located in India's capital city of New Delhi, on the banks of the Yamuna River (considered sacred by Hindus). Completed in 2005, the temple was designed with ancient architectural styles and is built with marble, pink sandstone, and wood.

  • The temple building covers 32 acres
  • 11,000 people worked on its construction
  • It was built in just 5 years
  • 850 volunteers work there daily
  • 100,000 people visit a week