Tamil Nadu and the temples of South India
Tamil Nadu is a neighboring state of Kerala in southern India. It is a region of ancient history, as it was inhabited since prehistoric times by the Tamil ethnic group, still maintaining today its own language and traditions within the Indian subcontinent. Tamil literature has in fact existed for over two thousand years and its first phase, the so-called Sangam literature, was the first form of written literature in India. The Tamil literature was also the first to be printed and published, when in 1578 the Portuguese published the book Thambiraan Vanakkam. Furthermore, Tamil culture has been instrumental in the various struggles for Indian freedom, fueling the national patriotic spirit.
Your tour of Tamil Nadu will probably be motivated by the desire to visit the temples, which certainly are one of the main attractions of this region. But do not be surprised if you hear a familiar language on the streets: the influence of French colonialism is still strong here.
Are you ready to leave to discover Tamil Nadu? Here is a brief guide to its main sites of interest.
The most beautiful cities in Tamil Nadu
Chennai is a great starting point for a tour of Tamil Nadu. Overlooking the Bay of Bengal, Chennai is in fact the capital of the state. Among the must-see attractions is Kapaleeshwarar temple and the Anglican church of Saint Mary. Also visit the Fort of Saint George, built in 1644: today the structure houses a museum of the history of Chennai, from its origins to its function as an important trading center of the East India Company, when Chennai was called Madras.
Madurai is an ancient city: it is estimated that it was built over 2500 years ago. It was the capital of the Pandya kingdom and has always developed around the large and colorful Meenakshi Temple, the geographical and religious center of the city. Madurai is in fact divided into a series of concentric quadrangular circles that have the temple as their pivot. In addition, the streets surrounding the temple form the figure of a lotus flower from above. Once upon a time, the houses of the rich were built in the streets closer to the temple; the houses of the poorest were built in the streets gradually farther from the center. With the advent of the colonial period and the arrival of the British in the 19th century, Madurai was transformed into an industrial city and class separations became less defined.
Mamallapuram, or Mahabalipuram, is famous for its monolithic monuments and its stone sculptures, belonging to the early stages of Dravidian architecture with features that can be related to Buddhism. There are the famous rathas, similar to chariots, but also the temples with sculptures. Some scholars claim that this center was a school for young sculptors, given that many similar sculptures were found unfinished. The most important attractions of Mamallapuram include the Thirukadalmallai temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, the basrelief of the Descent of the Ganges, the cave of Varaha and the beach temple on the shores of the Bay of Bengal.
Pondicherry has undergone much influence by the French, who colonized it from 1674, replacing the Portuguese who had landed here in 1520. The city has many architectures that make it similar to a European city and many aspects that make it an Indian city but decidedly cosmopolitan. Pondicherry was abandoned by the French in fact only in 1954. In 1910, in addition, the philosopher Sri Aurobindo arrived in the city and elaborated some mystical theories that led to the creation of the experimental citadel of Auroville by one of his disciples. The citadel was built according to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and continues to attract visitors even today.
Thanjavur, once known as Tanjore, was the capital of the Chola dynasty, a period when it was an important cultural center. Near Thanjavur you can visit the Dravid temple of Brihadisvara, a temple dedicated to the god Shiva, the fort and the maharaja palace.
Do you feel like exploring Tamil Nadu now? Have a look at our tailormade trips to India!