A Myriad of Temples

The devout Dravidian people of the south live and breathe their ancient religion. Nothing, however, can really prepare a visitor for the temples, where images of the quiet bustle of the vast halls, the huge gopurams completely covered by coloured sculptures of gods and goddesses, the sight of bare feet walking across cool slabs, the heady smell of incense and the chime of the temple bell rung by priests and the faithful leave entrancing impressions.

Rustic carts drawn by oxen with their brightly coloured painted horns, smiling villagers harvesting the hay at the side of the road - these will be some of the memorable features of the short journey from Chennai to the famous temple town of Mahabalipuram. A swim off the glorious beach will refresh you after absorbing the wonders of the romantic shore temples and of Arjuna’s Penance, the huge rock carvings of animals and gods, There are so many impressive temple towns in South India - nearby Kanchipuram with its spectacular gopurams, ’ visible from miles away, or other magical sounding places - Chidambaram, Tanjore, Tiruchirapalli, and, most of all, the pilgrim centre of Madurai - one of the oldest cities in Southern India - with its dramatic and lively Meenakshi temple, dedicated to the fish-eyed goddess.

In the neighbouring state of Karnataka lie the stone-carved temples of Belur and Halebid. Relive the exciting era of the Hoysalas, who flourished around the 12th century, by examining the endless stories which the sculptural detail portrays the war, the hunt, the animals, the dancing girls and, of course the gods. Situated on top of a hill in Sravanabelagola is the massive statue of Lord Bahubali, dwarfing the landscape. Lose yourself in the strange and beautiful ruins at Hampi. Further delights are waiting in the gracious sandalwood city of Mysore, where it is possible to stay in the one-time home of an ex-Maharajah, now the Lalitha Mahal Hotel of gleaming white beauty. Incense is manufactured in the city, and the sweet and fragrant smells of jasmine and rose and musk will linger in the air and in the memory.