A Guide to Chennai’s Best Temples

Chennai temple from flickr user VinothChandar

Visitors and pilgrims alike will enjoy focusing on Chennai’s holy sites, some of which were constructed more than 400 years ago. The rich religious and cultural traditions at these temples also form the epicentre of the city’s best and most colourful festivals.

Kapaleeshwar Temple

This temple of Shiva in Mylapore features Dravidian architecture, making it a popular destination for photographers. It’s the area’s most active temple, and should be a stop for anyone visiting a Chennai temple.  

There is some debate about how old the existing structure of the temple is; the temple hymns say that it was constructed in the seventh century, but the buildings themselves only appear to be 400 years old. It’s possible the Portuguese destroyed the original structures which were then quietly rebuilt. The colourful 120-foot gopuram is more clearly referenced; it was built in 1906. The temple’s location may also have changed, as the hymns place the temple by the sea. It’s now 1.5 kilometres from the beach.

This temple is unique among Shiva temples for some of its traditions, including its references to peafowl. According to tradition, the goddess Karpagambal (an avatar of Shiva’s wife Parvati) worshipped as a peahen. A live peahen and peacock are kept at the temple now.

Kapaleeshwar’s most important festival takes place in mid-March or mid-April, depending on the Tamil calendar. This mela lasts for nine days.

Kapaleeshwar Temple from flickr user VinothChandar

Kalikambal Temple

Located in George Town, the Kalikambal Temple also celebrates a form of Parvati. This temple was relocated in the 1600s from a previous site nearer the sea.

In the temple’s long history, many famous people have come to worship here. One of the most famous is the Maratha ruler, Shivaji, who visited in the 1600s to worship Kali. A more peaceful representation of the goddess is popular here now, but in history the representation was fiercer.

Saturdays are a particularly busy day at this temple.

Sri Parthasarathy Temple

One of the oldest structures in Chennai, the peaceful Sri Parthasarathy Temple is dedicated to Krishna. It is located in Triplicane and was established in the eighth century. The name refers to Krishna as the charioteer of Arjuna in the Sanskrit epic “The Mahabharata.” It’s one of the few temples in India dedicated to this manifestation of the god.

It’s an important temple for worshippers, but its spacious 1.5-acre grounds make it a wonderful place of reflection for people of many faiths. Evenings are an especially popular time to visit.

It’s near Marina Beach and easy to include on a tour of the sites in that area.

Sri Bhaktha Anjaneyaswami Temple

This temple is in Nanganallur, Chennai about 10 kilometres from the city centre. More modern than the other temples listed here, this one is most well-known architecturally for its 32-feet-tall statue of the god Lord Hanuman (here called Anjaneya). The statue is made from a single piece of granite; it was consecrated in 1995.

Saturday and Sunday are the busiest days at this temple, which is also called Nanganallur Anjaneyar Temple. In December or January each year, the music festival Hanumath Jayanthi is held here. This festival highlights classical Carnatic and Hindustani music in honour of Anjaneya.

Vadapalani Murugan Temple

This temple in the Vadapalani neighbourhood is another famous and busy place of worship in Chennai. Despite only having about 120 years of history, it’s revered as one of the more ancient temples in the region, evidenced by the thousands of couples who choose Vadapalani Temple for their wedding rituals.

Now constructed of sturdier materials, the idea for this temple started with the Muruga devotee Annaswami Tambiran. He lived in a thatched hut with a simple Murugan painting to worship. From this, it grew to a shrine and later the temple, thanks to the financial donations of other worshippers.

About the Author: Writer Priya Gulpreet enjoys her trips to different temples throughout India.

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