Among the famous monuments of India, none is more fascinating than the Taj Mahal. The pinnacle of medieval architecture was achieved in this mausoleum built by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan in the 17th century AD. The immense size and grandeur along with its sublime spiritual appeal makes the Taj Mahal one of the most popular tourist attractions in India. Located in the city of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, the Taj Mahal stands out among the highlights of tourism in India. The magnificent Taj mahal was built by the 5th Mughal emperor Shahjahan in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, also known as Arjumand Bano Begum. She was his favorite wife and she bore him 14 children. She died at childbirth in 1631, and thus attained martyrdom. This is why the tomb of Mumtaz mahal was designed to be a mausoleum, as well as place of pilgrimage where religious festivals would be held. The design of the Taj mahal has been inspired by the description of the garden of paradise in the Holy Quran. The best architects, craftsmen and masons were summoned from all over the world for this project of mammoth proportions. In those days, it cost nearly 41 million rupees, and involved the use of over 500 kilos of gold. The immense structure was completed in 1643, after 12 years of work by about 20,000 workers.
2. Khajuraho Temples
Khajuraho is a village located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh specifically in the Chhatarpur district, around 620km southeast of the capital of India, Delhi. Khajuraho holds the largest group of medieval Hindu and Jain Temples that were carved between 950AD and 1050AD under reign of Chandela Empire, being the best examples of the north Indian Nagda style of temple architecture. The woman is the one motif in the temples of Khajuraho. There are sculptures and images that represent a women grooming, dancing, playing with her child,
applying kohl to her eyes, among other activities. The infinite beauty of a woman has been wonderfully etched in stone. The sculptures delineate the joy of worldly wealth and sensual pleasure while they observe one’s dharma. It also believed that the temples were built keeping in mind a specific purpose. The figures of Apsaras (celestial nymphs) dominate the temple sin Khajuraho. Showcasing the mastery of the artisans, particularly in depicting the female form, these have often been carved to act as support brackets. The temples are divided into three groups. These are –
a. The western group – Kandariya Mahadev, Lakshmana temple, Vishwanath temple, Matangeshwar temple
b. The eastern Group – Jain Parsvanath temple, The Ghantai temple and Adinath temple
c. The southern group – The Southern Group represents the final stages of building in the complex. The Chaturbhuj temple is the most prominent temple in this group.
The Khajuraho temples have been declared as a world heritage site by the UNESCO.
3. Ajanta & Ellora Caves
The supreme rock cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora are situated near Aurangabad, a city in Maharashtra, a state in western India. These temples represent the apex of rock cut temple architecture in India achieved by the ancient craftsmen. The temples cover a vast range of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain religious themes, and were built over a period of several centuries between the 2nd century BC, to about 9th century AD. Both the cave complexes have been declared as world heritage sites by the UNESCO. Mutually they are amongst the best known tourist attractions in India.
Ajanta Caves remained shrouded in obscurity for a long period until John Smith, a British Army Officer, accidentally stumbled upon them while on a hunting expedition around 1845 with a group of British officers in the Deccan Plateau. Soon they discovered several caves behind the bushes and informed to the government. The caves provide the finest example from the Chalukya, Kalachuri and Rashtrakuta periods. Astonishingly carved into hillside rock in the middle of nowhere, the Ajanta Caves are a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India and has been included as a World Heritage Site.
The 34 caves at Ellora are located 30 kilometers north west of Aurangabad. They are dated later than the Ajanta caves. Commissioned by the Chalukya and Rashtrakuta kings, they represent a Hindu renaissance in India that coincided with decline in Buddhism. The period covered is between 7th – 9th centuries AD. Caves 6 and 10 house images from the Buddhist and Hindu faith, under the same roof, the latter dedicated to Vishwakarma (patron saint of Indian craftsmen). The Vishvakarma cave is both a Chaitya and a Vihara, with a seated Buddha placed. Its two storied structure sports a colourful pageant of dwarfs, dancing and making music. The caves are located about 30km from Aurangabad and are known for the genius of their sculptors whom moved from Ajanta. The cave complex is multicultural, providing a mix of religions, the Buddhist caves came first, about 200BC – 600AD followed by the Hindu 500 – 900AD and Jain 800 – 1000AD.
Hampi has an important position among the tourist destinations in South India. A famous stop in a tour of South India, the ruins of the once mighty Vijayanagar Empire have made Hampi one of the most famous tourist spots in India. The ruins have also been declared as a world heritage site by the UNESCO. The ruins are located in the South Indian state of Karnataka, about 460 kilometers North West of Bangalore. The nearest railway station is at Hospet, 13 kms away. Hampi is identified with the historical Kishkindha, the Vanara Kingdom, mentioned in the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit epic. Hampi was the capital Vijayanagara Empire, the last great Hindu Kingdom, before it was attacked by Muslims rulers. Due to its strategic location, bounded by the torrential Tungabhadra River and surrounded by defensible hills on the other sides. The site demography is abundant with large stones which have been used to make larger than life statues of Hindu deities, and a structure of historic importance can to see every quarter of mile. The chief attraction of Hampi is the Vitthala temple. This magnificent temple was enlarged during the reigns of Krishnadeva Raya and Achyuta Raya, two of the most prominent kings of Vijayanagar. The hollow columns of the hall in this temple emit different notes of the octave. The temple also features amazing reliefs and frieze work, displaying various mythological Themes in minute details. A shrine shaped like a chariot is placed in front of the temple and is dedicated to Garuda, the celestial bird.
The other noted features to be seen in Hampi are – The Krishna temple, King’s Balance, Elephant stables, Lotus Mahal, Stepped tank, Queen’s bath The temple of Achyuta Raya, Kodandarama temple, Hazara Ramachandra temple, and the monolithic sculpture of Narasimha are the other attractions of Hampi. There is an archaeological museum that houses the artifacts discovered from the site. The chariot festival is a major event that is celebrated with fanfare in the bazaar street area every year.
5. The Golden Temple
The Golden temple in Amritsar, Punjab, is the most important pilgrimage for the Sikhs all over the world. The supreme governing body of the Sikh religion which developed in India in the 16th – 17th centuries is also located in the golden temple complex. It is one of the most important religious sites in India, and an indispensible part of tourism in Punjab. One of the wonders of India, the Golden temple is visited by numerous tourists from all parts of the globe including people from all religions and not only Sikhs. The magnificent temple was built between 1589 and 1601. The foundation of the temple was laid by Guru (spiritual head) Arjan Dev in 1588. The actual structure dates back from the 18th century, constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The dome is covered by about 100kgs of gold. The Granth Sahib, the holy book treated as guru by the Sikhs, is stored on the temple. The main structure of Golden Temple is a three-storied one. The front, which faces the bridge, is decorated with repeated cusped arches and the roof of the first floor is at the height of the 26 feet and 9 inches. Its architecture represents a unique harmony between the Muslims and the Hindus way of construction work and this is considered the best architectural specimens of the world. The style of the temple is a curious blend of Islamic and Hindu architectural patterns prevalent at the period. The chief components of the temple complex are the two structures known as the Akal Takht and the Hari Mandir.
6. Sun Temple
The sun temple at Konark is the most important structure in the state of Orissa in eastern India. It is the highlight of any tour of Orissa. The Konark sun temple is of utmost interest to those studying temple architecture in India. Orissa has its own distinct temple architecture and the Konark sun temple is a typical example of this style. Tourists should make it a point to visit this temple as it is the most famous tourist attraction in Orissa. Built by the Ganga King Narasimha Deva in thirteenth century, the ruins of this temple were excavated in late 19th century. The tower over the Garbagriha is missing, however the Jagmohana is intact. The roof of the Jagmohana is made of horizontal tiers grouped in three stages with life-size female sculptures of matchless charm and delicacy adorning each stage, the whole surmounted by two stupendous crowning members, produces a picturesque contrast of light and shade and is unparalleled for its grandeur and structural propriety. Now the temple is partialy in ruins, and a collection of its sculptures is housed in the Sun Temple Museum, run by the Archaeological Survey of India. The poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote of Konark: "here the language of stone surpasses the language of man." Although the Konark Sun Temple has lost many of its original structures, still remains some of which confirm the infinitive imaginative power of its artists of the time and their inspiring contribution to Vaisnav Culture.
7. Meenakshmi Amman Temple
The Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple also called as Meenakshi Amman Temple, is located in the heart of Madurai city, Tamil Nadu in India covering an area of around 45 acres. The greatest architectural marvel of India is dedicated to Lord Shiva in the form of Sundareswarar and his wife the Goddess Parvati in the form of Meenakshi. Also called Meenakshi Amman Temple was built by Pandya King Kulasekara and reconstructed later by Ruler Thirumalai Nayak, the temple has patronized literature, art, music and dance ever since its inception. The temple complex is within a high-walled enclosure with five entrances covers an area of 254.1m long and 237.6m wide in the North South direction, surrounded by smaller shrines and grand pillared halls. There are 12 temple towers or Gopurams. Their soaring towers rise from solid granite bases, and are covered with stucco figures of dieties, mythical animals and monsters painted in vivid colours. The outer towers are the landmarks of Madurai.
Ø East Tower (Nine Storeys) - 1011 sudhai figures.
Ø South Tower (Nine Storeys) - 1511 sudhai figures.
Ø West Tower (Nine Storeys) - 1124 sudhai figures.
Ø North Tower (Nine Storeys) - It has lesser figures than other outer towers
It contains several parts of buildings in it namely, Ashta Shakthi Mandapam, Meenakshi Nayakkar Mandapam, Potramaraikulam (shown in picture), Oonjal Mandapam, Swami Sundareswarar Shrine, The Thousand Pillar Mandapam, Vasantha Mandapam, According to Hindu legend, Shiva came down to earth in the form of Sundareswarar to marry Meenakshi, an incarnation of Parvati who had earlier descended to earth in the form of a small child in response to the great penance of Malayadwaja Pandya, the ruler of Madurai. The marriage was supposed to be the biggest event on earth, with the whole earth gathering near Madurai. In the early 7th century the Hindu Saint, Thirugnanasambandar mentioned the temple and described to the Lord as Alavai Iraivan in his songs. In the late 14th century when the Hindu Kings came back to power in Madurai The temple was restored to its pristine glory and was a a new beginning of a new era in the history of the temple, when it was almost rebuilt. In according to records the King Thirumalai Nayak played an important role in the new temple construction with most valuable contributions.