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10 most sacred pilgrimage sites in Southern India

India never fails to amuse you whether it comes to its historic, spiritual and religious places. It is a land with innumerable pilgrimage sites which the devotees revere most high and visit time and again in search of an answer to their problems, to make their prayers heard by the Lord and the attain the ultimate salvation. Given its rich mythology and a vast Hindu Pantheon, there is not one place in the country that is devoid of a temple but some of them are considered to have the divine presence of Lord himself. We bring you 10 such revered pilgrimage sites of Southern India:

  • Tirupati Balaji, Andhra Pradesh

Tirupati Balaji temple in the Tirumala hills of Andhra Pradesh is the most popular and the busiest pilgrimage site in the entire world. It is said that Lord Vishnu himself manifested on earth at this place. As the tale goes, once sage Brighu wanted to evaluate which of the three supreme gods- Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh- was the greatest of all. Upon reaching Vaikuntha to meet Lord Vishnu, Sage Brighu kicked the Lord on his chest. Goddess Lakshmi who was residing in the heart of Lord Vishnu felt insulted by the act and thus left Vaikuntha in anger.

Lord Vishnu felt sad and dejected after his consort left and thus followed her down to earth. Vishnu came down to earth only to find that Goddess had taken birth in the family of a king as Padmavati. So, Vishnu took refuge in an anthill and started to meditate. Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma followed Lord Vishnu to earth in the form of a cow and a calf in order to take care of him while he meditated.

Lord Shiva would pour milk (he took the form of a cow) on the anthill everyday to feed the Lord. When the time came, all the gods requested the King to marry off his daughter to Lord Vishnu who was then referred to as Venkateshwara. It is said that the Lord is still paying back his loan which he took from Lord Kuber for conducting his wedding in the grandest manner. The devotees make generous donations to “help the Lord” pay back his loan on time.

Also Read: Travel Char Dham to find Peace and Serenity in life

  • Sabrimala temple, Kerala.

Sabrimala temple situated on the Sabrimal hills in Kerala is the abode of Lord Ayappa and thousands of devotees swarm the temple even after the difficult location. This pilgrimage site is the home of Lord Ayappa who is one of the most unique Gods in the Hindu mythology. Legends say that lord Ayappa was born out of the divine gay mating of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. According to the story, once Lord Indra, who was travelling on his elephant Airavata, came across Rishi Durvasa who gifted him a garland given to him by Lord Shiva himself. Lord Indra put the garland on the elephant but the elephant dropped the garland. Driven with rage, Sage Durvasa cursed him along with the other gods that they all will lose their strength, youth, vigor, charm and fortune and will turn grey and wrinkled. The only condition to recover to their old self, as given by Rishi Durvasa, was the Amrit or the divine elixir.

The terrified gods took refuge under Lord Vishnu who  advised the gods and the demons to churn the ocean together. But after churning the ocean the elixir fell in the hands of the demons. Lord Vishnu took the form of a divine enchantress Mohini and managed to get back the “Amrit” from the demons. Lord Shiva got deeply infatuated with the bewitching beauty of Lord Vishnu’s damsel form and seduced her. A child was born out of their divine union and was named Dharma Shasta. Lord Shiva told Dharma Shasta that his mission on earth was to kill Mahishi who had wrecked havoc among the gods and she acquired a boon Brahma that she could be killed only by a person born out of the union of the two supreme gods Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva.

Dharma Shasti manifested on earth as an infant with a bell round his neck on the seashore.  King Rajshekhar, who noticed the child, took him home and named him Manikantan. Later when he grew up, the king decided to name Manikantan as the heir-apparent but the queen conspired to send him to the forest. On reaching the forest, Manikantan came across the demon Mahishi and killed her. He later found out that Mahishi was a young girl who was cursed to live a life of a demon. Mahishi fell in love with God Ayappa and asked him to marry her. Lord Ayappa who was a perennial celibate turned down her offer.

From then on, no women of the menstruating age are allowed to enter the temple to respect the sacrifice made by the woman who loved the Lord. It is said that God Ayappa assured her that he would come to her when new devotees stopped coming to seek his blessing. Mahishi still waits in another temple for him.

  • Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu.

Kanchipuram is also known as the golden city of a thousand temples. This pilgrimage site is revered in the Puranas as one of the two eyes of Lord Shiva, the other being Kashi. One of the most important legends attached to this place is that Bodhidharma, who is considered to have founded the famous Shaolin Temple in China, was the son of the Pallava king from Kanchipuram. This is the place where Brahma is also said to have worshipped Lord Shiva.

The most ancient temple in Kanchipuram is the Kailasanatha temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Along with that temple, Ekambareshwara temple is also a highly revered among the devotees. It is said that Lord Shiva performed penance at the place where Ekambareshwara is situated. Another important temple is the Kamakshi Amman temple where Goddess Parvati is seated in the lotus yogic posture. The Goddess is said to bring prosperity and peace. Other important religious places are Kanchi Mutt of Adi Shankaracharya, Vaikuntha Perumal Temple, Varadharaja Perumal temple, and Kanchi Metrali or the Metraleeshwara temple.

  • Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu.

Mahabalipuram is an ancient shore town located in Tamil Nadu and is one of the most famous pilgrimage sites of Southern India. Mahabalipuram is named after the great King Bali who sacrificed himself to the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu and thus attained liberation. The town is famous for its shore temple beautifully located at the shore of Bay of Bengal. It is believed that there existed 7 of these shore temples in the earlier times. But then Lord Indra grew jealous of the earthly city which had become extremely prosperous and thus sunk the other six temples under the water. This Shore temple is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Numerous cave temples are built in this city like the Trimurti cave temple dedicated to the trinity gods- Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, the Mahishasurmardini temple and Kotikal temple dedicated to Goddess Durga, the Adi Varaha Perumal Cave temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and the Ollakkanath Temple which is dedicated to the third eye of Shiva. The city also has dramatic relief sculptures of the epic Mahabharata which are carved out of a single rock structure or monolith. This is a great pilgrimage site attracts most number of tourists as well because of its rich history and architectural spectacles.

  • Madurai, Tamil Nadu

This South Indian city, like many others, is a popular pilgrimage site and its name is derived from the tale of the heavenly nectar that fell on the city from Shiva’s locks. The most revered shrine of Madurai is the Meenakshi temple dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi who married Lord Shiva. The city is also known as “Thoongagaram” or the city that never sleeps because Princess Meenakshi is said to guard it. It is believed that Shiva performed 64 miracles in this city. The most relatable legend of Goddess Meenakshi is that she was given as a boon to King Malaydhwaja who was heirless. She was born with three breasts and it was prophesied that her third breast will vanish when she finally meets the one she will marry.

Princess Meenakshi was trained in all arts including warfare and once went on a Digvijay or the conquest of lands in all 8 directions. She reached the Himalayas, the abode of Lord Shiva where she saw Lord Shiva seated on Nandi. As soon as Meenakshi saw him, her third breast vanished and she accepted Lord Shiva to be the one she will marry. When she came home, the king crowned her as the ruler and celebrated their grand wedding.

Also Read: 12 Most Sacred Jyotirlingas in India

  • Kanyakumari

Kanyakumari, also the southernmost tip of Mainland India, is an interesting pilgrimage site and many flock the city everyday to witness its glory. Kanyakumari was the abode of Goddess Shakti when she manifested in the form of a virgin girl here on earth. The goddess performed penance here and Lord Shiva who had manifested in Suchindram, a nearby city, fell in love with her. Arrangements for their marriage were done and the auspicious day was fixed. But the goddess manifested on earth to kill a demon named Banasura.

Banasura had a boon that he could be killed only by a virgin girl and had from then on achieved supremacy over the other gods, inflicting cruelty upon them. Sage Narad knew he had to stop the marriage from taking place so when the auspicious time was near and Lord Shiva started from Sucindram with all pomp and splendour, he took the form of a cock and cocked loudly, indicating the break of dawn. Disappointed that the auspicious time was past, Lord Shiva returned to Suchindram.

But the Goddess waited till the dawn for her Lord to arrive. She was enraged at the fact that Lord Shiva did not come to marry her and thus vowed to be a virgin and continue her penance. Meanwhile Banasura fell in love with her, given the beauty of the goddess. He pestered her to marry him but the goddess put a condition that she would only marry him when he defeats her in a battle. Banasura thought he could easily overcome the goddess and therefore approached her with his sword but Goddess took the form of Kali and slew him with her trident.

  • Sriranganatha Temple

Sriranganath temple is the most distinguished Hindu pilgrimage sites in the world as it is the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world. Its 21-day festival is the most visited festival in the Southern India. The legend around this temple is also very interesting. It is said that Lord Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu himself, worshipped the deity and when he returned from Lanka victoriously, he gifted the deity to Vibhishan for his loyalty towards him.

When Vibishan was taking the deity to Lanka, the deity was captivated by the devotion with which King Dharma Varma was performing the penance to request him to always remain in Srirangam. The deity stayed put in Srirangam and promised Vibhishan to cast his benignant glance over Lanka. That is the reason the deity here is in a reclining posture facing south. 

  • Nataraja Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu

The Nataraja temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is yet another amazing pilgrimage site mostly revered by the people who worship dance as an art form. As per the local legends, Aadi Seshan, Lord Vishnu’s serpent, heard Lord Vishnu’s description of Shiva’s dance of bliss and wanted to witness it himself. He manifested on earth as Patanjali or the one who descended and started his penance.

Another devotee Vyaghrapada meditated and prayed to Lord Shiva so that he could obtain the tiger claws to procure the Vilva leaves meant for Shiva’s worship at Chidambaram. Impressed by their devotion, Lord Shiva decided to bless them with a performance the cosmic dance of bliss on the festival of Thai Poosam.  This temple gets its name as such because Shiva is considered to be the Supreme dancer or the king of dance.

  • Velankanni church, Tamil Nadu

Velankanni church (Velankanni meaning the Virgin of Velai) is the largest catholic pilgrimage centres in India and is the other name of the Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health. It started as a small chapel but was later converted into an enormous church in 1771. This shrine was given major status by Pope John XXIII himself and later it merged into the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, Italy. It is said that Mother Mary appeared with infant Jesus in her hands in Velankanni (Tamil Nadu)and this is the reason it attracts thousands of devotees who come across the legends that depict the greatness of the shrine.

Also Read: The 10 churches that are the oldest in India

  1. Cheramal Juma Masjid, Kerala

The Cheramal Juma Mosque is a very important pilgrimage destination for the Muslims in India because this is said to be the very first mosque ever built in India. This mosque is said to be built by Malik Ibn Ddinar, one of the Arab travellers who were responsible for propagating Islam in India, in the memory of King Cheramal Perumal of Kerala.

According to the local legends, the King was very influenced by the Arab traders when he got to know about their righteousness and virtues of their trade. When he talked to the traders and Malik Ibn Dinar, he got to know about the new religion and its principles. He was so influenced by the religion and its beliefs that he decided to embrace Islam and left the dynasty to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is believed that the king died while on his way back to his kingdom and from then Malik Ibn Dinar and his followers completed his journey for him and built the mosque. The most popular attraction of the place is the ancient oil lamp that has been burning since its origin.

These spiritual places are totally worth a visit once in a lifetime and hold utmost importance especially in the regional population. The people  offer donations, make “Mannat” and what not to seek blessings of their Lords and attain peace. Once you visit these places, a strange sense of tranquillity surrounds, probably because of the positive vibrations of the pilgrimage locations. Such pilgrimage sites are perfect way to cleanse your aura and connect at a spiritual level with the supreme energy.

For more such informative articles, visit our very own Travel Articles.

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