There is a Buddhist temple in Bengaluru

India - fairytale splendor and religious diversity

Our longing for India is fueled to a large extent by the images of magnificent buildings from the heyday of Indian culture. Magnificent palaces and richly decorated temples take us into the realm of myths and fairy tales. Many of these magnificent buildings of India have been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But the numerous other temples and palaces that are not on this list are also worth seeing.

Hindu temple

About 80 percent of India's population are Hindus. Hinduism also originated there. The sacred buildings still preserved go back correspondingly far back. Many of the cave temples of Ellora (UNESCO World Heritage Site) are also Hindu (600–900 AD).

In Pattadakal in the southern Indian state of Karnataka there is a temple complex of the Chalukya dynasty (UNESCO World Heritage Site) from the 7th to 8th centuries, whose ten temples - including a Jain temple - are among the most important early Indian stone temples. Here you can find an experimental mix of North and South Indian architectural styles.

Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu) is a popular seaside resort with its palm-fringed sandy beaches - and is one of the most important archaeological sites in South India. There are many architectural monuments from the Pallava period (7th to 9th centuries) here. The city was the most important port of the Pallava Empire. A 27 m long, 9 m high relief showing the history and mythology of the 7th century is particularly interesting. The city's temple district has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. This complex includes the coastal temple, the only one that has been preserved of the seven temples along the coast, as well as the five rathas (temple chariots), a group of monolithic temples carved out of the rock in one piece that depict a processional float.

The temple complex in Khajuraho from the 10th to 12th centuries (UNESCO World Heritage Site, Madhya Pradesh) is particularly impressive. Of the original 80 temples, only 20 have survived, but they are quite impressive. In order to protect them from flooding in the monsoon and free-range animals, the structures stand on platforms 1.50 m to 3.00 m high. Outside, the temples are decorated over and over with erotic sculptures - probably one of the reasons why the temple complex is so popular with domestic and foreign tourists.

Three large temples of the Chola dynasty, which are located in different places in Tamil Nadu, have been grouped together as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO: the Brihadishvara Temple of Thanjavur (approx. 1000 AD), the Brihadishvara Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram ( 11th century) and the Airavateshvara Temple of Darasuram (12th century).

In the east of the country, in the state of Odisha, there is another UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Konark Sun Temple (13th century). It was built to look like the team of the sun god Surya. Therefore, 24 large wagon wheels were carved into the stone in the base of the temple. Sculpture remains of draft horses can still be found. This temple is also adorned with numerous small erotic motifs. A special attraction is a classical Indian dance festival held in Konark every December.

The famous Vedic Tirumala Venkateswara Temple is located in the small mountain town of Tirumala in the Tirumala Hills near Tirupati in the state of Andhra Pradesh. It is also called the "Temple of the Seven Hills". The religious site is the most visited pilgrimage site in the world. Between 50,000 and 100,000 believers visit it every day, that's 30 to 40 million people a year. Many of the pilgrims donate their hair to wig makers all over the world. Western visitors are also allowed to enter the temples here, which is often subject to restrictions in southern India.

 

In Madurai (Tamil Nadu) there is a six hectare large temple complex in honor of the goddess Parvati and her husband Sundareshvara (Shiva), who according to myth got married in Madurai. The Minakshi Temple partly dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. But essentially what you can still see today was built in the 16th and 17th centuries. Its architectural style is an outstanding example of Dravidian architecture. The almost square temple area is surrounded by a six meter high wall, in which there are entrance gates on each side, above which huge gate towers (gopurams) stand. In addition to the two main shrines, there is a smaller shrine, a temple pond, three large pillared halls and other structural elements. The facility is truly awe inspiring.

In the small town of Deshnok (Rajasthan), around 30 km from Bikaner, homage is paid to an animal that we Europeans fight rather than pampered: the rat. Thousands of these rodents live in the Karni Mata Temple. They are worshiped as the reincarnation of the goddess Durga and provided with food and drink. There are hundreds of rats carved in stone at the entrance. The temple is decorated in great detail. The artfully decorated silver entrance door is particularly beautiful. However, only devout Hindus are allowed into the most holy interior of this temple. But the rats are fed beforehand. Incidentally, the Indians make a distinction between the sacred rats in the temple and the rats outside. But they don't kill them. The animals are caught and released again far from the city.

Mosques

The second largest religious community in India are the Muslims, who make up less than 14 percent of the population; that's 160 million people. Correspondingly many impressive mosques can be visited in India. The famous Taj Mahal tomb in Agra (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is of Muslim origin.

The largest mosque in the country is the Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque) in Delhi, in close proximity to the bustling old town of Delhi. It is also one of the largest mosques in the world. Mughal Mughal Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, had it built in the middle of the 17th century. Supposedly 5,000 craftsmen were involved in the construction. White marble with Persian inscriptions clad a large part of the red sandstone facade of the building. The prayer hall is lined with 260 pillars. There is space for up to 20,000 worshipers in the large courtyard of the mosque. Tourists are allowed to visit the mosque, which is well worth seeing, but shoes must be taken off in front of the entrance and one should not dress too openly. Modest body covering is desirable. But that should always be taken into account in any place of worship anyway. Bare legs and arms are not welcome in Christian churches either.

Only ruins remain of the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque from the late 12th and 13th centuries. It is part of the Qutb Complex (UNESCO Heritage Site) in South Delhi. The whole complex is extremely interesting. From the mosque itself the richly decorated portico, the inner courtyard and some arches are still preserved. The prayer room was destroyed a long time ago.

Also worth mentioning are the Muslim buildings in Hyderabad in the new Indian state of Telangana (formerly part of Andhra Pradesh), above all the symbol of the city, the Charminar, and the listed Mecca mosque. Crystal chandeliers from Belgium adorn the prayer room of the Mecca mosque. Today the Charminar is the symbol of the city, but also an outstanding example of Islamic architecture. It looks like a kind of triumphal arch or victory gate. This is probably what is meant, because it was built in the 16th century after an epidemic of the plague. On the upper floor of the building there is a mosque framed with minarets on four sides, which makes the building unique. Both the Mecca mosque and the Charminar were affected by the smog, so that the city declared the inner-city area around the two buildings a traffic-free zone in 2001.

Buddhist temples

Not even one percent of Indians are Buddhists. But the country has a number of important Buddhist places of worship and temples. There is Bodhgaya (Bihar), where Buddha found enlightenment at the age of 29. He sat under a tree and decided not to move until he was enlightened. After three days and nights of deep meditation, he reached his goal. The Bodhi tree, as the poplar fig is called here, under which Buddha is said to have sat at the time, has been destroyed several times over the centuries, partly by human hands, partly by natural influences. But the tree kept growing and can still be seen today. Today there are a number of monasteries and temples in the area, as Bodh Gaya is one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists. The most important temple is the Mahabodhi temple right next to the Bodhi tree. Incidentally, in Sanskrit “maha” means “great” and “bodhi” means “awakening”. The outside facade of the 55 m high building is adorned with countless Buddha figures. Inside the temple there is a gilded Buddha statue. Originally, Ashoka the Great, the ruler of the Maurya dynasty, was supposed to have built the temple in the 3rd century BC. Have built. The current construction, however, was only created between the 5th and 7th centuries AD. The temple has been on the UNESCO cultural heritage list since 2002 and was extensively restored in 2006.

Another important Buddhist attraction is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh: the stupas in Sanchi (UNESCO World Heritage Site), which are among the oldest structures of their kind still in existence. Eight of these dome-shaped burial mounds actually date from the time of King Ashoka (3rd century BC). Ashoka's wife was from the area. Ashoka also commissioned the Great Stupa in Sanchi, which is said to have been built over relics of Buddha. Next to it was a column with an inscription from Ashoka. The original stupa was built in the middle of the 2nd century BC. Overbuilt when the building was enlarged. A few decades later, four more detailed toranas (stone gates) were added. It was not until the 4th to 6th centuries AD at the time of the Gupta dynasty that it became customary to depict Buddha in human form. During this time, some stone Buddha sculptures were added to the outer walls. A few more stupas and temples can be visited in Sanchi. The complex is unique in India.

Kushinagar in the state of Uttar Pradesh is the place where the Buddha died or slipped into nirvana. The small town is home to four of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites. The remains of several stupas and monasteries, but also new temples and monasteries can be visited here. Worth mentioning is the Parinirvana Temple, which houses a six-meter-long gold-plated reclining Buddha statue. After the place lost its importance from the 5th century AD, it was almost forgotten. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the Buddhist relics were unearthed and later restored by Buddhists from Myanmar (formerly: Burma).

In the north and northeast of India, e.g. B. in Ladakh or Sikkim, Buddhism is widespread and has accompanied the culture and everyday life of the people of this region for centuries. This Himalayan region is involuntarily associated with the memorable image of the prayer flags waving in the wind, which Buddhists hope will bring their prayers to heaven. Up here in the north you will find numerous very beautiful Buddhist monasteries and temples. The five most important Buddhist places in Ladakh include the Hemis Monastery, the Thiksey Monastery, the Lamayuru Monastery, the Shani Stupa and the Alchi Gompa, a Buddhist temple.

The Buddhist monasteries in Sikkim are famous for their scenic location and for their craftsmanship. Probably the most famous monastery in Sikkim is the Rumtek monastery, which is only 25 km from Sikkim's capital Gangtok. The Enchey Monastery is located directly on a hill above Gangtok. From here you can also see the third highest mountain on earth, the Kangchenjunga. The third important monastery in Sikkim, the Pemayangtse Monastery, is located about 140 km west of Gangtok. It was built in 1705 and is the oldest and first monastery in Sikkim. It is at an altitude of 2000 m with picturesque snow-capped mountains in the background. Numerous valuable icons are kept here, including a model of the heavenly residence of Padmasambhava, the founder of Buddhism in Tibet, which was painstakingly manufactured over the course of five years.

Christian churches and monasteries

Christians make up only around 2.5 percent of the population in India, but it is still the third largest religious community in the country. Most of the Christians live in the northeast. There are no outstanding Christian buildings to be found there. But there are also Christian communities in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and in the former Portuguese Goa. The churches and monasteries of Goa are even a UNESCO World Heritage Site, especially the Basílika do Bom Jesus, where Franz Xavier, the patron saint of Goa, is buried.

Forts and palaces of the maharajas

Immeasurable wealth and luxury can be sensed in the ancient palaces of the Maharajas. You feel transported into a fairy tale world in these colorful magnificent buildings. Hardly anywhere in India are there so many well-preserved Maharajah palaces as in the state of Rajasthan and the neighboring regions.

Rajasthan's capital Jaipur holds some royal treasures. The magnificent city palace, in which the descendants of the Maharajas of Jaipur still live in part of the palace, is now a museum that houses a beautiful collection of carpets, objets d'art, weapons and enamel work. Outside there is also one of the huge silver vessels in which a maharajah once carried water from the Ganges on a trip to England because he did not like to drink the English water. The complex includes the famous Palace of the Winds, which is actually just a facade, behind which the ladies of the court could hide in order to be able to glimpse parades in the city through the tiny windows. Women should not appear in public; that was not appropriate.

About outside of the city is the Amber Fort, which was founded in the 10th century, but was only expanded to its present size and splendor in the 16th and 17th centuries. The fortress, including a kilometer-long fortress wall that encloses the entire area, is imposing. The fort protected the royal palace of the Kachchawaha dynasty, which was built from white marble and red sandstone. The hall of mirrors of the palace is particularly interesting here, the inner walls of which are decorated with countless small mirrors that once reflected the light of the candles in many ways.

The romantic Udaipur on the artificially created Pichola Lake, which is also often used as a film set, is another very special example of this cultural treasure of India. Here you can - as in many other places in India - even live in the old palaces. The great Maharajah palace Shiv Niwas Palace is now partly used as a museum, partly as a hotel. Accommodation in the Taj Group's Lake Palace Hotel, which is located on an island in the middle of the lake, is particularly luxurious. “The Tiger of Esnapur”, “The Indian Tomb”, the James Bond film “Octopussy” and “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” were filmed here. The beautiful white building was built as a summer residence in the 18th century. The city also has another island palace, the Jag Mandir pleasure palace. Today there is a restaurant there that can be reached by boat. The Monsoon Palace is located above the city, from which one has a beautiful view over Udaipur.

In Agra in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh there is not only the most famous building in India, the Taj Mahal, but also the Red Fort (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Within the 2.5 km long, closed walls of the red sandstone complex, which once offered protection to the Mughal rulers of the 16th century, there are some fairytale palaces such as the Jahangir Palace built from red sandstone, the marble Khas Mahal or the impressive reception halls (divan- i-Khas / Diwam-i-am). The Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower near the private apartments of the ruler Shah Jahan, with its white marble paneling decorated with stone and glass inlay, is very reminiscent of Persian models and thus of stories from 1001 Nights.

A long-abandoned city around 40 km southwest of Agra is also very interesting: Fatehpur Sikri (UNESCO World Heritage Site) was the capital of the Mughal Empire for a few years - from 1571 to 1585. It was specially built by Mughal Mughal Akbar as the new capital. Presumably because the city's water supply was inadequate, he finally moved his court to Lahore (Pakistan), which was also strategically located for his campaigns in the northwest. The complex including the main palace, women's apartments, private palace, mosque and much more is very well preserved.

The Cooch Behar Palace is located in West Bengal. It is actually a classic western castle in the style of the Italian Renaissance. It was modeled a little on the Buckingham Palace in London. It was built at the end of the 19th century by Maharajah Nripendra Narayan, who, as British governor, abolished slavery in his sphere of influence and opened a girls' school.

One of the most visited monuments in India is the Mysore Palace, also called Amba Vilas Palace. Its floor plan is also reminiscent of the Buckingham Palace, but it combines different styles: Hindu, Rajput, European and Indian-Islamic. The rulers of Mysore did not skimp on the furnishings of this palace, which was first built in the 14th century, but in its current form dates from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. It was lavishly decorated with magnificent marble and mosaic floors, countless columns, expensive furniture, silver-plated doors, mirrored walls and murals decorated with artistic carvings. The two reception halls are particularly impressive, in one there is even a throne covered with gold leaf.

Also in the far north of India, in Ladakh, there is a palace worth seeing, but unfortunately only ruins remain: the royal palace of Leh. It was built by King Sengge Namgyal in the 17th century. The building is nine stories high. The royal family once lodged in the upper rooms, while the lower floors consisted of stables and storage rooms. When the Hindu Dogra conquered Ladakh in the middle of the 19th century, the royal family gave up this palace and retired to their palace in Stok (also Ladakh). The Archaeological Society of India takes care of the preservation of the remains of the palace, which is definitely a place to visit.

In Vadodara in the state of Gujarat there is a Maharajah palace, which was built in the second half of the 19th century in the Indo-Saracen style: the Laxmi Vilas Palace. It is considered to be one of the most magnificent maharajah palaces in India. The lobby of the palace is adorned with a Venetian mosaic floor, Belgian stained glass windows and the finest mosaics on the walls. There is a courtyard with a fountain in front of the hall. There is a large collection of ancient weapons and sculptures made of bronze, marble and terracotta. The garden was designed by William Goldring, a specialist from London's Kew Gardens. The former school building for the Maharaja's children is now a museum with many works of art belonging to the royal family.

Finally, from the multitude of royal buildings, we want to mention one palace in the far northeast, in the small state of Tripura: Neermahal, the palace of King Bir Bikram Kishore Debbarman. It is located in the middle of the Rudrasagar Lake, a little more than 50 km from Agartala, the capital of Tripura. The Neermahal is the largest palace of its kind in India and a rarity because water palaces are rare. At the request of the commissioning maharajah, its architectural style mixes Hindu and Muslim elements. It was built as a summer residence with a total of 24 rooms. For entertainment there was an open-air theater, where theater, dance and other cultural performances took place. Two flights of stairs inside the palace lead down into the lake. You can go to them by boat and get into the palace.

We haven't presented all of India's temples and palaces for a long time. The country is rich and diverse in this respect and it would take years to visit all of these cultural treasures.