Arunachaleshwar Temple Kulam, Tamil Nadu, India

This 10-hectare temple is one of the largest in India. Its oldest parts date back to the 9th century and the site was a place of worship long before that. Four huge, unpainted white gopurams mark the entrances, with the main, eastern one rising 13 storeys and an astonishing 66m. During festivals the Arunachaleshwar is awash in golden flames and the roasting scent of burning ghee, as befits the fire incarnation of the Destroyer of the Universe.

Inside the complex are five more gopurams, a 1000-pillared hall with impressive carvings, two tanks and a profusion of sub-temples and shrines. There’s a helpful temple model inside the second gopuram from the east, where the temple elephant gives blessings. To reach the innermost sanctum, with its huge lingam, worshippers must pass through five surrounding prakarams (compounds).

Visit India Epic India Route © Monika Newbound

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