India is the birthplace of some of the major and oldest religions in the world. The most ancient ones are Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. According to some experts, the earliest roots of Hinduism can be traced back to prehistoric times, over ten thousand years ago.
In modern times, the leftover cultural influence of these ancient religions can be seen in many parts of Southeastern Asia, China, and Afghanistan as well. One of the things that distinguishes these four ancient religions from other religions in the world is the great obsession with building temple architecture.
Temples Plays Central Role In Hinduism
Here, temples play a central role, not only in the development of spiritual well-being but of economic prosperity as well. The result is that you can find millions of temples of various shapes and sizes scattered all across India. Many of these temples are very old and have been recognized by UNESCO as world heritage sites.
These oldest temples are living proof of how they have survived the test of time and the cruel destruction of foreign invaders, especially the Islamic assailants. Therefore, here is the list of the top 12 oldest temples in India that you should visit once in your life.
Sanchi Temple 17 (2400+ Years Old)
Located in Madhya Pradesh, the Sanchi Temple 17 is the oldest surviving stone temple in India. It was built during the reign of the Gupta dynasty in the late 4th century CE. So, if calculated, the temple is almost 2400+ years old now.
According to some experts, it was constructed as a Buddhist temple, while some other academics argue that temple-building in Buddhism hadn’t gained popularity just yet. So, it must have been a Hindu temple. Whatever the case may be, the simple looking temple essentially marked a milestone in the advancement of Indian temple architecture.
Mundeshwari Temple (1900+ Years Old)
The Mundeshwari Temple is located in Bihar. It is one of the oldest stone temples in India. The archaeological survey of India (aka, ASI) has dated the temple to be over 1900 years old.
It’s also one of the earliest examples of Nagara Temple architecture, which is very prominent in the northern parts of India. One of the key features of this Nagara temple is that the entire temple structure is built on a stone platform with steps leading up to it.
According to experts, the Mundeshwari temple was built during the Saka era. It’s said that rituals and worship have been performed in the temple ever since it was built, making it one of the oldest functional temples in India. However, the main presiding deity has been changed multiple times in the past.
Lad Khan Temple (1500+ Years Old)
Lad Khan Temple is not an Islamic structure, but rather one of the oldest temples in India. According to the archaeological survey, the temple was built around 450 AD, during the reign of the Chalukya dynasty. Therefore, if calculated, the temple is now over 1500 years old.
After many years of the Chalukya dynasty when the temple was built, a Muslim prince named Lad Khan closed this Hindu temple and renamed it after himself. The temple has twelve outside pillars and an open central area at the front. It is now considered a Shiva temple, but legend has it that it was originally planned as a Vishnu temple.
Kevala Narasimha Temple (1500+ Years Old)
Kevala Narasimha Temple is one of the oldest surviving temples in India. Situated in Maharashtra, this stone temple was built during the reign of the Vakataka dynasty in the 5th century CE. So, the temple is now over 1500 years old.
One of the unique features of the Kevala Narasimha temple is the inscription engraved into the interior wall of the temple. The inscription was written in Sanskrit, but many of the details have been lost.
Dashavatara Temple (1500+ Years Old)
Dashavatara Temple is an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and his ten avatars. It was built in the late 6th century, during the reign of the Gupta dynasty. Located in Uttar Pradesh, Dashavatara Temple is the oldest-known Panchayatana-style temple in India. In this style, temples were built out of masonry, brick, and stone.
The main shrine of the temple is surrounded by four smaller shrines. Sadly, the structures were mostly destroyed because of the continued looting during the first few decades of the 20th century. It is now, however, under the protection of the archaeological survey of India, or ASI.
Kapoteswara Temple (1500+ Years Old)
Kapoteswara Temple is one of the oldest temples in India, built in the 5th century. In modern times, it is located in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. The temple got its name because of its presiding deity, named Kapoteswara Swamy.
Kapoteswara Swamy is another name for Lord Shiva. So, you can say it’s one of the oldest Shiva temples, dating back to 1500 years. The temple is also popular as Chejerla Temple, and it features three types of temple architecture: Nagara, Vesara, and Dravidian.
Some scholars believe that this temple was built as a prayer hall for local Buddhists, but the inscriptions on the temple wall are in Vakanta style, implying that it was built as a Hindu shrine.
Bhitargaon Temple (1450+ Years Old)
Bhitargaon Temple is the oldest surviving brick temple in India. Located in Uttar Pradesh, this ancient temple was built during the Gupta dynasty in the 5th century. So, it is approximately over 1450 years old.
The temple walls are engraved with many scenes from the Hindu mythology, and its gods like Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Durga. Although the temple has been heavily damaged over the centuries, most notably in the mid 1800s possibly by a lighting strike.
Mahabalipuram Shore Temple (1400+ Years Old)
The Shore temple, located on the banks of the bay of Bengal, is one of the main attractions of Mahabalipuram. It’s one of the oldest surviving stone temples in South India.
The temple was built with solid granite stones that stood strong over the centuries without much damage. These pyramid-like temples were built during the reign of the Pallava dynasty. So, the temple is at least 1,400 years old.
This beautiful shore temple is an architectural marble which portrays the finesse of ancient builders in India. Once a busy village port, Mahabalipuram is now an attraction for thousands of visitors looking to experience the gimple of the past through these ancient structures.
According to legends, there were once seven sister temples that existed in the past, but only the shore temples remain today to tell the story. It’s said that the shore temple in Mahabalipuram also acted as a landmark for the navigation of ships in the past.
Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple (1300+ Years Old)
Ranganathaswamy Temple is one of the largest and oldest temples in India. It features a total of 21 towers and 49 primary shrines. This temple was built during the reign of the Chola dynasty over 1300 years ago, but it still stands strong against the test of time.
This temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu which makes it one of the influential pilgrims for the Bhakti movement. The entire complex of the temple is built on 156 acres of land, presenting itself as one of the wealthiest temples in India.
There is a giant golden dome in the middle of the temple shrine, reflecting the glorious and prosperous era of its time. This wealth also invited several invasions in the past, but somehow it has managed to remain an influential site for the devotees of Lord Vishnu.
Recently, the temple has undergone a lengthy renovation and beautification work without harming its age-old heritage. It stands proudly as a national symbol of our cultural heritage, which is now recognised by UNESCO.
Gop Temple (1300+ Years Old)
The Gop temple, located in Gujarat’s Jamnagar district, is believed to have been built in the 6th century CE. However, due to a lack of clarity and evidence, the exact time is unknown. It’s assumed that the temple was built during the Maitraka dynasty, making it the oldest surviving temple in Gujarat.
It’s one of the oldest Shiva temples composed of bricks and stones. According to experts, the entire temple was rather large, but over time, most of it was damaged and fell away, leaving a strange looking skeletal structure.
Brihadeshwara Temple (1000+ Years Old)
Brihadeshwara Temple is one of the oldest Shiva temples in India. It was built during the reign of the Chola dynasty in 1014 CE, making it a thousand year old temple. As India’s largest and highest temple, it is also a UNESCO recognised World Heritage Site.
One of the interesting facts about this temple is that every day at noon, the shadow of the temple disappears, despite being the tallest temple. The ancient builders might have known some sort of architectural trick that they incorporated into the design of this temple.
There’s also a giant statue of Nandi carved out of a single rock at the entrance of the temple shrine. The statue is about 16 feet long and 14 feet high. The entire temple is also made out of solid granite stone, which helped it survive this long without much damage.
At the entrance to the temple shrine, there’s also a massive statue of Nandi (the vehicle of Lord Shiva) carved out of a single rock. The statue is approximately 16 feet long and 14 feet tall. The entire temple is also composed of solid granite stone, which has helped it survive this long without major damage.