Explore these fascinating temples of India where animals are worshipped like gods.
When it comes to the surprising and colorful, India has no shortage of places to offer to adventure-thirsty explorers. With Hinduism as a dominant religion, this country is also a land of thousands of magnificent temples.
India also boasts a number of intriguing religious structures in the world, including the striking animal temples. As Hindus believe that every living creature has a soul and can be reincarnated, animals occupy an important place in the religious belief system. And some of them receive a godly treatment, boasting a sacred status and having temples of their own. Here are 10 of the most interesting animal temples in India that are guaranteed to inspire you to visit this country and see them first-hand.
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Karni Mata Temple
WHERE: Deshnoke, Rajasthan
If Remy, a lovely rat chef from Pixar’s Ratatouille, lived in the Indian state of Rajasthan, there is a place where he’d be welcomed with open arms and reverence. The place is Karni Mata Temple in the small town of Deshnoke. The rat competition would be tight for Remy though, more than 25,000 rodents call this temple home. The rats not only live there but also consume food alongside humans. It’s all because of Karni Mata, the deity of the local Charan caste whose male sons were believed to be reincarnated as rats. All of her followers treat rats as sacred creatures and this temple is a place to show their respect.
For an unprepared person, the temple may be intimidating. Should you plan to visit, know that you’ll be surrounded by thousands of rats and you’ll be required to remove your shoes.
Ananthapura Lake Temple
WHERE: Kumbla, Kerala
There is a temple in the Southern Indian state of Kerala that stands on a tranquil lake surrounded by palm trees and tucked away from civilization. The only lake temple in the state, it’s a charming structure, though an unremarkable one in a country known for striking religious architecture, save for one thing. There is a real crocodile living in the pond. The reptile’s name is Babiya, it is believed to be around 70 years old, and no one actually knows how it ended up in the temple’s lake. Local priests say Babiya is a vegetarian and feed it a bowl of rice twice a day. So far this lake beast hasn’t complained about the menu as there has never been a single crocodile attack here. Sometimes Babiya is allowed inside the temple to participate in a service to the cheer and amazement of the visiting crowd. Florida’s alligators should definitely take notice.
WHERE: Jaipur, Rajasthan
Hidden in the crevice of Aravalli Hills just a 10-minute taxi ride from Jaipur, Galtaji Temple is a sight to behold. A sacred place for Hindus, it is a mesmerizing complex of ancient shrines and seven holy pools cascade in the middle of the rocky terrain. But visitors come here not only for the spectacular architecture but also to meet the monkeys that live on the premises of Galtaji. Hundreds of macaques and langurs accompany people that come here for a prayer or a sacred dip. Be careful though, the primates may look cute and playful, but cross the line and you can get bitten or find your personal belongings snatched.
Also, be sure to pay a visit to a Hanuman’s temple where the monkey is a god, literally.
WHERE: Nampally Gutta, Telangana
It’s one thing to have sacred animals inside the temple, it’s another thing to have a temple entirely in the form of a sacred animal. Of course, India has the latter covered, too. Deep in the country’s heartland, in the state of Telangana, you can find the Naga Devatha Temple, which is designed to look like a giant orange snake with a flute-playing Hindu god Krishna on top of it. But it doesn’t stop there, it’s time to enter the building. Once inside, you find yourself in a snake’s belly following a tube-like tunnel full of various characters from the story of the Hindu gods Krishna and Narasimha. The snake behind the temple’s design is Kaliya, a serpent from Mahabharata (an ancient Indian epic) that was terrorizing the Yamuna river dwellers before Krishna appeased it.
WHERE: Bangalore, Karnataka
Tucked away from the business centers and modern glass-clad highrises of Bangalore lies the ancient Bull Temple or Dodda Basavana Gudi. The cow is a sacred animal in India and worshippers can visit a temple with a 15-foot tall idol of a giant bull (known locally as Nandi). The animal was carved from granite more than 500 years ago and still stands strong today.
If you’re looking for some more animal deities, there’s a smaller Ganesha shrine nearby with an elephant statue made of 242 pounds of butter. It is remade every four years and the butter is distributed among the devotees.
Chandi Mata Mandir
WHERE: Bagbahara, Chhattisgarh
In the middle of the lush state of Chhattisgarh, this temple devoted to one of the most powerful Hindu goddesses, Chandi, may at first glance appear to be just another beautiful spot. But wait until the afternoon when the bears show up. Yes, really, the wild sloth bears come here daily to participate in the prayer services and amaze the crowds of temple visitors. The plot twist is that the bears aren’t restricted by anything except a few men who look to ensure that the creatures don’t make any trouble. As unusual as it may sound to some, such a close coexistence of bears and humans has become normal for parts of India as more wildlife terrain is encroached upon to make way for urban development.
INSIDER TIPBaloo from Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” was a sloth bear and the action was set in the Seoni area of a neighboring state of Madhya Pradesh.
WHERE: Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Formerly known as Madras, Chennai is a must-visit destination to get introduced to the culture of South India. Deep into its labyrinthine streets, you’ll find the spectacular Kapaleeshwarar Temple, a complex of intricate towers, mysterious shrines, an artificial reservoir, and a kaleidoscope of figurines of all kinds depicting characters from the Hindu sacred texts. Known as one of the best examples of the ancient Dravidian architecture typical for South India and Sri Lanka, Kapaleeshwarar also boasts a great number of animal idols, including numerous cow statues on the entrance towers, a bull shrine, blue elephant figures inside the temple, and colorful peacocks everywhere you look.
WHERE: Agrahara Valagerehalli Village, Karnataka
You may be a dog lover but you will probably never get to the level of love that the people from the remote Agrahara Valagerehalli village south of Channapatna in Karnataka state have for the canines. Dogs here have a temple and are venerated by the locals. Although quite small and extremely hard to find, this shrine may well be one of the few places in the world where dogs are actually worshipped.
The building is relatively new, probably built in 2010 (even the villagers themselves are said to be puzzled about the origins of the Dog Temple) by a local businessman alongside a bigger temple to Kempamma, a village goddess. Inside you’ll find two cute brown and white dog statues who regularly take part in colorful religious services. It is believed that the dogs bring good luck and protect the locals from all evil.
INSIDER TIPRent a cab in Channapatna to avoid the hassle of a chaotic public commute.
WHERE: Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
A jewel in the crown of UNESCO-protected Khajuraho Western Group of Monuments Temple Complex, Varaha Temple is one of the most impressive animal temples in the country. First of all, it was built more than 1,000 years ago, around the year 900. Secondly, inside you find an imposing five-foot-tall idol of a wild boar with countless small statues of Hindu gods and goddesses carved on its sides.
It is a shrine of Varaha, the animal avatar of the god Vishnu in the form of a boar. According to a legend, Vishnu shapeshifted into Varaha to prevent the vicious demon Hiranyaksha from destroying Earth. Varaha succeeded and now we can marvel at the intricate beauty of this animal shrine his followers erected to celebrate the victory.
WHERE: Tumakuru, Karnataka
Those who choose to explore the picturesque Mandaragiri Hills on a day trip from Bangalore will be pleasantly surprised to find a fantastic peacock tail-shaped Jain temple at the footsteps. Beautifully placed to complement the surrounding nature, the building is 265 feet of a colorful, Instagram-friendly spectacle. The peacock is a sacred bird for both Jainism and Hinduism, so you can find various depictions of it all around the country. The temple near Tumakuru may well be the most generous tribute to this bird. Apart from the Peacock Temple, be sure to hike up the Mandaragiri Hills for another Jain shrine and enjoy the scene-stealing views of the tranquil countryside.