Gopuram of a Hindu Temple
Travel, Travel Stories

Gopurams in Hindu Temples

Those passing by Hindu temples would have wondered about the ornate, often tall external structures. These external structures at the entrance or entrances of temples are called gopurams. The gopurams in Hindu temples have great significance.

And most temples in south India, as well as in countries such as Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore with sizeable Hindu communities, have tall gopurams.

These gopurams have intricate sculptures and artwork. They tell stories from the various Hindu epics and other religious tales.

Different Architectural Styles

Indian Hindu temples have different architectural styles (for example, the northern Indian temples differ from those in the east who differ from those in the south) and in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu the temple gopurams became taller after the nineth century onwards.

Traditionally, temples were large structures that had the main section, the sanctum sanctorum (karpagraha) of the temple, halls and even a temple tank. All these were encompassed within a secure compound and the gopurams were the gateways. Some temples had four gopurams, each in one direction.

The Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, has 14 gopurams.

In essence, a gopuram is the gateway to the temple. They are strong structures that can be used as observation towers as well.

There are many meanings, spiritual and architectural, to the gopurams. Some cite religious texts that say temples symbolize the human body, with the sanctum sanctorum, with its own tower called vimanam, being the head while the gopurams being the feet.

The main temple tower, the vimanam, is built in a pyramid style with many storeys. What is even more interesting is that the storeys are odd numbered.

Temple Structure

And the temples are built as described in different religious texts; they not only describe the various religious stories but also are built according to specific measurements and geometrical alignments.

For example, some of the main structures are aligned with the cardinal directions. The main deity is located within the sanctum sanctorum and the sculpture is also placed according to specific directions. The usage of the type and amount of material is also written down in the religious texts.

The same applies to all other statues that are placed in certain locations and directions in relation to the main deity and the cardinal directions.

The Tallest Gopuram

The tallest gopuram is at the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam TAmilnadu. The main gopuram (the raja gopuram) is almost 240 feet tall.

The Brihadeeswarar Temple in Tanjore

This temple, completed in 1010, is unique because, unlike most other Tamil Nadu temples, this one’s vimana is taller than the gopurum. At a height of 216 feet, it is one of the tallest structures of its kind in the world.

Sri Brihadeeswarar Temple in Tanjore, Tamil Nadu

Sri Lankan Temples

This island nation south of India has also temples of significance.

Here is the gopuram of the Mariamman Temple in the central Sri Lankan town of Matale. This temple was built about 150 years ago. Its gopuram is 110 feel tall.

Gopuram of Muthu-Mariamman Temple in Matale, Sri Lanka. ©
Muthu-Mariamman Temple, Matale, Sri Lanka


Singapore also has a number of Hindu temples and the oldest is the Mariamman Temple near Chinatown. Built in the 19th century, it has a relatively shorter gopuram, standing at just over 15 feet.

Mariamman Temple in Singapore

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