Recently I wanted to know the oldest functional temple in India. I tried to make some research but mostly I came across with the temples which were either tourist attractions or were in the cloud through its web sites. My curiosity has brought some results:
Picture courtesy mmanojpai504.blogspot.com
Ma Mundeshwari Temple (108 AD)
is situated in Kaimur District of Bihar. It appears to be one of the oldest Hindu temples temples in the world. It has been restored by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and its construction date is ascribed to 108 A D. Since then rituals and worship have been taking place at this temple without a break. Thus making it the oldest functional Hindu temple (or perhaps any place of worship) in the world.
Ma Mundeshwari temple is situated atop the Kaimur Hill (608ft). and is in an octagonal shape. The sanctum sanctorum of the shrine has an idol of Devi – Mundeshwari. There is also a ‘Chaturmukha Shivling’ in the sanctum. A clear indication that Shiva and Shakti were worshipped here. It is also an indication that the temple might be part of the Tantric cult which is quite popular in the Eastern part of India..(source http://www.navhindtimes.in/iwatch/oldest-temple-india)
Shani Temple (100 BC)
Situated in Shanischara, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh (about 122 km from New Delhi) It is claimed to be the oldest Shani temple in the world. It is claimed to be built in the reign of Samrat Vikramaditya (The King who is considered to be synonym with justice). It the claim is true than it is the oldest temple as Vikrami Samvat replaced Saka Samvat after King Vikramaditya won the war over Sakas in 47 B.C. Naturally the temple was constructed during the rein of the King. It is claimed that the statue of Shani is made of the meteoroid fallen from the sky. (http://www.shanishchara.com/) (picture on the left)
Alchi Monastry, Leh, ladakh (100 AD)
Photo credit to Manoj T. Nair
Alchi is a small village situated on the banks of Indus river at about 67km from Leh on the Leh-Srinagar highway. This village has one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh. Built by the great translator Rinchen Zangpo, this monastery is known for it wall paintings dating back to 1st century AD. (see http://my.opera.com/manojtnair/albums/show.dml?id=803672)
Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple
(3000 BC unconfirmed or 1400 AD confirmed)
It is the famous Lord Vishnu Temples in Kerala, South India. Also known as Sree Ananda Padmanabhaswamy Temple, this Mahavishnu Temple is located inside East Fort, in Thiruvananthapuram – the capital city of Kerala, India. Lord Vishnu is enshrined here in the Anananthasayanam posture (in eternal sleep of yognidra), lying on Sri Anantha, the hooded snake. According to traditions, Sree Padmanabhaswamy Kshetram is believed to have been worshipped by Chandra (Moon God) and Lord Indra (the head of the Devas). (Official site: http://www.sreepadmanabhaswamytemple.com/) Total value of the monumental items of temple is said to be close to 1.2 trillion (US$ 23.94 billion), making it the richest temple in the world. If the antique value is taken into account, these assets could be worth ten times the current market price.
Jagatmandir, Dwarka (3000 BC unconfirmed and 413 AD confirmed)
The Seven Sacred Cities of Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Banaras, Kanchi, Ujjain and Dwarka are known as Mokshada, meaning ‘Bestower of Liberation’, and these sites are believed to confer liberation upon all persons who die within their boundaries. Dwarka, one of these seven sacred cities, is also listed among the Four Divine Abodes. It is not so popular because of its remote location in the western state of Gujarat. According to legend, the Jagatmandir temple was constructed in a single day by Vishwakarma, the lord of construction. The Jagatmandir temple is bordered on one side by the ocean coast and on the other side by the town of Dwarka. Just like Atlantis in west, Dwarka’s archaeological and historical background is also shrouded in mystery. Mythologically, Dwarka – or Dvaravati as it is known in Sanskrit – was the site chosen by Garuda, the Divine Eagle, who brought Krishna here when he departed Mathura. Krishna founded the beautiful city and lived there the remaining years of his life until he died (according to legend) in 3102 BC. Scholars however agree that the oldest parts of the Jagatmandir temple may only date to the reconstructions of the Gupta period in 413 AD. (source: http://sacredsites.com/asia/india/dwarka.html) This God has a virtual temple in the clouds (courtesy Government of Gujarat) where you may also have virtual prasada. (official web site: http://www.dwarkadhish.org/)
Lamayuru Monastry, Ladakh (1100 AD)
Photo by Manoj T. Nair
Lamayuru Gompa (Monastery) is a Tibetian Buddhist monastery in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir, India. Situated at a height of 3510m, this Gompa was founded by the Buddhist scholar Mahasiddhacarya Naropa in the 11th century. It is said that he had spend many years meditating in one of the caves at Dukhang. Lamayuru is one of the oldest gompa in Ladakh with a population of around 150 permanent monks.
Ancient legends say that during the time of Sakyamuni, the Lamayuru valley was a clear lake where holy serpents(Nag) lived. The Bodhisattva Madhyantaka foretold that the lake would be emptied and a monastery built there. In the 11th century when the scholar Naropa came here he caused a split in the surrounding hillside and the lake drained out. The scholar found a dead Lion on the lake bed. At this place the first temple the Singhe Ghang (Lion Mound) was built. ( extracted from: http://my.opera.com/manojtnair/albums/show.dml?id=805865)
Shri Jagannath Temple, Puri (1100 AD)
The temple was built in the 11th century atop its ruins by the progenitor of the Eastern Ganga dynasty, King Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva. The temple is famous for its annual Rath Yatra, or chariot festival, in which the three main temple deities are hauled on huge and elaborately decorated temple cars. Thus by way of this Yatra, the lord comes to the doors of devotees.
For more than a century past, historians, foreign and Indian, have been trying to’ unveil the mystery of the three deities namely, Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra worshipped in the Puri temple. But the success they have achieved is almost negligible. All the same, the traditional authorities strongly hold that Jagannatha is perhaps as old as human civilization. The antiquity of Jagannatha is so much shrouded in mystery that it may take many more years for scholars to arrive at any definite conclusion. There are a number old works in Sanskrit which sing the glories of Orissa in general and of Puri in particular. A passage is frequently quoted from the Rg Veda and explained in the light of the well-known commentary of Sayana to show that the history of Jagannatha dates back to the age of the Rig Veda itself. (extracted from official web site: http://jagannath.nic.in/) Thou is the God who steer in virtual world as well. (Picture on the left courtesy http://4.bp.blogspot.com/) (Official site: http://www.jagannathjiahd.org/)
Tirupati Balaji Temple (900 AD)
The ancient and sacred temple of Sri Venkateswara is located on the seventh peak, Venkatachala (Venkata Hill) of the Tirupati Hill, and lies on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini what is known popularly today as Tirupati Balaji Temple. The main temple complex of temple houses awe-inspiring idol of the Lord of the Seven Hills and is worshipped by millions of devotees all over the world. The devotees flock the temple in large numbers and make offerings in large quantity making it the richest temple in India. (http://www.tirupatibalajitemple.com/
Khajuraho (1000 AD)
is not a temple but is a township of temples. It is more famous for its erotic sculptures carved on the walls of the temple. The name Khajuraho (ancient Kharjuravahaka) originates from the Sanskrit word Kharjur meaning date palm in English. The city of Khajuraho was the cultural capital of Chandel Rajputs. The Chandels are believed to have ruled this part of north India for 200 years between 10th and 12thcentury. Though Chandel rulers had their political capital in Kalinjar, they always took special interest in Khajuraho. It was in the year 950 A.D. that the construction of temples began in Khajuraho. Over the succeeding 200 years, hundreds of temples were built here with a unique architectural style that displayed medieval sexual life explicitly on the walls.Today, only 25 of those temples are well-intact with most of the erstwhile temples getting ruined or dilapidated with time. (http://khajurahotemples.net/)
Picture courtesy: wikitravel.org
The temples at Khajuraho were built during the Chandella dynasty, which reached its apogee between 950 and 1050. Only about 20 temples remain; they fall into three distinct groups and belong to two different religions – Hinduism and Jainism. They strike a perfect balance between architecture and sculpture. The Temple of Kandariya is decorated with a profusion of sculptures that are among the greatest masterpieces of Indian art. (extracted from http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/240) These temples are one of UNESCO world heritage sites.
Mahabalipuram (100 BC to 800 AD)
is about 60 Kms. south of the city of Madras, in Tamil Nadu, India. Mahabalipuram, or Mamallapuram, was the chief seaport of the Pallavas who ruled over much of South India from as early as the first century B.C to the eighth century A.D.,
At the southern edge of Mahabalipuram is a group of five free-standing temples. Four of them were carved out of a single long granite boulder. These temples are actually detailed replicas of ancient wooden structures. These temples represent the rathas (chariots) of Arjuna, Bhima, Dharmaraja, Nakula-Sahadeva — the five Pandava princes of the epic Mahabharata — and their common wife, Draupadi. Work on these five temples was stopped after the death of Narasimha Varman in 668.
(1600 AD to 1800 AD)
Situated in Madurai, one of the oldest city of Tamil Nadu (India), the Meenakshi temple is the city’s main attraction. A perfect example o
f Dravidian architecture. Dedicated to Meenakshi, the lovely consort of Lord Shiva, the original temple was built by Kulasekara Pandya, but the entire credit for making the temple as splendid as it is today goes to the Nayaks. The Nayaks ruled Madurai from the 16th to the 18th century and left a majestic imprint of their rule in the Meenakshi – Sundareswarar Temple.
Virupaksha Temple (740 AD)
The Mallikarjuna & the Virupaksha temples were built by two queens of Vikaramaditya II to commemorate the victory of the Chalukyas over the Pallavas. As the Virupaksha temple was built by Queen Lokamahadevi, it was originally called Lokeshwara. The temple is rich in sculpture like those of Lingodbhava, Nataraja, Ravananugraha & Ugranarasimha. Built in the southern Dravida style, it is the largest temple in the enclosure.
Pattadakal, situated in Karnataka, under the Chalukya Dynasty, achieved a harmonious blend of architectural forms from the north and south of India. An impressive series of nine Hindu temples, as well as a Jain sanctuary can be seen there. In this group one masterpiece stands out – the Temple of Virupaksha, built around 740 by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband’s victory over the kings from the south.Pattadakal represents the culmination of early Chalukyan art. Four of the temples here are in the south Indian Dravidian architectural style while four are in the north Indian Nagara style while Papanatha temple exhibits a hybrid style.
Baba Bhudangiri (1100 AD)
is situated at Dattagiri Hill Range / Baba Budan Giri Range of the Western Ghats of India, located in the Chikkamagaluru District of Karnataka. It is said that one Dada Hayath, his real name being Abdul Azeez Macci, considered to be a direct disciple of the Prophet, was sent to India in 11th century from Saudi Arabia to spread the message of Islam and peace, in true tradition of Sufism. In fact, Dada Hayath’s religious preaching did not target Hindus as a religious community. Rather, it targeted local landlords (palegars in local parlance) who were highly oppressive against the common masses. History says that the palegars did not tolerate the intervention of Dada Hayath into their domain, as his mission was about to affect their stronghold and dominance. On many occasions, they tried to eliminate him but failed.
According to some accounts, Dattatreya is a later phenomenon and it could develop a syncretic culture by synthesizing Shaivite, Vaishnavite and Sufi culture together. The people of the region believe that Bababudan is an incarnation of Dattatreya. Having a long history in Karnataka, the Dattatreya tradition – a part of Awadhut tradition, upholds the idea of a formless god, and condemns caste and sacrificial rituals performed by Brahmin priests. Also a long tradition of the Dattatreya and Sufism going hand in hand can be witnessed by the fact that Baba Budan and Dattatreya have become interchangeable.
Baba Budangiri is small shrine named after the saint Sufi saint Baba Budan (also called Guru Dattatreya), who is revered by both Muslims and Hindus. Its origin appears to be a syncretization of reverence for an 11th century Sufi, Dada Hayath (Abdul Azeez Macci); for the 17th century Sufi Baba Budan, said to have brought coffee to India; and for Dattatreya, an incarnation of Shiva (or of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu). It has been controversial due to political and religious tension over its status as a syncretic shrine.
Dattatreya, for whom the shrine was once named, is considered by some Hindus to be God who is an incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shiva), in the form of an ascetic in the discipline of Avadhuutha (God intoxicated monk). A Sufi saint known as Baba Budan is believed to have later been in the same cave for some time. Some Hindus have making a claim over the shrine, which is controlled by Muslims. This has led to tension between the two communities. This has become the place of communal riots on the occasion of Urs (the death anniversary of the Sufi saint) and the occasion of Datta Jayanti in the month of December. Hindu Shobha Yatras have been organized at the same time give rise to the communal conflict. (extracted from:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bababudangiri_shrine)
Konark Sun Temple (1250 AD)
located in the Konark, Odisha (formerly Orrissa). It is also a World Heritage Site. The complex is designed in the form of a huge chariot drawn by seven spirited horses on twelve pairs of wheels of ‘SUN’. (Remember 12 months in calander!) Built in AD 1250, during the reign of the Eastern Ganga King Narasimhadeva-I (AD1238-64), the Konark Temple is a place of abode for Lord Jagannatha.
POST SCRIPT: The above list is neither absolute nor final. Any suggestion would be welcome. I only complied this list for benefit of a curious friend who wanted it all at one place.