Vellore, Tamil Nadu
The Srilakshmi Golden Temple is one of the newest major temples in India, and the most important modern temple in the south of the country. Constructed less than ten year ago, much of the temple is covered in copper plate which is in turn covered in layer upon layer of magnificent gold leif artwork. Dedicated to the goddess Lakshmi, it is popular with the many students that call this college town home. In future years it will likely be a major point of pilgrimage in southeast India.
The city of Vellore is one of the oldest cities in southeastern India. It is believed that some of the very oldest temples in Tamil Nadu once stood in Vellore. According to tradition, there was once a temple here that feel victim to the ravages of time which resulted in a curse on the town. The Vellore Fort was later built on the site in an effort to lift the curse.
The attempt was apparently not successful. After its completion in the later Middle Ages, the the fort made Vellore the focus of years of bloody warfare. From the 16th to the 18th centuries, Vellore was ground zero for many battles between the Hindus of the south and the Muslim sultinates of the north, and later between the Hindus and the Mughal Empire.
The city and fort change hands several times until it was finally annexed by the British Empire in 1760. A major British garrison point, the fort was the sight of a short but bloody rebellion in 1806. Other sporadic actions took place here over the next century. Despite this Vellore remained an important British outpost until independence in the 1940s.
For the last few decades, Vellore seems to have put to rest the ancient curse of its lost temple. At the turn of the millennium, a new temple was planned for the city (whether or not this was related to the ancient temple is unknown), a temple of gold to symbolize Vellore’s new role as a center of tolerance, learning and medicine.
When it comes to gold-covered temples, the Srilakshmi Temple is second perhaps only to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The temple compound is enormous and is enclosed in a great wall in the shape of a six-pointed star (similar to a Jewish Star of David). Most of the compound is filled with expansive lawns and contemplative gardens. The main shrine sits at the center of the compound space surrounded by a still, clear pool. A series of long paths following the star pattern must be traversed before one reaches the center.
The temple itself is an architectural and artistic masterpiece. Not as large as its counterpart in Amritsar, it is arguably just as impressive in terms of its detail. Intricately crafted, it is every inch a centuries-old structure in appearance despite its recent construction. What really draws the crowds though is the gold. Every inch of the main temple is covered in gold leif, as many as ten layers in some places.
The Srilakshmi Temple is located on the southwestern outskirts of Vellore four miles from the city center, about 1000 miles south of New Delhi. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.sripuram.org (official website).
Despite its long and blood history, Vellore did not actually go without a temple. The great Sri Jalagandeeswarar Temple, located inside the fort, has been around for centuries.