The southern part of India is a treasure trove of temples and they greatly influence the tourist activity here. One such shrine that can be explored with a South India tour package is Airavatesvara Temple. It is located in Darasuram town in Tamil Nadu, the southernmost Indian state. Rajaraja Chola II of the Chola Empire is credited with the construction of this shrine. Lord Shiva is the presiding deity and Airavata, the mythical elephant who serves as the vehicle of Demigod Indra, is said to have worshipped him here. As per stories, Airavata was cursed by the wrathful ascetic Durvasa that its beautiful white skin will change its colour. The elephant then bathed in the temple tank and his colour was restored, following which it started worshipping Lord Shiva.
The roughly 800-year old structure carries the characteristic elements of Dravidian architecture. As per traditional rules, it faces the east direction so that the idol gets the first rays of the sun. The pyramidal tower, crowning its main entrance, is known as gopura and is approximately 24 metres tall. A beautifully carved section is on the southern side of the mandapa of the shrine, which is an open hall, used for ceremonies and religious performances. This part has a detailed image of a chariot, being pulled by horses. Inside it, there are cuboid-shaped stone columns, which are carved with scenes that depict various social situations of ancient times.
The sanctum, where the primary statue of the presiding deity is housed, has a five-storey tower, called vimana, atop it. The vimana is ornately sculpted with images of smaller temples, humans, various deities and mythical creatures. There is another building in the complex, where reportedly animal sacrifices took place in earlier times. This structure is adjacent to a small shrine that contains an idol of Lord Ganesha. If travellers are visiting this holy place as part of an India temple tour, then they must definitely see the many inscriptions laid here. These mention names of Shaivite saints along with several incidents that happened in their lives. Some also name singers, who performed here under the reign of Rajaraja Chola II.