The history of India is very old and so is the history of Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma with which temples are associated. The construction of temples started somewhere 2000 years ago. But the question of finding an answer to the oldest temple in India is bit difficult. Each temple that is considered to be the oldest is questioned by another set of people claiming their temple to be the oldest one.
There was significant growth and rise of the Hindu temples between the 6th and 16th century and a great part of it can be contributed to the various dynasties that ruled India during that period. They considered that building temples was an extremely pious act and hence kings, wealthy men were ready to put their hands down and help in the building of the temples for its growth and perform various religious activities.
1. Mundeshwari Devi Temple, Bihar
Mundeshwari Devi Temple, Kaimur, Bihar is considered the oldest surviving temple which has irrefutable proofs of being build around 105 AD only. Archeological Survey of India confirms this.
Mundeshwari Devi Temple in Bihar, India, dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva and Shakti. The inscription of an information plaque erected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the site indicates the dating of the temple to 635 AD. However, there are other versions for the dating stating the Saka era, prior to Gupta dynasty rule (320 AD) in India, and specifically to 105 AD according to the Administrator of the Bihar Religious Trust Board
2. Changu Narayan Temple in Kathmandu
The pagoda style temple has several masterpieces of 5th and 12th century Nepalese art. According to legends Changu Narayan temple existed as early as 325 A.D. in the time of Licchavi King Hari Datta Verma and it is one of Nepal’s richest structures historically as well as artistically. In the grounds there is a stone pillar inscription of great importance recording the military exploits of King Man Deva who reigned from 496 A.D. to 524 A.D.
The first epigraphic evidence of Nepalese history found in the temple premises during the reign of the Licchavi King Mandeva dating back to 464 A.D. shows that Changu had already been established as a sacred site in the 3rd century A.D. It is the earliest inscription known in Nepal. The temple was restored during the lifetime of Ganga Rani, consort of Siva Simha Malla who reigned from 1585 to 1614.
3. Subrahmanya Temple
The Subrahmanya Temple unearthed in 2005 after the 2004 tsunami off the coast of Tamilnadu near Mahabalipuram could be older (though not sure if it would fall under ‘Temple which still exists’category). Some Archeologists from Indian Archeological Survey opine that there is an evidence here of two temples – a Pallava temple at least 800 years old on top, and beneath, a much older one – around 2,000 years old.
4. Durga Temple Aihole
Located in Aihole, Northern Karnataka, this temple is dedicated to Vishnu and Shiva, was built by the Chalukyas in the 7th or 8th Centuries. The ‘Durga’ here means ‘protector’.
Aihole in Karnataka, described as one of the cradles of Hindu temple architecture could safely be said to have some of the oldest structural temples.
It has more than 70 temples. Here, the artisans experimented with different styles.
Lad Khan temple in Aihole is considered to be one of the earliest temples in India. It was built around 450 AD. It was converted into a residence by a prince named (Lad Khan) in later years, thus the name.
According to ancient history it is believed that temples did not exist during the vedic period . The earliest temple structure was found in Surkh kotal which is a place in Afghanistan during the year 1951 by a French archaeologist. The temple was dedicated to king Kanishka of 121-151 AD. Eventually the importance of idol worship started to gain importance towards the end of the Vedic period and thus the concept of temples for gods came into light.
During the ancient times community temples were made up of clay with thatched roofs made of straws and leaves. Sometimes in certain remote places and mountainous terrain cave temples existed. It was only later that temples were made out of stones and bricks. In fact the earliest structures that indicate idol worship can be traced back to 4th or the 5th century AD.
The 2004 tsunami which hit the coast of Tamilnadu had released two temples near Mahabalipuram about 60 km from Chennai. It has been found out that a Pallava temple is almost 800 years old whereas bottom of it is about 2000 years old.
Then there is the Jagatmandir temple in the western state of Gujarat that has some oldest parts. It got reconstructed during the Gupta reign in 413 AD.
Some consider the Mundeshwari temple as the oldest temple in India which is located in Kaimur District of Bihar. This is the oldest temple in India which is still functioning. Archeological Survey of India has restored it and its construction probably dated back tom108 AD. It is from that time that rituals and worship is being done in this temple with same devotion. Mundeshwari temple is devoted to Lord Shiva and Shakti. The temple also has other idols like Ganesha, Vishnu, Surya and Mother Goddess.