Mahabalipuram the ancient capital and sea port of Pallava Kings is known for its south Indian Temple architecture.However nowadays it is a sleepy village living on its past glory and the tourist traffic.
Mahabalipuram (also called Mamallapuram) is a beautiful temple town situated along the shores of the Bay of Bengal about 60 kms from the South Indian town of Chennai. Mahabalipuram was the capital of the Pallava Kings around the seventh and eighth centuries. The Pallavas were master sculptors. The town boasts of some of the finest rock cut caves and sculptures in the world. The Shore temples of Mahabalipuram are an architectural wonder. The sculptures here are intended around 600 to 750 AD. The rock-cut monuments of Mahabalipuram fit in with the earliest phase of the Dravidian temple architecture. The sculptures at Shore temples or Rathas of Mahabalipuram are breathtakingly real. Among the nine cave temples, the Krishna cave is notable because of its realistic Portrayal.
Mahabalipuram is situated close to Chennai of Tamil Nadu on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, along the eastern coast of South India. The shore temples at Mahabalipuram are known as as seven pagodas, among which six are submerged in the sea and only one has survived from the ravages of nature.
History of Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram is one of history’s intriguing enigmas. The ancient Mamallapuram, as Mahabalipuram was formerly known, was flourishing port town of the Pallava rulers of south India who chiseled in stone a wonderful “open-air museum” of sculpture under the vault of the burning sky. Aside from this, nothing is known of the place. That which was the purpose behind this complete exercise, and, more important, why all the royal patronage this place enjoyed suddenly disappeared, no one actually has any answer.
Professionals state that there were seven pagodas or temples on the shores of Mahabalipuram. Basically one were pillaged by the rapacious sea, though there is little change underwater evidence to substantiate their existence.
The majority of the temples and rock carvings of the place were built during the reigns of Narsinha Varman I (AD 630-668) and Narsinha Varman II (AD 700-728). Though the initial kings of Pallava dynasty were followers of Jainism, the conversion of Mahendra Varman (AD 600-630) to Shaivism led the majority of the monuments to be related to Shiva or Vishnu.
Places of Interest
The Shore Temple
The temple has stood the vagaries of nature for a lot of centuries, was built in the 7th century during the rule of the Pallava king Narasimhavarman II Rajasimha and now’s a World Heritage. A structural temple, it’s crafted from stone and come up with by master masons who assembled it block by block. In this, it is different from others at Mammalapuram which were carved out of pure rock. The temple is really a masterly example of the Pallava style, but was built so near to the shoreline that the waters of the Bay of Bengal have eroded its outer boundaries.
One of the best site is Arjuna’s Penance, 29m by 13m, carved in relief on the face of the huge cliff. It features Arjuna, the heroic warrior of the Mahabharata who had qualms about the fratricidal battle he was because of fight. The southern face of the cliff tells the story of Arjuna’s penance on the banks of the River Ganga where he prayed to Lord Shiva for the boon of ‘Pashupatashastra’, Shiva’s favourite weapon endowed with magical powers. The scene portrayed on the rock face shows an ascetic sitting on one foot performing penance, seated nearby are Lord Shiva and his entourage.
Originally there have been eight sculpted chariots, each depicting the temple cars accustomed to carry the temple deities in processions, however nowadays only five survive. They are excellent examples of monolithic rock sculpture of South India. The best preserved of the rock temples are collectively referred to as the ‘five rathas’ named for people in the Pandava clan from the epic Mahabharata. Why they’re called ‘ratha’ (chariot) remains a mysterious, for they bear no resemblance to the vehicle.
Behind the rocky hillock is yet another group of sculpted rocks. A number of the important ones listed here are Krishna Mandapam, which shows in intricate sculptures the story of Lord Krishna lifting the Goverdhan Mountain together with his little finger and the temple of Mahishasurmardini.
These temples have exquisitely beautiful sculpting, considered by experts to become the most outstanding reliefs in India. Focused on Durga Mahishasurmardani, slayer of the demon Mahishasura, the Mahishamardani Temple is cut into the rock on the eastern side of the hill near the lighthouse. The three shrines within the temple have ornate sculptural reliefs, one depicting Durga battling the demon and one of Lord Vishnu in cosmic slumber on the coils of the serpent king, Seshnaga. The artist successfully captures both the intense energy of the battle between the forces of excellent and evil and the contrasting serenity of the god in repose.
The Adivaraha Temple contains beautiful group sculptures, deities and sub divinities. Outstanding amongst all are two group sculptures that portray a king between his two queens, one seated and one standing. The seated king is recognized as King Simhavishnu (574-600AD) while the standing king is his son and successor Mahendra I (600-630AD).
Dance Festival: The ancient temples of Mammalapuram go back to a time long gone when the sound of dancer’s bells filled the air. The cream of Indian dancers perform in the outside, the temples providing the perfect backdrop to dances as classical and as ancient as the temples themselves.
Best time for you to visit
The best time for you to visit the temples comes from November to March.
Getting there and Around
By Air – The nearest airhead reaches Chennai (60 kms), that has both a domestic and international terminals. It’s well connected by flights to any or all major cities of India and the world.
By Rail – The nearest railway stations are Chengalpattu (29 kms) and Chennai (60 kms). From all of these stations one has to take the route to reach the Mahabalipuram.
By Road – Buses can be found from Pondicherry, Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu and Chennai to Mahabalipuram daily. The route to Mahabalipuram is good. Tourists may also hire a taxi from Chennai.
Various kinds accommodation options, from economy to high-class, can be found in Mahabalipuram. The best option is to look at one of the several beach resorts spread across the town. Just about all the accommodations offer quality facilities and services according to the requirement of the visitors.